The TaxPayers Alliance has published a report into council mileage allowances and Ministers are jumping on the bash a council allowance bandwagon, David Brownsey-Joyce looks at the report.
It’s the current blood sport of choice for Ministers, council bashing, whether it be the councils themselves, the councillors, the workers, or the allowances and expenses they can claim. Ministers find that they enjoy nothing better than pointing out how much councils cost the taxpayer, now a lobby group, the TaxPayers Alliance has published a report into council mileage allowances and Ministers are moving in for the kill.
Local Government Minister Bob Neil is leading this hunt, “Town halls are wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money by these preferential and privileged motoring perks.” The question is why.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) had agreed a 40p per mile Approved Mileage Allowance Payment (AMAP) for the period covered in the report, this has now gone up to 45p per mile since the Chancellor’s Budget, this means that workers both in the public and private sector can now claim 45p per mile tax free in expenses; as long as the company/authority they work for has an approved mileage rate set up themselves and are willing to reimburse it, which councils do for workers.
However, as always there is a catch; there are rules to which workers must adhere in order to claim this expense back, these will vary from council to council and role to role, but the basic version will be along the lines of, if you need your car in order to fulfil your role you can claim for it, this would exclude travelling to and from work.
The reason the TaxPayers Alliance created the report and the reason Ministers smell blood in the water is that a number of councils approve a mileage rate in excess of the HMRC’s AMAP, meaning that in the eyes of the TaxPayers Alliance there is room for cuts on spending and in a time of economic upheaval I don’t blame them however there are a few problems.
Firstly the figures are out of date. The TaxPayers Alliance submitted their requests for information on the 1st February 2011, the report came out on the 14th April, there is no data for the total amounts paid during 2010-2011, this is most likely down to a combination of the following; councils not returning data and councils not being able to return data.
The reason I believe they would not or could not return this data would be financial years. The financial year runs to April, some councils may have their budgets running in parallel with the calendar year but I doubt it’s many. The figures probably hadn’t been correlated before the information requests went out and you need all employees to have submitted their expenses accurately and on time to get an accurate figure on spending. These things take time and if you haven’t got the figures to hand getting a few hundred or potential thousand employees to submit their up to date expenses may be tricky, not to mention costly.
Back to the report.
As a result of this the report publishes details of council spending on mileage during 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. There are also columns for the mileage rates for vehicles over 1200cc for 2008-2009, 2009-2010, and 2010-2011, the mileage rate is easy to find out it is simply a figure agreed by the council an Freedom of Information request can take care of that; I’m guessing that Essex County Council and Solihull Council didn’t get the message, they did not reveal their 2010-2011 allowance figure to the TaxPayers Alliance. Careful guys, or else a certain Communities Secretary who is threatening legal action against Nottingham City Council for not publishing spending over £500 may get ideas.
Here is the bottom line, council workers cost money, cars cost money, running cars costs money; at a time when we are cutting back on council spending, freezing pay and axing jobs do we really want to punish council workers more by making it more expensive for them to work, to provide care in the community, to go out and fix council houses, to run outreach programmes, and the many more programmes that involve people driving. The funny thing is that these costs will go down, simply because councils are cutting staff, and it’s not really funny.
Number 1 Council for Mileage Rates 2010-2011 (Most versus Least)
Halton – 77.50p
A complete list of councils on 40p or under during 2010-2011 according to the TaxPayers Alliance’s own figures:
Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Angus, Argyll and Bute, Babergh, Barnsley, Basildon, Broxbourne, Cambridgeshire, Chelmsford, Chiltern, Edinburgh, Clackmannanshire, Colchester, Coventry, Dartford, Dorset, Dumfries and Galloway, Dundee, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Hampshire, East Northamptonshire, East Renfrewshire, East Sussex, Epsom and Ewell, Exeter, Fife, Forest of Dean, Glasgow, Gravesham, Greater London Authority, Hambleton, Hastings, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Highland, Inverclyde, Isles of Scilly, Kent, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, Mid Suffolk, Midlothian, Moray, Newark and Sherwood, Newport, Norfolk, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, North Somerset, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Portsmouth, Renfrewshire, Rotherham, Scottish Borders, Sheffield, Slough, South Ayrshire, South Bucks, South Gloucestershire, South Kesteven, South Lanarkshire, South Norfolk, Southend-on-sea, St Edmundsbury, Stirling, Stratford-on-Avon, Suffolk, Surrey, Swale, Thurrock, Torbay, Wakefield, Waveney, Wealden, West Dunbartonshire, West Lothian, West Somerset, Windsor and Maidenhead.