Twenty Reykjavík City Council meetings between June 2018 and July 2019 cost the city ISK 17 million ($140,000/€126,000). Each meeting cost on average ISK 850,000 ($7,000/€6,300). RÚV reported first. The cost of food and drink at the meetings has attracted particular attention, averaging ISK 360,000 ($3,000/€2,700) per meeting. Several councillors say it would be simple to lower such expenses.
An inquiry into the cost of City Council meetings was submitted by Councillor Pawel Bartoszek in September, to which the City’s Department of Finance and Risk Management provided a detailed answer in late November.
While city councillors number 23, around 40 individuals in total are fed at each City Council meeting, including substitute councillors, City Hall staff, and security guards. That means that for catering one meeting at ISK 360,000, the cost per person is around ISK 9,000 ($74/€67). Múlakaffi was the main contractor during the one-year period considered, receiving ISK 5.8 million ($48,000/€43,000) for providing meals, coffee, and snacks. An additional ISK 1.3 million ($10,700/€9,700) went to other food and drink provided at the meetings.
Late meetings hike up costs
Much of the costs incurred by the meetings are due to their scheduling. When they run later than 6.00pm, not only is dinner provided, but the three caretakers remain on the premises are also paid overtime. “If City Council meetings ran shorter than to 6.00pm, food costs would be saved, streaming costs and the overtime of the caretakers,” the Department of Finance’s answer reads.
Could pay for their own food
Socialist Party MP Sanna Magdalena Mörtudóttir proposed several ways to cut down costs in a Facebook post on the issue. “Start earlier, end earlier, that reduces the likelihood that we eat dinner on location.” She revealed that City Council meetings usually begin at 2.00pm but occasionally earlier if there are large issues on the agenda. “I also think you could charge us councillors for the food, we can afford it. Why aren’t we instead offering meals to people with low salaries who do important jobs for the city?”
Pawel added that City Council had begun ordering pizza in recent months to cut down on catering costs, but agrees that costs could be brought lower. “We need to be aware that there is always some cost in sustaining democratic debate. That cost is never zero and we shouldn’t aim for that, but it’s a matter of course to look for ways to lower the cost of meetings.”
Live streaming costs
While food expenses at City Council meetings are high, they only make up 42% of the meetings’ overall cost. The rest, or 56%, are technical costs for live streaming the meetings on the City of Reykjavík website and RÚV. People’s Party MP Kolbrún Baldursdóttir stated she had discussed the cost of streaming with specialists who say it can be done for less and suggested renegotiating the city’s contracts for the services.