Opposition politicians have slammed a smart council drinks reception after details of the event’s cost were disclosed.

Norfolk County Council’s annual civic reception was held on Friday, April 22, just weeks after the authority decided that free school meal vouchers for low-income families would not be continued over the Easter holidays.

The event had already come under fire from the council’s Liberal Democrat group, who had said: “The sight of councillors having a ‘knees up’ while families are making the decision whether to have the heating on or eat is not something we want to be a part of”.

A council spokesman said this week that while the final cost was yet to be confirmed, it was “not expected to exceed £3,000”.

That sum covered the catering, clean up, entertainment and security, with some additional costs paid by the event’s host, council chair Penny Carpenter.

Asked how much she had contributed, Mrs Carpenter said that was “a private matter”.

Commenting on the event’s cost, the council’s Labour opposition leader Steve Morphew said: “The civic profile of the council is important but to maintain the respect of the county means it must be seen in the context of what’s happening in the lives of Norfolk residents.

“Just as civic events were scaled back during the Covid crisis, they should also reflect the impact on people of the cost of living crisis.

“£3,000 would buy a week’s supply of vouchers for 200 children usually in receipt of free school meals during holidays. That’s not an equation we can ignore.”

Mr Morphew was joined in his condemnation of the event by Liberal Democrat group leader Brian Watkins and Green group deputy leader Jamie Osborn.

Eastern Daily Press: Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council.Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council. (Image: Archant)

A spokesman for the council’s ruling Conservative group responded that council funds had been focused to those most in need throughout the pandemic, and that it continued to be.

“We fully understand the current pressures Norfolk residents are enduring,” he said.

“We will continue to focus this spending and develop more efficient and targeted measures to ensure that every Norfolk resident that needs our help is able to receive it.

“What we will do in the future goes beyond just free school meals vouchers mentioned by the opposition and will extend our help to many other people in Norfolk.”

Mrs Carpenter said the reception was held “to thank the Blue Light Service and military personnel in line with my theme for the year, for their selfless work to protect our communities from harm by land, sea or air.”