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Posted by: John Brace | 11th September 2015

Why is there a £17k to £19k discrepancy in allowances and expenses for councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority?

Why is there a £17k to £19k discrepancy in allowances and expenses for councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority?

                                                           

Current Chair of the Audit Sub Committee Cllr Denise Roberts is in the foreground of this photo from 27th November 2014 Background L to R former DCE Kieran Timmins  DCFO Phil Garrigan and councillor

Current Chair of the Audit Sub Committee Cllr Denise Roberts is in the foreground of this photo from 27th November 2014 Background L to R former DCE Kieran Timmins DCFO Phil Garrigan and councillor

There’s a discrepancy I’ve spotted. In the papers for the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority Policy and Resources Committee that meets on the 17th September 2015. There is a note in the Statement of Accounts (note 29) on page 59. It’s short so I’ll quote it below as it’s mainly information in a table.

29. Members’ Allowances

The Authority comprises of 18 councillors from the 5 districts of Merseyside. The total allowances paid to members within the year were:

 2014/152013/14
£000£000
Allowances225239
Expenses1423
239262

As you can see from the table above, for 2014/15 the total allowances paid to councillors is £225,000 and the total expenses for 2014/15 to councillors £14,000. The total for these two figures is £239,000.

On June 11th the Merseyside Fire & Rescue Authority met, agenda item 9 was Members Allowance Payments 2014/15. This agenda item contained a table detailing payments to councillors for 2014/15.

The total allowances detailed in that table for 2014/15 are £143,242.50 + £16,140 + £24,210.00 + £1.345.00 + £8,070.00 + £11,939.57 + £6,053.04 + £2,690.33 = £213,690.44

However £213,690.44 does not equal £225,000!

The difference is £11,309.56 +-£500!

The total expenses detailed in that table are £1,338.45 + £4,175.84 + £2,194.05 = £7,708.34

Again £7,708.34 does not equal £14,000.

This difference is £6,291.66 +-£500!

The two differences add up to a grand total of £17,601.22 +-£1000.

As the figures in the statement of accounts are rounded to the nearest £1000, this could be any figure between £16,601.22 and £18,601.20.

On the expenses side I can make an educated guess that the expenses paid directly by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority that are detailed on the 49 pages of expenses here for councillors weren’t in June being properly coded. Page 2 of a letter from Janet Henshaw states that this amount estimated at between £5,700 and £6,700 wasn’t being coded to each councillor as it would require going through approximately 12 monthly invoices and coding expenditure to 18 councillors (which is classed as a “wholly unreasonable use of scarce resources”).

I’ve totted up amounts in the first twenty-four pages and they total £3,068.04. Assuming the other pages are for broadly similar amounts that would make the total in the ballpark figure of £6,136.08 (which is within the range of £6,291.66 +-£500).

However I’m still at a loss as to why there’s a ~£11,309.56+-£500 difference on allowances for 2014/15!

Perhaps I should ask the auditor Grant Thornton what’s going on and also raise it with the councillors and officers?

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Responses

  1. John
    It sounds like more fraud and theft of public funds to me and I agree , you should pose the question to their auditors.

    • I have sent a long email to the external auditors of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (Grant Thornton), councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and senior management at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

      It’s probably going to make me unpopular in some areas, but in the interests of openness and transparency I copy it below (I have removed the email addresses of who it goes to, although these are easy enough to find out online).

      =======================================================

      Dear All,

      Grant Thornton
      CC: Robin Baker (Engagement Lead)
      CC: Paul Basnett (Audit Manager)
      CC: John Padfield (Executive)

      Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service
      CC: Ian Cummins (in his capacity as s.151 officer)
      CC: Janet Henshaw (in her capacity as Monitoring Officer)
      CC: Kelly Johnson (Democratic Services Manager)
      CC: Kieran Timmins (former Deputy Chief Executive)

      Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority
      CC: Cllr Denise Roberts (Chair, Audit Sub Committee)
      CC: Cllr Lesley Rennie (Opposition spokesperson, Audit Sub Committee & Policy and Resources Committee)
      CC: Cllr Jean Stapleton (Lead Member for Finance, Assets and Efficiencies)
      CC: Cllr Leslie Byrom (Chair, Policy and Resources Committee)

      ===============================================================================

      From the 26th July 2015 to the close of the accounts, as a Merseyside local government elector I can ask questions of the auditor (see Audit Commission Act 1998, s.15(2)).

      I promised Kieran Timmins that I would inform him of any questions I had that arose from the 2014/15 audit which is why he is copied in to this email. However I feel it would be unfair to just write to the auditor and not also make those tasked with corporate governance at MFRS/MFRA aware of my concerns at the same time.

      Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s Policy and Resources Committee meets on the Thursday 17th September and agenda item 4 is statement of accounts 2014/15 – Authorisation for issue .

      Appendix A for that item is a draft statement of accounts and Note 29 Members’ Allowances on page 59 of that report (or if you are reading it as part of the papers for the meeting page 110).

      This note contains a table with the following total figures for financial year 2014/15:

      Allowances £225,000
      Expenses £14,000

      However these figures are materially different to the total figures declared earlier in the year. At the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority’s AGM held on the 11th June 2015 agenda item 9 (Members Allowance Payments) contained an appendix 1 (Members Allowance Payments 2014/15).

      The totals from this table are

      Allowances £213,690.44
      Expenses £7,708.34

      As some who this email goes to will already know, as a Merseyside local government elector I exercised my Audit Commission Act 1998 s.15(1)(a) right to inspect various contracts & invoices as well as the expenses claimed by councillors.

      I also received a letter from Janet Henshaw in response to a letter I wrote to councillors on MFRA about agenda item 9 on the MFRA’s AGM meeting on the 11th June 2015.

      I am satisfied that the discrepancy in the two amounts above about expenses claimed was because expenses where Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service were invoiced directly in relation to councillors was not being coded to each individual councillor. Considering that this amounted to over the financial year ~50 A4 pages of information that this would have taken hours of MFRS employee time a month to do. I fully comprehend that there seems to have been a misunderstanding on MFRA/MFRS’ part that the legislation referred to expenses claimed by councillors rather than all expenses paid out under the allowances scheme.

      However as there is also a discrepancy on the allowances side too which I cannot explain, this is exceedingly worrying.

      Therefore the following questions arise (which I have given individual letters for convenience):

      A) Why do the draft statement of accounts (note 29) state that for 2014/15 that MFRA councillors received total allowances of £225k, whereas earlier in the year MFRA stated that councillors received £213,690.44?

      B) I fully understand the reason (or explanation) stated as to why there is a difference between the total expenses for councillors amount in the draft Statement of Accounts of £14k and the £7,708.34 figure declared earlier in the year.

      The councillors are however directly accountable to the 1.4 million electors on Merseyside (of which I am one). This is why the Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003 require the total annual allowances and expenses information to be published for each councillor in certain categories.

      Materially misstating the level of expenses councillors are claiming to this degree is misleading the public. Therefore as the figures stated in June contradict those in the draft statement of accounts, will the MFRA be restating for the 2014/15 financial year the information required by the Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003?

      C) The invoices for some councillor expenses were obviously not being coded to each individual councillor. However these invoices also covered MFRS employee expenses.

      If the MFRS employees’ expenses were also not being properly coded to the relevant employee it raises tax implications as some expenses would be taxable. If these were not properly allocated to the relevant person HMRC could have lost out on tax revenue.

      Therefore for the pages of invoices I was supplied with during the audit that relate to expenses of MFRS employees what reassurance can I have that the same mistake was not being made that was being made for councillor expenses?

      D) Why wasn’t the information in questions A to C picked up by any internal financial controls operating at MFRS/MFRA?

      E) I have noticed this same mistake made at another local authority. After having asked the councillor responsible I was reassured at a public meeting that the system would be changed and it wasn’t.

      What has been changed to ensure that this mistake isn’t repeated in the future?

      F) Do the total figures for councillors’ allowances and expenses include National Insurance and income tax or are the figures net of tax? If they don’t include National Insurance and Income Tax roughly what is the total on top of the stated figures that MFRS paid in 2014/15 in income tax & National Insurance contributions for councillors?

      Finally,

      G) Does anyone wish me to send them the documents referred to in this email (I haven’t included them in order not to trigger spam filters)?

      Lastly, until I receive a satisfactory explanation as to the discrepancies on the allowances figure, please class this as a formal objection (with the grounds to such an objection detailed above), see Audit Commission Act 1998 s.16 .

      As these are complex issues and bearing in mind previous comments made in both a letter and verbally to me about that there is perceived lack of available staff resource by senior management at MFRS, I would appreciate it if a meeting with the auditor could be arranged to address these matters. I realise the accounts have to be signed off by the deadline of 30th September 2015.

      Yours sincerely,

      John Brace

      • Good on you!

        And,

        “Never confuse popularity with effectiveness. Being popular means you’re liked for a while. Being effective means you’ve made a difference.” (anon)

  2. G’day John

    From the local rubbish propaganda sheet that they can control unlike the must read You and Wirral Leaks.

    ‘Room for improvement’ as Wirral Council sickness levels are more than triple national average

    If John, you worked in say Invest Wirral and managed Wirral “Funny” Bizz and you could see them knocking off up to £2,000,000.00 of Wirral’s hard earned council tax and wanted them closed down and put in jail and your hopeless manager,let’s say his name is Addliedaddledoodaa refused.

    Would you

    A Go on sick leave

    B Blow the whistle ha ha ha ha ha

    C Go see the CEO if there was one with balls and not spots and ten blinks a second

    D Go to the police

    E Go work in a chamber pot

    F Do nothing

    G Tell the auditors…oh I just said that at F do nothing

    G Just say oh my husband ****’* up all the time and he has a much bigger job than me over Kev and Stella’s Stagnant Wirral Waters

    Answers on a Corbyn ballot card ha ha ha ha back to the future…..you don’t have to write anything John they make themselves look like absolute incompetent nincompoop fools by themselves. Let’s go back to the 70’s when we could really be thugs and bullies with vile hatred.

    Ooroo

    James

    Don’t ever ever expect them to fess up to any mistake, cock-up or corruption my man.

    Keep up the great work you and The Good Lord are brilliant.

    • If you read my previous comment above, you’ll see I chose option B & G today blow the whistle.

    • You left out

      H) go to the press or
      I) go to a politician

      =======================================================

      However, if I carry on doing what I’m doing I’ll end up with a reputation…

      • G’day You Rotter John

        You are naughty but I love you.

        H) go to the press or

        I think “Highbrow” went to all the press and they don’t want to tell the ordinary people what really goes on.

        Private Eye takes a vague interest.

        I) go to a politician

        Ha ha ha ha good joke John look what they did to Simon Kelly.
        They as you know John are all of the same ilk.

        Ooroo

        James

        My dream John is that they hate you more and more and more until you force them to retire or finally do the right thing and then your job will be done.

        You are a hero of the Wirral Public.

  3. They get £225,000 allowances, mind blowing, so if they didn’t claim any they could keep the fire stations open,
    Isn’t it time the people of Wirral had a ballot paper with a box to tick saying “non of the above”

    • Oh that’s just from the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority.

      Each councillor also receive allowances for being councillors from the district councils on Merseyside. So the true figure of what they receive is probably over double the £225k…

      In at least one case the district council gives the councillor an allowance net of tax and pays the income tax/national insurance as extra on top.

      I’m not saying we should skimp on democracy but it’s a purely personal decision on behalf of councillors whether they claim these allowances & expenses in full, in part or not at all.

    • To keep West Kirby and Upton fire stations open as essentially would require £883,000 compared to the option of one station replacing both of them. This is larger than the allowances claimed of ~£225,000 (even if you include expenses which increases it to ~£239,000).

      However if no allowances were claimed (an unlikely scenario) it would probably free up enough money to keep Upton open and West Kirby on a part-time basis.

  4. G’day John

    Just a thought about the local rubbish propaganda sheet and how THEY ensure comments are stopped when people want to criticise.

    Amen

    Ooroo

    James

    Wouldn’t it be a shame if people knew what Wirral is really like.

    I can only suggest more people write to you and the Lord of the Leaks

    Both Wirral Legends

    • As someone who also writes a blog with comments, I will comment as follows.

      From an administrative perspective it is a lower cost solution to merely remove comments if complaints are received.

      Following the actions outlined in the regulations could mean a week from a complaint to something happening about a comment.

      If people’s comments are just removed without explanation or warning, it puts them off commenting in the future and goes against the grain of free speech.

      However what it boils down to in the end is idle threats of libel lawsuits are often made to try and scare a publication into removing comments.

      Powerful people tend to be the target of such comments and as newspapers and others in the media wish to stay in business, being sued by powerful people with either the money or connections to do so is a major risk of doing business.

      If we move beyond powerful people to large organisations, large organisations have many paid employees on the payroll as press officers/PR and often contracts with third parties to provide reactive PR (public relations when things goes wrong) and proactive PR (trying to get great things written about you in the press).

      You’d be surprised at the oodles of taxpayers money that get spent on these matters. Many of the newspapers also receive plenty in advertising from the public bodies on Merseyside. If an employee of one of these advertisers asks for comments to be removed it puts them in a tricky situation doesn’t it?

      As to what knowing what Wirral is really like, why do you think there was so much resistance to me filming public meetings?

      Some politicians (and even though the legislation is changed they still like to pretend that they can stop me filming) wanted to control what was said about such meetings (after all they even get to edit the minutes) so that just the “official record” is there. Having an independent record of everything that happened makes it very difficult to “spin” out of what was said by who and decided.

      Anyway that’s my opinion on these matters…

  5. Well I worked for newspapers for many years and I would say a new model emerged between 10 and 15 years ago. Previously editors supported their reporters and fought against advertising people having any say on editorial matters whatsoever. In the new world paradigm the editor is now merely the exeutive arm of the Board whose primary interest is of course financial. Editors should be renamed chief operating officers.

    • Sadly the problem with an advertiser funded model is the newspaper is then forced to publish stories that pander to the demographic of their advertisers..

      However you’re right, years ago advertising/reporting was kept separate. Now… the lines have got more blurry… with “sponsored features” (ie paid for stories/articles) and the like…

  6. Why is it that the Wirral and its Councillors are so preoccupied by fire? Huge numbers of delegates, lots of meetings and the predictably high number of expense claims and for what? A worryingly high concern about fire and the terrible scorching consequences that accompany a blaze.
    What is it about the Wirral that’s got everyone whipped up into a frenzy about fire?
    Yes, fire is a terrible thing. You’d be an odd sort if it didn’t bother you and I’d be the first to say, ‘I’ve no desire to have my meagre possessions consumed by a fire’, but that’s as much as it concerns me. Frankly, I rarely worry about fire and after I’ve knelt before my bed, muttered me Lords Prayer I’ve rarely if ever said, ‘I’m off to sleep. Let’s hope I don’t end up on fire before the day breaks’ I couldn’t care less about fire. I’ll be damned if I do!
    And as for the shortfall in Johns forensic examination of the expenses, I’d say eighty six bales of hay, six hundred gallons of liquid accelerant, a dozen clipper lights and a trailer to move the load around the Wirral would account for this discrepancy.
    Yes! I’m saying that there’s a fire starter among this group or as the judiciary calls them, a dirty rotten stinking arsonist and my guess is that this person, probably a strong character and leader of folk has whipped everyone up into a frenzy, made them all a’feared of fire, hence the reason why so much time, effort and money is being spent talking about the dreadful chance that the Wirral is set ablaze by some fool determined to wreak bloody havoc upon the community.
    Course, I could be completely wrong. Perhaps there’s a simple and straightforward explanation. What do I know. I know nothing, other than this constant and endless talk about fire being duscussed by the great and the good will eventually and inevitably lead to a blaze so vast, hot and huge it’ll scorch and destroy any evidence that still remains to demonstrate and prove that James Griffiths and Nigel Hobro were right all along and some elected leaders were associated with illicit activity.

  7. Thank you for your comment Bobby47 which is always interesting to read.

    I will answer your questions in the order they were asked.

    Q1) Partly because of the plans to close two fire stations and build another one on greenbelt land (land currently owned by Wirral Council).

    Q2) The 4 delegates are you put it are based on the population of Wirral being ~320,000. The high number of expense claims are partly because:

    a) going through the Mersey Tunnels (a tolled road tunnel both ways whether by car or taxi)
    b) the distance to meetings in another part of Merseyside is further away than local meetings on the Wirral hence greater mileage claims or taxi claims etc and
    c) because there was (until recently) little press scrutiny of such matters

    Q3) A bunch of councillors, me, the press and others, but see answer to Q1.

    Yes fire is a terrible thing. In fact shortly after returning from a public meeting of the Police and Fire Collaboration Committee at the very house I live on the 1st September in the toaster went on fire with flames many feet high.

    That’s not the only fire that’s been here. There was the day I returned from work and found the place full of smoke (although I got home before the firemen turned up).

    Thankfully only one person got burnt in the most recent incident… and it managed to be dealt with by a bucket of water & did not cost the taxpayer any money.

    Because we forever hear at meetings how skint the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service sees itself, how it’s having to say goodbye to staff… and even how much dealing with the press & their legal obligations is a "drain on scarce resources". Responding to FOI requests costs them money too, how dare people make requests and divert funds from well.. buckets and sand!!!

    After all there are all those councillors to pay (18 of them), plus others, senior managers, contractors etc.

    Anyway rant over… before I have to call myself John Brace47. 😉

  8. G’day John and Bobby

    Luv ya work Bobster.

    You say

    I know nothing, other than this constant and endless talk about fire being discussed by the great and the good will eventually and inevitably lead to a blaze so vast, hot and huge it’ll scorch and destroy any evidence that still remains to demonstrate and prove that James Griffiths and Nigel Hobro were right all along and some elected leaders were associated with illicit activity.

    Bobby in my previous life as as auditor when I caught out idiots like Adderley you would not believe how many times these idiots records went up in flames in the office or back shed. Flood famine etc.

    These people who professed to be the cream of society expected you to believe like Adderley that the contracts were very complicated and it wasn’t their money anyway.

    See John “Tarrantino’s clip of Gra Gra’s farce of a public meeting of 8 October 2014 into Big, ISUS and Working Neighbourhoods.

    Bobby the arrogant barstard stood their and thumbed his huge purple bulbous nose at the Wirral Taxpayer.

    Ooroo

    James

    Ps Bobby I don’t think there is a bright enough spark amongst Wirral Senior Officers to ignite all those secrets and reports that “The Shyster” must be sitting on with his fat arse the size of a giant wombats.

  9. […] an update to the earlier story Why is there a £17k to £19k discrepancy in allowances and expenses for councillors on Merseyside F…, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have been in touch to explain what’s going […]


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