Northamptonshire commissioners claim thousands in hotel and food bills

Commissioners Tony McArdle and Brian Roberts have been paid expenses on top of their daily pay rate.
Commissioners Tony McArdle and Brian Roberts have been paid expenses on top of their daily pay rate.

The two commissioners overseeing Northamptonshire County Council have claimed thousands of pounds for hotel stays, food and travel on top of their daily pay rate.

In the 11 months between May 2018 and March this year the authority has paid Tony McArdle and Brian Roberts a collective sum of £193,046.

Chief commissioner Mr McArdle has received £104,278 for 105.5 days work. A sum of £93,200 of this was made up of his £800 per day salary and the remaining £11,078 was paid in expenses. He claimed £6,278 for hotel stays between May and March and £1,489 on food and drink. He also put in claims for rail fares and taxi rides.

Finance commissioner Mr Roberts, who is paid £700 per day, received £88,768 in total for 113.5 days of work. Of this sum £9,318 was for expenses. He claimed £1,096 for food and £5,732 in hotel stays.

The pay for the two commissioners, who were appointed by central government last May in the wake of the damning Max Caller report, is coming out of the council’s budget rather than central government coffers. The government set the payment rate and said ‘reasonable expenses’ would be paid.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat group at the county council Chris Stanbra said: “The commissioners are not council employees so as far as I am concerned they should pay their expenses out of their fees. We should not be paying for their food. They would be paying for their own if they were eating at home.

“Paying for the commissioners is something we have been forced to do because of Conservative incompetence.”

The council’s finances are still ‘fragile’ according to official reports. Wide cuts to services are being made as the council works to balance its books with £23m of savings required in adult social care and £10m is being cut from the children’s services budget.

The authority was given a special dispensation by central government to use £70m to plug an overspend in 20178/18. These accounts have not been signed off by auditors.

Last year the council had a £4.5m underspend which council leader Matt Golby said was a ‘remarkable achievement’. These accounts are also to be audited.

Unison branch secretary Kev Standishday said the money would have been better spent on services. This week the council announced its staff would not get a pay rise.

He said: “’This is an example of this Conservative government thinking. They give no extra money to a county who have effectively gone bankrupt but then send commissioners in and make the county pay for them. Our view is that this money could’ve been better spent on services.

“It could’ve been spent on social workers who could then help prevent the high number of children going into expensive care placements; it could’ve gone into early years provisions or help ease the problems with elderly people stuck in hospital.

“There are numerous examples of essential services which have been cut and every cut puts more pressure on staff trying to support the county residents”.

The authority is also paying a £195,000 salary to chief executive Theresa Grant and director of children’s services Sally Hodges is being paid £1,100 per day, which unions have described as ‘obscene’.

Mr McCardle and Mr Roberts will remain in post until 2021 when the council is disbanded as part of the local government reorganisation.

The commissioners’ expenses up until March 2019 can be viewed on the county council’s website.