ONE Sunderland councillor was responsible for a third of all expenses claimed by members last year – supplementing his basic allowance by £900 every month.
Labour backbencher Neville Padgett claimed £11,110 out of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 councillors in 2012/13.
Figures on Sunderland City Council’s website show Coun Padgett’s travel expenses amounted to £7,084 with another £4,026 claimed for subsistence, in addition to the basic £8,369 allowance all councillors are entitled to.
During the year, the Washington East member claimed up to the maximum £28.73 per day in subsistence for a total 274 days, which included two bank holidays.
In contrast, Coun Padgett’s Washington East ward colleague, Coun Fiona Miller claimed just £183.15 in travel expenses, while Coun David Snowdon, who was elected in May 2012, after the start of the financial year, claimed £540 in travel expenses. Neither of them claimed subsistence.
Married father-of-two Coun Padgett, who lives in Houghton, was queried by the council’s payroll department for “several entries for tour of ward” claims.
In a reply via email – seen by the Echo – Coun Padgett, 68, said he tours his ward by car once a week because of “litter problems”.
He wrote: “I cover every street and road throughout the ward. This is because of the increase in litter problems etc. The ward is the largest by area in Sunderland so the most economical way of covering it is by car.”
From March 4, 2012, to February 24, 2013, Coun Padgett completed 52 tours.
Driving his 1,400cc Vauxhall Corsa, he claimed 45p per mile for 47 51-mile trips – a total of £22.95 each time. One trip of 53 miles was also claimed for at that rate, resulting in a claim for £23.85.
The four final claims of that year were for 51-mile trips at 25p per mile – the rate councillors can claim when they have clocked up in excess of 10,000 miles – resulting in claims of £12.75. In total, £1,153.50 of taxpayers’ money was spent on Coun Padgett’s litter tours.
Tory opposition councillor Lee Martin has now formally asked the council to look into the legitimacy of the claims.
“He is a back bench councillor and he appears to have five appointments a day, which makes him eligible to claim subsistence allowance,” Coun Martin said.
“He does it nearly every day, including Saturdays. He must be the most dedicated member of this council. He has claimed just over £4,000 in subsistence. He must never have been to the supermarket all year, and is claiming travel expenses to look for litter.
“He needs to be brought to account. I’m the first person to say councillors shouldn’t be out of pocket for what they do, but he claims nearly £1,000 a month. If all councillors claimed that amount the total bill would be £883,000. It’s just not acceptable.”
Council leader Paul Watson, who claimed just £26 in travel expenses and £309 subsistence, said: “I’m probably not one to judge their expenses, but I can say that every claim that is put in for expenses goes through the system and is checked by officers.
“I understand that there has been no questions as to the legitimacy of the expenses. At the end of the day, there are a lot of other people on the council who don’t claim their full allowances, so rather than concentrating on someone who seemingly claim what he is entitled to, look at the councillors who don’t put expenses in and pay out of their own pockets.”
A statement from Sunderland City Council said: “The city council has received a request from one member to re-examine certain member expenses claims.
“The chief executive has sought and been given assurance that members’ expenses claims are being audited on a risk assessed basis. Any concerns will be addressed through this process.”
The Echo has tried to contact Coun Padgett on numerous occasions but he has not responded to messages.