Council fuel expenses increase is 'bad use of public money'

A row broke out at North Norfolk District Council over increasing petrol allowances for staff

North Norfolk District Council leader Tim Adams, top right, and Walsingham councillor Tom Fitzpatrick, left - Credit: Archant

Increasing the petrol allowance of council staff has seen a row break out, with opposition councillors branding it a "bad use of public money".

Conservative and independent councillors at North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) heavily criticised an increase in fuel allowance while the country was facing a spiralling cost of living crisis.

But senior leaders of the Liberal Democrat-controlled administration said the authority should help staff during this period.

NNDC agreed to raise the mileage rate to 60p per mile almost 33pc up over the previous 45p.

Tom Fitzpatrick said NNDC staff worked hard but he could not support the plan. 

The Conservative councillor for Walsingham said: “At the moment this is the wrong message to put out to the public at a time of severely rising costs right across the board - inflation is the highest its been in many years, people are seeing the cost of their mortgages going up, the cost of baskets of food going up. People are on the brink.” 

The plans also drew concern from the Liberal Democrat benches with Lucy Shires, cabinet member for organisational resources, who said it “wasn’t clear” how the decision had been reached and what procedures and processes had been followed.

Lucy Shires, Liberal Democrat councillor on North Norfolk District Council. Picture: Lucy Shires

Lucy Shires, Liberal Democrat councillor on North Norfolk District Council. Picture: Lucy Shires - Credit: Archant

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Independent councillor Greg Hayman said he believes that having higher expenses can lead to an increase in their use and the council should be looking to cut as many journeys as possible to reduce emissions and costs.

He called for the proposal to be sent back to committees for extra work.

“There are clearly problems that have been expressed with it and it would be wrong of us to take a decision this evening," he said.

“It would be bad politics, bad optics but it's also bad use of public money. It needs more time and more consideration.” 

Greg Hayman, Liberal Democrat councillor for Trunch, pictured during the 2019 North Norfolk District

Independent NNDC councillor Greg Hayman - Credit: Archant

Mr Hayman's suggestion was rejected and the expense increase was approved, with leader of the council Tim Adams taking issue with suggestions that staff were making unnecessary journeys.

He said: “This is business travel and the rate of those journeys has decreased since Covid, this won’t break the bank.

"I am absolutely comfortable with us supporting our staff undertaking travel."

Mr Adams said the government needed to take better steps to bring the cost of petrol down so the authority can reverse the increase as quickly as possible.

The chief executive of the authority will review fuel prices monthly and if there is movement it would be re-examined.