£1.2m claimed by councillors

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More than £1.2m has been paid to Lancashire councillors in allowances in the past year, figures reveal today.

An official breakdown of what has been claimed by members at Tory-run County Hall shows more than £839,000 was paid to 85 councillors from all parties in basic allowances alone.

A further £330,138 was paid in special responsibility allowances to cabinet members and others with extra roles, including almost £30,000 to council leader Geoff Driver.

Today, councillors insisted they were good value for money for the taxpayer – with one cabinet member saying what he gets paid is the equivalent of well below the minimum wage because of his 12-14 hour days.

The figures were disclosed as the council continues its plans to cut millions from its budget.

They also show that £84,403 was paid out to councillors in mileage claims last year, while a further £7,785 was paid in subsistence for members on council duties.

Another £2,287.65 was paid to members who used public transport.

But one councillor, Accrington North’s Malcolm Pritchard, claimed not a single penny in expenses. The figures reveal what was paid to 85 councillors in 2011/12, not the usual 84, because they include the late Bob Mutch, who was replaced by Coun Vivien Taylor.

County Coun Geoff Driver, leader of the council and the authority’s resources chief, said: “If you look at the previous administration, they had a leader who claimed significantly more than me and the (separate) resources portfolio holder was also on £37,000, so that is the comparison you have to make.

“In our four years we will spend something in excess of £650,000 less on member allowances and expenses that the previous Labour administration.”

Figures show that County Coun Hazel Harding, who was the authority’s Labour leader before Coun Driver took over, received a special responsibility allowance of £30,119 in 2008/9 – £1,166 more than Coun Driver last year.

The council’s deputy leader County Coun Albert Atkinson said the number of trips taken by councillors has also been stripped back in recent years.

“The independent (remuneration) panel used to give us 65p per mile for mileage. We have brought that down to 45p,” he added.

“Our expenses are not set by us but recommended by an independent panel. We could have taken three increases but we have chosen not to.”

County Coun Tim Ashton, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “If you work out how many hours I do and what I put in, you are getting good value.

“They are 12-14 hour days and if you look at what I get, the hourly rate is quite poor. It is certainly less than minimum wage.”

Labour group leader Coun Jennifer Mein said: “Of course councillors are good value for money and they work very, very hard.

“Geoff may be on a lower amount than the previous leader but I am on a lower amount than he was as leader of the opposition.”

She added that previous council leader Hazel Harding claimed more expenses in mileage because she travelled from Rossendale to County Hall.

Liberal Democrat group leader Coun Bill Winlow said: “Most of us are not claiming much in the way of expenses. I am not claiming any subsistence – what would be the point? It wouldn’t be right.

“They were right to limit the increases in the past few years given the state of the national economy. They have saved more money and some of that has gone into services. I can’t argue with any of that.”

Also featured in the figures is Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw, who claimed £14,135. The 2011/12 period when the expenses were claimed are before he was elected commissioner last November.

County Coun Malcolm Pritchard, who represents Accrington North, has not claimed a single penny in expenses in the four years he has been on the council.

And he also claimed just £1 a year, which he put into a charity tin, when he was a borough councillor on Hyndburn before that.

He said: “I chose to become a councillor, I chose to do something I wanted to do. If you decide to do something you should fund it.

“Nobody asked me to become a councillor, I wanted to do it and I did it of my own free will.

“I decided 10 years ago when I became a borough councillor that I would not be taking any funds.”

When asked whether he believes his fellow councillors should follow his lead, he added: “That is up to them.”

Geoff Driver, leader of the council, received the biggest special responsibility allowance – £28,953. He claimed £39,902 in total.

He said allowances had not been increased since 2009. And he said his special responsibility allowance was less than that paid to the previous leader.

County Coun Driver added: “I am the resources portfolio holder as well and I don’t get anything for that.

“I could do if I wanted but I have said I will just take the leader’s responsibility allowance.”

He said the resources portfolio holder and previous leader received a combined £84,000 compared with his £39,000.

Albert Atkinson, who is the council’s deputy leader, claimed the highest mileage allowance last year – £6,572. He received £37,735 in total.

County coun Atkinson said, as deputy leader, he travels to Preston on council business up to three times and week and, as he lives in a remote part of the Ribble Valley, relies on his car. He also has to travel to other areas.

“I am all over the county and I have to go to Warrington because I am on the coastal and inland flood committee,” he said.

“I am also the chairman of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Beauty so I have to go to York soon because it is their conference.

“I live in a rural area where there is no bus. I would have to go down to Whalley or Clitheroe and leave my car and buses and trains are not very frequent.”

Tim Ashton, cabinet member for highways and transport, claimed the biggest subsistence allowance last year – £1,598.

He also claimed £4,343 in mileage and received £32,459 in total.

County coun Ashton said his portfolio takes him all over the county.

He added: “It covers the whole of Lancashire. I am out and about having meetings daily all over the place, so I have to buy my meals.

“When I am out and about it eats into whole days, really.

“It is a busy portfolio and there is a lot of stuff we have to deal with.”