Wednesday 26 November 2008
The Life of Brian
No, dear readers, this is not a blog about the Cabinet Member for free lunches. This is a tale of waste and extravagance featuring Mr Brian Reynolds, Deputy Chief Executive of Barnet Council. The man who would be king.
In 2007/08, Mr Reynolds incurred the largest expenses bill for any officer in the council. In fact, he spent more than the Chief Executive, Chief Financial Officer, Assistant Chief Executive and Borough Solicitor combined.
He spent just over £1,000 on flights. According to the council, over £450 was for a flight to Edinburgh to attend a meeting regarding Brent Cross. A return flight costs just £50 on Easy Jet.
Worse still, £520 was spent on a flight to Cannes to attend MIPIM, the international construction and property conference - known in the trade as a massive junket.
Now perhaps a business trip to Edinburgh can be justified, but what possible benefit could there be to taxpayers for an officer to attend a jolly in the South of France? Who authorised this trip and why? Perhaps Mike Freer could tell us if this is something else he didn’t know about.
Mr Reynolds spent over £1,600 on hotels. It is frankly obscene for a council officer to be spending our money in this way. He also clocked up an unspecified travel bill of more than £725 - clearly he should take lessons from Brian Coleman in how to do it properly!
Only Assistant Chief Executive Nick Walkley managed to perform his duties without spending a penny on expenses - but unfortunately he has now left the council on secondment to Whitehall. Let us hope he returns soon as the new Chief Executive.
The most disturbing aspect of this tale, however, is not that chief officers have been extravagant with our money, but that they desperately tried to keep the details secret. The council initially refused to release the figures claiming that the public were not entitled to see “personal information” about officers. Needless to say that argument was complete nonsense and they eventually, albeit reluctantly, handed over the information.
Clearly the council wanted to cover this up because it doesn’t show the chief officers in a very good light. It will hardly help Brian Reynolds land the top job when we can now see how profligate he has been with our money. How can he tell ordinary council workers that they must accept below inflation wage rises when he and Leo Boland spent more than £2,000 just on lunches?
When the Conservatives won control in 2002, the then leader Victor Lyon promised us an open and honest administration. Now would be a good time to start chaps.