A COUNCILLOR has called for an end to the “civic tea party” – in a row over costs associated with a corporate hospitality box.

John Shuttleworth said Durham County Council’s continued use of the box at Durham County Cricket Club’s Emirates Riverside ground is inappropriate at a time when it continues to seek budget cuts.

So far this year the box has been used for corporate events at matches involving Yorkshire in the T20 competition and the T20 game involving England and West Indies in September, costing £4,991 in total.

Both events were hosted by council chairman Bill Kellett. The latter was organised by Business Durham and guests included Councillors Ossie Johnson and Carl Marshall, council chief executive Terry Collins and corporate director Ian Thompson.

The box was originally owned by the now defunct Chester-le-Street District Council and passed to the county council in 2009 following local government re-organisation.

Between 2009 and 2014 the local authority spent more than £30,000 entertaining guests there.

Councillor Shuttleworth, who represents Weardale on the county council, said: “If everyone has to cut their cloth accordingly, the day of the civic tea party should be over.

“I don’t think it is necessary to have this facility at all. If there has to be savings they should be made here.”

Referring to the council’s ongoing financial support for the cricket club, which has received millions of pounds in loans, he added: “They are never going to get any dividend out of an organisation that cannot pay its way.

“It’s just throwing money down the drain.”

John Hewitt, Durham County Council’s corporate director for resources, said the corporate box offered an “important opportunity” for senior council officers and members to promote the county to potentially influential investors and decision-makers.

He said: “It is used on an occasional basis for the purpose of encouraging economic development in County Durham or celebrating and thanking individuals for their contribution to the community or economy of the county.

“It has only been used by us for two cricket fixtures this year. It has not been used by council officers or members for any other fixtures or concerts – on these occasions the cricket club is able to let the box out to others.

“There is no cost for the lease of the box and any associated costs incurred while it is in use are kept to a minimum and are based on the cricket club’s rates.

“Following a review of the box in 2013, more comprehensive guidelines were introduced governing who can use the box and the purposes it can be used for.”