Tagged: Colin Wakefield

Sunderland expenses row councillor claims another £15,000 in food and mileage

A Sunderland councillor who came under fire for claiming £11,000 of expenses and allowances in one year has come in for fresh criticism – after his claims increased.

 Neville Padgett (Labour) was responsible for a third of all councillor claims in 2012/13, pocketing £11,110 out of the £34,000 received by 75 councillors.

Now figures for the 2013/14 financial year show the Washington East ward representative received £15,074 in expenses – prompting one opposition councillor to call him a “greedy pig”.

> He certainly appears to have his snout wedged firmly in the trough…

The 68-year-old now claims £1,250 per month on top of his annual £8,369 basic allowance – more than he would receive if he were in a minimum wage job.

He previously said the mileage was clocked up by spending one day a week driving around every street in his ward to check on litter problems.

In total, the Labour councillor claimed £8,265 in travel expenses and £6,808 in subsistence claims, for food and refreshments while out of the house.

The latest figures were provided by Sunderland City Council’s payroll and pensions department on the request of Conservative members, under councillors’ privilege. Tory councillor Lee Martin said: “Quite blatantly he is a greedy pig.

“While an increasing number of people are having to use food banks, the council are allowing a councillor to trough £35,000, which is way higher than most MPs.

“He must be the hardest-working, most dedicated councillor. ”

> Coun. Martin is obviously not up to speed with his party’s stance on food banks… but he has a point – Coun. Padgett is evidently a one-man food bank all on his own.

When approached by the Sunderland Echo about the claims, Coun Padgett said there was an audit being carried out into how much he has received and, until that was complete, it would be unfair to comment.

He added: “I don’t look at how much it is when I put receipts in. There is a lot of things to discuss at the moment so it’s very difficult to comment.”

Coun Padgett has now claimed £35,535.42 in expenses since being elected in 2010, having claimed £2,930 in 2010/11 and £6,419.06 in 2011/12.

Council leader Paul Watson said he hoped councillors would use common sense when submitting claims. He said: “I think it’s up to the individual councillor. We would expect every councillor to only submit legitimate and fair and proper claims and they are being examined as they are submitted, I understand.

“It falls to each councillor to be answerable to their electorate.

“We expect every councillor to be understanding of the economic situation in the city and would expect them to be as frugal as possible when claiming.”

Independent group leader, Coun Colin Wakefield, said: “It’s a significant increase and clearly going the wrong way, when we are trying to drive costs down. It’s not good enough really.”

A Sunderland City Council spokeswoman confirmed Coun Padgett’s expense and allowance claims were being looked at.

She said: “The city council has received a request from one member to re-examine certain member expenses claims.

“The chief executive has sought and been given assurance that members’ expenses claims are being audited on a risk assessed basis. A scheduled audit of payroll including expenses is currently on-going.

“Any concerns will be addressed through this process.”

Source – Sunderland Echo  23 April 2014

Benefit fraud councillor claimed £5,000 in allowances – despite not attending a single meeting

A Sunderland city councillor continued to claim thousands of pounds in allowances after being convicted of benefit fraud – despite not attending a single meeting.

Lisa Smiles pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to notify Sunderland City Council of a change in circumstances, when she appeared before city magistrates in September.

She received £2,318 in payments across 12 months, after she did not declare wages and her councillor’s allowance.

She was suspended by the Labour Party, but could not be sacked as a city councillor as she had not been sentenced to at least three months jail, as set out in the Local Government Act 1972.

Smiles, who represented the St Anne’s ward, eventually stood down at the end of January – just days before she faced being booted off the council because she had not attended a single meeting in six months.

But despite attending her last Sunderland City Council meeting on July 24 last year, Smiles continued to claim cash totting up £5,422.99 between her conviction and quitting politics.

The amount is the pro-rata portion during that period, made up of her £8,369 basic allowance, her £6,277 special responsibility allowance as vice chairman of the West Sunderland area Committee, and mobile phone allowance.

Although Smiles has not done anything illegal, she came under fire by members of all political groups on the council.

Conservative Councillor Lee Martin said: “The extra allowance she has claimed is more than the amount she is having to repay for defrauding housing benefit. I’m disgusted.”

Colin Wakefield, leader of the independent group said: “It is incomprehensible that a councillor who has been prosecuted by the council for fraud and thrown out of the Labour group, is still allowed to hold a special responsibility allowance and have her mobile phone bills paid after being effectively ceasing to be a councillor.”

Sunderland Council leader Councillor Paul Watson said: “I wouldn’t condone it at all. I don’t know the reason she hasn’t come in, whether she was just too embarrassed or whatever, I haven’t a clue.

“But if people are not getting the amount of representation the public pay for, it’s the law that needs changing. The law could be expulsion after not attending for a couple of months or a certain number of consecutive meetings. It casts a shadow on all elected members.”

> So all agree it was not a good thing – after the event. Even though it was apparently legal.

What did any of them actually do at the time ? What will any of them do to stop it happening in the future ?

Source – Sunderland Echo,  07 March 2014