TaxPayers’ Alliance criticise fuel payments

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Hastings Borough Council (HBC) has defended the amount it pays in fuel costs after criticism from the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

In research published by the campaign group today (Tuesday, October 24), HBC was named as one of 173 councils giving staff mileage allowance payments of 65p per mile.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance says by paying this figure, rather than the 45p per mile figure recommended by the HMRC, the council is paying its staff far more than it should for travel.

However the HBC say the TaxPayers’ Alliance claim doesn’t reflect the full situation, as fewer than 10 staff employed by the council actually receive this rate.

A spokesman for Hastings Borough Council said: “We do have a few protected casual and essential users who are paid above this rate, the profit element is reported to HMRC and staff pay tax on it as it is a taxable benefit.

“In 2015-16 there were 11 people paid more than 45p [per mile] and they claimed a total of £4,676.98. In 2016-17 there were 10 and they claimed £3,220.28.

“The number has already gone down in the current financial year by two and I know of one person in 2018-19 that is leaving so the numbers will reduce again.”

According to the data provided by the TaxPayers’ Alliance, which the campaign group says came from a series of Freedom of Information Act requests, HBC paid a total of £8,646 in mileage allowance payments in 2016-17, down by 10.52 per cent from £9,663 in 2015-16.

The research from the TaxPayers’ Alliance also shows HBC paid the lowest overall amount of mileage allowance payments of the six local authorities named in East Sussex.

The other East Sussex local authorities named in the research are: Rother District Council; East Sussex County Council; Wealden District Council; Lewes District Council; and Eastbourne Borough Council.

East Sussex County Council (ESCC) spent the largest amount on fuel of the councils in East Sussex (in fact the authority spent more than the other councils combined). This is unsurprising as it is both largest of the authorities and has the widest range of responsibilities.

Despite this, the TaxPayers’ Alliance data claims, the authority also pays its staff the lowest rate of fuel mileage, of just 25p per mile.

Overall the ESCC mileage allowance payments rose by 7.23 per cent last year – from £2,197,910 in 2015-16 to £2,356,863 in 2016-17.

The next biggest spender was Rother District Council, which spent £81,446 on mileage allowance payments in 2016-17, according to the TaxPayers’ Alliance figures. This is down 11.72 per cent on the £92,258 spent in 2015-16.

According to the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Rother moved its mileage rate from 65p to 45p on January 1 2017.

Neither Rother District Council or East Sussex County Council responded to requests for comment.

Eastbourne and Lewes District Council, which are in the process of merging many of their services, also appear in the TaxPayers’ Alliance figures.

According to the research, Lewes District Council pays at the 65p per mile rate and gave staff £41,617 in mileage allowance payments in 2016-17. This is down from £55,396 in 2015-16, a fall of 24.87 per cent.

However the amount Eastbourne Borough Council pays in mileage allowance payments rose by more than to 42 per cent, growing from £54,986 in 2015-16 to £78,122 in 2016-17.

A joint spokesman for the councils said the increased costs for Eastbourne is as a result of the merger programme.

The spokesman said: “Eastbourne Borough Council and Lewes District Council are engaged in a joint transformation programme.

“The work is well advanced with many services already operating across both authorities.

“The higher mileage costs [of Eastbourne] simply reflect that the majority of council staff in Lewes and Eastbourne are now employed by Eastbourne Borough Council.

“The process of harmonisation also means that the HMRC recommended rate for mileage will be used in the future.”

The TaxPayers’ Alliance says local authorites around the UK spent more than £223m on mileage allowance payments. The group argues that reducing mileage payments to the approved rate is an easy way of saving millions without affecting any council services.

Chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance John O’Connell said: “Driving is extremely expensive in Britain thanks to sky-high rates of fuel duty and vehicle excise duty, but there’s no excuse for councils to pay more than HMRC’s approved rate for mileage.

“It’s simply not credible for local authorities to plead poverty and raise council tax while paying over the odds for basic expenses, especially when the government has been telling them to rein in these payments for the past five years. Councils must continue to root out wasteful spending like this so that they can deliver tax cuts for hard-pressed residents.”