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Are expenses really still being exploited in Hampshire?

PUBLISHED: 09:33 14 June 2016 | UPDATED: 09:33 14 June 2016

Archant

We're all aware of the scandal surrounding MPs and their finances. But did you know that in parts of the county, expenses are still being exploited? Alice Cooke is appalled

If you thought the MPs expenses scandal would make those involved in politics pull their socks up and be content to earn an honest (well paid) living, think again.

A Hampshire councillor has quit his job – fair enough, I mean plenty of us have felt the urge to move on to pastures new at some stage in our working life. But wait for the punch line… the councillor in question, Paul Whittle, had been living in Saudi Arabia for 17 months. That’s over a year! (Apologies for stating the obvious, but it belies belief).

But there’s more, dear readers. Paul Whittle accepted his allowances at Fareham Borough Council for the entire 17 months in question. Just to briefly summarise – he was living over 4,000 miles away. Oh and, by the way, he had another job, working for the Saudi government. The pay packet for that job? £180k.

When this was brought to light, he of course quit straight away and scurried off to the sunshine (if he wasn’t already there), with his tail between his legs, right? Wrong. It was only after months of lobbying and pressure from political rivals that he quit in March of this year. To put this in context, this matter was first raised in August of 2014. He was elected in May 2014. Perhaps he got confused between Fareham East and the Middle East? Similar climates, after all…

A statement issued by the Fareham Liberal Democrats said: “During his six years as a councillor for Fareham East [town centre] ward, Paul has also been in full time employment.

“For more than a year these challenges have become more demanding and therefore Paul has decided the residents of Fareham East and Liberal Democrat group at the council will be better served by a very capable replacement nomination.”

Well frankly I should think so too ¬ the statement continued by saying “Paul has always strived to put the interests of Fareham East first.” Hmm.

Mr Whittle started full¬time at the Colleges of Excellence in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, around the time of his re¬election in May 2014. In his defence, he said that he attended important council meetings and responded to residents’ concerns. That may be so, but is that really the whole job of a councillor? Was he actually there to speak to? Could the people of Fareham go to him with their problems and concerns? And by the way he went to just five of the 11 debates he was expected at between April and October last year – the equivalent to 45 per cent.

In the interest of balance and fair play, this is by no means a politically motivated jibe. In fact, according to one local resident, “A Tory councillor around here used to work in the same way and live in California USA whilst still drawing his allowances and voting.”

But doesn’t that just make it worse, that this has happened before, around here no less, and the system was left unchecked, and was therefore open to loopholes again?

And also in the Fareham area, it was recently revealed that the Porchester Councillor was found guilty of thousands of pounds of benefit fraud. Is there something in the water around here?

The allowances claimed by Whittle amounted to over £24,000, by the way. That’s an awful lot of sun cream.

Do you have something to say? Contact the editor on elizabeth.kirby@archant.co.uk for a chance to win dinner for two on our letters pages.

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