A CALL for a closer look at councillors’ expenses claims has been turned down at a meeting.
Conservative councillor Anne Meadows asked for an audit of councillors dependent carer allowance expenses for the past two full financial years.
She said that she was concerned about the use of public money after media reports relating to two members of Brighton and Hove City Council.
But at a meeting of the council’s audit and standards committee, the chair, Labour councillor Daniel Yates, said that there no evidence of wrongdoing.
Cllr Yates, the former leader of the council, said that evidence was essential rather than just “people saying bad things” about councillors.
Cllr Meadows said that news reports and the commentary around them showed a “loss of confidence” from the public which needed to be restored.
She said: “If councillors are out of the city, and we have a number, and they are not serving their constituents, then we are still paying for them.
“More particularly, if they are claiming childcare when not attending meetings, we should be aware of that.”
When Cllr Yates refused the request at the meeting at Hove Town Hall, Cllr Meadows asked whether it was a case of Labour supporting and covering for the Greens.
He replied that officers had assured him that all applications for allowances were checked before the money was paid out – and that there was no evidence of wrongdoing or grounds for an audit.
Cllr Yates said: “Just going out there and saying bad things about people because we don’t like them doesn’t make them bad people and doesn’t make things wrong and doesn’t make it true.
“Truth requires evidence – and it needs to be demonstrated. If you can bring forward evidence, I’m completely prepared to consider alternative routes. I’m ruling nothing out. I’m just saying there is no evidence.”
The request for an audit of expenses for the past two financial years followed questions about Green councillor Alex Phillips’ claims.
The expenses claims relate to her year as mayor when she also sat as an MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for South East England.
Cllr Phillips claimed £1,799.96 in dependent carer allowances in 2019-20 and £1,458 in 2020-21.
Her husband, fellow Green councillor Tom Druitt, claimed £53.55 in dependent carer allowances in 2019-20.
The couple have a four-year-old son and an infant daughter.
They have also come under fire for spending much of the first lockdown in 2020 and last Christmas at their holiday home in France.
After the revelations of their lockdown abroad, one local voter, Laura King, asked how councillors could continue representing people in Brighton and Hove when they were not living here.
At a council meeting last October she questioned whether they were entitled to claim child care expenses.
At the time, the Green council leader Phelim Mac Cafferty said that the allowances were adopted based on the recommendation of an independent remuneration panel and helped “banish the days when councillors were just old men”.
Cllr Druitt also dismissed claims that his family was wealthy when the controversy surfaced last year, saying that he used to live in a bus.
In the 2019-20 financial year, Labour councillor Nick Childs was the only other councillor to claim the carers allowance.
The father of two claimed £364.50 in 2019-20 and £85 in the year to 2020-21.
Councillors received a basic allowance of £13,359.60 last year and additional money for extra responsibilities.
The council leader, Cllr Mac Cafferty, received the highest “special responsibility allowance” – £26,629.39 – considerably less than the six-figure salaries paid to the council’s most senior officials.
The dependent carer allowance was set at £9 an hour after an independent review of councillors’ allowances for 2019-23.
Claims are limited to £1,800 a year, which covers 200 hours a year, and the allowance is set at a similar level to other councils.