Tories called ‘Scrooges’ in foodbank row

Horsham District Food Bank is one such food bank project across West Sussex. Pictured are volunteers Phil Lawrence and Gail Tomsett with donations from the public collected from Broadbridge Heath and Pulborough Tesco stores - picture submitted

Horsham District Food Bank is one such food bank project across West Sussex. Pictured are volunteers Phil Lawrence and Gail Tomsett with donations from the public collected from Broadbridge Heath and Pulborough Tesco stores - picture submitted

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People needing food banks should be educated about the ‘financial consequences of lifestyle choices’ according to one Tory county councillor.

Peter Metcalfe (Con, Kingston Buci) raised the point on Friday December 11 during a West Sussex County Council debate when Labour’s Michael Jones brought a motion asking colleagues to put £70,000 towards helping the county’s food banks.

The cabinet member for finance called the idea ‘financially reckless’ at a time when the council had to find £68m of efficiency savings.

Mr Jones (Lab, Southgate and Crawley Central) said: “It’s not a nice thing to have a food bank open. If a food bank has to open in your area, it’s because it’s fulfilling a need.

“I am aware some people who have stated nationally that food banks aren’t necessary and people are not spending their money wisely enough, but in most cases there is nothing more demoralising for a human being, in otherwise good health, than coming forward for help feeding themselves.”

He said projects would soon struggle once the Government’s Local Assistance Network funding is withdrawn. It has enabled the council to give £33,000 to food banks in the past year.

He later accused some members of being ‘Scrooges’.

Mr Brown, cabinet member for finance said: “Mr Jones basks in the luxury of opposition. He is free to make claims and spending commitments that he knows he will not be able to honour.

“I would like to ask him, since there is no £70,000 sitting around waiting to be spent, which library’s budget would he cut, which children and family centre would be close, which bus service subsidy would he axe, because they are the implications of his motion.”

The debate that followed split the chamber politically.

Sue Mullins (Lab, Gossops Green and Ifield) said: “The media and government are quick to accuse people of poor financial management, not knowing how to budget and making the wrong decisions on spending priorities or even not knowing how to cook.

“You cannot just take a shopping bag and walk into a food bank. You have to be referred by a doctor, social worker or local authority. You are given a voucher for enough emergency food to last for three days.”

James Walsh, leader of the Liberal Democrat group agreed. He said adding: “It’s a drop in the ocean out of a billion pound budget. £70,000 could be found and it’s nonsense to pretend otherwise.

“The fatuous argument we always have of which library, which older people’s home you are not going to support for a function like this is nonsense.”

Others were less sympathetic.

Peter Metcalfe (Con, Kingston Buci) said supermarket chains are reported to be donating millions of meals to food banks and argued more should go into prevention.

He said: “It does not address the real issue of getting people back into work nor does it offer any support for education and how to manage money.

“We need to educate people from an early age and support parents through our Think Family project and like all of us here, and the council, we need to educate people of the financial consequences of personal and lifestyle choices.”

He highlighted issues such as paying large amounts of interest on pay day loans rather than using credit unions.

He said: “Do we know the difference and are people aware of the support on offer and the charities?”

Michael Glennon (UKIP, Lancing) appealed for Christmas spirit.

He said: “We need to find it in our hearts to soften our hearts and be sympathetic - even if it means some of you have got to u-turn very quickly.

“It’s not an astronomical sum in the grand scheme of things. Show a little kindness in the run-up to Christmas.”

Leader of the Labour group Peter Lamb (Northgate and Three Bridges) insisted they had costed the motion fully.

Coming back into the debate Michael Jones said: “It seems the spirit of Scrooge is alive and well amongst some of our councillors.

“Mr Brown talks about an unaffordable amount of money - £70,000. That is nonsense.

“We hear £100,000 is going towards the Weald and Downland Museum when we are standing here discussing the difference between being fed and going hungry.

“Why has this not been prioritised? I have nothing but praise for the Weald and Downland Museum, but we cannot say we cannot spend the money because there isn’t any. The council has chosen its priorities.”

In a recorded vote, the motion was lost 38 votes to 17.