Greedy bastard watch

Why are former Lib Dem leader and Eastville Councillor Steve Comer‘s travel and subsistence expenses so high?

Since he won the Eastville election in 2005 he has claimed £2,481.36 in travel and subsistence expenses (£411.06 in 05-06, £409.27 in 06-07, £955.01 in 07-08, and £706.02 in 08-09) and and has been the highest claimant by far in each of those years.

The total of claims for the last four years are as follows;

Steve Comer (LD) £2,481.36

Peter Hammond (Lab) £641.91

Gary Hopkins (LD) £447.40

John Bees (Lab) £363.90

Barbara Janke (LD) £363.90

C Smith (Lab) £345.40

P Abraham (Con) £290.65

R Stone (Lab) £212.50

J Smith (Lab) £205.04

C Davies (LD) £189.50

J Clark (LD) £183.85

D Pickup (Lab) £162.30

M Wright (LD) £158.00

There are then 11 councillors who have claimed for amounts belows £100 (3 Lib Dems, 1 Conservative, 7 Labour) and over half of our councillors have made no claims at all.

Over the last four years total transport and subsistence claims from councillors are £6,527.25, of which Comer accounted for £2,481.36 (or nearly 40%) on his own.

The average annual claim over the four years (excluding Comer) was £106.47 while Comer averaged £620.34.

No doubt there’s a “perfectly reasonable explanation” for Comer’s large expenses claims and it’s obviously “all within the rules”.

So has he done far more traveling on council business than any other councillor? And why? Or does he get a lot of free lunches off the council taxpayer?

I think we should be told …

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26 Responses to Greedy bastard watch

  1. Steve Comer says:

    There is a simple, and I’m afraid rather boring, explanation. I probably have done more travelling than any other Councillor in Bristol, ceraainly since 2007.

    That is because in 2007 I was elected as one of the two Liberal Democrat members on the Human Resources panel of the Local Government Association (LGA). The LGA is the national association representing Councils in England and Wales, and most Councils are members. As a member of the LGA HR panel, I am also a member of a number of negotiating bodies (National Joint Councils). including those for Local Government, Fire, and Education.

    Expenses for office holders in the LGA are paid by the member authority they come from. I am the only Bristol Councillor with an LGA role, although both B&NES and South Glos have Councillors elected to similar representative roles.

    All this involves a large number of meetings, mainly in central London.

    So the expenses are all nearly all reimbursement of rail fares paid to First Great Western for travel to meetings in London. All my travel is standard class, and I use off peak services wherever possible. I also have an oyster card to minimise costs of travel between Paddington and the LGA offices in Smith Square.

    I have also been a delegate to the Regional Assembly since 2007, although that body has now been wound up.

    All travel claims are receipted with tickets and oyster card account details attached to them. I’m sure they are open to inspection if anyone wishes to look.

    Bristol Councillors are not entitled to claim for journeys that start or finish within Bristol, so its only travel outside Bristol that is reimbursed. Some Councillors hardly ever travel outside the City on Council business, so they have little to claim.

    So whilst I ‘ve claimed the money, I’ve not ‘profted’ as nearly all of it has gone to First Great Western!

  2. ExpensesWatch says:

    So your LGA commitments after you were elected in August 2007 explains why your expenses jumped from £400 to nearly a £1000 in your first year at LGA and then £700 in the last financial year – so it sensible to assume the LGA cost you an extra £600 in 07/08 and an extra £300 in 08/09.

    But you were still claiming £400 a year when most councillors were claiming nothing, before you joined the LGA?

  3. Gary Hopkins says:

    I do not think that this is necessarily all of the information. As has already been pointed out all local journeys are regarded as covered within the Cllrs. allowance (around £11,000 a year) . this also covers any sort of local expenses which Cllrs. cannot claim for.
    The travel expenses would be for longer distance trips to represent the council and therefore tend to be restricted to councillors who might be representing the city.
    I suspect though that there might be some trips that were covered by prepayed “warrent” that have not been included. Ironically these can work out dearer as they very often miss out on discounts but do not appear to go through the Cllrs. Name.

  4. thebristolblogger says:

    So your own expenses information is inaccurate?


  5. Steve Comer says:

    Let me make it easy for expenses watch:

    S/He asked “So your LGA commitments after you were elected in August 2007 explains why your expenses jumped from £400 to nearly a £1000 in your first year at LGA and then £700 in the last financial year”

    Yes, that’s what I said in my earlier posting!

    “you were still claiming £400 a year when most councillors were claiming nothing, before you joined the LGA?”

    Bear in mind I was a Cabinet Member in 2005-7, and Lib Dem Group Leader in 2007-8. There are meetings outside Bristol you need to attend if you hold such posts.
    £400 was about the cost of three standard class returns to London at that time. (Curent price for s return is £149).

  6. Rosso Verde says:

    Steve, you could try Mega Bus to London costs about £5- £15 quid 😉

  7. Gary Hopkins says:

    It’s probably accurate in what it reports which seems to be money paid back to Cllrs for what they have paid out rather than necessarily reporting all trips undertaken and paid for by the council.
    If there were anything that could be regarded as a perk of travel then it would probably be paid for by that council paid method.
    In the general and fully justified public anger over MPs “expenses” there is a fair amount of collateral damage.
    Most members of the public spluttering with rage about moats and cabinet ministers getting us to pay the bill for people to advise them how to screw the system would be amazed to learn what the councillors allowance is and that they do not generally get expenses and loads of perks.
    Amusing to note that the total travel reimbursement that you are looking at is roughly £1,600 a year whereas the amount saved by us stopping the provision of biscuits at council meetings was £30,000 a year.
    Steve Comer brought forward the saving and I decided where it should be spent.
    I would suggest if you think there is lots expensive travel going on at the taxpayers expense you ask some more searching questions of the management but in terms of wild profligacy the above list is a little tame.
    I am happy to bore your readers by letting them know that most of the massive spend of mine is covered by a trip with an officer from waste department (who does not have a car)to a small county town cut of by Dr Beeching to view a new waste service (sad but someone had to do it) and I do recall a late Sunday night trip or 2 to thwe midlands for early Monday starts at conferences.

  8. Glenn Vowles says:

    Could have avoided having to explain expense claims, when people understandably ask questions, by publishing both complete details of all money and the exact reason for the claim. Given that this looks to be what MPs are or will be doing will/should councillors and at least senior officers not do the same??

  9. Gary Hopkins says:

    Sounds fine to me but that still will not identify money spent on behalf of.
    The expenses expose with MPs is only part of the story.

  10. Ella says:

    Tbh I have traveled between London and Bristol every week for the past 18 months and I was a broke ass college student for 8 of them. Not even university grants for me. National Express are comfy, on time and only normally half an hour slower than a train. Avg. price for a return is also £14. I some how don’t think you consider yourself ‘standard class’ in respect to the people you pretend to represent. You need a slap (and so does everyone else in equal measure) and you know if you people treated yourself as equal to ordinary people maybe you’d be better at your damn jobs.

  11. Tim says:

    Ella: £14 still seems like an awful lot of money. I think these people should be forced to hitchike instead. That way they’d be able to keep in touch with those ordinary people you talk about. No, really.

  12. China Doll says:

    Hang on a minute, I was unaware that councillors needed to make trips to London or anywhere else come to that, to enable them to do their job.
    As I understood it, Bristolians of which I am proud to say I am one, vote for a councillor, assuming they know how to carry out their duty to make Bristol a better place for the people who live and work in it. Not that I have seen much of this in the last decade, and no wonder if they are off at another meeting somewhere trying to find out how to do it!!!
    I have already got a dilemma facing me of who to vote for in the upcoming elections, and not just because of the current climate in parliament either. The shambles and cock ups in Bristol are paramount in my view, and thats just among the members in the council house!!
    Are vital decisions made by proxy whilst everyone is off at some other venue having a meeting on expenses?
    Bob the Builder could do a better job of it, its a pity he’s not standing as a candidate for the SE’s ( Self Employed) he’d definately get my kiss!!!

  13. Gary Hopkins says:

    One of the many reasons for failure of Bristol city council over the years has been a failure to learn from best practice elsewhere.
    Sometimes these sessions now are happening in Bristol as on 1 or 2 things we are the national leaders.
    The government also organises masses of conferences to try to proclaim their wonderful new ideas of what councils around the country ought to be doing and how. 1 or 2 of them are useful and in 1 or 2 cases you have to see first hand the latest crackpot idea ,which invariably comes with ringfenced money, to know how to deal with it and if you can bend the money for something useful.
    Sometimes you just have to go and look for yourself to see in practice if something that is rumoured to be good actually is.
    Claims in trade press about new method of collecting plastic bottles using the new “hoover” system from Recresco being used in midlands and north.
    2/3 day trip to speak to council ,supermarket manager and company and see the bins and lorry in action and asses practicalities. (we also visited a new food waste treatment plant)
    Company signed up and operating in Bristol within weeks at a fraction of the cost of previous large skip system.
    Neighbouring councils have now copied us .

  14. James Barlow says:

    Hold on, though. If you were going to actually implement such a plastics collection system in the city, you’d have to put it out to public tender. I.e. write a list of requirements, advertise it in the OJEU, get some suppliers to respond and run a formal selection exercise.

    So really all this swanning about to conferences and going on fact-finding tours is completely pointless, and largely exists to keep – the elected members – occupied and out of the Officers’ hair so that they can get on with running the city.

    You’re suppose to be a member of the Cabinet. What was the point of going to all the trouble of getting elected if you’re not going to do the “executive” job, but just potter about looking at new toys?

  15. James Barlow says:

    Reading your comment again, Gary, you’re actually talking about the existing “bring” scheme from 2005, rather than a new collection scheme?

    In which case, surely the trip would seem even more pointless as the city was already signed up with SITA, who are the guys with the whip hand as far as technology selection is concerned.

    Funny thing about the numbers, though. Recresco/Sita are adding another 3 sites according to their website to give a total of 27 bring-in sites in Bristol. And yet their promotional video says they are already running 30 sites in Bristol. I suppose a little bit of exaggeration is to be expected.

  16. Well pointed 0ut Shzames… I might even have spotted this myshelf if I hadn’t shpent the afternoon in the pub… though I would never have pointed it out as eloquently ashz you… hic…

    Shzo what d’you say to that eh Gary…? Hic…!

  17. Get out says:

    China Doll: It’s silly to suggest that, once elected, councillors shouldnt leave the city on Council business. How should inter-city co-operation in groups like the LGA and Core Cities occur? What if a training course isnt in Bristol?

    Are you seriously saying you’d rather councillors didnt get trained and didnt meet with those from other cities to see how things are done better elsewhere?

  18. Gary Hopkins says:

    Mr Barlow
    Which pub was it you were in?
    Yes it was the scheme we introduced in 2005 which was within the period in the shock expenses revelation period.
    I made the decision and told SITA!
    If you want to make pompous announcements about procurement get up to date and get your facts right.
    There are in fact 50 sites and growing and 5 of them are already set up to take a wider range of plastic than just bottles. This will probabl;y expand to cover the full network.
    I was giving a practical example of something that needed and benefited from a personal visit.

  19. Glenn Vowles says:

    In response to Gary Hopkins and Steve Comer I said ‘publish…complete details’ of expense claims with reasons for claims. Gary has replied ‘Sounds fine to me’.

    Can I take this as a firm public committment to take this action? Can I take it that this is the position of Steve Comer and other Lib Dems? Can they/will they bring it in as a policy for all Councillors??

  20. Steve Comer says:

    As far as I know anyone can see details of Councillors expenses claims. If any elector wanted to look at mine I would have no problem with that.

    As to publishing every single claim, that would be hugely bureaucratic, time consuming. anbd costly. Frankly I’d rather the Council spent the money on providing front line services than set up yet more admin processes.

  21. Glenn Vowles says:

    Steve, so that’s a no then. You wont commit to publishing the fullest detail.

    It surely would not take much effort on your part to ensure details were put on the local Lib Dem website??

    You’ve had to do some explaining here so obviously sufficient detail is not currently available to the public.

    MPs are publishing every claim so why not Councillors?

    I cant personnally see why it has to involve the council in doing anything that involves massive bureacracy – except for the fact that much of BCCs operation is overbureacratic of course…doh!

    Why cant each party just do it themselves??

  22. thebristolblogger says:

    since every claim is already centrally recorded – or should be – it should involve very little bureaucracy at all.

    It’s a cut and paste job.

  23. Steve Comer says:

    Claims will be recorded of course, and I’m sure these can be looked at, I’ve already said I have no problem with that.

    But if you are asking for paper photocopies to be kept after checking and payment, or for everything to be scanned into a computer than that would be labour intensive.

    Glenn Vowles said “You’ve had to do some explaining here,” I didn;t have to actually – I chose to. Both here and on local radio.

    You cannot win in this situation, say nothing and you get criticised, explain things and you get this sort of silly innuendo!

  24. Glenn Vowles says:

    So Steve, you have moved from saying it would be very bureaucratic to saying that publishing everything that is already recorded by BCC ‘can be looked at’. Will you, if re-elected, pursue this as a policy for all councillors??

    ‘Silly innuendo’ – not at all. Its been well worth me (and others) simply pointing out that elected politicians, in the current climate, will feel they have to explain expenses because it applies pressure for more information to be published.

  25. bob jones says:

    why do we pay these aresholes any money any way, they are all a pack of fucking wankers who deserve fuck all for their efforts at running our city ! oh lordy whatever next ! they will be claiming for moats, prostitutes, dog food, booze and rent boys ! fuck these god awful fuckwit bastards ! Comer can stick his explanation firmly up his arsehole !

  26. Bob Jones says:

    Oh Lordy ! a woman is gang raped in Comer’s Ward and he still refuses to pay back his travel expenses. Listen Comer, do the decent thing and donate the money to victims of crime !

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