Councillors’ expenses will be published more promptly in future, Brighton and Hove City Council leader Phélim Mac Cafferty pledged last night (Thursday 6 October).
The Green leader said, in response to a question from a member of the public, that they would be published within two months of the end of the financial year.
He was responding to Nigel Furness, from the Friends of Brighton and Hove Citizens Action Group, who asked why details of councillor allowances and expenses took five months to publish this year.
Mr Furness said that the rules required councils to publish the information “as soon as is practicably possible after the end of the financial year to which these claims relate”.
The 2021-22 financial year ended at the end of March but the figures were not released until last month – after Mr Furness submitted his question in writing.
At Hove Town Hall, Councillor Mac Cafferty said that the expenses system for councillors was being “digitised”. The delayed expenses had been submitted the old-fashioned way – on paper.
He said that more staff training would be given and that the process this year had been affected by staff being unwell or leaving their hob.
Mr Furness said: “This delay may provoke a suspicion that thorny issues are being swept under the carpet.”
The group has previously asked a number of questions about expenses claims made by the former mayor, Green councillor Alex Phillips, during her year in the role.
In July, the council’s counter-fraud audit manager Simon White told the council’s Audit and Standards Committee that there was “no indication” of deception relating to claims for childcare by Councillor Phillips.
The council’s senior lawyer Abraham Ghebre-Ghiorghis blamed oversights and poor organisation rather than dishonesty. Paperwork had gone missing and claims were submitted late.
Members of the Audit and Standards Committee said that councillors should have to submit their expenses claims online in the same way as council staff.
Councillor Phillips repaid the council £490 “on account” to cover any excess expenses claims made for prepaid childcare during the first coronavirus lockdown in 2020.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “We need to be clear that there wasn’t a fraud. There was a thorough investigation and it was found that the claim in question was not fraudulent.
“You say there may be a suspicion but council officers have been very transparent about the process. The investigation was extensive.”