A CONTROVERSIAL councillor who claimed more than £26,000 in expenses in two years has resigned, the Echo can reveal.
Labour representative Neville Padgett suddenly stepped down from his Washington East seat just five months after he was re-elected in May.
Earlier this year, there were calls for 68-year-old Mr Padgett to resign when figures showed he was claiming £1,250 per month on top of his annual £8,369 basic allowance – more than he would receive if he were in a minimum wage job.
The Echo understands that Mr Padgett attended a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s standards board on Friday, although council bosses would not confirm this to the Echo.
Council chief executive Dave Smith said in a statement: “The city council can confirm a notice of resignation has been received from Coun Neville Padgett. A notice of vacancy in the Washington East ward will be published in due course.”
Mr Padgett hit the headlines in March when the 2012/13 expenses were published. He was found to have claimed £11,000 – almost a third of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 councillors.
The expenses included food, refreshments, and mileage claims. At the time, he justified the latter by claiming to spend one day a week driving around every street in his ward to check on litter problems.
Then figures released in April showed that in 2013/14, he had claimed even more – just over £15,000 – to supplement his basic allowance.
A month later, voters in Washington East re-elected him for another term in a landslide victory. Tory opposition leader Lee Martin, who has led calls for Mr Padgett to step down, has now asked the council to investigate.
Coun Martin said he plans to table a question for the November meeting of the full council in order that any findings of the standards board are made public. He said: “I have asked for the council to investigate whether there was any wrongdoing. I believe his resignation is linked to his expenses.
“I’m still waiting for the council to confirm that they completed the review I asked for to ensure his expenses were legitimate. It is in the public interest to know it has been done properly.”
Mr Padgett’s former Labour colleague and Washington South councillor Graeme Miller said: “This is a standards board issue. I don’t know what their report said. I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. He has resigned before the end of the process. Whatever happened on Friday is between Neville and the members of the standards board.”
Council leader Paul Watson said Mr Padgett’s resignation letter cited health grounds and that he needed more time to care for his wife.
“The electorate returned him with a greater majority and there is no better test than the local community making the verdict,” Coun Watson added.
Dave Smith said: “Concerns were raised earlier this year about re-examining certain councillor expenses claims. These are audited on a risk assessed basis and any issues are raised with individuals in line with the Code of Conduct that all councillors sign.
“Because of the code and its procedures, it would be inappropriate to advise other councillors of an audit conclusion or for the council to make any further comment.”
A spokesman for Labour North said: “Neville Padgett has not resigned from the Labour Party, but we do understand he has resigned as a councillor on Sunderland City Council.”
The Echo has tried to contact Mr Padgett without success.