Tagged: Lee Martin

Former Sunderland city councillor ordered to pay back part of £26k expenses bill

Former  councillor Neville Padgett has been told to pay back some of his expenses after he claimed £26,000 in just over two years.

Mr Padgett resigned from his post last month citing health reasons after being re-elected in May in a landslide victory.

It was previously reported how Mr Padgett claimed £11,000 2012/13 – almost a third of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 councillors. He claimed another £15,000 the following year on top of his £8,369 basic allowance.

The expenses included food, refreshments, and mileage claims. He justified the latter by claiming to spend one day a week driving around every street in his ward to check on litter problems.

It’s understood that Mr Padgett attended a meeting held behind closed doors, of the council’s standards board, shortly before his resignation.

Council bosses have always insisted councillor’s claims are regularly monitored and reviewed “in line with national guidelines”.

But at a full council meeting last week, leader Paul Watson admitted the authority has been investigating Mr Padgett.

He said: “It is a delicate operation to decide what we think he should pay back. We have been looking at it for some time now.”

Tory opposition leader Lee Martin had tabled a question, asking if and how much Mr Padgett will be asked to repay, what category of claims and what time periods these relate to.

Coun Watson said: “Yes, Mr Padgett has been requested to repay an amount of money in respect of his previous expenses.

“The relevant information regarding the amount that is required to be repaid, the nature of these expenses and the period to which they relate will be provided in a report for publication at a future date.”

Back in March, Coun Watson said there was no question as to the legitimacy of Mr Padgett’s expense claims.

“At the end of the day, there are a lot of other people on the council who don’t claim their full allowances, so rather than concentrating on someone who seemingly claim what he is entitled to, look at the councillors who don’t put expenses in and pay out of their own pockets,” he said at the time.

But Coun Martin tackled Coun Watson about his earlier statement, asking: “Does the leader now regret telling the press that he was only claiming what he was entitled to.

“Does he regret making that claim when this is more than 1,200 employees of this council earned in that year? Does he regret that now ex-councillor Padgett has been told to repay the money, will he apologise to the city for not keeping a closer watch on him?”

Coun Watson hit back saying: “I don’t regret what I said, my comments were made in good faith at the time under the circumstances.

“I don’t apologise if anyone in here is making a less than honest claim. Padgett may have transgressed, we don’t know whether he has crossed the boundaries, that’s what the process is all about. I believed that he was claiming what he was entitled to. If I thought he hadn’t I wouldn’t have said so.”

A by-election to replace Mr Padgett in the Washington East ward will be held on December 11. Those standing are Alistair Baxter (Ukip), Hilary Johnson (Conservative), Tony Murphy (Green Party), Stephen O’Brien (LibDem), Tony Taylor (Labour).

Source –  Sunderland Echo,  01 Dec 2014

Sunderland councillor quits due to ‘health reasons’ after £26,000 expenses claims

A Sunderland city councillor who claimed more than £26,000 in expenses in two years has resigned.

Labour representative Neville Padgett suddenly stepped down from his Washington East seat just five months after he was re-elected in May.

Earlier this year, there were calls for 68-year-old Mr Padgett to resign when figures showed he was claiming £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.

It’s understood that Mr Padgett attended a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s standards board on Friday, although council bosses would not confirm this .

Council chief executive Dave Smith said in a statement:

“The city council can confirm a notice of resignation has been received from Coun Neville Padgett. A notice of vacancy in the Washington East ward will be published in due course.”

Mr Padgett hit the headlines in March when the 2012/13 expenses were published. He was found to have claimed £11,000 – almost a third of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 councillors.

The expenses included food, refreshments, and mileage claims. At the time, he justified the latter by claiming to spend one day a week driving around every street in his ward to check on litter problems.

Then figures released in April showed that in 2013/14, he had claimed even more – just over £15,000 – to supplement his basic allowance.

A month later, voters in Washington East re-elected him for another term in a landslide victory. Tory opposition leader Lee Martin, who has led calls for Mr Padgett to step down, has now asked the council to investigate.

Coun Martin said he plans to table a question for the November meeting of the full council in order that any findings of the standards board are made public. He said:

“I have asked for the council to investigate whether there was any wrongdoing. I believe his resignation is linked to his expenses.

“I’m still waiting for the council to confirm that they completed the review I asked for to ensure his expenses were legitimate. It is in the public interest to know it has been done properly.”

Mr Padgett’s former Labour colleague and Washington South councillor Graeme Miller said:

“This is a standards board issue. I don’t know what their report said. I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. He has resigned before the end of the process. Whatever happened on Friday is between Neville and the members of the standards board.”

Council leader Paul Watson said Mr Padgett’s resignation letter cited health grounds and that he needed more time to care for his wife.

The electorate returned him with a greater majority and there is no better test than the local community making the verdict,” Coun Watson added.

Dave Smith said:

Concerns were raised earlier this year about re-examining certain councillor expenses claims. These are audited on a risk assessed basis and any issues are raised with individuals in line with the Code of Conduct that all councillors sign.

“Because of the code and its procedures, it would be inappropriate to advise other councillors of an audit conclusion or for the council to make any further comment.”

A spokesman for Labour North said:

“Neville Padgett has not resigned from the Labour Party, but we do understand he has resigned as a councillor on Sunderland City Council.”

Source –  Sunderland Echo,  17 Oct 2014

Sunderland faces new £36m ‘attack on the poor’

Sunderland faces another three years of misery after it was revealed another £108million of savings will have to be made in an ‘unremitting assault and ‘attack on the poor.’

The Labour cabinet at Sunderland City Council agreed a report which will guide the budget setting process for the next financial year.

By adopting the budget planning framework 2015/16, which shows the reduction in national funding remaining at 13.16 per cent for the next financial year, cabinet members have agreed that cuts of £36.3million will have to be made.

Presenting the report, cabinet secretary Mel Speding said the cuts would mean frontline services would be cut – but pledged the council will still push forward with regeneration projects.

The sustained level of cuts means frontline services will unavoidably be affected,” Coun Speding said, adding that: “This council continues to lobby against government proposals.”

Coun Graeme Miller added:

“This is an unremitting assault on the public sector and local authorities in general. Quite how they expect us to deliver the services the residents of the city are expecting from us I have absolutely no idea. To have lost £100million already, then to have to find another £108million, beggars belief.”

Coun John Kelly said:

Other authorities and areas have not taken the significant cuts we have taken. Whether this is because we are a Labour-controlled authority or because we are in the North East, the Conservatives have done nothing but attack this area. If they are voted back in, they will continue to attack the poor. They will continue to dismantle, bit by bit, the way we look after the most vulnerable people.”

Commenting after the meeting, Tory group leader Lee Martin said the Labour councillors failed to see the bigger picture.

“It doesn’t gel with what’s happening in people’s lives,” Coun Martin said. “We’ve had the fastest fall in poverty rates, along with Scotland, at five per cent. This comes from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which is hardly a Conservative organisation. We have the fastest growing economy in Europe.

> So… the more resources are cut, the more poverty rates fall ?  How does that work ? Well of course it doesn’t…

“There has been no commitment from Ed Miliband or the Labour Party to spend more on local government if they get in. Labour like to talk about it as a great big crusade against the North East, but they did nothing to address regeneration, employment and welfare.

“We have money going into business parks, roads, regeneration, but the difference now is that everything comes with strings attached.

“Nobody believes that we have no money. If that was the case, why would we spend £12million on a public square. Yes, the council is smaller than it used to be, but there is no commitment from them to go back to how it used to be. It’s all about where their priorities are.”

Sunderland Unison organiser Helen Metcalf said:

“From our point of view we want to protect public services as far as possible. Where there is outsourcing of services, we need to protect contracts and working conditions, and ensure we get a fair deal for our members. We have offered to work with the council. We can’t stop services being outsourced, but we want to ensure we don’t move towards zero-hour contracts and a two-tier workforce.”

Source –  Sunderland Echo,  10 Oct 2014

Widening North/South divide in healthcare highlighted by new report

A damning report today reveals the “totally unacceptable” inequalities driving a widening health divide between the North East and the South.

Experts are warning the current approach to tackling the gap is failing, and the situation is only likely to get worse.

According to the report, a baby girl born in Coxhoe, County Durham, can expect to live for 15 fewer years in good health than a baby girl born in Richmond, London.

Public health experts have now highlighted how devolved powers from central government to the North East could play a vital role in helping close this gulf.

Due North: the report of the Inquiry on Health Equity for the North, is the outcome of an independent inquiry, commissioned by Public Health England.

Professor Clare Bambra from Durham University’s Department of Geography and an Inquiry panel member, said:

“The differences in people’s health in the north compared to other parts of the UK are totally unacceptable. Without a radical change to the current approach to health inequality, we are likely to see things getting worse.”

In the North East, 18% of residents are classed as living in poverty, compared to 12% in the South East. During the past 20 years the region has consistently had lower employment rates than the South for both men and women. These factors, among others, have had a subsequent knock-on effect on general health.

In more recent years, massive efforts and tens of millions of pounds have been spent across the North East on schemes aimed at improving wellbeing. Newcastle and Sunderland are just some of areas that have implemented ways of reducing inequality by campaigning for the payment of a Living Wage.

But the report sets out a number of recommendations including the use of devolved powers to ensure decisions about health issues in the North East are made in the North East. It states:

“Devolution is central for addressing health inequalities with the rest of England. Devolution means regions in the North retaining more power and resources to collectively develop solutions that build on the assets and resilience of the North.”

Ms Bambra said:

“Central government takes a ‘one size fits all’ approach to health spending. Devolution would allow us to address the problems we have here. In recent years we have lost our regional agencies in the North East so there is less focus on us.”

The report also recommended “collecting better data on children in the early years” so they can be tracked over time, monitoring inequalities in development.

In Sunderland over the last two years, figures showed 10% of reception-age children are obese, with local variations of 13 to 17% in some areas. By Year 6, the figure is 21% average, with some areas spiking at 26 to 34%.

Just days ago, plans to build a McDonald’s near a Newcastle school were rejected by councillors. Hundreds of people objected over fears the restaurant would promote unhealthy eating to children from nearby Kenton School.

Ms Bambra said:

“Lots of children’s life chances are determined before they are even born. We need to improve peoples’ access to affordable, healthy food.”

Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, said:

“This report highlights the need for Government to take action on poverty and the underlying causes of health inequalities.

“Many people in our region also still suffer ill health as a result of our industrial past. Ministers should prioritise those parts of our country with greatest need, not shift resources into more affluent areas.”

However, Coun Lee Martin, leader of Wearside’s Conservatives, said:

“If Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had done exactly what the coalition are doing on jobs, welfare reform, and education then the gap would have closed in the last 20 years. If anything we need to go further in tackling poverty and poverty of aspiration. Some of the North East’s councils adopting the Living Wage would be a start. I’m all for more powers being devolved but let’s have them devolved to people the public can elect directly rather than faceless council leaders.”

Prof Eugene Milne, director of Public Health at Newcastle City Council, said efforts were underway on Tyneside to address some of the most prolific health concerns. He added:

“We know that we have an extensive public health programme which aims to improve the general health of the local population – as a result we have made progress in key areas over recent years.

“However, this report correctly points to a continuing divide across the country, and between the rich and the poor in our society. We welcome that debate.

“Even with the rate of progress that we have, we know that it would take many decades to close the gap between the north and the south. Larger scale action is needed if the problem is to be addressed.”

Source – Newcastle Journal, 15 Sept 2014

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

Sunderland councillor claimed £11,000 in food and mileage expenses

One Sunderland councillor was responsible for a third of all expenses claimed by members last year – supplementing his basic allowance by £900 every month.

Labour backbencher Neville Padgett claimed £11,110 out of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 councillors in 2012/13.

Figures on Sunderland City Council’s website show Coun Padgett’s travel expenses amounted to £7,084 with another £4,026 claimed for subsistence, in addition to the basic £8,369 allowance all councillors are entitled to.

During the year, the Washington East member claimed up to the maximum £28.73 per day in subsistence for a total 274 days, which included two bank holidays.

In contrast, Coun Padgett’s Washington East ward colleague, Coun Fiona Miller claimed just £183.15 in travel expenses, while Coun David Snowdon, who was elected in May 2012, after the start of the financial year, claimed £540 in travel expenses. Neither of them claimed subsistence.

Married father-of-two Coun Padgett, who lives in Houghton, was queried by the council’s payroll department for “several entries for tour of ward” claims.

In a reply via email – seen by the Echo – Coun Padgett, 68, said he tours his ward by car once a week because of “litter problems”.

He wrote: “I cover every street and road throughout the ward. This is because of the increase in litter problems etc. The ward is the largest by area in Sunderland so the most economical way of covering it is by car.”

From March 4, 2012, to February 24, 2013, Coun Padgett completed 52 tours.

Driving his 1,400cc Vauxhall Corsa, he claimed 45p per mile for 47 51-mile trips – a total of £22.95 each time. One trip of 53 miles was also claimed for at that rate, resulting in a claim for £23.85.

The four final claims of that year were for 51-mile trips at 25p per mile – the rate councillors can claim when they have clocked up in excess of 10,000 miles – resulting in claims of £12.75. In total, £1,153.50 of taxpayers’ money was spent on Coun Padgett’s litter tours.

Tory opposition councillor Lee Martin has now formally asked the council to look into the legitimacy of the claims.

“He is a back bench councillor and he appears to have five appointments a day, which makes him eligible to claim subsistence allowance,” Coun Martin said.

“He does it nearly every day, including Saturdays. He must be the most dedicated member of this council. He has claimed just over £4,000 in subsistence. He must never have been to the supermarket all year, and is claiming travel expenses to look for litter.

“He needs to be brought to account. I’m the first person to say councillors shouldn’t be out of pocket for what they do, but he claims nearly £1,000 a month. If all councillors claimed that amount the total bill would be £883,000. It’s just not acceptable.”

Council leader Paul Watson, who claimed just £26 in travel expenses and £309 subsistence, said: “I’m probably not one to judge their expenses, but I can say that every claim that is put in for expenses goes through the system and is checked by officers.

“I understand that there has been no questions as to the legitimacy of the expenses. At the end of the day, there are a lot of other people on the council who don’t claim their full allowances, so rather than concentrating on someone who seemingly claim what he is entitled to, look at the councillors who don’t put expenses in and pay out of their own pockets.”

A statement from Sunderland City Council 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. Any concerns will be addressed through this process.”

Source – Sunderland Echo, 13 March 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

Tory MP defends ‘scumbag hooligans’ comment about Sunderland fans

AN MP who came under fire for labelling football fans “scumbag hooligans” on Twitter has defended his comments.

Thousands of Sunderland fans gathered in Covent Garden last night ahead of Sunday’s  Capital One Cup final clash.

Tory MP Robert Halfon sparked fury when he posted a picture of litter in the streets on Twitter and wrote: “Went to London for dinner. Wish I hadn’t. Scumbag football hooligans turn Covent Garden into a disgusting Cesspit.”

The member for Harlow in Essex soon found himself at the centre of an online firestorm and facing criticism from his own party.

Sunderland Conservative councillor Lee Martin wrote: “Nice to see @halfon4harlowMP has labelled the 5000 Sunderland fans in Covent Garden last night scumbags and hooligans. Idiot.”

But Mr Halfon denied his attack has been aimed exclusively at Sunderland fans.

 “My tweet was to do specifically with the state of the area I saw and walked on, which was much broken glass and huge amounts of dropped litter in the roads. Why is it wrong of me to point that out?

“I asked a police officer who told me that there were six clubs in the area. In no way was I, or did I, identify one club over another, in fact I was not sure who had actually done it other than it was people associated with football.

“I specifically did not attack fans from any club but was referring only to those who had left the broken glass. It is wrong to say I have mentioned or described any fan’s from any club in the manner described.

“I also make clear the distinction between genuine fans of which there are many, and have every right to enjoy themselves, and hooligans who throw and smash glass all over the road. As a football fan myself I have huge admiration for most British clubs.

“That was the context of my tweet, which inevitably has been twisted or misunderstood as attacking a particular group of fans, or particular club, which was far from the case.”

Other Twitter users questioned whether Mr Halfon would have been similarly critical of the mess left behind after other events.

The Times football writer Tony Barrett posed a picture of the debris left after New Year’s Eve celebrations, with the question: “London after New Years Eve – “scumbag New Year revellers” or just not enough bins?”

And freelance writer Daniel Storey posted a link to details of the clean-up operation after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, with the comment: “30 tonnes of rubbish on streets after diamond jubilee. Scumbag jubilee hooligans?”

Source – Sunderland Echo,  03 Mar 2014

Labour councillor quits Sunderland City Council after benefit fraud conviction

Sunderland councillor Lisa Smiles, who was convicted of conning the local authority out of £2,000 after she failed to declare wages and her councillor’s allowance when claiming housing benefit., has resigned from both the Labour Party and the city council.

She admitted receiving £2,318 in payments she was not entitled to over a period of 12 months and was fined £150 when she appeared at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.

The departure  leaves a vacancy in her former ward of St Anne’s , however the council was unable to give details of if and when a by-election would be held.

A spokesman for the council said: “The city council can confirm a notice of resignation has been received from Lisa Smiles.”

A Labour North spokesman said: “Councillor Lisa Smiles was suspended from the Labour Party in September 2013 following her court appearance.

“She remained on suspension pending an internal investigation into her conduct. She has now resigned from the Labour Party and Sunderland Labour Group.”

The Tories, naturally tried to spin things to their own advantage – Tory councillor Lee Martin submitted a written question to council leader Paul Watson, asking whether he thought the “overwhelming majority” of people on benefits are in genuine need and whether cheats should be punished.

The implication being of course that anyone claiming benefits must be a bit dodgy on the grounds that the occasional person defrauds the system, but on that basis you might counter that the “overwhelming majority” of councillors probably fiddle their expenses, because one or two have been caught red-handed ( wouldn’t it be interesting to know what percentage of benefit claims are fraudulent as opposed to the the percentage of expenses fiddled by vcarious politicians ?).

Coun Watson said: “Benefits are there to support those in need,” adding that “abusing that system is diabolical and should be punished”.

He then quoted a section of CS Lewis’ theories on crime and punishment, then referred to “the self-righted retribution that some Tories would advocate.”

Coun Watson said that punishment should be done to deter and lead by example, not to exact revenge, adding that to do so would be “psychologically sick”.

Referring to Lisa Smiles, Coun Martin said there seemed to be “one rule for people in here, and one rule for others.” His comment was drowned out by protests from Labour councillors.

“One rule for people in here, and one rule for others.” Now that’s a dangerous game for a Tory to play ! Still, when your possee of councillors is so, er, compact, that they meet in a phone box, I guess there’s nothing to lose by living dangerously 😉

Source – Sunderland Echo  04 Feb 2014