Council staff ‘paid through back door’ as mileage limits ignored

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Two North Yorkshire councils are revealed today to be among those who have been paying their staff more than the nationally approved mileage rate for using their own cars - a situation branded a “needless waste of taxpayers’ money” by a pressure group.

Harrogate is said by the Taxpayers’ Alliance to be paying 10p a mile more than the HM Revenue and Customs approved allowance of 45p.

The Skipton-based Craven Council paid 52.2p a mile during the two tax years up to this April.

Last night, the Alliance accused the councils of paying staff “by the back door”.

It said that nationally, councils were “wasting millions” in excessive mileage payments.

A report in 2011 first highlighted the issue, prompting some local authorities to cut their rates.

But the Alliance said: “Too many still pay more than they should, costing taxpayers millions.

“Reducing mileage payments to the approved rate is an easy way of saving money without affecting frontline services.”

The organisation said councils paid £223m in mileage to their employees in 2016-17, at an average rate of 48.92p a mile - 3.92p higher than the approved rate.

Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire paid the most at 69p, with council staff there £240 better off for each 1,000 miles.

Across the country, council workers were said to be on average £50.29 better off over 1,000 miles than workers whose employers paid the approved rate.

Lincolnshire Council, whose rate is the approved 45p, paid out the most in mileage allowances at £6.8m in the last tax year - £2m more than the previous 12 months.

The county council in predominantly rural North Yorkshire, which pays its staff only 42p a mile, spent £4.1m - more than twice as much as the authority in the Highland Region of Scotland, which has an even greater geographical spread.

In the East Riding, the council reduced its rate last year to 45p from 52.2p, but still paid its staff a total of £2.8m in mileage.

In Leeds, where staff are paid 45p a mile, the council spent £3.5m in 2016-17, £64,000 more than the previous year.

John O’Connell, chief executive at the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “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.”

James Price, the organisation’s campaign manager, said: “Everyone knows that motorists are having a hard time and are getting hit with all kinds of taxes, but that applies to everyone.

“This is just another way of getting money into the pockets of council staff when the headline rates have been reduced - remunerating them by the back door.

“It’s a pointless waste of money and a very easy thing to reduce.”

Mr Price added: “There is also the green issue to consider - councils shouldn’t be encouraging staff to use their cars at all.”

Harrogate Council said its 55p allowance was agreed with staff in 2013 as part of changes to their terms of employment.

Craven Council said it had been paying the approved rate of 45p since April, with “protected essential car users” getting 40.9p a mile, plus a lump sum.

North Yorkshire County Council said it had reduced mileage spending “by £100,000 in the last couple of years”.