Look after the pennies…

A couple of weeks ago, I drew attention to what appears to be a more rigorous regime with regard to members’ expense claims.

Readers will be pleased to hear that one of the early losers seems to be Cllr Brian Hall.

For many years it has been Brian’s practice to claim 75p every time he crosses the Cleddau Bridge.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, the taxpayer would save 15p a go if he bought a book of tickets – not to mention saving him the trouble of having to scrabble about looking for change every time he crosses the bridge.

Now, it seems, someone in the finance department has made the decision for him by introducing a rule that, unless a receipt is produced, the assumption is that a voucher has been used.

Hall bridge claims

However, members are still allowed to claim 75p as shown by the thick bundles of neatly collated receipts provided by Cllr Daphne Bush.

Why any regular bridge-user would prefer to pay cash rather than buy a book of tickets is anyone’s guess.

I would have thought that avoiding the bother of keeping all those receipts would be inducement enough.

Far be it from me to tell the finance officers how to do their job but the thought occurs that it would simplify matters considerably if the maximum claimable for a bridge crossing was set at 60p – receipts or no receipts.

Another who has fallen foul of the stricter regime is Cllr Rob Summons (Cabinet Member for Planning and Sustainability).

Like most of his Cabinet colleagues, Cllr Summons is a regular attender at County Hall when his claim for travelling expenses is justified by the words “Portfolio” or “Portfolio duties”.

And you have to marvel at devotion to duty.

In October 2014, for instance, his portfolio duties saw him on parade of no fewer than 22 of the month’s 23 working days, though his claim form is silent on the subject of “time started” and “time finished” (the two columns between the date and the destination (see below)).

Who would have thought that planning and sustainability was so complex that it required the almost constant presence of the portfolio-holder?

Old Grumpy suspects that someone in the finance department is also puzzled by this question because when Cllr Summons tried to claim for “Portfolio duties” on February 5 this year an alert officer noticed that, on the same day, the Cabinet member for planning and sustainability had tendered his apologies for the audit committee and put a red line through his claim.

Much as I commend this attempt to protect the public purse, I am not sure that I agree with the officer’s logic.

After all, “portfolio duties” doesn’t require that the member should be in county hall all day.

The round trip from Rosemarket is still twelve miles whether the portfolio holder is on the case for ten minutes or ten hours.

And, whatever else you might think, you have to give Cllr Summons good marks for attendance (22 out of 23 working days in October 2014 and 180 in the period April 2014 – February 2015) though the nature of the urgent business that required his attendance on Christmas Eve is a mystery.

Even more difficult to understand is why he needed to be in county hall during the Christmas holidays, when the office is closed for normal business, and it was surely beyond the call of duty to be slaving away at his desk on New Year’s Eve:

Summons claims

Another whose claims raised an eyebrow was the Voice of Johnston, Cllr Ken Rowlands, who even goes so far as to claim for tenths of a mile, though, as can be seen below, he believes in putting in a full shift.

Rowlands claims

At 45p per mile I expect all those 0.4s add up over the year – on this occasion alone they brought in an extra 90p! (6 x 0.4 = 2.4 miles, rounded down to 2).

It is nice to report that the Leader Cllr Jamie Adams is setting a good example by providing brief details of the duties performed, though whether it was in order to claim mileage on 22 February 2014 for meeting ‘A Ginwalla’ – who, I happen to know, works in the Ombudsman’s office and was presumably investigating one of the several complaints about the Leader’s conduct – I very much doubt.

And it isn’t just members of the IPPG who are determined to extract every last penny from the taxpayers’ pocket, as this scan of Tory boy Cllr David Bryan’s expense claim shows:

Bryan claims

Why would someone who already receives over £400 per week (basic allowance of £13,000 + scrutiny committee chairmanship SRA £9,000) and who lives within spitting distance of county hall, want to go to all the trouble of claiming 15 two-mile journeys to bring in the princely sum of £13.50?

I understand the author of that other website has also accumulated some information on members’ expense claims and we can look forward to his ruminations in due course.