Was there no available public transport when Wirral Council councillors took taxis?
The question I will be asking at tonight’s Council meeting to Councillor Adrian Jones is to do with a blog post I wrote back on the 26th January headlined “INCREDIBLE: £2,877.35 spent by Wirral Council last year in previously hidden payments on taxis for Labour councillors!”.
It led to Row as Wirral Labour councillors rack up nearly £3,000 expense claims for taxis by Emma Rigby in the Wirral Globe, a Granty’s Inferno column headlined GRANTY’S INFERNO: Taxi-happy Wirral councillors are taking us all for a ride and someone writing a letter in to the Wirral Globe Not ‘horrified’ by Wirral councillors’ taxi fare bill.
Below is the text of my question to Councillor Adrian Jones (the Cabinet Member for Support Services):
“Each year Wirral Council is required to publish annual totals of what councillors have claimed in travel expenses. Due to contracts with various taxi firms invoicing Wirral Council directly thousands of pounds of expenses weren’t included in the list for 2013/14.
The Members Allowance Scheme states that the use of taxis (or councillors’ own cars) for attending meetings is only permitted where public transport is either not available, or the journey by public transport would be likely to result in unreasonable delay.
For the taxi journeys made by councillors not included in the annual published lists for 2013/14 and those made since can you confirm:
(a) each journey was taken where there is no available public transport (or taking public transport would lead to unreasonable delay) and if not will councillors involved be refunding Wirral Council and
(b) what changes will be made so that the expenses for such journeys made in 2014/15 will be included next time the annual lists are published?”
Since the MP expenses scandal a number of years ago, there is much more transparency now over MP’s expenses. If I wanted to I could go on a website and search for my MP’s taxi expenses.
For example by looking at that website I can tell you that my MP Frank Field travelled by taxi on the 10th October 2014 from Rock Ferry to Conway Park station costing £6. I doubt there’ll ever be that level of openness and transparency for expense claims by councillors, but during the audit last summer I exercised my right to request (see s.15 of the Audit Commission Act 1998)the documentation providing amounts, what transport they used, mileage et cetera for travel expenses for councillors during the 2013/14 financial year.
A lot of paperwork was provided (which I published on this blog), but the detail about taxi journeys by Labour councillors revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request here was not (and this is only the annual totals and not at the detail of each journey).
It’s only if information was provided on the level of detail of each journey that the question about whether there was no available public transport could be answered. I’m sure Wirral Council should have this information from the invoices from the taxi firms. When this part of the passenger transport contract was put out to tender this year lot 4 was described as follows:
“LOT4 – This contract is for ad hoc journeys by taxi to allow Wirral Councillors to travel to various venues across Wirral.
This contract will allow Wirral Councillors to travel around Wirral on official Council business. The times will vary and may include evening and weekends.”
I look forward to hearing Councillor Jones’ answer this evening!
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