Council perk fuels anger

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CASH-STRAPPED Wigan Council has shelled out more than £4m in two years in mileage allowances to staff using their own cars, according to a report.

Pressure group the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) revealed town hall bosses in the borough pay workers 52p a mile for petrol – more than the HM Revenue and Customs-approved level of 45p a mile. The council has increased the amount staff can claim per mile from 46.9p between 2008/09, to 47.7p in 2009/10 and now 52.2p.

This resulted in total pay-outs of £2.073m in 2008/09 and £2.163m in 2009/10.

The news comes as Wigan Council is being forced to make more than £20m worth of savings to balance the accounts this year, on top of an extra £27m cut as part of a bid to reduce costs.

TPA director Matthew Sinclair said: “Ordinary motorists who are feeling the pinch will be shocked that council staff are getting such a generous deal for their mileage claims. It simply isn’t fair.

“Some authorities have shown it is possible to save millions by cutting back to the rate recommended by the taxman.

“This is a quick and painless saving that won’t affect council services and will ease the burden on households.”

But council chiefs defended the figures and stressed the authority has “rigorous procedures” to monitor expenses.

Wigan Council’s director of corporate services, Paul McKevitt, said: “The council provides mileage expenses for all officers of the council who incur travel costs in the course of their daily duties.

“Given the size and scope of the organisation this can include a vast range of responsibilities, from attending meetings through to home visits for social care staff.

“The council is not unique in providing allowances for out-of-pocket travelling expenses incurred by its workers. This is common practice in any sphere of business whether it in the private of public sector. The rate which mileage allowances are set for local authorities is also done nationally, rather than by the council.

“If the yearly figure for travel expense claims is broken down, it represents about £10 per employee per month.

“The council has rigorous procedures for the claiming of travel expenses and all claims made by an individual employee must the verified by the appropriate manager.

“We are also encouraging members of staff to adopt more sustainable modes of transport through our travel plan. This has already seen increases in staff walking and cycling and reducing car use during working hours. We are trialling ‘pool bikes’ to help with this.”

According to the TPA report, Wigan Council workers claiming travel allowances for more than 250 miles a year are £31 better off than someone receiving the HMRC Approved Mileage Allowance Payment (AMPA).

Those driving more than 500 miles a year will be £61 better off, while staff travelling 1000 miles over 12 months will receive an extra £122.