Councillor horrified by mileage mix-up

A councillor at the centre of a Town Hall expenses row has spoken for the first time about why she claimed mileage when she could not drive.

Coun Jeanette Prescott, who represents Pemberton, paid back 354 ahead of an investigation by the District Auditor into councillors' expense claims.

She says the money was claimed by mistake and said she was "surprised and horrified" when the error was pointed out.

Coun Jeanette Prescott, whose husband, Paul, is also a councillor, said: "Once I was made aware of a problem with mistakes in my travel expenses claim, I arranged to repay the entire amount.

"There was no argument that I had attended on all the occasions claimed for, but that I had mistakenly claimed for travel expenses when I was driven in by my family members.

"I was totally surprised and horrified when my mistake was pointed out to me and immediately agreed to repay the amount mentioned.

"I must say that I had never been made aware that what I did was not the correct procedure and have requested that councillors receive proper training to ensure everyone is fully aware of complex claims rules.

"Our car belongs to both my husband Paul and me and the petrol used came out of our incomes so therefore I thought I was entitled to claim for travel expenses.

"I have served the people of my ward and of the borough to the best of my ability, but being unable to drive have had to rely on lifts from Paul and other family members to get me to the many meetings I attend.

"I made my claims openly and certainly only ever intended to claim what I believed I was entitled to."

But now another political foe is threatening to make a formal complaint to Wigan police about the expense claim.

Wigan Independent Conservatives Leader Coun Gareth Fairhurst said: "Whether people have paid money back or not is not the matter, I believe an investigation is needed. There should be no whitewash."

Council finance chief Dr David Smith says Coun Prescott was entitled to claim public transport costs for travel to meetings from her Norley Hall home, had she used it.

The overpayment, which covers her 10-year tenure to date since being elected, works out at 68p a week.