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.