Councillors vote to cut travel expenses
CUTTING mileage rates paid to councillors will save a local authority £20,000 a year.
Members of Cheshire East Council have voted to reduce the amount they can claim when travelling on council business to 52.2p-a-mile – down from 65p-a-mile.
This will bring the councillors' mileage rate in line with the amount paid to council staff, which was reduced following talks with unions, but is still 7.2p above the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) approved rate of 45p per mile.
The council came under fire from The Taxpayers' Alliance after it increased its mileage rate earlier this year.
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Conservative council leader Wesley Fitzgerald said all the authority's political groups agreed that a reduction for councillors was appropriate.
He said: "In the last few weeks agreement has been reached with the unions, acting on behalf of officers, for a reduced mileage rate.
"This proposal would reduce the administration costs for the council, which would be of benefit in the current climate.
"Members will not have to claim mileage at the rate being proposed.
"Many may opt to claim at the HMRC approved rate of 45p per mile.
"I know members of my own group, the Labour group and the Lib Dem group will probably do that. We do not have to take the 52.2p.
"It will be up to each councillor how much they want to claim."
But Labour councillor Sam Corcoran argued that the council should not be paying any amount over the HMRC's approved mileage allowance.
Mr Corcoran, councillor for Sandbach Heath and East, suggested an amendment to the proposals, reducing the mileage rate to 45p, saying this would save the council money and set a good example to residents.
He said: "Any amount paid above the HMRC approved rate is taxable income, so by paying a higher rate than 45p we are adding to the bureaucracy.
"I believe we should also increase the rate paid for car sharing, which is currently only 1p per mile.
"As well as reducing the administration costs, these measures would also set a good example.
"We would be encouraging people to use environmentally friendly forms of transport."
Mr Corcoran's proposed amendment was criticised by councillors from other groups.
Lib Dem councillor David Neilson said that a lower mileage rate would discourage working class people from standing as councillors, making the council less representative.
Councillors also argued that the authority could not pay a different rate to members and officers.
The full council voted down Mr Corcoran's amendment and agreed to the original proposals.
Other authorities have different schemes for reimbursing councillors for their travel expenses.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council pays its members £500 a year if they live less than four miles from the Civic Centre in Stoke, and £600 a year if they live more than four miles away.