A COUNCILLOR who suggested some foodbank users may be “taking the p” has apologised for his “inappropriate” language.
But Labour councillor Nathan Yeowell defended the discussion where he raised the idea of the council and charities working together to deter those who aren’t in need from taking from foodbanks.
Asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service if people claiming items they do not need was a realistic problem the councillor replied: “Possibly not, but the discussion was being had.”
Cllr Yeowell made his comments during a Torfaen Borough Council scrutiny committee meeting, where members discussed how the council could support local food production and initiatives such as foodbanks and food sharing schemes which fight food poverty and waste.
His comments had been prompted by his Labour colleague Cllr Caroline Price who claimed a woman she used to work with used a foodbank when she wasn’t in need and would joke about it. She asked: “What about the people who go to foodbanks and don’t need them?”
After another councillor said he didn’t think there should be means testing, though some foodbanks only give parcels to those who have been referred by council workers, doctors or the clergy, Cllr Yeowell said he agreed, but suggested “embarrassing” people from taking unnecessarily.
The Panteg councillor told the committee: “We could ask people, ‘do they need to come here?’ It’s better than saying you can’t come. There’s an element around the edges we are embarrassing people who might be taking the p to try and deter them from doing it in a systematic manner.”
He said that could be “wrapped up” in a communications campaign to “ensure there is best use of the service by people who need it the most.”
Following Torfaen council’s annual general meeting, on Tuesday, May 16 – where Cllr Yeowell was reappointed to chair the pensions committee – he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he was sorry for the language used.
He said: “I apologise for speaking out of turn and using a phrase inappropriate for a council meeting.”
Asked if he regretted the discussion the councillor said: “We need to be able to discuss hypotheticals around a table to work out what is the best thing for the people of Torfaen.”
The comments by Cllr Price which sparked the discussion have also been questioned by opposition councillor Elizabeth Haynes.
The Cwmbran St Dials member, who criticised the comments for potentially putting off people coming forward for help, said she believed Cllr Price who claimed her colleague was collecting “all her milk and bread from the Goytre one” and would laugh about it, was mistaken in believing the woman was using a foodbank.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Haynes said the service in Goytre, between Pontypool and Abergavenny, is called Dinkydoo and shares food that would otherwise go to waste and is open to all.
She said: “It’s very much edible, affordable and thoughtful it is to keep it out of landfill and people can go and have food for free or make a donation. They are fantastic services that anyone can use, they are not foodbanks but it doesn’t mean to say people who require foodbanks can’t use them.”
The Independent Group councillor said she had emailed council leader Anthony Hunt asking him to make a statement on the comments to make clear “they don’t represent the council or the majority of councillors”. He made no mention of the row when he was re-elected as leader at Tuesday’s meeting.
Cllr Hayes also said Cllr Price should “rectify those comments as otherwise it may come across as she still agrees with what she said and that is a little bit worrying”.
Asked by the Local Democracy Service about the comments made about a former colleague using a foodbank, and whether she had misunderstood what type of service the woman was using, Cllr Price said she didn’t wish to add anything further to a statement she had already provided.
In the statement the Pontypool Fawr councillor said: “I apologise if my point about a few cases were a distraction from our efforts to help as many people in need as we can. However I reject any claim that I am not supportive of our foodbanks.
“Our foodbanks do great work helping people in Pontypool. I have personally supported local foodbanks regularly and through fundraising both before I was elected and since.
“I am also pleased that our Labour council has provided support to foodbanks and community food share schemes by funding Fareshare Cymru deliveries every week for the past three years.”