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Leader's limo – is this the end of the line?

March 17, 2012 7:15 PM
In This is Leicestershire
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Nothing exemplifies a politician eating high on the hog quite like the image of county council leader David Parsons going to the grand prix in a chauffeur-driven Daimler.

Being picked up from his home, in Kirby Muxloe, and ferried to the highlight of Britain's motor-racing calendar does not appear to be essential council business but the taxpayer still picked up the tab.

A car with a driver is usually the preserve of heads of state or Government ministers, not politicians who lead a provincial council.

But the financial restraint taxpayers expect from local government does not appear to have been practised by Coun Parsons.

As reported yesterday, the cost of him and his office has soared from £170,000, in 2006-07, to £240,000, in the last financial year.

The costs are a particular surprise given his public commitment to freezing councillor allowances.

Just last year, he insisted that halting rising councillor pay was the right thing to do.

The classic Daimler was traded in for a more modest Ford Mondeo in the summer of 2010, but it is the cost of the driver rather than the car which mounts up.

The wisdom of some of his journeys is not the only thing that is under the microscope - it is whether he should have use of the car at all.

Because, while it is quite normal for dignitaries such as lord mayors or council chairmen to have use of a car during their term of office, elected local politicians rarely do.

Sir Peter Soulsby, the most powerful directly-elected politician in England after Boris Johnson, walks or uses public transport to get around, although he has access to a council limousine.

Leaders of neighbouring county authorities say they also make do with planes, trains and buses rather than regularly using a taxpayer-funded vehicle.

The council has already cut 500 posts as it battles to balance its budget and a further 1,000 jobs are to go over the next four years in £74 million of cuts.

We are in a climate where it is difficult to justify any public spending which could be seen as unnecessary.

Given the initial reaction to our story, I predict it is only a matter of time before this particular perk for Coun Parsons is brought to an abrupt end.

All of this new expenses information was released following a routine Freedom of Information request, but comes at an awkward time for Coun Parsons

Last month, it was alleged that he had temporarily held on to more than £5,000 of European Union cash, which he should have used to reimburse another public body for international travel expenses.

It was one of a series of allegations made by an anonymous whistle-blower, who also raised concerns about Coun Parsons's alleged "favours for Asian friends".

He survived a showdown with party colleagues soon afterwards, but only after promising to be more transparent in future.

Deputy leader Nick Rushton said at the time: "He was pig-headed and he admits that.

"He has now promised to open up the books and to be as transparent as possible."

But this bout of glasnost has not lasted long and Coun Parsons has been particularly elusive since the Mercury attempted to question him on his expenses.

Attention will now turn again to his future as leader of the council.

As the May 2013 county-wide elections creep ever closer, Tory party colleagues will begin to wonder what effect his arguably cavalier approach to public cash will have on their election prospects.