Stevenage borough council probes expenses claims

FIRST class travel, chauffeur-driven cars and alcoholic drinks are just some of the items claimed for in expenses by councillors.

An audit of Stevenage Borough Council’s members’ claims, launched by the council’s strategic director of resources, Scott Crudgington, concluded: “There were examples of inadequate authorisation, supporting evidence or receipts before the reimbursing of costs; this could leave the council open to criticism.”

The review, which began in January last year, found councillors had been claiming expenses “on many occasions” for first class rail travel “without justification”.

The audit picked up “significant use” of private vehicle hire – with a chauffeur – for the deputy mayor or mayor designate, and vehicle hire for other members. “The council could be criticised for not having sufficient authorisation to justify such expenditure,” said the report.

Town centre car park season tickets, for council business use only, have been used by members on Saturdays and Sundays, and at other times when there was no official council business scheduled. One member was regularly using a railway station car park at times which would indicate daily commuting.

Mr Crudgington said the issues highlighted in the audit are linked to councillors across all three political parties.

Robin Parker, leader of the Liberal Democrats on SBC, said: “These expenses have been lax for years. Some of the rules are quite clear and some members were not keeping to them, which is clearly wrong.” He said he only claims for mileage to official council meetings.

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Sharon Taylor, leader of the Labour-controlled council, and Conservative Graham Clark, leader of the opposition, were unavailable to comment at the time of going to press.

Mr Crudgington said: “As part of the council’s ongoing commitment to transparency it commissioned a review of the Members’ Allowances and Payments in January 2009.

“A report was presented to the council’s Standards Committee in July 2009, outlining the findings and making recommendations to further improve arrangements.

“The review found no evidence of deviation from the scheme rules, although it concluded that improved guidance for members was required.

“All recommendations have now been implemented, including the requirement for members to supply receipts for all claims made.

“Details of payments made to councillors are available on our website.”