Expenses system ‘easier to abuse’ after changes

January 16, 2012 10:36 PM
By Charles Thomson in Yellow Advertiser

CONCERNED: County councillor Barry Aspinell claims the changes make it easier to ‘abuse the system.’ (Picture by Mark Cleveland)A BRENTWOOD county councillor has slammed changes made to Essex County Council's rules on expenses, which he claims have made it easier to 'abuse the system'.

Liberal Democrat Barry Aspinell, who represents Brentwood North, was one of the members who opposed the changes from the time they were first discussed. The move means councillors can now submit claims without senior members checking them first, claim mileage without any receipts and pay for hospitality on the premise that it makes the council look good.

Councillors altered three sections of the Members Allowances Scheme in a meeting on October 11, 2011 - less than a month after former council chief Lord Hanningfield finished a jail term for expenses fraud at the House of Lords. Rules now say councillors can provide hospitality to third parties under 'exceptional circumstances', such as 'buying lunch for the purpose of managing the reputation of the council'.

Mr Aspinell, who refuses to claim expenses, said the new rule was far too vague because any lunch bought for a third party could be considered to reflect well on the council. "Councillors shouldn't be claiming for lunches at all," fellow councillor Theresa Higgins said. The pair also criticised changes to travel expense rules, allowing VAT-registered councillors to claim mileage without submitting any receipts.

Mr Aspinell said: "It's a nonsense. If you don't have receipts, how do we know the journey has even been undertaken?" Mrs Higgins agreed, saying: "That is open to abuse. I have to keep all my receipts and scan them in. Anybody not having to follow the same rules as everybody else doesn't seem right."