The Use of Kent County Council Cars by Councillors
By Tim Prater, Liberal Democrat Spokesman for Finance on Kent County Council in Email to Darren Wells, Audit Commission
Originally published by Liberal Democrats on Kent County Council
I'm writing to you regarding your decision on the objection to the Kent County Council accounts from Mrs Kathy Harrigan that you issued on 5th March.
In that decision (which was reported to the Selection and Member Services Committee of 14 March https://democracy.kent.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=143&MId=4066&Ver=4), you state (page 5) that:
"The current Council's policy on the use of the County Car Fleet only permits the use of the County Cars for official business of the Council. The Council has recently reached the conclusion it is unclear that journeys from the Deputy Leader's and Chairman's homes to County Hall represent official business and has ceased providing the County Cars for this purpose."
Similar statements appears on your Audit Commission Report on Objection to 2010/11 Accounts presented to the Governance and Audit Committee (https://democracy.kent.gov.uk/documents/s31455/Item%2016%20Appendix.pdf) which you attended on 18th April:
"16 The current Council's policy on the use of the County Cars only permits their use for official Council business. The County Cars have been used by two Members to provide transport from home to County Hall. When a car has not been available a taxi has been provided by the Council.
"17 The Council has recently reviewed whether such journeys fall within its approved policy for the use of County Cars. It has concluded that it is not clear that journeys from Members' homes to County Hall represents official business and has therefore taken the precaution of suspending both the provision of the County Cars for this purpose and the consideration of whether to seek reimbursement of costs from the Members concerned for any of these journeys already made until (a) Members have considered whether or not to include provision for such journeys in the County Car policy and (b) the views of HMRC on the taxation status have been received. "
"26 The Council has already taken action in relation to a number of the above issues.
- The Council has suspended the use of the County Cars for private purposes."
I am concerned that this is not the case, and equally concerned that, as Auditor, you have made this statement without confirming the accuracy of the statement.
Attached is a list of the use of County Cars for March 2012, supplied to me on request from Kent County Council.
As you'll note, there are a series of references to the cars being used to transport members - most particularly the Chairman and Deputy Leader - from County Hall to home, and also from their home to County Hall.
On my reading of the list, on both the 1st and 2nd of March, both Mrs Stockell and Mr King had journeys from home to County Hall, and return.
From 6th - 31st March, on a generous interpretation of the list, I can see around 18 such journeys.
This information was not difficult to find - I made a simple request, which allowed me to confirm whether the statement in your report was accurate. It seems it was not. It is clear that either the practice re-started after your report was written and presented, or had never actually ceased, despite the assertion within your report.
Given that your report was issued to a member of the public due to a complaint, and then discussed in public at the recent Governance and Audit Committee, I am most concerned that a misleading picture has been given to the public and Councillors of Kent County Council's actions on the use of County Cars.
Please can you give this the most urgent attention, and perhaps request similar information for other months (such as February and April) to see if this practice was actually operating when you wrote your report, and that the assurances you received were false, or if it restarted after your report was issued but before it was presented. Perhaps you can discover under what terms County Cars are still being provided to provide Home to County Hall transport, and re-issue your report making it clear that County Cars are in fact still used for transport of some members from home to County Hall and vice versa, and under what terms. To say that they have "ceased providing cars for this purpose" is clearly not true.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Folkestone West