Saturday, 1 June 2013

'Milking' the Expenses Gravy Train

Questions have been raised about the use of expenses by elected officials after reports showed unusual discrepancies.


'Entitled to be fed'

In Reading deputy leader of RBC, Labour's Cllr Tony Page, defended his choice to claim nearly 20-times more in travel expenses than any other councillor - he said, "it may come as a shock... but [travel] does cost money."

Cllr Page argued his claim was a "very, very low sum" which "represented excellent value for money."

The millionaire property-speculator and freelance PR consultant - who has been a councillor for three decades since he was first elected aged 17 - explained he is Reading's official delegate on 12 outside bodies, roles which require him to attend meetings in London on average twice-a-week. He claimed £1,200 on top of his regular allowances of £14,000.

He said, "obviously the cost of these trips are born by the council because they are council business... I think I'm entitled to be fed."

As one commenter suggests, a phrase with the words 'snout' and 'trough' comes to mind...


Chauffeur 'improves efficiency'

Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner, West Berks Conservative Cllr Anthony Stansfeld, hit national headlines for claiming inflated travel expenses - at the rate of £20.000pa to enable him to pay a retainer to a chauffeur - on top of his £85,000 PCC salary and £15,000 regular councillor allowances!

After his election in November, Cllr Stansfeld took office and lodged a claim for mileage of £7.20 for 16 miles in January. This figure then rocketed by 6,000% to 1,005 miles and £452.25 in February and 1,334 miles at a cost of £611.90 in March.

At a recent meeting of the Thames Valley Police and Crime Panel Buckingham Town Councillor Jon Harvey mockingly highlighted the expense claim by dressing in full driver's uniform and peaked hat, arguing it was out of touch with the current period of austerity.

Conservative chums jumped to the PCC's defence. Panel member for West Berkshire Cllr Graham Jones called the criticism was 'ludicrously overblown', while Newbury's Richard Benyon MP gets things completely wrong by downplaying it as 'a ridiculous non-story' - overlooking the level of comment which brought the facts to the attention of this blog!

Cllr Stansfeld denied setting up a 'sham office' to deliberately defraud tax-payers, saying his decision was designed to 'improve efficiency' - based upon making better use of his 'non-productive time' during the 35-mile journeys between the one-room PCC office he located at Hungerford Police Station and TVP HQ in Kidlington where the PPC's 13 dedicated staff are based.

He commented, "I'm remarkably good value. If I hired myself out I'd charge a lot more."


'Easy Life'

LibDem PPC for Newbury, Judith Bunting, weighed in rhetorically, asking if it is not appropriate for Cllr Stansfeld to be based where his staff are, then "maybe he would like us to make his life easier by moving the 13-strong team to Hungerford?"

Cllr Stansfeld's expenses may initially appear contrary to election pledges to 'target the Police budget effectively' and 'offer great value for money'.

Matthew Sinclair, Chairman of the Taxpayer's Alliance, said the "pop-up office appears to be part of a cynical scam to milk the system for as much cash as possible."

Local Labour blogger, matthewsdent doesn't necessarily disagree, but does hold a low opinion of such arrogance. Calling Cllr Stansfeld 'a disgrace' and 'a law unto himself'.

His witty retort however neglects the reality - the complaints recieved by the panel has initiated a formal investigation process into Cllr Stansfeld's expenses by an independent audit committee.


Oranjepan says: It would be easy to speculate whether it is simple coincidence that a new development of 90 luxury retirement homes has been opened at Kintbury's Inglewood House by Audley Homes' CEO, Nick Sanderson, the Earl of Caernarvon  - yet the above-named elected representatives are hardly living like monks!

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