Ten councillors reported for allegedly breaching their Code of Conduct over allowances for IT and broadband expenses have been cleared by Scarborough’s Council’s Standards Committee.
Whitby resident, Nigel Ward, had alleged that borough and North Yorkshire County Council members, Andrew Backhouse, John Blackburn, Bill Chatt, Mike Cockerill, David Jeffels, Janet Jefferson, Penny Marsden, Joe Plant, Peter Popple and Brian Simpson had in effect received two payments from the two authorities that covered a single expense and in doing so had breached the Code of Conduct.
However, following a joint investigation carried out by legal officers from both authorities, a borough council Standards Committee made up of elected and independent members concluded there was “no dishonesty or illegality” and a breach of the code had not taken place.
The committee concluded that the £8,994 basic allowance from the county council does not define specific elements of expenditure, such as broadband or IT, but covers a multitude of expenses, some of which are incidental and often unquantifiable, which relate to “the cost of being a member and engaging with the public”.
It was also pointed out during the open hearing at Scarborough Town Hall that none of the councillors had actually submitted a claim for these allowances, as members are automatically entitled to receive them.
A county council Standards Committee is due to convene at a later date to consider the same reports, along with the borough council’s conclusion.
Scarborough Council’s head of legal and support services, Lisa Dixon, said: “In line with recommendations made by legal officers from both authorities, the Standards Committee concluded that the 10 members were fully entitled in accordance with the law and government guidance to receive both the basic allowance made available by North Yorkshire County Council and the internet and ICT allowance made available by the borough council and therefore did not act dishonestly in accepting both allowances. Accordingly, their actions do not constitute a breach of the code of conduct.”
The Communities and Local Government Guidance on Members’ Allowances for Local Authorities in England states that a basic allowance is “intended to recognise the time commitment of all councillors, including such inevitable calls on their time as meetings with officers and constituents and attendance at political group meetings. It is also intended to cover incidental costs such as the use of their homes”.
A Scarborough Council spokesman added: “Following the introduction of iPads across the council, Scarborough Council’s ICT and broadband allowance scheme has been changed and is now based on the reimbursement of actually incurred expenses, rather than an automatic allowance.”