Council bosses took five months to publish the amounts paid to councillors for allowances and expenses last year and blamed “staffing issues” for the delay.
Brighton and Hove City Council is legally required to make public the amounts paid “as soon as reasonably practicable”.
Councillors are not paid for their part-time role but receive a basic allowance of £13,359.60, with extra for those who have a “special responsibility” such as chairing a committee.
The biggest amount went to the leader of the council, Phélim Mac Cafferty. He received an extra £33,398.88 in special responsibility allowance, making more than £46,000 in total – more than £100,000 less than council chief executive Geoff Raw.
Councillors may also claim for travel and subsistence and childcare, though few do, with co-opted members also paid an allowance permitted to submit expenses claims.
Details of councillors’ claims were published today (Tuesday 27 September), after requests over the past few months by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
And yesterday, Friends of Brighton and Hove Citizens Action Group member Nigel Furness submitted a question about the delay to the council’s Policy and Resources Committee which is due to meet on Thursday 6 October.
In the 2021-22 financial year, two councillors claimed for dependent/carers allowance.
Independent councillor Nick Childs claimed £278 while Green councillor Alex Phillips claimed £24.50.
Five councillors received travel and subsistence payments. The highest went to Green councillor Amy Heley, who claimed £54.05. Councillor Childs, fellow Independent Kate Knight and Conservative Garry Peltzer Dunn all claimed £32.95.
Green councillor Lizzie Deane claimed £18.10 in the year before she became mayor. She is expected to receive a special responsibility allowance of £10,000 for her mayoral year.
The total amount paid to all councillors comes to just over £900,000.
Last year, the Friends of Brighton and Hove Citizens Action Group members asked public questions at meetings of the full council to challenge expenses payments made to a former mayor, Green councillor Alex Phillips.
Mr Furness said that the public was losing confidence in the council’s ability to manage expenses.
He said: “The recent report to the Audit and Standards Committee outlined many highly questionable accounting practices such as moving councillor expenses into different financial years when a councillor exceeded the cap for that year.
“The council has also consistently failed to fulfil their legal duty to publish expenses in a timely manner.
“The situation needs an urgent remedy and further steps must be taken to restore public confidence in the council on this matter which has been lost.
“Thus far, there has been no accountability for the council’s failure on this matter. This needs to change.”
In July, the council’s counter-fraud audit manager Simon White told members of the council’s Audit and Standards Committee that there was “no indication” of deception on claims for childcare by Councillor Phillips.
The council’s senior lawyer Abraham Ghebre-Ghiorghis blamed oversights and poor organisation rather than dishonesty.
The committee was told that paperwork had gone missing and claims were submitted late. Members called for councillors’ expenses claims to be submitted digitally – as they are by council workers.
Councillor Phillips repaid the council £490 “on account” to cover any excess expenses claims.
Another former mayor, Conservative councillor Anne Meadows, called for Councillor Phillips to face sanctions.
She said that her claims for childcare allowance were for town hall meetings that were not held because of the coronavirus lockdown and were “deliberate and calculated” and “the definition of fraud”.
Councillor Phillips is understood to have paid upfront for childcare before the pandemic restrictions were announced.
Shortly before the latest allowances and expenses claims were published, Councillor Meadows said: “I am puzzled and more than a little concerned that the council have not published the councillors’ expenses when we as a council pride ourselves on being transparent.
“However, as we have seen with expenses previously, during the recent Councillor Phillips debacle, it is important to understand why councillors’ expenses need to be published so residents can see what we earn and what we claim for.
“As these have not been published yet, it does make you wonder if there is more to hide and more to come out of them.”
The Labour group said that it had also asked why the allowances had not yet been published.
The joint Labour opposition leaders, Councillor John Allcock and Councillor Carmen Appich, said: “It is, of course, important that councillors’ expenses are published regularly for transparency and public accountability.”
The council said: “We apologise for the delay in uploading councillor expenses on the website.
“This is due to staffing issues and also checks to ensure the information is correct and up to date.
“We are aiming to have all the information uploaded this week.”
To see the total allowances and expenses claims, click here
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