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
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
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