Hanging around at taxpayers’ expense
Jan 2013 17

It is fascinating to get a snapshot of what our councils spend taxpayers’ money on. A TPA supporter in Bath recently made a Freedom of Information request to Bath & North East Somerset Council (B&NES) asking to see invoices over £500 for December 2011 categorised under the title ‘Leader’.

At first, the council were vague about what that title meant but then they agreed it meant ‘Leader of the Council’. Then they declared that their invoices had no relation to the leader of the council at all. ‘I do not think that I believe this,’ said our investigator. ‘There are invoices for three new iPads, a new bike, 16k from BUPA, and huge sums for support services.’

‘I am intrigued and think it must be the leader of the council,’ continues our supporter, ‘since these expenses were categorised as ‘LEADER’ and they did initially admit they were expenses made by the leader’s office. Also one of the bills is from the leader’s personal driver, so why would this be in that category if ‘LEADER’ did not mean leader of the council?’

Intriguing indeed. Looking at the invoice for local chauffeur services, it is amazing to see how costly it can be to ship around a leader of the council and to wait for them during numerous events. For example, delivering the council leader to a local theatre and waiting four hours for them costs taxpayers £120, attending the turning on of Christmas lights in the centre of the city and waiting for six hours cost £180, attending a Home Coming parade and hanging around for 10 hours costs £300, joining a function at the American museum and waiting six hours costs £180 and so it goes on, making a monthly bill of £1,620. It makes you wonder if it might be cheaper just to call up a mini-cab rather than expecting drivers to wait for hours sitting in their car.

Then there’s a monthly Vodaphone bill for 31 mobiles at £2,154.60. If this is not for the leader of the council, why is it being charged to that office? Further on is an eye-watering bill for IT services of £344, 108.  Then there’s the mysterious bill for £929 for bikes and equipment. Is this suggesting a new mode of transport for the leader from chauffeur driven car to bicycle? But what about the BUPA bill for £16,512? What is the taxpayer doing paying for private healthcare for the council leader’s office?

‘The council have flipped between originally saying that “Leader” does mean leader of the council,’ says our investigator, ‘to now saying that none of the invoices I highlighted were anything to do with the leader of the council. I suspect the truth is somewhere in between. Perhaps “Leader” on the mobile phone bills does refer to the lead handset of that group. However, I am sure that other invoices must relate to the leader, as one of them is the leader’s personal driver and who else would get the nice new bicycle and helmet—if not the leader?’

We await the council’s further response to this enterprising investigation by a TPA supporter.

Tim is Grassroots Coordinator for Bath and the South-West. He is an historian, author and veteran local campaigner.

  • blarg1987

    Reading this article it comes across that the initial request was poorly worded as how do you define leader, is it leader of the council, leader of the cabinet, leader of a project, leader of department?

    if the enquiry was more specific and information released then yes it would have more support.

  • http://twitter.com/LibertarianView Murray Rothbard

    The problem is far simpler, the accounting standards of local authorities are shocking. They simply code expenses to the wrong accounts all the time. I did a similar exercise with Worcestershire county council last year and most of the shocking expenditure turned out to be something entirely unrelated, miscoded by the drones in their finance function.

    The only thing financial transparency shows is that their financial control and accounting is a shambles.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think ALL council expenditure is a waste, but this is a red herring, rather than a smoking gun

    • blarg1987

      By that logic are you saying road maintenance, care for the elderly, education, police, fire ambulance, food safety, waste collection just to name a few are all wasteful services, in whcih case what would you recommend?

      I accept some services could be run better but to say all services are wasteful is a bit hippercritical when you are likely to use them directly or indirectly on a regular basis.

  • Roy

    Lets get the district auditor to look at the expenses – lets get a copy of the BUPA invoice and find out more and insist the Councils money back – RR

  • Latimer Alder

    Is it beyond the wit of our public servants to actually look at the invoices and make sure that they have been recorded against the right account?

    Doesn’t seem too mind-bogglingly difficult to me.

  • wibbling

    Lots of very sensible suggestions, but here’s the obvious one:

    Councils and government should publis *every* expense, receipt and item of expenditure.

    This is our money. We must be able to see how it is spent down to the penny.

    • blarg1987

      I do agree with your point however it would be impossible to do in some areas such as the army, would we expect soldiers to detail how many rounds off ammunition they fire or if they drop a magazine go back and pick it up if under fire. I accept it is an extreme circumstance but I am just trying to highlight the point it would be impossible to do that.

      Add to that some spending is top secret as well as so many contracts between the state and private sector being commerically sensitive their would be alot of opposition, also woudl that mean we could work out how much money companies are making at tax payers expense which I am all for but I think many people who would loose out would be against.

  • Deanoman

    Lets see if the council put up the council tax this year?