The Fenland District Councillor at the centre of an expenses investigation has “voluntarily suspended” himself from the cabinet and the Conservative group and has repaid over £1,500 to the council.
Fenland’s leader Councillor John Clark this week confirmed an investigation was underway into a member of his cabinet following alleged “irregularities” being uncovered in expense claims. Members can claim 45p per mile for journeys made on council business.
Today (Friday) Simon King, portfolio holder for equalities and transport, admitted the council’s monitoring officer Carol Pilson had looked into his mileage claims made over the past five years and he was now facing a police investigation.
He said: “My mileage claims for the past five years have been investigated by Carol Pilson. To my astonishment and to that of my solicitors, this complaint has now been passed to the police. As my response sets out, I am completely innocent and my solicitors and I are confident I will be cleared of any wrongdoing.
“However, to protect the good name of the district council I have decided to suspend myself voluntarily from the cabinet and the Conservative group until this process is completed.”
Councillor King said he had paid the council £1,511.10 which he says covers the alleged over payment.
He said: “I made this payment, which goes back over five years, to avoid any impression that I was benefiting improperly from Fenland District Council.”
Councillor King wrote a strong rebuttal to Mrs Pilson about his alleged wrongdoing.
In it he said: “I am extremely sorry this matter has escalated to the extent that it has become necessary for a formal complaint to be raised against me. I have done my best to comply with the policy and a claim form that to me lack clarity and with conflicting advice.”
He accepted that some of his previous expense claims had been rejected by offices because they did not fit the policy.
He also said some of his claims were for journeys that did not necessarily take the shortest route between the start and end points but added the policy does not state that is necessary.
Coun King also pointed out that in some cases it is not always advisable to take the shortest route for safety reasons, weather and road closures,
“I do not accept that the mileages shown in document 4 within the complaint and the mileages indicated in the summary as evidence of over claiming are correct.
“It hasn’t been possible in the time allowed for this response to check every item in the summary, but samples have indicated sufficient differences to warrant a thorough review of the mileages set out in the summary.”
Coun King said the policy was not clear about whether or not it was acceptable to take detours to visit constituents either before or after a council meeting.
However, he said in future he would restrict his mileage claims to just travelling from his home in Wisbech to Fenland Hall in March a distance of no more than 25 miles.
He would not include any detours to visit constituents in future claims and he would also claim from his home to Fenland Hall and not from other departure points.
“For the reasons set out above I do not accept that I have over claimed and been overpaid any travel expenses. It is notable that Fenland District Council has not made any request to me for repayment of any sums overpaid and has proceeded with the issue of a complaint.
“As it is in the best interest of Fenland District Council to bring this matter to the speediest possible resolution, entirely without accepting any liability or obligation on my part to do so, I have today paid to Fenland District Council the sum of £1,511.10 equivalent to the entire amount alleged to have been overpaid to me,” said Coun King.
We are awaiting a comment from Fenland District Council.