IT IS often said that Conservatives seek to protect their own, with little regard for the people they are supposed to represent, but following the budget showdown at the town hall in recent weeks Simon Blackburn demonstrated that Labour are no different as he bailed out Boundary Library by giving the entire Brunswick ward budget of £20,000 to the library’s book fund, despite official figures demonstrating that there are no members of Boundary Library that live in Brunswick.
We can instantly see that the residents of Brunswick have been given a raw deal by their councillors. This cash from their ward could have gone to schools, churches, road repairs, road safety, trees, hedges, flower beds, Scouts, Cubs, Guides, social clubs and so on, but instead it was channelled into a library that nobody in Brunswick uses. The sub total of cash spent in their ward by councillors Blackburn and Coleman this year is zero.
The other half of the story tells us why family members of councillors should not be allowed to stand for council. It’s well known that Simon’s live-in partner Gillian Campbell is standing in Park ward (containing the aforementioned library), and questions must be asked about whether this cash is actually going to help this library survive (given that the cut it has been hit with is much more than £20,000) or whether it is nothing other than a sweetener to boost the popularity of Ms Campbell.
In the same way that Labour threw money it didn’t have at deprived areas in the run up to the General Election, is Simon Blackburn trying to buy votes in Grange Park using taxpayers’ money to boost the chances of his partner?
‘Bolly’ gosh, its those expenses again
Maxine Callow read out an interesting list of Simon Blackburn’s expenses in the town hall which make the actual recorded and published expenses for the Labour leader pale into insignificance.
Many of Blackpool’s councillors sit on external boards and committees, many of which are based in London. As such they have to travel there on a semi-regular basis.
However, unlike many councillors who have “downgraded” their taxpayer-funded first class rail tickets to economy class, Simon Blackburn prefers to drive: at great cost to the taxpayer. Each return trip made by Simon to London between September 2008 and September 2009 cost between £252.60 and £318.68 in petrol money which is more than the cost of a taxi, more than the cost of a first class return rail ticket, and more than twice the cost of a return flight from Manchester on BMI.
In total, Simon Blackburn claimed £1173.66 in mileage expenses from 4 trips during this period which works out at a nice little “bankers bonus” for him. Indeed, with this money he could purchase almost 48 bottles of Bollinger champagne.
It is unclear what rate was claimed for this mileage, but given that a return trip to London is about 500 miles, if you work it backwards the claimed rate fluctuates between 50 and 60 pence a mile. An average car consumes around 20 pence a mile in fuel. Therefore, if travelling down the motorway in an average car at 70mph, one could claim an expenses rate of up to £42 per hour and make a profit of £28 per hour.
And there’s more. Simon has stayed overnight on multiple occasions during his London trips, and all of them on the taxpayer.
If you remember, September 2008 was the start of the global financial meltdown and as such the seeds of recession were planted in the UK. The private sector started taking immediate hits as people reigned in their spending.
Being a Labour leader, you would expect regardless of the big, black cloud of financial oblivion hovering over the top of society that Simon would stay in modest hotel accommodation providing just the basic levels of amenities to keep the taxpayer burden down. Not so.
In fact, Simon has lapped it up in luxury £187-a-night Crowne Plaza hotels with breakfasts costing up to £10. In addition to the mileage expenses claimed by Simon for the four trips to London in 2009, he claimed £366.00 in accommodation expenses, including a stay at the plush £179-a-night Thistle hotel in Westminster. This makes the £120-130 per night claimed by Conservative MPs Paul Maynard and Mark Menzies look modest.
The first question to ask is whether hotel stays were actually necessary: after all, it takes just two hours to travel between London and Preston on one of Richard Branson’s cash machines. Did the fact that Blackburn used his car necessitate an overnight stay? At least one stay results in him returning home before 10am the following day.
On one occasion during the course of a trip to London on the 18th of February 2009, Simon claimed for two breakfasts at a total of £20.50. He must have been hungry: for this money you can buy 48 rashers of bacon at Morrisons, 85 free range medium eggs from Tesco or 61 ‘Taste the Difference’ sausages from Sainsburys. He also claimed for two lunches on the 7th of April 2010.
I am aware that Blackpool Council can claim back some or maybe all of these expenses from the Local Government Authority which is perhaps why we do not see them appear on the allowances and expenses sheets published on the council website, but either way, it’s taxpayers money nonetheless.
It also demonstrates that even the official figures about expenses on the Blackpool Council website are misleading, and that whilst your councillor might well have a clean record when it comes to the expenses sheet, it doesn’t mean they aren’t living it up on the taxpayer.
There is in my view no sane reason for Mr Blackburn to drive to London and incur the level of cost that he has – unless other people are in the car with him. In my view, if a councillor requires a trip to London, they should all be forced to travel in the same way, and this way should be a compromise between cost and time taken to get to London. Driving is not only the most expensive way to travel to London, but it takes the longest: common sense dictates that standard class rail is the way councillors should travel on these jaunts.
The big question is, though, how much are the rest of our councillors really claiming on expenses?