Group meeting is a cosy meal for council couple Mike Le Surf and Julie Morrisey
ROMANTIC music, Italian wine and spaghetti bolognese, tactics and the tenets of modern socialism discussed by candlelight.
They are married, they live together and Mike Le Surf and his wife Julie Morrisey both represent the Labour Party on Brentwood Borough Council.
But according to the council's Conservative leader Louise McKinlay, the couple should discuss their group's activities at home over dinner, rather than charging the taxpayer for the pleasure.
Mrs McKinlay, who represents Hutton North, spoke out after the council confirmed that Mr Le Surf will receive an annual allowance of £2,632.59 in his role as "minority group leader".
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Under the council's constitution, an elected member can give the authority written permission to forego all or part of their allowance.
Mrs McKinlay told the Gazette: "I don't have a problem with allowances for opposition group leaders per se.
"I think the question is more how two councillors can constitute a group?
"Most people would call it a conversation between two people rather than a group meeting."
Mrs McKinlay, who receives annual allowances totalling £19,037.05, continued: "To receive an additional taxpayer-funded allowance to have that conversation is, in my view, wrong – especially when in this case, they could have that discussion in the comfort of their own home over a spaghetti bolognese.
"It's hard to see what the additional expense or input as group leader is that justifies the extra allowance."
When asked if she thought Mr Le Surf should reconsider claiming the allowance, she replied: "That's for his conscience."
David Kendall, the leader of the council's majority Liberal Democrat opposition group, agreed.
Mr Kendall, who receives annual allowances totalling £10,953.59, said: "I am surprised that Mike is taking the allowance because there are only two of them.
"Technically, they do constitute a group under the council's constitution, but I am still surprised that he took it."
Mr Kendall, who voluntarily cut his majority opposition group leader's allowance by five per cent in May, added: "I think he should reconsider taking it."
Mr Le-Surf, who represents Brentwood South, noted that members' allowances were set by an independent panel and said he was simply following its recommendations as to what he should receive.
"I haven't got a problem with the system as it stands," he said.
Labour group meetings are, he said, held in a formal setting at the Town Hall and not over a spaghetti bolognese at his marital home.
When asked if he planned to follow Mr Kendall's advice and reconsider his decision to receive the allowance, Mr Le Surf replied: "I wouldn't take David Kendall's advice on a number of issues and this is one of them."
He added: "Louise was quite happy for her colleague Michael Golding to take his allowance even though he moved out of the borough a year ago.
"Maybe she wants to take a look at her own group before she starts having a go at the Labour group."