Here’s why a Fenland councillor and former cabinet member is facing a code of conduct hearing over his expenses claims
- Credit: Archant
Allegations against Wisbech councillor Simon King of inflating mileages, claiming for going 85 miles to Rugby but not on official business, and once claiming return mileage of 10 miles for a meeting a mile from his home, have been revealed.
He also claimed 57 miles for a round trip to Doddington and came home via Peterborough
And on February 29th 2016 he is also alleged to have claimed for attending a meeting where he had sent his apologies for non attendance.
The allegations are set out in a 108 page report released today by Fenland District Council and which will form the basis for a conduct committee hearing on February 27.
Independent members of the conduct committee together with legal advisers and the committee chairman Councillor Sam Hoy 10 days ago and agreed the complaint should be heard in public and by the full committee.
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The report has been compiled by Fiona McMillan, described as deputy monitoring officer but effectively on secondment from Peterborough City Council where she is interim director of law and governance and monitoring officer.
She was brought into Fenland to handle the complaint to avoid a conflict of interest by the council’s own monitoring officer Carol Pilson who brought the complaint against Cllr King.
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Extensive evidence produced by Fenland Council details various warnings given to Cllr King over recent years about the methodology he deployed to claim expenses and copies of many expense forms show crossings out where sums claimed have been marked down.
The forms offer an insight – rarely seen – of how councillors go about claiming their expenses, who they meet on official business such as businessmen, MPs, and parish councils.
Even these latter attendances have got Cllr King into trouble – one mileage claim of a return trip of Wisbech to Leverington for 20 miles was challenged on the basis council officials believed it to be only four.
Google Maps has been the defining document for assessing his claims but Cllr King, in a tersely worded defence, refutes this is the not the only way councillors are entitled to claim mileage.
He is adamant no breach of the code of conduct has occurred and claims officers have adopted a “flawed interpretation” of the allowances scheme for councillors.
He says where officers have disallowed his claims he has accepted them but insists it is “not always possible or desirable” to travel the shortest route.
“I do not accept there has been any attempt to deceive Fenland District Council,” he says in one response.
His responses challenge whether councillors should only be allowed to claim mileage from their homes to council meetings.
Cllr King says his solicitor has obtained confirmation that councillors can claim from either their home, place of work or any other place to attend a meeting on official business.
Ms McMillan in her report says that “the information suggests that Councillor King may have submitted overinflated mileage claims and attempted to claim for journeys outside of the members’ allowance scheme.
“The information outlines that journeys were claimed for that appear inflated over and above what would be expected by comparison with Google Maps and journeys were claimed for that are outside of the scheme; mainly not travelling from home but another start point or travelling to another place which is not claimable on the way to council business.”
She says the total “inappropriately claimed and paid” to Cllr King was £1,511.10 (3,358 miles); Cllr King has subsequently repaid this amount.
However she says a further £736.65 (1,637 miles) was claimed but not paid between April 2011 and October 2017.
She says Cllr King is an experienced councillor and was first elected to Fenland District Council in 1999.
He has held various senior positions including chairman of overview and scrutiny committee and a cabinet member for transport (he was recently removed from this post).
Ms McMillan said: “Due to the potential seriousness of this complaint it was not possible to resolve this informally on this occasion and therefore this complaint has progressed to the next stage of the process.”
She said a pre-screening process determined a breach of the conduct of conduct may have occurred and so therefore a referral to the full conduct committee now follows.
A letter from Cllr King with further submissions on the complaint against him was
read out to the pre screening panel.
She said: “Following an extensive discussion it was agreed that the complaint could not be described as vexatious, trivial or tit-for-tat.”
The report notes that Cllr King was warned in 2016 of the “submission of inappropriate claims” but these had continued.