TAXPAYERS have shouldered an £18,000 bill for Rochford’s annual civic dinner over the past five years, a leading councillor has discovered.

John Mason, who represents Hawkwell West on the district council, criticised the council for holding the annual event as it makes cuts and introduces new parking charges.

This year’s dinner will be held on March 28 at the Mill Hall, Rayleigh, with tickets costing £40.

But some guests, including Lord Petre, Lord Lieutenant of Essex, the county’s High Sheriff, chairman’s invited guests and the Citizen of the Year, receive a free ticket.

Mr Mason, who represents the Rochford District Residents party, said more should be done to save public money because the council is increasing its share of the council tax by 1.89 per cent, and introducing Saturday afternoon parking charges.

He said: “It is public money the council is spending on themselves. It is a hangover from the grandee days of the Seventies and under the present circumstances it should stop.

“It could be argued that with the council inviting ‘stakeholder VIPs’ on free tickets that this could provide an opportunity to influence these people.

“But surely they would be better influenced by cogent argument and reasoning at a meeting?”

Last year’s dinner cost £2,276. The price has more than halved since 2009, and the leader of the council, Terry Cutmore, said all councils have a budget for civic occasions.

He said: “This is a chance for us to ‘talk up’ the town and what it has to offer.

“The Citizen of the Year is also invited and it is an opportunity to recognise his or her achievements.

“The only Rochford elected councillors to receive a free ticket are those that host dignitaries. All wives and partners or guests pay the going rate.

“All proceeds from the dinner go to the chairman’s charity.”