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Leicestershire County Council leader cost taxpayer £1m in five years

March 16, 2012 10:40 AM
In Leicester Mercury
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Council leader David Parsons and his office has cost taxpayers more than £1 million in expenses and allowances over the past five years.

Among the main cost for Leicestershire County Council was £210,000 since 2006 on a chauffeur-driven car, which regularly ferries Councillor Parsons around the UK, including to the grand prix in Silverstone and a theatre performance of the Little Mermaid, in Leicester.

The figures obtained by the Leicester Mercury show that while his annual cash allowance is a modest £45,000, the total cost of Coun Parsons and his office - which includes expenses and payments made on his behalf - stood at nearly £250,000 last year.

Robert Oxley, campaign manager of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: "I'm simply astounded how much taxpayers have been forking out just to carry a single councillor around Leicestershire.

"Not even MPs expect taxpayers to foot the bill for a chauffeur, so it is beyond belief to me Coun Parsons would use one to ferry himself everywhere. At a time when the county council has to find savings, I feel it's hugely inappropriate for residents to be paying for the leader's personal runaround."

The Leicester Mercury used the Freedom of Information Act to get details of every expense incurred by Coun Parsons since April 2006.

Allowances, pension and employer national insurance contributions over the period totalled £395,000, while his administrative team cost £384,000.

However, it was the £210,000 bill over five years for his use of the civic Ford Mondeo car which opposition political groups have called into question, as the council prepares to cut 1,000 jobs over the next four years to balance its budget. He travelled a total of 85,000 miles in the vehicle during that time.

Labour leader Max Hunt said: "Being driven around the county and beyond by his own personal driver for events which do not directly relate to his role as council leader will concern the public at a time of £74 million cuts.

"Of course, the council leader needs to put on a bit of a show if a blue chip firm comes to town, or on a VIP visit, but there are many more journeys where a coach, train or flight would suffice."

Liberal Democrat group spokesman David Bill said: "We query whether the amounts spent on travel are value for money for residents in Leicestershire at a time of cuts and austerity."

City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby has similar access to a civic car, but has not used it since his election in May last year.

A council spokesman said: "The city mayor is entitled to use the civic cars but he chooses not to do so.

"He walks as much as he can or uses public transport."

Both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire county council's said their leaders could use the civic cars, but rarely did so.

The Mercury repeatedly attempted to contact Coun Parsons by both telephone and e-mail yesterday, without success.

At one point, he sent an e-mail to say he was "out of contact".

His political assistant told us that he was likely to be available later in the afternoon.

However, further attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.

Costs from concerts to Christmas cards - a breakdown of the expenses and allowances

David Parsons' expenses and allowances are broken down in detail in the information released under the Freedom of Information Act request.

They include the following:

Chauffeur-driven car journeys

The council leader has zigzagged across Britain in the car on journeys to London, Carlisle, Dorchester, Devon, Bournemouth and beyond.

Council rules say the car is "provided for the business of the county council".

Trips included media appearances, theatre visits, cocktail parties and journeys which would arguably have been quicker or cheaper by train.

He arrived at Radio Leicester's studios on January 9 for an appearance on Desert Island Discs in the civic car.

For the past three years, he has been driven to and from the Formula 1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

In April, he used the car to visit Curve theatre, Leicester, for a performance of Yes Prime Minister.

Other theatre visits included a performance of The Little Mermaid, in May 2006.

The documents released show that in June last year, as he vied to become chairman of the Local Government Association - the most powerful role in local government - he used the car and driver to go to London to have lunch with a leading local government reporter.

When he flies abroad on council business from Heathrow, a car usually takes him door to door.

Other events attended in the car included drinks receptions, cocktail parties, a tour of Twycross Zoo, TV appearances and concerts.

Many councils across the country have a dedicated vehicle only for their main civic dignitary, such as Lord Mayor or chairman, and not one for the council leader.

The county council chairman - currently Jackie Dickinson - has use of a Jaguar XJ8.

Secretarial and administrative support

Until last year, the council leader had a personal assistant and a secretary. Holiday cover had to be provided when these employees were on leave.

The cost of this support was £51,000 in 2006-07, £72,700 in 2007-08 and £76,500 in 2008-09.

It peaked in 2008-09 when the cost of his support team reached £79,000.

His personal assistant has since left, which has significantly reduced the annual cost of his team, and in the financial year to February the cost stood at £38,000.

Allowances

In 2010-11, he picked up £45,000 as leader of the council, while a further £6,700 was put into his pension pot and £5,600 was paid by the council in employer National Insurance contributions.

He picked up a further £15,000 as chairman of East Midlands Councils, a taxpayer-funded umbrella group which represents local authorities.

The county council allowance paid to him for being leader has been between £40,000 and £45,000 each year since 2006.

Miscellaneous items

Among these is the £64,000 cost of moving his office within County Hall from a space close to chief executive John Sinnott's room to a glass-fronted office overlooking the foyer.

Over the past five years, newspapers and local government journals cost £2,000, mobile phone bills totalled £1,239.

Christmas cards cost £1,438 to design and a further £770 to print, while £320 was spent on Chinese New Year cards.