Which Wirral councillor claimed £50 on taxis to and from a public meeting?
I wrote recently to some of the councillors on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority expressing my concern that there were two expenses systems.
The first involved amounts where councillors had paid out expenses and claimed the money back. The totals for each councillor are published annually and you can see the list for 2014/15 on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s website. This list also includes the extra £8,070 a year that each councillor on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority receives with some receiving more on top of this (such as the Chair receives an extra £16,140 on top of the £8,040). These amounts are in addition to what they each receive for being a councillor from their own councils.
However there is a “secret” expenses system for councillors where Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is invoiced directly. These amounts are not in the list above. My letter expressed the view that such expenses should be included and the reply I received is below.
As you can see above, the letter refers to the Local Authorities (Members Allowances) (England) Regulation 2003 and Regulation 15 means the financial records of payments to do with councillors have to be open to inspection.
So I recently went to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s headquarters in Bridle Road, Bootle and inspected these records. Below are two pages of an invoice for taxi rides by councillors that because Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service are invoiced directly don’t get included in the annual published lists.
I was astounded to find that a councillor from Wirral (Cllr Steve Niblock who is one of the three Labour councillors from Wirral on the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority) had taken a taxi from his home to the Fire and Rescue Service headquarters for a public meeting that cost £25 and then a taxi back costing a further £25 (total £50)!
The letter from Janet Henshaw stated “It was not possible to show travel & event bookings made directly by MFRA [Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority] (as opposed to members paying and then claiming back their allowances) due to the fact that this Authority uses an electronic software system to make each booking at the cheapest possible price for both members and officers.” and “MFRA [Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority] does not use any taxi firms“.
Cabfind Limited isn’t a taxi firm, but based on this statement you’d expect that taxi journeys made by councillors using Cabfind Limited would be the same or cheaper than paying for it themselves?
Below is an expense claim submitted by Cllr Steve Niblock for a journey when he has paid the taxi fare himself and claimed it back. The journey to the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service headquarters is from and to the same address as the Cabfind Limited invoice above.
The taxi journeys above were for £18.60 and £20.00. This is for exactly the same journey that when booked through Cabfind Limited (which Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service claim is “at the cheapest possible price”) was £25.00 and £25.00.
Had Councillor Steve Niblock walked to the nearest train station (Bebington) and got the train to the nearest train station to Merseyside Fire and Rescue headquarters (Aintree) the fare would’ve been only £3.85 each way (total £7.70). However there is nothing in the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority expense rules that states that councillors claiming back travel expenses have to travel by the cheapest route possible (such as by public transport).
Councillor Steve Niblock recently voted to close Upton and West Kirby fire stations and is part of the ruling Labour Group on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority that claims that the Conservative government doesn’t give the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority enough money.
Continues at Which St Helens councillor claimed £12 for a salmon dinner and a drink of Coke?.
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