Oh dear, did I blow the whistle on local politicians' expenses? I'm ever so sorry. To be fair, I kind of knew that saying “Hang on, I think you should have a look at this” was the equivalent of painting a bright red target on my back, but then I also felt that the good people out there would see the backlash for what it was.
And so it begins…
Today, as is the practice at Lancashire County Council, I was informed that a Freedom of Information request has come in about me. Here it is –
I wish to make a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act concerning Councillor Sam Chapman. I would prefer to receive this information by email but if that is not possible then by post is acceptable too.
1. Please send me all the details you hold of all expenses claims made by Cllr Chapman (whether paid or not) since his election. I am particularly interested to know the date, amount and reason of each claim and whether it was paid and when by the Council. Please include a copy of all receipt and invoices for all claims.
2. Please send me all details you hold of all other payments made to Cllr Chapman since his election. I expect this will include, but will not be limited to, his allowances as a councillor and committee chairman.
3. Please send me all the details you hold of any complaints made against Cllr Chapman both since his election or pertaining to his election campaign and received by any officer or member of the Council, or anyone else if the information is held by the Council.
The info doesn't say who it's from, but I have offered to trade copies of all my receipts if they will tell me who I should send them to.
Now, I know from bitter experience just how frustrating it is to have to wait for the answer to such a request, and as the deadline for this one is 18 January, and as I suspect the officers might then just direct the person asking to the website where they publish most of this stuff anyway, and so don't have to tell anyone separately, I thought I would do what I could to save them the agony of waiting and stop it from spoiling their Christmas.
So here's what I can tell you in terms of answers since I was first elected in 2009:-
1. Expenses claims.
2012-13 None so far.
That's a total of nothing, by the way, or 'nowt', seeing as it's Lancashire.
Sorry, that's a bit dull isn't it? Clearly I have spent money on my Council-related travel, mainly on mileage to County Hall and back again, and also on food when I was there, and the rules do allow Councillors a privilege not extended to members of staff, whereby travel to 'work' and some grub to make the trip worthwhile can be charged to the taxpayer, but I didn't take advantage of that one.
Now, that's kind of meaningless with nothing to compare it to, but County Councillors all do different jobs, so it's kind of difficult to get a fair comparison. Hmmm. I've decided that as I chair Lancashire County Council's Audit and Governance committee that maybe I should just see how my predecessor on what was the Audit Committee has done over the same period.
That person was on the Wyre Borough Council and Lancashire Police Authority as well, so please bear with me with the maths. The Police Authority's website isn't reliably accessible since the Authority was abolished, but you can find the expenses here so I hope I've added this right – In the last three years his “expenses” (food, mileage, travel, parking, etc) were:-
2009-10 LCC £1,336.60 + Wyre £190.23 + LPA £2,489.04 = Total of £4,015.87
2010-11 LCC £2,824.79 + Wyre £220 + LPA £1,135.29 = Total of £4,180.08
2011-12 LCC £1,778.20 + Wyre £65.10 + LPA £2,192.10 = Total of £4,035.40
2012-13 – Don't know yet, and may never know the Lancashire Police Authority figures.
That's a total of £12,231.35 in expenses in 3 years, which is, er, £12,231.35 more than me.
Wow! Looks like somebody has a season ticket on the gravy train!
Who is this mystery councillor?
2. All other payments, including allowances as a councillor and committee chairman.
For being a County Councillor and Chair of the Audit Committee I have received the grand total of
2009-10 £10,254.61 (a part-year amount as I was elected in June)
2012-13 Haven't done the sums
So for three years that is a grand total of £36,322.65
Though I should take your guidance here. When I was elected I took a reduction in hours from my employer to allow me to do my duties as a Councillor. Now, the unions had negotiated a discretion for the Director to still pay me my full salary while on my duties as a Councillor, but I wrote to him and asked him just to deduct it from my pay, seeing as I thought it was wrong for the taxpayer to pay me for the same time twice. Should I deduct that from these allowances – it was a hefty sum, though I never worked out how much?
What about our mystery Councillor – how did he do?
2009-10 LCC £13,500.34 + Wyre £10,464.62 + LPA £14,721 = Total of £38,685.96
2010-11 LCC £16,851.17 + Wyre £10,570.29 + LPA £15,103.92 = Total of £42,525.48
2011-12 LCC £12,357.11 + Wyre £5,872 + LPA £15,103.92 = Total of £33,333.03
2012-13 Info not available
So our mystery councillor pulled in £114,544.47 in allowances in 3 years, which is very impressive, as his party aren't even in power. Now that's a professional politician!
All told, on my sums, with expenses, he grossed over £126,000 in income over a 3 year period by virtue of getting elected a couple of times in Fleetwood.
Yes, our mystery councillor is none other than Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire's new £85,000 per year Police and Crime Commissioner, who incidentally hasn't given up his Wyre Borough Council or Lancashire County Council jobs or allowances just yet. Well, he has to make ends meet.
Oh, there's an idea – I hadn't thought of asking about complaints. I'll have to remember that one.
For me, none I know of, but there may be some no-one has told me about and, now that I'm a target, I guess I can expect that to change.
For Clive Grunshaw – I hope to have told you about the main ones, but who knows?
Anyway, I hope all that has taken a weight off the mind of the enquirer. Perhaps, if they like the suspense, they should ask about what percentage of the council meetings I'm expected at that I actually turn up to. I can't wait to do that comparison.
Don't rush to thank me for my relatively parsimonious approach – instead, thank this guy. He is Malcolm Pritchard, an Independent County Councillor from Hyndburn who doesn't just not claim expenses, but doesn't even claim the basic allowance for doing the job. So over 3 years he has cost nothing at all. I can't afford to do that, but I salute Malcolm's sense of public service.