More radical cuts needed on expenses

A MORE rigorous plan to reduce the millions of tax payers' pounds spent on travel allowances for authority workers is urgently needed, councillors said today.

A MORE rigorous plan to reduce the millions of tax payers' pounds spent on travel allowances for authority workers is urgently needed, councillors said today.

A cost-cutting scheme had been drawn up after it emerged Suffolk County Council staff drive enough miles every day to go round the world twice, costing up to £29million a year.

It had been recommended that the authority should slash business mileage and transport costs by one per cent and introduce business mileage champions who would keep a watch on expenses as part of their daily work.

However the council's Resources, Finance and Performance Scrutiny Committee has recommended that the authority goes further to help the cost-cutting regime designed to make the necessary £24m savings in the 2006/7 financial year.

The all-party committee has claimed reducing mileage by only 1pc would not produce a big enough decrease in the council's costs.

Councillor Peter Bellfield, committee chairman, said: “This is an important issue, not only in terms of the amount of money spent on mileage, but also the amount of time that's wasted as people travel around the county.

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“Some travel will always be necessary, for example for staff travelling as carers, and we don't want to stop this happening.

“But we must find more effective ways of working so that we can reduce all our transport costs, including business mileage.”

The committee wants the emphasis to be placed on reducing the costs of all forms of transport, with a secondary objective of reducing business mileage.

The figure of £29m is made up of between £7.5m and £10m in direct costs, such as allowances and the cost of pool and hire cars, and £19m in the loss of staff time spent travelling.

The authority is made up of 75 councillors and directly employs 10,000 people, including mobile staff such as social workers.

Initiatives mooted to reduce the cost of travel allowances include using public transport to get to and from appointments, car sharing and meetings via video conferencing.

Speaking in June, Andrew Cann, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the cost of transport should not simply be accepted at a time when every department of the cash-strapped authority had been asked to slash costs.

He said: “A lot of money is spent on mileage at 40p per mile. I know that this is the Whitehall rate, but we need to be looking carefully at where this money is going. I should expect that much of it is on travel to meetings.”

Weblink: www.suffolk.gov.uk

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