Saturday, 29 September 2012

Independent travel

Updated 13 October 2012

As a result of this post, Caebrwyn complained to County Hall that the links provided on the section of the council's website dealing with councillors' expense claims were not working, and that in some cases there were no links at all to the claims made.

After a little to-ing and fro-ing, the links were re-instated, and the bloggers noticed that in many cases the sums claimed by councillors had been drastically reduced. Without explanation, of course.

A further enquiry received a response that there had been technical problems with the database and the claims, and that as a result the figures reported had been incorrectly multiplied by three. These problems, which had clearly been present for quite a few months, had gone unnoticed until the bloggers queried the figures.

It is unlikely that we will get any thanks from either the council or the councillors for this public service.

Meanwhile, even at a third of the previously published rates, some councillors continue to rack up very significant expense claims, and it seems unlikely that Tom Theophilus and Ivor Jackson, those two Independent soulmates, will reduce the cost to the taxpayer by doing the obvious and sharing a car from Llandovery to Carmarthen. Travelling by bus is clearly even more out of the question, although they might then experience what many of their constituents have to endure.


The previous post looked briefly at some of the travel expense claims submitted by Carmarthenshire's councillors, and it immediately drew a response from Anon pointing out that Cneifiwr had been a little partisan in his selection, and that some councillors have a lot further to travel than others.

Both are fair points, so to try to redress the balance let's undertake a trawl through the expenses vaults.

Claims for travel expenses are supposed to be submitted at the end of the month in which they were incurred, so that the expenses reported for May 2012 would have been incurred in April. According to the council's website, expenses are paid at 45p per mile for car journeys for the first 10,000 miles.

Whether or not a councillor claims travel expenses seems to have little to do with distance. As Anon pointed out, Peter Hughes Griffiths lives within walking distance of County Hall and unsurprisingly claims nothing. Hazel Evans (also Plaid), councillor for Cenarth ward, lives approximately 20 miles from County Hall and has never claimed a penny.

As we move up the scale, most claims are modest. Andrew James, whose ward is one of the furthest from Carmarthen, has so far clocked up only £232 in expenses since being elected in May. Bill Thomas (Llanelli), has so far asked for only £46.80. Derek Cundy (also Llanelli) has claimed £300. In addition to his ordinary duties, Cllr Cundy also chairs the Community Scrutiny Committee and is a member of two further committees.

Llanybydder is also quite a way from Carmarthen, but there is some confusion as to where Cllr Ieuan Wyn Davies (Independent) actually lives, and the Crown Prosecution Service is understood to be looking into the matter at the moment. We will therefore tactfully move on.

A minority of councillors are in a different league altogether, however. One of the most consistent performers in this group is Cllr Tom Theophilus, the veteran Independent from Cilycwm.

Tom recently caused a minor stir while performing his duties as a member of the Planning Committee when he told his fellow councillors that he remembered the applicant's grandfather who had set up the business in question before the war (assumed to be a reference to the late unpleasantness involving Herr Hitler). The chairman had to remind councillors that knowing someone was not a legitimate basis for approving a planning application.

At 30 miles, Tom has a bit of a trek to get to Carmarthen. Back in April of this year he was on the Planning Committee, which met twice that month. There was no meeting of the full council in April, but Cllr Theophilus did attend a meeting of one of the Licensing sub-committees as an observer.

To attend those three meetings in April, Cllr Theophilus would have travelled 180 miles. At 45p per mile he would be entitled to claim £81, but while most councillors were busy canvassing in the run-up to the election, Tom must have been very busy attending what the council calls other "approved duties" because he claimed £661.50 for the month, which works out at 1,470 miles or 24.5 round-trips.

The council's website informs us that approved duties do not include "the large number of unofficial duties and meetings arranged and attended by members with officers of the authority and those arranged and held by members with people and organisations within their local communities for which they do not claim allowances".

In the previous tax year, Cllr Theophilus's travel expense claims totalled £2,364, equivalent to 5,253 miles, or 87 round trips from Cilycwm. 

On a more positive note, there is a pleasing mathematical symmetry to Tom's expenses. In the six month period from October 2011 he submitted two monthly claims for £243, two for £216, and two for £162.

Of course these calculations assume that Tom travelled by car, or perhaps we should say horseless carriage. He may, however, have cycled. Councillors who travel by bicycle can claim 20p per mile, in which case he did 3,307 miles in May and could show Bradley Wiggins a thing or two.

Leaving Cllr Theophilus in the dust, however, is Cllr Jane Tremlett (Independent) from Laugharne, which is 13 miles to Carmarthen.

Before the May elections, Cllr Tremlett chaired the Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee. The committee had its final meeting in April, and that would have necessitated a round trip of 26 miles at a cost to the taxpayer of £11.70.

Mrs T somehow found time between canvassing to clock up £1,170.60 in travel expenses for the month, equivalent to 2,600 miles, or 100 round trips, which works out at close to 5 trips from Laugharne to Carmarthen and back every working day.

It could be that there was an extended trip on official business in her capacity as chair of the scrutiny committee - an inspection of social service arrangements in Monte Carlo, perhaps. But that would have been a little unusual so close to an election.

Prior to April 2012, Cllr Tremlett was trailing old Tom rather badly, with just £1,226 claimed for the previous year. However, that still represented 2,724 miles, equivalent to 104 round trips.

In the spirit of openness and transparency for which Carmarthenshire County Council is justly famed, the council's website invites us to inspect individual monthly claims submitted by councillors with a link: Claim Form

Unfortunately transparency stops right there, because anyone clicking on the link will be told, 

 404 The file you wanted really doesn't exist.

But it's good to see our elected representatives working so hard for us, isn't it?

Perhaps Tom will heed Government advice and opt for car sharing as a way of cutting costs and reducing his carbon footprint.

Carmarthen, here we come!

If he did and cadged a lift with fellow Independent Ivor Jackson from Llandovery, he could claim £4.05 for the trip down to Llandovery and back and a further £2.70 for the onward trip to Carmarthen because, for reasons only councillors could understand, they are entitled to claim 5p per mile as a passenger. This would reduce the cost of every outing from £27 to £6.75, reduce road congestion and help the environment.

In the tax year 2011/12, this could have saved £1,761.75.

How about it Tom?

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