A COUNSELOR has apologized after being found guilty of claiming up to £480 for 18-month childcare costs.
On 27 of these claims, Cllr Phillips claimed two or more hours beyond the confirmed duration of the approved duties.
However, no evidence has been found that there was any deliberate attempt to deceive council officers or dishonestly use public funds for personal gain.
Cllr Phillips has refunded £490 after an investigation concluded his potential overpayments could total up to £482.34.
She said: ‘I wish to apologize for the small number of claims I have made which were not in line with the council’s expense policy.
“I have paid off these claims before, which I did when allegations that I had been overpaid first came to my attention.
“I cooperated with this independent investigation and accept its findings in full. It was never my intention to make any claims that did not comply with Board policies and procedures.
The report also revealed that receipts and supporting documents had not been submitted with his reimbursement claim forms, which was not deemed necessary by the council’s claims officer.
Cllr Phillips told the inquest she was ‘unaware of the need to provide supporting information with childcare expense claim forms’.
Taxpayer billed for child care that never took place
Among the claims made was childcare for three meetings between March and July 2020 – at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. As Cllr Phillips and her family were stranded in France at the time due to a nationwide lockdown, childcare – which had been pre-booked – did not take place.
However, Cllr Phillips said she wanted to pay for the service anyway amid collapsing childcare provider revenues, claiming the money from taxpayers.
She said: ‘The timing of the lockdown in France meant that I was unfortunately prevented from returning to the UK, which in turn meant that I was unable to use the childcare that I had previously organized,
“Given the collapse in incomes of many child care providers, I have chosen to honor the commitment to pay for this child care. I fully acknowledge that I should not have claimed these payments from the public funds.
‘Mistakes were made,’ says council’s joint finance officer
Councilor Tom Druitt, husband of Cllr Phillips, previously told The Argus that ‘there were no complaints about anything’ despite spending four months in France during the first lockdown. He described the decision to pay for pre-arranged childcare as the “honourable” thing to do.
He said: ‘I was unaware that childcare in Brighton and Hove during our stay in France had been pre-booked by my wife. Alex did the honorable thing and paid our childminder for the sessions we didn’t need as she was worried about our childminder losing income.
“I agree that claiming these sessions is entirely inappropriate and that the maximum possible amount of overpayment has already been refunded to the board.
‘There was never any intention to defraud the board and there is no evidence in the auditor’s report that supports this assertion.’
Cllr Druitt, the council’s joint finance manager, said as new first-time parents they struggled to stay on top of council work, run two local businesses, look after their child and worry about the pandemic.
“As a result, mistakes were made and for that an apology was made,” he said.
The Board is committed to reviewing and improving the systems
The 74 child care claims were made on six expense claim forms.
The report says the councilor’s six claim forms covering the 18-month period could not be found by the council, with Cllr Phillips also unable to provide a copy.
Cllr Phillips was found to have made no childcare claims on 25 dates she held office. It’s unclear whether she needed babysitting for those meetings, but the report says that if she had, it would have “potentially” reduced the value of any overpayments in expenses.
The review concluded that procedures should be strengthened with regard to the correct, timely and more thorough submission of expense documents and that travel time rules to support childcare arrangements should also be reviewed.
A spokesman for Brighton and Hove City Council said: ‘We accept the findings of the independent review we have commissioned into councilors’ expense claims and are committed to implementing its recommendations.
“The adviser also accepted the findings and apologised.
“We accept that council officers could and should have done more to promptly notify the councilor in question of any potential issues with their claims.
“We will be reviewing our systems to ensure these improvements are made.
“Councillors are the backbone of local democracy and work extremely hard on behalf of their constituents.
“Allowing them to make reasonable claims for expenses is a crucial part of local and national moves to increase the number of people willing to run for the role.
“In this context, childcare support is not only legitimate, it is crucial.
“We must never accept a situation where people who want to be advisers are put off simply because they feel they cannot afford to do so.”
Both councilors have announced they will stand down in the next local elections in 2023.
More about this article: Read More
This notice was published: 2022-06-27 12:27:38