Horizons Region councillors took 20 minutes to debate whether they should continue to have free lunches provided to them after meetings.

An amendment to policy was moved at their June 23 meeting. If it passed, lunches would be provided only after long meetings in exceptional circumstances.

The circumstances could include day-long retreats, or the hosting of visitors.

It was a minor amendment, chairwoman Rachel Keedwell said, and would save an estimated $10,000 a year.


It was the sixth year in the row that it has come up, Whanganui councillor David Cotton said.

He had given it a lot of thought. What is said in meetings is "limited by media attention", he said. Those conversations are continued more freely at lunchtimes, with food provided in the council building and often with staff members joining councillors.

Having staff at the table was "value for money", he said.

Rangitīkei councillor Bruce Gordon said the social connection was important.

"It all keeps us tidy, tight and together. If we are going to disperse all around town for lunch it's going to take one and a half hours."

But other councillors said the public could see those free lunches as a form of entitlement.

"When everybody else goes to work, they don't get lunch provided. What makes us so special to get free lunches?" Palmerston North councillor Jono Naylor said.

For Wiremu Te Awe Awe, who also represents Palmerston North, the lunches were an opportunity for whānaungatanga. More business was done on the marae over food than in the meeting house, he said.


Rangitīkei's John Turkington said council staff have been asked to go without salary increases for 12 months, and the councillors' free lunches would send the wrong signal.

"We are well paid and we can buy our own damn lunch."

Councillor Fiona Gordon, from Palmerston North, asked what the purpose of the amendment was. If it was only to save money, she said councillors could find other ways to eat and talk together.

Horowhenua's Emma Clarke agreed.

"I don't think sharing kai comes down to the ratepayer paying for it," Clarke said.

Keedwell said she would support finding those other ways, but that could be done outside the meeting. Councillors had spent more than enough time talking about it, she said.

The amendment was agreed to, with only Gordon and Cotton voting against it.