Strictly legal

The issue of Cllr Jamie Adams’ late expense claim seems to have been put to bed by a report by the Wales Audit Office (WAO) to the council’s audit committee which finds that, by paying four-years-worth of back expenses in April 2012, the council acted within the law.

The WAO report quotes the Local Authorities (Allowances for Members) Wales Regulations 2007 which provide:

18 (1) An authority must specify a time limit from the date on which an entitlement to travelling or subsistence allowances arises during which a claim for those allowances must be made by the person to whom those allowances are payable.

(3) Nothing in paragraph (1) prevents an authority from making a payment where the allowances is not claimed within the period so specified.

Since 2012 this issue has fallen within the remit of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales and its rules specify:

36 An authority must specify a time limit from the date in which an entitlement to travelling or subsistence allowance arises during which a claim for those allowances must be made by the person to whom they are payable. However, this does not prevent an authority from making a payment where the allowance is not claimed within the period specified.

So, while the authority must (my emphasis) specify a time limit, nobody is under a duty to take any notice.
However, it seemed that the council had a discretion in that not being prevented from doing something doesn’t mean you have to do it.
But, in an aural report to the audit committee, the council’s Monitoring Officer went much further and stated that the council had a legal obligation to pay late claims and failure to do so would give a member the right to sue for the debt.
The only saving grace being that any legal action for claims more than six years old would fall foul of the statute of limitations.
If true, this makes the three-month time limit totally meaningless.
And there is another problem with this because, at the end of each financial year, the council is under a legal requirement to publish details of the allowances and expenses paid to members.
Of course, if members have six years in which to put in claims, this information will, of necessity be inaccurate, if not downright misleading.
Also it will allow members to conceal their expense claims from the electorate, especially in the run up to an election.
And, whether by accident and design, that is exactly what happened in Cllr Adams’ case. (see Perfect timing and Journey into the past).
At the time, Cllr Adams told the Western Telegraph that these late claims were the result of “poor bookkeeping” but that “I have been told by the director of finance to make sure I keep up to date with expenses claims in the future. I have accepted that and my claims this year have been in line with that advice.”
As the author of that other website told the audit committee, the obvious time for the Director of Finance to offer this advice would be on receipt of these four-year-old claims in April 2012.
However that doesn’t appear to have been the case because Cllr Adams’ next claim was submitted in November 2012.
This was for the months April – October 2012, so, as the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, that included four months (April – July) that were also outside the three-month limit.
And as I pointed out in Perfect timing he appears to have suffered the same bookkeeping lapse in 2008 – another election year – when he also submitted a large backdated claim.
So, while Cllr Adams’ unorthodox expense claiming practices may have been put to bed, legally, they have not been put to sleep.

P.S. Just to prove this last point, Cllr Adams’ late claims put in an appearance during yesterday’s debate on extending the webcasting facility to all council committees.
This is estimated to cost roughly £25,000 for which there is no provision in the budget.
Opposing this proposal, Cllr Adams claimed that to approve this unbudgeted expenditure would mean that “someone, somewhere” would be deprived of services.
I know it’s a bit like shooting sitting ducks, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to point out that, by the same token, someone, somewhere must have been deprived of services to make up for the shortfall in the budget resulting from the payment of Cllr Adams’ £4,650 backdated expense claims.