An audit of a former mayor’s expenses has found potential overpayments of up to £480, according to an official report.
The audit followed allegations that Green councillor Alex Phillips overclaimed travel and childcare expenses from October 2020 to March last year.
Councillor Phillips claimed £1,799.96 in “dependents’ carers’ allowance” in 2019-20 and £1,458 in 2020-21.
The report, to Brighton and Hove City Council’s Audit and Standards Committee, said that Councillor Phillips was overpaid between £143.79 and £482.34 during the period in question.
The report, published today (Friday 24 June), also said that expenses claims were not always submitted on time and there was an over-reliance on trust rather than documentary proof.
Any excess expenses claims were not considered a “deliberate act”, according to the report, and Councillor Phillips had paid £490 on account to cover any overpayments.
She was also entitled to make claims for expenses incurred on 25 other occasions during her year as mayor but didn’t do so, the report said.
It added: “This was a challenging time for the member concerned, juggling many roles, with a young family and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
“There is no evidence in the report or anything that officers have seen to suggest either a systematic or deliberate attempt to deceive nor any attempts at dishonest misuse of public funds for personal gain.
“It was more a case of not paying sufficient attention to processes due, in part, to the member’s personal circumstances.
“The fact that the member also failed to submit claims for some 25 approved duties further supports the view that the situation was the result of a combination of oversight and casual approach rather than a deliberate act.”
Her husband Tom Druitt, who is also a Green councillor, claimed £53.55 in dependents’ carers’ allowance in 2019-20.
The couple have two young children and all expenses related to their care were accounted for as payments to a childminder.
Members of Brighton and Hove City Council can claim up to £9 an hour for childcare when attending meetings and up to one hour of travelling time in addition.
Councillor Phillips also served as a Green Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for South East England from May 2020 to January 2021.
The audit highlighted shortcomings in the councillor expenses process. It said that councillors must complete expenses forms within two months and should support claims with receipts and invoices.
At a council meeting last October, the two Regency ward councillors came under fire for spending the first lockdown at their holiday home in France.
Councillor Druitt, the founder and managing director of the Big Lemon bus company, responded to the criticisms, saying that his family had not moved to France but continued to live in Brighton.
He said: “We went on holiday to France in March 2020 to visit a good friend from Brighton who now lives there.
“It was supposed to be a five-day break, but, while we were there, France locked down – and two weeks later, the UK locked down.
“It was both impossible and illegal to make the trip back and we came home as soon as both countries’ rules allowed it and travel between two countries resumed.”
The report is due to be considered by the council’s Audit and Standards Committee next Tuesday (28 June). The committee is scheduled to meet at 4pm at Hove Town Hall and the meeting should be webcast on the council website.
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