Wednesday 18th October 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

Payback Time For Anonymous Conservative Councillors

Hambleton District Council

Regular readers may remember an article about Councillors at Hambleton District Council (HDC) and the free Broadband connection they receive as elected members. Through FOI requests, we established that eighteen of the forty four elected district Councillors receive a free Broadband connection, paid for directly by HDC, at an annual cost of £7,255.44 to the taxpayer.

The fact that the elected District Councillors receive a free Broadband connection through the District Council is not apparent to the general public. Nowhere on the HDC website does it detail the free Broadband perk that elected members receive. I wonder how many other perks HDC provide to Councillors that the taxpayer cannot easily find out about?

As regular readers will know, Councillors elected to the local Tier-2 District or Borough Councils often also hold seats on the Tier-1 County Council. All Councillors elected to NYCC receive a £500+ Broadband/IT allowance as part of their Basic Allowance, unless they choose to ‘renunciate’ that part of their Allowances payment, which none do.

With this information in mind, I made enquiries at HDC to ascertain how many of the elected District Councillors who receive a free Broadband connection are also County Councillors, who we know are in receipt of the £500+ Broadband/IT Allowance from NYCC. I also asked for the names of the Councillors who receive the free Broadband connection perk. HDC’s reply was:

“The Council declined to provide the further information on the basis that the information would reveal personal details and that this would be a breach of the Data Protection Act.”

It appears Hambleton District Council believe the taxpayer is not entitled to know which elected members receive what perks, which are ultimately paid from the public purse.

The only route left open to obtain this information was to make a complaint to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). The ICO has responded to the complaint and are in the process of determining whether HDC are correct to rely on section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act to deny access to the information requested. We’ll bring you an update in due course.

North Yorkshire County Council

A recent article highlighted a mileage repayment from County Councillor David Jeffels (Seamer & Derwent Valley Ward). It was established that Councillor Jeffels attended a ‘Conservative Away Day’ meeting on the 17th October 2011 at the ‘Leeming Bar Hotel’ and claimed traveling costs from the County Council for attending that meeting.

An email querying the payment of mileage for the ‘Conservative Away Day’ meeting to NYCC resulted with the County Council indicating that they would be seeking to recoup a mileage repayment from Councillor David Jeffels.

“So far as the Away Day at the Leeming Bar Hotel is concerned Councillor Jeffels points out that there was no indication at that time that such meetings would not qualify for mileage claims.  However, as the position has now been clarified those expenses are to be recouped.”

County Councillor David Jeffels indicated that he had repaid the mileage concerned. The email correspondence with NYCC, County Councillor David Jeffels and the article were concluded in around a month, record time for discussions of this nature I’m sure you’ll agree.

As an aside, a recent article titled Impossible Journeys on the subject of the mileage claims of County Councillor Carl Les raised a few questions. When examined closely, County Councillor Carl Les’ mileage sheets appear to show he claimed twice for a single journey on 23/09/2010, for whatever reason. Surely the prudent thing to do would be to repay the mileage concerned and wrap the matter up swiftly?

But no, after a complaint was made, NYCC insisted on having their auditors, Veritau, take a look at the Carl Les mileage matter. Veritau are owned by NYCC and recent NYCC meeting minutes indicated that County Councillor Carl Les was appointed to the position of Director, serving as NYCC representative.

Veritau have not updated their company information to reflect this change yet. NYNET, another NYCC owned company, have updated their company details to add County Councillor Carl Les to board. The decision to add County Councillor Carl Les to the board of both companies was made at the same time. Perhaps County Councillor Carl Les will be officially added to the list of directors after Veritau Ltd have finished their investigations?

Getting back on topic, I asked NYCC how many other Conservative Councillors had attended the ‘Conservative Away Day’ meeting on the 17th October 2011 and claimed mileage for the journey. The reply was three. NYCC also indicated that the three Conservative Councillors have been asked to repay the mileage claimed.

NYCC have refused to name the three Conservative Councillors who have been asked to repay mileage. What is the reason they are withholding this information? NYCC, like HDC before them, are citing section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act to deny access to information that is in the public interest.

I wonder where NYCC’s concern for personal data was when they informed me that County Councillor David Jeffels would be asked to repay the mileage concerned?

It seems that whatever happens, another case for the ICO beckons.

Article first posted to Real Whitby on September 27 2013.

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