DEFERRING a decision on West Sussex councillors’ expenses has been labelled ‘ludicrous’.
The county council’s governance committee met today (January 20), to discuss new expenses rules which mean councillors essentially claim twice for parking, which one resident called a ‘shambles’.
Last year, councillors approved an increase in their mileage rate from 53.8p per mile to 59.25p per mile, based on calculations provided by the AA.
Previous mileage rates had been set using RAC figures, but unlike the AA figures these did not include the cost of parking and tolls.
The change, which came into force on November 1, 2013, means councillors can still claim separately for parking, alongside the increased mileage rates.
Today, committee members debated three options to put forward to full council on February 14:
1. Leave the mileage rate as it is with no change to parking claims;
2. Lower the mileage rate and continue claiming for parking separately;
3. Leave the mileage rate as it is but ban claims for car parking.
However, the decision was deferred, meaning it will not go to full council until April 11 and councillors can continue to claim twice for parking.
James Walsh, Liberal Democrat, said: “We cannot seem to be double-paid, it is outrageous.
“There is three weeks between today and the next full council meeting. This may be pence and pounds we are talking about, but to the public it is an expenses allowance similar to the expenses allowance at Westminster.
“It is seen by the public as councillors feathering their pockets.
“It is the taxpayer who is paying for this, we should not be profiting at their expense.
“Anyone who is claiming at that rate is profiting and it is the taxpayer who is paying for it.
“Please can we make a recommendation this afternoon to the council.”
He said if the council made a recommendation today, it would give political groups three weeks until the next full council meeting to discuss their opinions.
But Richard Burrett, Conservative, put forward a proposal to defer the decision.
Mr Burrett said: “I do know members who are not on this committee have expressed a variety of different views. I think once again we do need to seek the views of the wider membership to enable the groups to talk amongst themselves.”
Dr Walsh said: “Telling me that members can’t make up their minds in three weeks, I do not believe it.
“We are being told we need more than 21 days to discuss tuppence on a mileage rate. It’s ludicrous.”
Labour councillor Brenda Smith called the deferral ‘absolutely ridiculous’.
However, backing a deferral leader Louise Goldsmith, said: “It is not a big issue. I understand the point you’re making but I think it’s important to consult with members.”
Five Conservative committee members voted to defer the recommendation, with Brenda Smith and James Walsh voting against the proposal.
After the meeting, UKIP county council member Michael Glennon, said the controlling party has ‘kicked the can down the road’.
The issue will be discussed again at the next governance committee meeting on March 24.