When I asked Tower Hamlets council’s press office last week to justify the £855 spent by children’s services director Isobel Cattermole and her deputy on two first class rial tickets to Manchester for a conference, the reply was: “We don’t comment on individual travel arrangements.”
The same officer then said that “open tickets are sometimes purchased to allow greater flexibility with travel times”. I then asked for the council’s staff travel policy, but was told I would need to request that under the Freedom of Information Act.
Of course, there’s more than one way to skin a cat and I got it via other means. As you’ll remember from the last post, it stated that standard class would only be reimbursed.
And then I broke the story. And then there was the outrage and embarrassment. Cllr Oliur Rahman, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services looked into what had happened, and today I received the following email from the council’s press office.
Please see the below statement.
A council spokesperson said: “The council policy on travel expenses for its staff to attend work related events is set out clearly on page 50 of our employee handbook. Such expenses are reimbursed at ’the available cheap rate or ordinary return fare, whichever is the lower.’
In instances where officers incur expenses in excess of the lowest available fare, they are duty bound to reimburse the council the outstanding balance. This is exactly what has happened in the instance of the two officers cited in the Sunday Express report.
Mayor Lutfur Rahman added: “If Brandon Lewis is really concerned about protecting council budgets in order to help poorer communities he could use his opportunity at the Tory conference to oppose its plans for a further £10 billion of welfare cuts.”
So the council is now commenting on an individual’s travel arrangements, and it seems Isobel Cattermole and her deputy have been told to reimburse the difference. But when? I’ve asked the council to state the date, but I’ve heard nothing.
You see, the thing is, these tickets were bought not by Ms Cattermole, but by an official in the chief executive’s office on a corporate credit card. That spending would have been signed off by either Ms Cattermole herself, or by someone under her, and then paid by the town hall’s finance team – a team headed up by the director of finance, Chris Naylor….who I’m told has just landed a job as the top officer at Barnet Council.
Through this one transaction, we see the incompetence throughout the council.
1. Officers think it’s OK to spend £855 of our money on two luxury rail tickets.
2. They think no one will notice.
3. The press office thinks it can bury its head in the sand by telling journalists it won’t comment, but then U-turning.
4. And then they think they can play with words to imply the money had always been reimbursed…(contrary to the original FoI answer).
They really do think we’re fools, these people who run our council.