COUNCIL bosses have finally released the amounts paid to council members for allowances and expenses last year, blaming “staffing problems” for a five-month wait.
Brighton and Hove City Council is required by law to make public the amounts paid “as soon as possible”.
Council members are not paid for their part-time role but receive a base allowance of £13,359.60, plus an allowance for those who have a “special responsibility” such as chairing a committee.
The largest amount went to the chairman of the council, Phélim Mac Cafferty. He received an additional special responsibility allowance of £33,398.88, totaling more than £46,000 – more than £100,000 less than Council chief Geoff Raw.
Council members can also apply for travel and subsistence expenses and childcare, although few do, with co-opted members also receiving an allowance eligible to file expense reports.
Details of councillors’ demands have been released following inquiries in recent months.
Nigel Furness, member of the Friends of Brighton and Hove Citizens’ Action Group, tabled a question about the delay to the Council’s Policy and Resources Committee, which is due to meet on Thursday 6 October.
In the 2021/22 financial year, two city councilors applied for care allowance.
Independent councilor Nick Childs asked for £278, while Green councilor Alex Phillips asked for £24.50.
The new spending details come a year after the council apologized for not uploading several years’ spending updates to its website.
After its publication, an investigation by The Argus found that Green Councilor Alex Phillips had called in childcare for periods when sessions had ended or were about to begin.
This prompted the council to launch an independent inquiry which found overpayments of up to £480, with a report noting that claims were not always submitted on time and that over reliance was placed on trust rather than documentary evidence.
Of 74 child care requests made between October 2019 and March 2021, Cllr Phillips found that 55 of those were overclaimed.
Cllr Phillips repaid the council £490 and said at the time the report was published: “I would like to apologize for the small number of claims I have made which were inconsistent with the Council’s spending policy.”
In the 2021/22 financial year, five councilors received travel and subsistence expenses. The highest went to Green Councilor Amy Heley, who asked for £54.05. Councilor Childs, independent Kate Knight and Conservative Garry Peltzer Dunn all claimed £32.95.
Green councilwoman Lizzie Deane was asking £18.10 the year before she was named mayor. She is expected to receive a £10,000 special responsibility allowance for her year as mayor.
The total amount paid to all council members is just over £900,000.
Last year, members of the Friends of Brighton and Hove Citizens Action Group posed public questions at General Council meetings to contest expense payments to a former mayor and Green Councillor, Alex Phillips.
Mr Furness said the public was losing confidence in the council’s ability to manage spending.
He said: “The most recent report to the Audit and Standards Committee outlined many highly questionable accounting practices, such as: B. Moving council spending to different fiscal years if a council member has exceeded the cap for that year.
“The Council has consistently failed to meet its legal obligation to disclose expenditure in a timely manner.
“The situation needs to be addressed urgently and further steps need to be taken to restore the public’s lost confidence in the Council on this matter.
“To date there has been no accountability for the failure of the Council on this matter. That needs to change.”
In July, the Council’s Audits Manager for Fraud Prevention, Simon White, told members of the Council’s Audits and Standards Committee that there was “no evidence” of cheating on childcare claims by Councilor Phillips.
The council’s lead counsel, Abraham Ghebre-Ghiorghis, blamed oversights and poor organization rather than dishonesty.
The committee was told that paperwork had disappeared and applications were being submitted late. Members requested that council members’ expense reports be submitted digitally – as they are by council staff.
Another former mayor, Conservative councilwoman Anne Meadows, called on Councilman Phillips to face sanctions.
She said her childcare allowance claims applied to town hall meetings that didn’t happen because of the coronavirus lockdown and were “deliberate and calculated” and “the definition of fraud”.
Councilman Phillips is understood to have pre-paid for childcare before the pandemic restrictions were announced.
Just before the latest allowances and expense reports were released, Councilor Meadows said: “I’m confused and more than a little concerned that the Council hasn’t released Councillors’ expenses, although as Council we pride ourselves on being transparent.
“However, as we have seen previously with spending, during the recent Councilor Phillips debacle it is important to understand why councillors’ spending needs to be released so residents can see what we are earning and what we are claiming for.
“Since these haven’t been released yet, one wonders if there is more to hide and more to come out of them.”
The Labor group said it had also asked why the allowances had not yet been made public.
Joint Labor opposition leaders, Councilor John Allcock and Councilor Carmen Appich, said: “It is obviously important that Councilors’ spending is published regularly to ensure transparency and public accountability.”
The Council said: “We apologize for the delay in uploading Council issues to the website.
“This is due to staffing issues and is also checking that the information is accurate and up to date.
“We aim to have all the information uploaded this week.”
READ MORE: Council apologizes for delay in releasing spending
https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/22952867.brighton-hove-councillors-expenses-published/?ref=rss Brighton and Hove City Council issues published