Essex: Anger at council’s ‘unjustified’ outlay for civic chiefs’ chauffeur-driven transport

CHAUFFEUR-driven cars for Essex civic chiefs have cost council tax payers more than �600,000 in the last five years.

The vehicles – which include a luxury Jaguar XJ – were used to transport senior Essex County Council figures to civic functions and council meetings.

The outlay has been criticised by an opposition councillor who has called it “unjustified” and “exorbitant behaviour” at a time when council workers are losing their jobs.

But Essex County Council said it had brought costs under control in the last year by slashing the number of cars it has from three to one.

The figures – revealed following a Freedom of Information request by our sister paper the East Anglian Daily Times – show �600,700 was spent between 2007 and 2012. The Audit Commission said in a 2009 report there was “a lack of clear policy on when the cars should be used” at ECC and that chauffeurs were working excessive hours.

Councillor Mike Mackrory, acting leader of the Lib Dems on ECC, said: “I don’t think you can justify the expense because of the squeeze on local authority budgets. Staff are having to have wage freezes and people are losing their jobs.

“I do welcome the reduction [in the last year] but it’s the result of enormous pressure from articles in the media that is highlighting this exorbitant behaviour.

Most Read

“I think the chairman of the council warrants a car, I don’t think you can justify it with other councillors and their officers. It’s not as if they are fulfilling the same function is it?

“They could share a car and I think they are quite capable of getting themselves around and in some circumstances even going by public transport.

“If the chairman is performing an engagement that is one thing but when it’s just councillors going around having meetings I don’t think you can justify it.”

A spokeswoman for ECC said a chauffeur-driven car was mainly used by the chairman of the authority for civic functions but that it was also available to the vice-chairman, leader and cabinet members.

Cllr Peter Martin, leader of Essex County Council (ECC), says “In the last year the council has rationalised the number of cars and drivers it has from three to one.

“This car is primarily used by our chairman who attends around 300 functions a year on behalf of the council across the breadth of the 1,420sq mile county.

“The council decided to reduce the number of cars as part of our ongoing value-for-money exercise, and will continue to review the cost to taxpayers of having one.”

The same Audit Commission report, just made public, found there was a lack of proper scrutiny of expense claims and difficulty demonstrating legitimate claims at ECC in 2009.

It prompted Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell to call for an independent inquiry into the running of ECC while it was being led by Lord Hanningfield, who was jailed for nine months last year after falsely claiming �14,000 in parliamentary expenses.