Has Wisbech Councillor Simon King gone too far? He is set to face conduct hearing over his expense claims
Roadworks, diversions, a dental appointment and constituency business are among a number of explanations given by a Fenland councillor facing a conduct hearing over alleged inflated expense claims.
According to a 108-page dossier on the case against Councillor Simon King there were instances where 100 per cent of journeys were allegedly misclaimed.
However, the Wisbech councillor told the Citizen “it feels like a witch hunt” and claims he is the only one of Fenland’s 39 members to have their expenses put under the microscope in this fashion.
He rigorously denies any wrongdoing and says he will be making his own formal complaint about the way his case has been handled.
In the meantime the report due to be considered by Fenland’s conduct committee next week asserts there was not one month between April 2011 and October 2017 when Coun King allegedly did not make an over-inflated or wrong claim.
Coun King, who has questioned the use of Google Maps by the council for checking his mileage claims, is also said to have made other claims outside Fenland Council’s members’ allowances scheme which permits councillors to make mileage claims for journeys undertaken as part of council duties.
The depth of the allegations against the Wisbech councillor has been made public ahead of next Tuesday’s conduct committee hearing.
Following a pre-screening process carried out by independent members of the conduct committee, legal advisers and committee chairman Coun Sam Hoy on February 8, it was unanimously agreed Coun King may have breached the Code of Conduct and the case should go before the committee. There was also a recommendation the allegations be sent for further investigation by an independent investigator, which is what will be decided on Tuesday.
The report says: “Following extensive discussion about the issues raised in the complaint it was agreed that the complaint could not be described as ‘vexatious, trivial or tit-for-tat’.”
Among the Code’s sections Coun King may have breached was the first Nolan Principle: “Selflessness – holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.”
The report, compiled by Fiona Mcmillan, the council’s deputy monitoring officer called in to avoid a conflict of interest as the complaint against Coun King was originally made by monitoring officer Carol Pilson, includes copies of mileage claims submitted by Coun King as well as letters from him refuting the allegations.
It also includes a month-by-month breakdown of Coun King’s claims over the past six years and highlights at least eight occasions between November 2015 and July 2017 when Coun King was given “advice and guidance in regards to the Members’ Allowances Scheme”.
But Coun King, who has branded the whole process “extremely hurtful”, questions the way the scheme’s rules have been interpreted and argues there is nothing to state categorically a councillor must take the most direct route, nor that all journeys claimed for must begin from home.
The report says: “The information outlines there are claims for differing amounts of mileage from home in Wisbech to Fenland Hall, March. This generally consists of 26 miles or more.
“Google Maps state this journey would equate to 22 miles.
“There are other routes between Wisbech and March, however no journeys could be found that would result in this amount of additional mileage.
“Although the scheme does not specify you have to travel by the most direct route, as this is public money it would be the expectation that, wherever possible, you would limit the cost to the public purse when executing your official duties.”
The report claims there were 19 months where 100 per cent of journeys were misclaimed and gives examples of such journeys.
But Coun King points out that on many occasions the claim was not paid and said he “feels pretty hard-done-by.”
He claims: “I have been singled out for this kind of scrutiny of my claim forms.”
The report for instance states, on April 16, 2013, he allegedly claimed for a meeting when he had given his apologies.
In September 2015 Coun King allegedly claimed for 14 journeys. The report says nine of these had inflated mileage – these included eight journeys from home to March, one journey not covered by the members’ allowance scheme because, like in many other alleged instances of misclaiming, he travelled from a start point other than home. He also claimed for a return journey on September 29 from Wisbech to Cambridge claiming 116 miles – Google Maps say the trip should be 86 miles.
Many of the alleged breaches include journeys where Coun King said he had travelled via other places. For instance on April 24, 2017, he claimed 57 miles for a return journey from Wisbech to Doddington – Google Maps say this is a distance of 30 miles. Coun King confirmed he returned via Peterborough.
On another occasion it is alleged he claimed 85 miles for travelling from Wisbech to London return via Huntingdon station – a distance according to Google of 64 miles. Coun King allegedly stated “there are a number of different routes and as traffic was bad I used one of those”.
On January 21, 2017, he claimed 71 miles for a tour of assets. The council provided a bus for cabinet members to undertake the tour.
But following a comfort break at Fenland Hall Coun King got in his car and followed the bus for the rest of the tour, which covered Friday Bridge/Parson Drove areas. This was because he had a dentist appointment and would be late if he had to return to collect his car from Fenland Hall.
The report said: “Covering these additional stops by car would generate approximately another 10 miles above the 22 miles that could be claimed from Wisbech to Fenland Hall.”
When asked re the excess mileage Coun King said this was because he had further council business to attend. But he did not clarify what that was – the claim, like similar ones, was not paid.
The report concludes: “Financial analysis of Coun King’s member mileage claims is included in the documentation with an estimated £1,511.10 (3,358 miles) being inappropriately claimed and paid to Coun King and a further £736.65 (1,637 miles) claimed but not paid between April 2011 and October 2017.”
Coun King, who is described in the report as an experienced councillor who was first elected to Fenland in 1999, has since repaid the alleged overpayment of £1,511.10.