Fall out rumbles on at council meeting over former mayor’s £2,000+ clothing expenses
A Ballymena councillor has repaid more than £2,000 expenses claimed during her mayoral year for clothes, a Freedom of Information response has confirmed.
DUP councillor Alderman Audrey Wales MBE repaid £2,192 “following internal reivew”, it has been stated.
An inquiry over “discrepancies” in expenses claims was tabled at this month’s meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council by Bannside TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston.
The reply from the local authority revealed that “following internal review, the elected member involved repaid the sum of £2,192.90 to council”.
Ald Wales told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that she could not comment as “this matter is under investigation”.
A breakdown of all councillor allowances for 2016/17 shows that during her mayoral year, Ald Wales was paid a basic allowance of £14,307, plus a special responsibility allowance of £1,272, mayoral allowance of £5,462 and travel and transport costs of £6,261.
Cllr Gaston has asked Acting Chief Executive Philip Thompson to provide a detailed explanation as to why there are discrepancies between figures published for the mayoral year 2016/17 in two separate Freedom of Information requests.
A Freedom of Information request was received by the borough council on December 2 requesting details relating to the summary of expenses for former mayor Audrey Wales.
The query requests copies of invoices relating to two items listed as “mayor miscellaneous” for £1,956.90 and £426 on October 18, 2016.
The local authority’s reply states that “following internal review, the elected member involved repaid the sum of £2,192.90 to council”.
Receipts provided to the council are for clothing to the tune of £225 from Precious Moments, Broughshane for an item in ivory colour, items from McKillen’s in Ballymena for £190 and four dresses and a coat from The Winsome Lady in Ballymoney costing £846.90, a second receipt from The Winsome Lady for clothes costing £695, two skirts from Wallace’s in Ballymena costing £116, a ladies’ jacket, skirt, knitwear and top also from Wallace’s. costing £310.
The other Freedom of Information request asks for a “breakdown cost of the annual clothing allowance for each mayor since the commencement of Mid and East Antrim”.
The response showed that Carrickfergus councillor Alderman Billy Ashe spent £394 on suits, shoes and suit hire and Ald Wales spent £190 on shoes. Ald Ashe was Mayor of Mid and East Antrim from 2015 until 2016. His deputy was Cllr Gaston.
There were no clothing expenses listed for former Councillor Lindsay Millar, an Ulster Unionist Knockagh representative or Larne Lough DUP councillor Alderman Paul Reid.
Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Robert Logan tabled a question asking for the total value of claims submitted for personal items (not travel) and monies paid to each Mid and East Antrim mayor from 2014/15 until 2020/2021 and if the council has ever received FoI requests relating to these claims.
Cllr Logan was told in a written reply that both aspects of the question through FoI requests are available on the council website.
Speaking at a meeting of the borough council on Thursday evening, Cllr Logan said the council’s website does not facilitate looking up FoI requests easily adding that there is “no complete index to indicate which month they are actually in” and asked for it to be “attended to”.
“The other issue is about the discrepancy in some of the figures which I think is being dealt with elsewhere,” he added.
Acting Chief Executive Philip Thompson said he would look at how the information is loaded and would get information to him.
Cllr Gaston said he recalled that it had been clarified at a meeting that there was an allowance, £100/£200 for the deputy mayor and £400 for the mayor.
He asked for a copy of that guidance to be circulated to members “so that we know where we stand” and the “agreed policy is understood by the chamber”.
He asked for the date on which the money was repaid to be made available “for good housekeeping”.
“Once again, shameful the attention has been drawn and this is not directed at the member.”
Cllr Gaston claimed that there was a cheque given but never cashed.
“That is an internal process that needs our immediate attention and I want reassurance from the acting director that once this investigation is done it comes back, it is laid bare what has gone wrong behind the scenes to get to where we are today.”