Lib Dems call vote on scrapping freebie Empire Theatre tickets for Sunderland councillors
By Heather Fagan
Liberal Democrats in Sunderland will force a vote on ending "shameful" free Empire Theatre tickets which are given to councillors.
Opposition Liberal Democrat councillors in Sunderland are trying to end the situation where hundreds of free Empire Theatre tickets are given to city councillors.
Lib Dem councillors - who refuse to take the free tickets - have revealed through the Freedom of Information Act that 172 freebie tickets were taken by Labour and Conservative councillors between May 2017 and June 2019.
Lib Dem councillors who were offered the free tickets had asked if they could instead donate them to community groups or charities in the city but were told they were only available to councillors.
All 75 Sunderland City Councillors will now be asked to vote on a Liberal Democrat motion to commit all councillors to refuse to take the free tickets and to end the situation where those running the Empire are obliged to offer free tickets to councillors.
Liberal Democrat councillor for Doxford and Tunstall Heather Fagan who uncovered the number of free theatre tickets taken by councillors commented:
"In the first week after my election as a local councillor last year I was shocked to be offered a free theatre ticket instead of having to pay to go to the Empire like everyone else does. To add insult to injury I was told that I wasn't allowed to give it to a community group or charity in my community.
"Since then local Liberal Democrats have uncovered the shocking scale of these free tickets being taken by Labour and Conservative councillors from across the city. It seems almost everyone is at it - from the Leader of the Council and his wife, the Deputy Leader and most of the Cabinet right through to the serving Mayor and Deputy Mayor. It's truly disgraceful and I have no doubt that the majority of taxpayers in the city will agree with the local Lib Dems that freebie theatre tickets for councillors should be axed.
"We are clear that our gripe is not with the Empire Theatre which does great work in communities, schools and outreach projects across the city and which provides tickets for charities and worthy causes. What is truly shameful is the refusal of Labour councillors in charge of the Council to commit to ending the system whereby councillors take huge amounts of free tickets and are banned from doing the decent thing and giving them to local community groups and charities.
"It sends out a terrible signal to residents that councillors are in it for what they can get for themselves. We've forced the council to end VIP hospitality for councillors at the Airshow as well as scrapping all-you-can-eat buffet meals after meetings. These tickets must be next.
"Labour and Conservative councillors who have taken these freebie tickets should hang their heads in shame. They should now do the decent thing and vote for the Lib Dem plan to end these shameful perks at the council meeting on 29th January."