Welwyn Hatfield, Hertsmere and County Councils paid more than �3.7m in mileage expenses

STAFF at Welwyn Hatfield Council were paid nearly half-a-million pounds in mileage expenses last year.

And Herts County Council staff were paid �3.2m in the same period.

The figures, unearthed by low tax pressure group The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA), show that Welwyn Hatfield Council paid out �443,004 in 2009-10, �3,881 more than the previous year.

Chris Daniel, policy analyst at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s shocking that even with tight budgets many councils pay incredibly generous mileage to their staff. It’s good that Welwyn Hatfield Council have acknowledged the previous rate was too high and identified this as an area to make savings.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be seen as an infinite source of money and the council should go further to review other spending and find savings first from internal costs.”

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He added: “Hertfordshire just pay the HMRC rate and for at large council they have one of the lowest payments, proving that large councils can make huge savings if [they] keep costs down.”

Reacting to the publication of the figures, a spokeswoman for Welwyn Hatfield Council told the WHT: “We consider that the totals paid for mileage, as set out in The Taxpayers’ Alliance report and supplied by us under an FOI request, are in line with other local authorities of a similar size, employee roster, and geographical spread.”

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She added: “The figures include all staff, and for 2008/9 and 2009/10 include housing staff, who were part of the council at that time, before Welwyn Hatfield Community Housing Trust was created.

“They also include street wardens, environmental health officers, Meals on Wheels drivers and other staff using vehicles as an essential part of their role.

“The figures are for casual and essential car users, and show that from January 1 this year Welwyn Hatfield paid the then HMRC [Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs] rate of 40p a mile irrespective of engine size.

“On April 1 this rose to 45p a mile, again in line with the HMRC rate.

“The 45p per mile rate applies to all council employees and councillors.”

The spokeswoman said employees also tried to save taxpayers’ cash by travelling together and using public transport.

A County Council spokeswoman added; “We are committed to reducing the environmental and financial impacts of our business travel by looking at ways to reduce miles travelled, identifying methods of transport with lower carbon emissions per mile and reducing business travel costs.

“Between 2008/9 and 2010/11 we reduced our spending in this area by nearly �75,000.

“We only reimburse approved expenses incurred in the course of employees’ official duties.

“While we encourage employees to reduce travel expenses through methods such as teleconferencing or car sharing, there are some areas, such as social work, where travelling around the county is an essential part of the job.”

The statistics also show that Hertsmere Borough Council paid out �60,716 in 2009-10, �2,153 less than the previous year. Reacting to the publication of the figures, Hertsmere Borough Council’s director of resources, Sajida Bijle, said: “Our rate is not an unreasonable amount to reimburse staff so it’s disappointing that this report is so misleading.

“For instance, the 40p rate referred to isn’t a recommended amount for councils to pay but is in fact the tax-free allowance.

“In addition it has been 40p for 10 years even though the price of fuel has increased significantly during this time.

“If members of staff have to pay out for using their own vehicles for work purposes it is only fair to reimburse them.

“Our rate is in line with national guidance whic is based on the actual cost of business mileage, taking into account the current price of fuel and associated overheads such as business insurance.

“Offering mileage to staff also means we don’t have the expense of maintaining pool cars which would cost considerably more.”

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