I have just been asked why I have claimed no expenses since my re-election in May. “A recent FOIA request by Ipswich Spy has produced the expenses claims put in by the 75 County Councillors since the election at a staggering £25,000… Four councillors have claimed more than £1,000 and several councillors have claimed none at all. ” Well, I’m one of those who have claimed nothing.
In fact, as your County Councillor, I don’t think I have claimed any expenses whatsoever for the last three years.
It’s been a (rather small-scale) point of principle.
Lets not get this out of proportion. You’ll be pleased to know that there isn’t a great deal that a county councillor CAN claim for at the best of times – and this is as it should be.
But I have not claimed for travel on council business – even when Tory cuts mean that there are no longer buses running to get me home; I have not claimed for meals or coffee to sustain me on the days when I leave home at 7 and don’t get back till late; the wreaths I lay to celebrate Woodbridge’s war dead have been paid for out of my own pocket – and on the odd occasion work has taken me to London I’ve stayed with friends rather than cost the hard-pressed council-tax payer of Suffolk a single penny.
I am a carer for someone who often cannot be left safely, but even here I have used a patchwork of friends and favours to provide the required care. (Staff at Suffolk CC’s Endeavour House have been wonderfully supportive on a couple of occasions when I’ve had real emergencies.)
Please note – I don’t want to sound self-righteous, I’ve been making a point. I want to show up the contrast between what is possible and what some others think it appropriate to claim for – legitimately – at a time of fiscal belt-tightening. There are councillors who have duties that require a lot of transport and it seems only fair that it is funded. But if they could only claim for using public transport maybe Suffolk would have better public transport?
(It is also very important that the business of being a local councillor is not restricted to those who can afford it. We need more participation from people of all ages and backgrounds if we want to deliver real democracy in decision-making. But maybe this is more about what the average councillor’s allowance is, than how much they can claim in expenses.)
Now I think being a full-time carer as well as a full-time county councillor makes me a better full-time county councillor – just as I think that being a county councillor who travels by public transport and bicycle will have a better understanding of the problems of rural transport than one who travels by car with expenses-funded petrol. My caring duties are not diminishing. In the future I may have to claim for emergency care cover as and when I need it. And, as I have mild epilepsy, transport can be very difficult when there are no buses and I am not well enough to cycle. But until there is a real need, I won’t be claiming.
I suspect if there were more in my position representing you, some significant and important council decisions might have been/would be different – and the outcomes for the people of Suffolk better.
If you have strong feelings on this matter – please contact me now -either by commenting below or by email/twitter etc