A councillor has claimed mileage to attend the ward they represent, with other claims including mileage to attend an RAF event, Focus Wales and the opening of Tŷ Pawb.
Again using an often ignored right Wrexham.com has spent time examining the expenses and receipts of some Wrexham Councillors to discover what items were being claimed for.
The folder for 2018-19 was much thinner than previous examinations, with only a handful of councillors now claiming anything at all, meaning previous insights to who favours which pump at the Hightown petrol station have ceased.
The expenses claims are entirely in accordance with the rules for Councillors.
All councillors are offered the “Annual Basic Salary” of £13,400, with “Senior Salaries” inclusive of the basic salary topping out at £48.1k for the Council Leader, £33.6k for the Deputy Leader and £29.1k for Executive Board Members with Lead Responsibility. On top of that councillors can claim expenses for ‘reimbursement of travelling and expense’ … ‘whilst undertaking duties approved by the Authority’.
The entire list of claims are below, with ‘normal’ councillors claiming expenses being:
Cllr Trevor Bates, 2195 miles (£987.75)
Cllr Paul Roberts, 1152 (£518.40)
Cllr Graham Rogers, 309 (£139.05)
Cllr Rob Walsh, 92 (£41.40)
Members of the Executive Board who claimed expenses are:
Cllr David A Bithell, 98 miles (£44.10), £21.60 other
Cllr Terry Evans, 3245 miles (£1,460.25)
Cllr Joan Lowe, 1468 miles (£660.60)
Cllr Hugh Jones, 1289 (£580.05), £57.95 other
Cllr Hugh Jones is also the Deputy Leader of the Council.
None of the other 44 councillors appeared on the expenses forms included in the paperwork we examined.
Executive Board Member, and Lead Member for Economy – Economic Development and Regeneration of Wrexham Council, Cllr Terry Evans appears to have a standard mileage claim, with Bangor on Dee, the Guildhall and Abbey Road all being bang on 24 miles – although a visit to Trevor was noted as 10 miles.
Cllr Evans claimed milage to attend the private political Executive Board pre-meetings, the relaunch of the Hafod Resturant, several ‘town inspections’ and one destination labelled “Hugh Jones Office”.
Cllr Evans has a 24 mile claim with the destination labelled “Council RAF” for the 28th August 2018.
We can’t spot what event was on that day, however that week RAF Wales was given the Freedom of the Borough, with several events held marking the honour, with the garden on Queens Square opened on the 23rd (Thursday) and the RAF Freedom event that was billed as the ‘ending’ of the event period on the 25th (Saturday).
Cllr Evans also claimed mileage for attending the royal visit to the Enterprise Hub in the town centre plus it’s official opening, Focus Wales, opening of a town centre cafe and visiting Tŷ Pawb ‘meeting traders’.
Cllr Paul Roberts represents the Erddig ward*, however regularly claims mileage to and from an address in Rossett to attend the Guildhall in the town centre for various meetings, including scheduled council, executive board and scrutiny meetings.
One form from May 2018 has a regular 12 mile claim for the distance however under ‘destination’ it has Erddig, or “Erdigg” as he has written it. A councillor claiming with their own ward as a destination is unique during our inspections of such expenses.
Due to the unusual nature of a councillor claiming milage to visit a ward they represent we asked Cllr Roberts if it was appropriate to claim to visit his own ward.
He told us: “Just checked the form and yes you are correct about the Japanese Knotweed that is Environmentally invasive, but please bear in mind that I also attended a Full Council meeting as well that day and it is bracketed on the claim form alongside it”. The bracketing of the associated council meeting is visible in the copy of the form above.
On the claim form for February this year Cllr Roberts claimed his apparently standard 12 miles, or £5.40, for a visit to “Huntroyde”, with Huntroyde Avenue being in his Erddig ward. There was no other meeting bracketed on this date, as below:
Cllr Roberts also had a mileage claim to attend the official opening of Tŷ Pawb.
Cllr Joan Lowe’s claims appear to be solely for out of county work, with trips to St Asaph, ‘Conway’ and Llandudno Junction being the main destinations.
Cllr Graham Rogers claim for mileage was two trips to Llandrindod Wells, for “Joint Council Wales”.
Cllr Rob Walsh claimed 92 miles to attend Venue Cymru with the purpose of visit stated as “national armed forces day”.
Cllr Bates lives in Glyn Ceiriog (as you could well expect for councillor for the Ceiriog Valley ward) and regularly claims the 40 mile round trip to and from the Guidhall.
One meeting Cllr Bates gave as the purpose of visit on the expenses form was on the topic of “Work and Day Opportunities”. The £18.00 mileage claim was paid, or four and a half days pay that the administration he aligns under was keen to cut at one point previously, to make savings in such Work Opportunities.
Cllr Hugh Jones claimed for trips further afield such as Cardiff, Colwyn Bay and Brymbo.
He also submitted paperwork for a £13.85 first class ticket to Colwyn Bay, but claimed the cost of a second class ticket of £13.45 covering the 40p top up to first class himself – with Arriva Trains Wales now defunct with Transport for Wales taking over, we can’t find out if, or what, delights awaited the councillor for the forty pence bump.
Cllr Jones also had a ticking off for his expense claiming process, with a ‘reminder’ of the requirement to submit claims within a three month window.
In emails in the claims documents an officer notes that mileage claims dating back to January and February 2018 were made and were ‘more than three months old’ and therefore required higher authority to sign off on.
The correspondence between officers states that such claims are payable but only in the event of a ‘detailed enquiry’ by the senior officer, who appears to take the view they are acceptable as long as a firm reminder was sent out to the councillor.
Cllr David A Bithell claimed for some international travel, to Chester, with 30 miles and a car parking ticket reimbursed. In what we think is a first, Cllr Bithell appears to have used his iPad to grab a snap of his ticket for expenses proof:
Although he did not make any claims the files also included an email from Cllr Russell Gilmartin sent a few weeks after being elected asking how he forgoes a pay increase, and also how he can pay for his own iPad.
It appears the request was not actioned, so he sent further emails to ensure this took place and they were included in the folder provided to us.
We asked to look at the expenses for the new Chief Executive Ian Bancroft, and former Chief Exec Helen Paterson (who famously claimed to attend a Remembrance service ), however that was not possible as there were no claims made during the 2018/19 financial year for either of them.
Although the documentation and classification has changed over the years, our calculations are that mileage claims have dropped 64% from 2008-09 and 56% from 2011-12 to 2018-19. Likewise, since 2012 onwards all ‘other’ expenses claims have been under £150 where as in 2008-9 they were close to £1000.
We think the total mileage paid in just over a decade is around £88k, however if 2008 levels were maintained that figure would have been nearer £140k by this year.
Overall councillor pay has increased during that time period:
For those wishing to inspect similar documents the month long window to do so comes once a year, so it is likely June 2020 before the opportunity arises again.
Wrexham Council did publicise the availability on their website, and it seems from information requested previously, via a statutory notice advert costing several hundred pounds although in a recent meeting it was hinted the latter was not actually required.
Wrexham Council told us in 2016 that all this information is on their website, but we can’t link to it, as that pointer provided as an FOI response was and is simply untrue.
(*Erddig Ward does seem to be a peculiarity on our expenses delving, with Cllr Paul Roberts beating Cllr Bob Dutton back in the 2017 election. Cllr Dutton famously claimed £1.35 to attend the town’s Remembrance Day service.)
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