Thursday, 23 January 2014

Penny pinching

There is precious little spending information published by Carmarthenshire Council and the councillors' expenses 'database', which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, is about all you get. Everything else has to be laboriously extracted through Freedom of Information requests. Eric Pickles' suggestion that we all become 'Armchair Auditors' hasn't quite got off the ground in Wales, especially not in Carmarthenshire.
So anyway, we're left with the 'database', which, to be fair, has an interesting entry or two.

The claims are varied with some claiming nothing or very little. Some, on the other hand, seem to claim for stepping outside their front door. Take Cllr Tegwen Devichand for example, as an Executive Board Member and deputy leader, she has a generous allowance of £31,120 per year. I noticed three claims, each for five miles one of which was to attend an 'Executive Board informal meeting' (a what? how often do these informal get togethers of the Cabinet take place?). She also claimed four miles to the Eastgate development and two miles to a Community First update meeting.

Another Executive Board Member, Cllr Colin Evans (allowance; £28,780) claimed four miles to attend a photoshoot in Johnstown, Carmarthen, three miles to go to Ammanford Town Hall and seven miles to drive out to the wilderness of Llandybie.

The Chair of the Council, Cllr Terry Davies (allowance; £21,375) claimed for a five mile trip to an AGM of the Carmarthenshire Scouts.

Perhaps the one that stands out the most is a claim for one mile by Cllr Ivor Jackson the elected member for Llandovery. The entry on the claim form read 'task and finish group - education and scrutiny', location; 'Llandovery' which must have been a meeting at one of the schools, both of which are within a 2 minute walking distance from Cllr Jackson's home. He has claimed £1260.45 so far this financial year.

Nobody expects councillors to be out of pocket and the rate of 45p a mile is set, I believe, by the Independent Remuneration Panel Wales. however it is not against the law to be a little frugal in these 'we're all in it together' times.

Take another example, the representative of Cilycwm, veteran councillor, Tom Theophilus (allowance; £21,910). To be fair he lives the furthest distance from Carmarthen and is subsequently amongst the top expenses claimers. He frequently, and in my opinion pointlessly, trails up and down to Carmarthen at a cost last year of £2129.85.

The distance has been worked out as a 60 mile round trip for which he can, quite legitimately I add, claim £27. Unless the councillor is driving round in a Chieftain tank, there is no way that it costs £27 to drive to Carmarthen and back. On one particular occasion he did the round trip twice in one day, to two meetings a couple of hours apart. Maybe he would have whiled away the time over a long lunch had they not decided to axe claims for dinners 'in-county' last year.

Anyway, perhaps I could make a couple of suggestions. Maybe, to set an example of corporate belt-tightening, claims under ten miles are axed altogether, particularly for those on generous senior salaries (and Ivor Jackson). And maybe the IRPW wants to have a rethink about the whole 45p per mile rate. I live a couple of miles nearer to Carmarthen than Cllr Theophilus and can do it easily on a tenner, there and back, with fuel to spare.

The official corporate advice to councillors is that they "should always be mindful of choosing the most cost-effective method of travel". Chieftain tanks are out then.

As for the travel arrangements of senior officials, that's another story. I remember not so long ago sharing a squashed train carriage to London with a lady I recognised to be Baroness Randerson, who sits in the House of Lords. We were both in the cheap seats. A very senior officer from Carmarthenshire Council however was spotted languishing in the virtually empty, luxurious surroundings of a First Class carriage..... 


Anonymous said...

Sorry Jacqui, you've lost some of my sympathy on this one. I'm a public sector worker who gets 45p a mile for car use. As my take-home pay has been falling over the last few years, I make sure that I claim every penny to which I'm entitled. I don't see why I should subsidise my employers. We've had to sell my wife's car, so share the one we have, which means its not always available for work. I've had the delight of getting to remote rural areas by public transport, using a combination of train, bus, taxi, and in desperation on one occasion, hitch-hiking. Not only did it cost loads more than if I'd travelled by car, but it took more than 3 times as long. So don't begrudge the 45p a mile allowance - it's what the AA says it costs to run a car, taking into account of the respective share of tyres, servicing etc.
Or do we want councillors with private incomes who can afford to take the hit.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 19.11
Thanks for your comment. As I said in my post nobody expects councillors to be out of pocket. Councillors are not employees, they are the employers and the majority of claims are of course entirely reasonable.

The salaries available to senior councillors, as opposed to those on a basic allowance are generous private incomes compared to many of the residents who voted them in.

It is undoubtedly important that people from all walks of life, and incomes, are free to stand in local politics and be sure that it will be personally affordable.

However, when it comes to public funds, the actions of elected representatives, rather than hard pressed low paid public sector workers, should always be monitored to prevent abuse of the system, something which became very apparent during the MPs expenses scandal.

Anonymous said...

What no news regarding Llangadog Civic Amenity Site ?

caebrwyn said...

Anon 13.15 Hi, please see my next post