The CBC Councillor who claims a special allowance for chairing committee meetings that don't take place

By Alan D Winter, News Desk editor.

Meet Central Bedfordshire Cllr Anthony Brown who is one of two elected Conservative councillors representing Shefford. In 2020/21 he claimed a Special Responsibility Allowance for chairing committees that never met. 

Cllr Brown is currently listed as a member of these committees: Audit Committee (substitute), Licensing Committee, Licensing Sub-Committee.

In 2019/20 he was chair of the Licensing Committee at CBC.  Available online records indicate that he chaired a meeting in September and another in December 2019. For all the meetings he chaired in 2019/20 he was entitled to and claimed Special Responsibility Allowances of £2,847.26

All councillors are entitled to claim a basic allowance, a travel allowance, and an ICT allowance*. One can surmise that the Special Responsibility Allowance is allocated to chairs on the basis that they may have to do extra research work and have additional meetings with certain officers of the Council. 

Further meetings of the Licensing Committee were scheduled for March, June, September and December of 2020, but these were all cancelled.

And yet, Cllr Brown still received the Special Responsibility Allowance; in fact, he received £2,575.92 for chairing these meetings — 4 scheduled per year — that did not take place. 

Cllr Toni Ryan, Houghton Regis CBC Labour councillor, exclaimed in a post to her Facebook Page, “TORY COUNCILLOR CLAIMS £2,575.92 FOR  CHAIRING A MEETING THAT NEVER MET!!! Another Tory that is on the gravy train! 
In the 6 proud years I have been a Councillor my expenses remain at ZERO”

It was Cllr Ryan's claim that drew my attention. For News Desk, I wrote to Cllr Brown on 8 December, “Can you confirm that you chair the CBC Licensing Committee, that it did not meet between May 2020 to May 2021, and that you still claimed a special responsibility payment of  £2,575.92...  I wondered, do you have any mitigating circumstances to make you still feel entitled to the claim? And will you be offering to refund any money so claimed if you do not feel entitled to it?”

No reply has so far been received (10 Dec). If one is received, this page will be updated.
Reply received 13 December, “I believe that you have received a response from the council concerning this item and I have nothing more to add.”

For News Desk, I also wrote to Marcel Coiffait, Chief Executive Officer at CBC, to ask, “Can you confirm what the Special Responsibility Allowance was for that is stated for Cllr Anthony Brown (£2,575.92) in Members Allowances.”

An allowance is paid...

Instead of directly replying, a reply arrived from the CBC communications team that simply read, A spokesperson from Central Bedfordshire Council said: “An allowance is paid to chairs of committees to ensure they are available and take on the responsibility of managing the meetings whenever they are needed. The nature of the Licensing Committee is that they only need to convene when there are licenses to consider and there were none during this period. Cllr Brown as the Chair of the Licensing Committee was entitled to the allowance.”

  • Independent Councillors asked the Council Administration to cut the allowances in February 2020, but were voted down. 

Code of Conduct

All councillors abide by a code of conduct. Part 5A of the Central Bedfordshire Council Constitution outlines the code of conduct for CBC councillors.

The principles that all Councillors are expected to comply with are called the Nolan Principles of Public life, these are categorised as: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty, Leadership.

For Selflessness, Members must always act in the public interest. 

Section "4.13 Honesty - Members must at all times ensure that their claims for expenses, allowances, and their use of facilities ... are strictly in accordance with the rules ..."

It is for the public to decide if it is in their interest that one of its elected councillors should claim an allowance for meetings that do not take place.

You can complain about a councillor's conduct, if you believe they aren't abiding by the code of conduct. 

Further reading:

* Currently, each Central Bedfordshire Councillor also has access to £2,000 from which they can allocate grants to local projects that demonstrate a community benefit.