MFRA Chair Cllr Hanratty wants to “move on” on issue of councillors’ expenses
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Here’s an exchange between myself and the Chair of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority Cllr Dave Hanratty at a public meeting of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority today.
The reference to note 29 which is part of the statement of accounts for 2014/15 is below.
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:
The amounts reported to the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority AGM in June 2015 are in this table here show allowances of £213,690.44 (total of the first eight columns) and expenses of £7,708.34 (total of scale subsist, trav & subsist, overnight & mileage columns).
JOHN BRACE: Earlier this year, on the 11th June, the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority met. Agenda item 9 (Members Allowance Payments), included a table of allowance and expense payments for councillors on the MFRA for the previous financial year (2014£15).
The report that accompanied the table referred to the regulations. They require publication each year of the amounts paid out under the Members Allowance Scheme for each councillor in the categories of basic allowance, special responsibility allowance, dependants’ carers’ allowance, travelling and subsistence allowance and co-optees’ allowance.
However the expenses in that table only included amounts claimed back by councillors through expense claims. That table did not include amounts where the MFRA was invoiced directly for travel and accommodation expenses rather than councillors being reimbursed. These amounts where MFRA were invoiced directly total around six thousand pounds.
The regulations however require the table to include all payments made under the Members Allowance Scheme irrespective of whether they are paid directly by MFRA or claimed back by councillors using expense claims.
The table of figures for allowances reported to the AGM on the 11th June also didn’t include the employer National Insurance costs of £10,151.59p paid on the allowances.
Ultimately councillors are accountable to the people of Merseyside, so what reassurances can you give that next time the figures are published for 2015/16 that they will reflect the actual cost of councillors’ allowances and expenses?
CLLR DAVE HANRATTY (CHAIR): OK, thank you Mr. Brace. I understand that there’s been a number of email exchanges between yourself and officers of the Authority to explain to you the breakdown of the cost of how they’ve been calculated. Is that correct?
JOHN BRACE: Yes, there have been emails between us.
CLLR DAVE HANRATTY (CHAIR): I also understand that this has been shared with the District Auditor? Is that correct?
JOHN BRACE: Grant Thornton, yes.
CLLR DAVE HANRATTY (CHAIR): I also understand that this has been approved the way the finances have been reported to the Authority, it has been found it’s been confirmed, there has never been an issue with that? They’ve accepted the way it’s been calculated, the way it’s reported.
JOHN BRACE: They accepted the note in the Statement of Accounts includes the amounts I’ve referred to yes.
CLLR DAVE HANRATTY (CHAIR): Well in that case Mr. Brace I think you’ve received the response from the Authority and that’s been sufficient. OK?
Just before we finish on that, I know that the government have brought in freedom of information and it’s open to the public to ask questions about documents of the Authority, but what I would say is that because of the diminished resources that the Authority now finds itself in, I think when you look at the time that officers and resources are given to individuals who according to the Authority are asking for certain information, I think they need to consider the impact this has on the Service, on the officers? time and also on our financial resources and this shouldn’t be for somebody’s pastime or for somebody’s hobby when you think about the financial situation that we find ourselves in and I think the Authority needs to examine this and maybe report back to the appropriate minister about maybe if circumstances may be open to abuse.
I’m not happy with that myself, we’ve got a lot of demands within the Service, within the Authority and I don’t want any officers’ time being wasted by somebody coming in just to fill their own pastime. I think it’s absolutely appalling and I think there’s something that should be done about it.
So on that point, I think that the deputation should just be noted and we’ll move on.
As Cllr Hanratty refers to Grant Thornton’s approval of the way the figures are presented in the Statement of Accounts, I thought it best to include the only two emails from Grant Thornton to myself on this in full here.
11th September 2015 email from Grant Thornton
Dear Mr Brace
Thank you for your email, the contents of which are noted.
I have forwarded your email to Mike Thomas who is the Director responsible for our audit of Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service. Mike will respond to you in due course.
15th September 2015 email from Grant Thornton
Dear Mr Brace
I have been copied into your email regarding the queries you have raised with Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority regarding members expenses. In the first instance this is a matter for the Authority to deal with and to respond to you. My staff are aware of the issue and will keep in touch with MFRA regarding this matter. Hopefully this can be resolved very quickly in the next couple of days.
In other words the issue of whether the correct figures were used in the table for the AGM meeting was never addressed by Grant Thornton (at least in emails to me) which Grant Thornton said was a matter for the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority.
This is what MFRA’s Treasurer stated in an email on the 16th September 2015.
With regard to items B) and C), the Statement of Accounts disclosure of £14k for expenses, as allowed per the CIPFA CODE of Practice, informs the reader of the accounts of the total gross non-employee costs associated with supporting the governance/member service. It goes beyond the disclosure required under legislation and therefore exceeds the £7k reported in the AGM.
I have explained this to the Authority/s Auditors Grant Thornton and they are satisfied with this explanation.
I77 Authorities are required to disclose the totals of members/ allowances (and expenses) paid in the year …. Authorities in England and Wales might consider whether it would be helpful to provide the wider disclosures in order to give a full picture of the amounts received by members.
Merseyside Fire & Rescue Authority
And yes, that/s only £69+VAT of the ~£6k. The other 47 pages of this information not included in the expenses figure for councillors at the MFRA AGM are here.
In fact the report on the figures to the AGM states “It is important to note that these are reimbursements for time and expenses incurred by Members, and are not payments in relation to travel and event bookings made directly by MFRA.”
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