Council defends spending in excess of £14k on ceremonial robes

Council members and staff pictured in their robes at the final meeting of Newtownabbey Borough Council earlier this year. The new Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has since purchased a number of replacement ceremonial robes at a cost of more than �14,000.
Council members and staff pictured in their robes at the final meeting of Newtownabbey Borough Council earlier this year. The new Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has since purchased a number of replacement ceremonial robes at a cost of more than �14,000.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has defended its decision to spend more than £14,000 on new ceremonial robes for councillors.

The local authority has been criticised for using ratepayers’ money to purchase the new garments, with the TaxPayers’ Alliance branding the move “vanity spending”. And South Antrim TUV representative Richard Cairns accused councillors of being “out of step” with those who elected them.

A spokesperson for the council defended the move to purchase the new robes, saying: “At the council meeting held in March 2015 it was agreed that borough status would be adopted by the new council.

“It is custom and practice for councillors of boroughs across the UK to wear robes on ceremonial occasions to highlight the importance of the event and instil civic pride in the community. It has always been the practice in the former Newtownabbey Borough Council to wear robes on ceremonial occasions. Therefore, the council also agreed in March that robes should be made available for councillors in the new council. There was no vote taken and no objections were raised in relation to this proposal at the council meeting.”

She continued: “Newtownabbey Borough Council held a stock of approximately 25 robes which were purchased in the 1970s and were in poor condition and therefore, given the increased number of councillors, some new robes were purchased. In particular, the Mayor’s and Deputy Mayor’s robes were in an extremely poor condition as they had been worn regularly over the past 40 years. The expected life-span of the new robes is 40 years.”

Responding to the public criticism of the council’s spending, Mayor Thomas Hogg commented: “When these matters were discussed by the council in March, there was unanimous agreement on how to proceed. No councillor from any party has ever raised an issue about the robes in the council chamber. That is the place for such discussion and those who have made comments to the media or online have been rather muted in the council chamber.”

The council has confirmed that a new robe and civic regalia were not purchased for the chief executive as the existing robe was still in an acceptable condition.