Changes to expenses after row

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FIRE bosses have been told to tighten up expenses rules after a Wigan councillor stepped down in a row over a £20,000 claim.

Coun Fred Walker had been chairman of Greater Manchester Fire Authority for more than 20 year but was forced to resign last month after it was revealed that he put in an expenses claim for £20,442.27 in one go.

And now finance watchdogs have told fire bosses to clarify the expenses rules so that there is no chance of a similar thing happening in the future.

The claim, which covered a 30-month period, was within the rules set out by the Fire Authority, but a number of months prior to the councillor’s claim, guidelines had been put in place stating that a claim should be submitted no longer than four months after the expense is incurred.

Coun Walker came under pressure from Labour Party colleagues and he stepped down from the role he had only be re-elected into in June.

The Audit Commission has now made a series of recommendations to the authority, which is made up of councillors from all 10 Greater Manchester local authorities.

In a report, it recommends the authority should clarify in what circumstances late expenses claims can be paid and suggests rules for authorising late payments should be included in the members’ allowances policy.

Existing policies make provisions for late claims under ‘exceptional and extenuating circumstances,’ but the report reveals that the authority’s policy makes no mention of who can authorise late payments.

Coun Walker’s claims included numerous train trips to London, costing up to £345 each, car mileage and parking and dated back to April 2008.

In the Audit Commission report it was also revealed that the claim was made seven months after the policy was changed – and Coun Walker received ‘repeated reminders’.

But checks on the validity of the claim ruled the trips were necessary and supported by receipts and records. They have therefore been ruled as lawful.

The Audit Commission also recommends all travel is booked by the authority on behalf of members.