Regular readers may remember a few recent articles about the mileage of Councillors at North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC).
From the NYCC data, we established that during a three year period sufficient mileage was claimed to drive to the moon each year, gravity not withstanding! It sounds dramatic, but given the size of our county we can expect higher mileage claims from our County Councillors relative to most other counties.
The data provided by NYCC was further scrutinised and it was possible to find out which Councillors incurred the highest mileage cost relative to the distance they lived from County Hall in Northallerton. The number of meetings attended was also factored in. The Councillors who topped the list were generally members of the Executive Committee with a few notable exceptions.
Research on individual mileage claim sheets ensued. Mileage sheets were requested for the last three financial years for the top eleven claiming Councillors. NYCC refused the request stating it was too much work. Under the terms of the FOI act they can probably get away with that refusal. Perhaps there is a case for all Councils providing this information as part of their normal duties, in the interests of transparency. But as we know, Councils don’t like members of the public sniffing around.
The end result of the NYCC FOI refusal was that requests had to be made for the mileage sheets of individual Councillors. The last set of mileage sheets from NYCC revealed that the chairman of the Police and Crime Panel, Carl Les, had a few questions to answer about his ‘Impossible Journeys’, which Nigel documented.
The most recent FOI response produced some very interesting information.
I asked for the mileage claim sheets of County Councillor David Jeffels, (Conservative – Seamer & Derwent Valley Division) from NYCC, which I duly received.
I also asked for County Councillor Jeffels’ mileage claim forms from Scarborough Borough Council (SBC), where Councillor Jeffels is also an elected member, but sadly they’ve yet to answer the FOI request, which is nothing out of the ordinary for SBC!
The mileage claim sheets revealed that County Councillor Jeffels claimed 710 miles for travel to Conservative Group meetings, which equates to £284 over the last couple of years. This information precipitated some more questions, which I’ve asked through the FOI process.
I was under the impression that Councils were supposed to be politically neutral, so why are NYCC funding County Councillor Jeffel’s trips to Conservative Group meetings?
I was also under the impression that trips to political meetings were not an approved duty. Once again, why are NYCC funding County Councillor Jeffel’s trips to Conservative Group meetings?
Informal conversation with a number of other Councillors seems to suggest that it is well known by elected members that they are not entitled to claim for party political journeys.
If trips to Conservative Group meetings are not an approved duty, then why is NYCC paying for County Councillor Jeffel’s trips to said meetings? Was the NYCC Audit Department made redundant some time ago? Or is the Audit Department asleep at the wheel?
County Councillors live an average of 70 miles from County Hall. If all Councillors attended quarterly political meetings at County Hall, this would equate to 20,160 miles claimed or £8k per annum, which would be around 10% of all mileage claimed, given current figures.
Given that the Conservatives are the majority party in North Yorkshire, this would mean that Conservative activities are funded by the tax payer, to the tune of £5k, with much smaller amounts going to other political parties.
Just how widespread is the practice of allowing Councillors to claim mileage for attending political group meetings? Is it countrywide?
Does the County Council provide the facilities to host these political group meetings and if so at what cost to the tax payer? Does the County Council provide catering for the meetings and if so at what cost to the tax payer? Does the County Council also pay for overnight stays to attend these political group meetings and if so at what cost to the tax payer? So many questions…
County Councillor David Jeffels was given the opportunity to comment on his mileage claims on the 10th July, but indicated (on 16th July) that a response would come from the Deputy Chief Executive of NYCC Carole Dunn (who is also the Head of Legal & Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer).
Nothing has been received from Carole Dunn thus far, but her comments (if any) will be added to the comments section in due course.
Article first posted to Real Whitby on July 18 2013.