Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Council Expenses Anger; Staff Travel Claims Upset Independent

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Council Expenses Anger; Staff Travel Claims Upset Independent

Article excerpt

Byline: Neil McKay

THE North's biggest local authority is "reviewing" its expenditure after admitting that staff claimed more than pounds 7m in expenses during the last financial year.

However, Durham County Council also revealed that much of the money was claimed by staff like social workers and planning and building inspectors, who deliver essential services to the community.

It also pointed out that Durham is a rural council and if services are to be kept local, staff will have to travel.

Following a request by Independent councillor John Shuttleworth under the Freedom of Information Act, the council revealed it had paid out a total of pounds 6.654,784 in travel expenses between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010.

During the same period, it also paid out a total of pounds 965,741 in "essential car user" allowances to 1,196 members of staff.

The figures were revealed as the authority, which only came into being in its current form on April 1 last year following local government reorganisation, has come under increasing pressure to tighten its belt.

The council is presently considering whether to close care homes for the elderly at Annfield Plain, Blackhall, Lanchester, Newton Aycliffe, Shildon, Stanley and Bishop Auckland. And last week, the Government announced a reduction of pounds 16.5m in grants available to the authority. That prompted leader Simon Henig to say: "We are already delivering pounds 51.3m efficiencies over the next three years in a planned and measured way, including pounds 8.5m this year.

"Having to find an additional pounds 16.5m in the remainder of this year will be extremely difficult and will not be achieved without reducing services."

Mr Henig added: "These announcements by the Government will hit us particularly hard in this time of recession and will directly affect some of the communities that need help most. …

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