THIRSTY council workers and visitors to council offices consumed £17,000 worth of water and other refreshments over the last year.

A large chunk of the cost has gone towards providing Evian bottled water at meetings, as well as occasional food.

Critics of the council have said this is unnecessary spending and needs to be curbed, but council leaders say the level of refreshments has already been stripped to its minimum.

Labour are to propose shifting the entire amount from the budget as a way of saving cash in order to keep the green waste collection, which will move to a £40 charge in April, included in council tax.

Group leader Coun Jim Grant (Lab, Rodbourne Cheney) said: “At a time when the council has to make unprecedented cuts to its services it is imperative that it works in an efficient and cost effective way, driving out all unnecessary spending.

“What this shows is that this Conservative administration is not driving out all unnecessary spending. And together with refusing to reduce spend on councillors’ allowances and increasing the amount they spend on consultants each year to £2.8m, you have to question how much waste is still being lost.

“If I was leader of the council my number one priority when reviewing the budget would be to cut all unnecessary spending like hospitality before looking at cutting back services. This seems to me the most sensible approach to take.”

However, the council leader has hit back, saying the council has a legal responsibility to provide at least water if there is a meeting with visitors, while if it is between council members they provide their own refreshments for internal meetings.

Coun David Ren ard (Con, Haydon Wick) said: “The council hosts hundreds of meetings every year with members of the public and representatives from a huge range of external organisations.

“It’s quite right that we can at least offer them something to drink, and also to eat if the meetings or events are scheduled for a number of hours.

“No refreshments of any sort beyond tap water, or water from water coolers, are permitted for any internal council meetings, so council staff are not spending the money on themselves. The council is required by law to provide water in public meeting rooms, which we do with water coolers.

“I think most members, including myself, put money into a kitty from our own money from which we purchase drinks.”