Ex-councillor paying back £10,000 of overpaid expenses claims

Neville Padgett
Neville Padgett
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Former councillor Neville Padgett has agreed to repay almost £10,000 he received from Sunderland City Council in expenses.

The 69-year-old former Washington East councillor is paying back £9,816.32 by instalments – the full amount he was found to have been overpaid after an investigation was launched by council bosses.

Sunderland Civic Centre

Sunderland Civic Centre

As long as he keeps up the repayments he will face no further action, according to a report presented to the authority’s standards committee.

Mr Padgett, of Abbey Drive, Grasswell, Houghton, came under fire early last year after it came to light that he claimed £26,000 worth of expenses in just over two years.

He resigned from his post last October - citing health reasons after being re-elected in May in a landslide victory, despite the outcry.

The Echo has previously reported how Mr Padgett claimed £11,000 in expenses in 2012/13 – almost a third of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 of the city’s councillors.

Given that Mr Padgett is no longer a member of either this council or another authority, subject to the repayment by Mr Padgett in full of the amount referred to, it is proposed that no further action be taken by the council in respect of this matter

Standards committee report

He claimed another £15,000 the next year on top of his £8,369 basic allowance.

The expenses included food, refreshments, and mileage claims.

He justified the latter by claiming to spend one day a week driving around every street in his ward to check on litter problems.

A complaint to the council was referred to a behind-closed-doors meeting of the authority’s standards committee on October 7.

Council leader Paul Watson

Council leader Paul Watson

Mr Padgett quit his post shortly after and was replaced by Tony Taylor following a by-election in December.

He also stood down from his post as a director of Age UK Sunderland.

A joint report, dated July 31, 2015, by the council’s head of law and governance, Elaine Waugh, and director of finance, Sonia Tognarelli, has confirmed that the investigation into Mr Padgett’s claims has concluded.

The report, presented to the standards committee, said a planned routine payroll audit by the council’s internal audit service had examined mileage payments made to both members and employees.

It said detailed investigations were undertaken by auditors into the amounts claimed by Mr Padgett in respect of travel and subsistence during the financial years 2011/12, 2012/13 and 2013/14.

The matter had then been deferred in order to request further information from Mr Padgett.

The report adds: “Mr Padgett has agreed to repay the full amount of £9,816.32 to the council in respect of an overpayment of travel and subsistence expenses for the relevant three financial years as identified from the Internal Audit Service’s review.

“As in the case with any significant debt, payment terms have been agreed to the satisfaction of the director of finance and these terms will be kept under review.

“Given that Mr Padgett is no longer a member of either this council or another authority, subject to the repayment by Mr Padgett in full of the amount referred to, it is proposed that no further action be taken by the council in respect of this matter.”

Council leader Paul Watson said: “If he has overclaimed as a result of not being clear over what was appropriate to claim, then he’s paying it back and has suffered the consequences.

“If there was an intent, that would present a different matter, but if our standards board carried out an audit and investigation I am happy to accept their findings.”

Mr Padgett was unavailable for comment.

The council has issued assurances in respect of procedures and safeguards to prevent overpayment of expenses to members.

The standards committee report read: “While it remains the responsibility of each individual member to ensure that claims they submit are restricted to what they are entitled to receive under the Members’ Allowances Scheme, the following arrangements have been put in place:

“At each financial year end, payroll will refer any claims over 100 per cent of the average claims to Internal Audit for review.

“On an on-going basis, payroll staff will refer claims back to members, where it is considered that insufficient information has been provided, or where there appear to be anomalies in the information provided.

“Members’ claims will be reviewed by a senior officer within Law and Governance Services, who will track the overall level of claim and raise any issues or queries.

“On a quarterly basis, the level of claim per Member will be reported to the Director of Finance and Head of Law and Governance.”