Devon

Devon councillors' wine club closed by council leader

John Hart
Image caption John Hart said in "very difficult times" councillors had to be seen acting responsibly

A council wine club has been closed down after a councillor allegedly "toasted" protesters ahead of a "vital" budget meeting.

John Hart, leader of Devon County Council, said he had taken immediate action following complaints.

Club members buy wine to have with lunch before full council meetings.

Wine club organiser, Councillor Michael Lee, who was not responsible for the alleged toast said he had "been advised not to comment."

The wine club has both Conservative and Liberal Democrat members and full council meetings are held five times a year.

Mr Lee had earlier been quoted in a national newspaper website, admitting that one wine club member had lifted up a glass and said "cheers" to people who had gathered outside County Hall in Exeter to protest against proposed council cuts.

The full council met on Thursday last week to vote on budget cuts of nearly £55m.

Mr Hart said councillors had to be seen acting with "rectitude".

"I am not a member of the wine club and neither are the vast majority of councillors who do not drink alcohol before these meetings," Mr Hart said.

"However, in these very difficult times we must not only discharge our duties responsibly but be seen to act with rectitude as well.

"So I will be closing the club with immediate effect and at the same time ordering a fresh look at all councillor's current subsistence arrangements."

Mr Hart has referred the matter to the council's procedures committee.

Councillors currently pay for a self-service two-course lunch which is prepared by council caterers.

Liz French, from the Unison union, said the wine club councillors had shown "very poor judgement".

"Considering the severity of the cuts they were discussing, I think their actions were in extremely poor taste," she said.

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