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Council defends millions spent on car perks for staff



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The list of vehicles includes some of the latest BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Honda and Ford vehicles on the market, from convertibles to saloons and estates.
The council said that the lease scheme was introduced in the 1990s to attract and retain top staff, but has recently been closed to new employees to save costs.
According to data, in 2008/09 West Berkshire Council spent £843,634 on the fleet, in 2009/10 it spent £737,990, in 2010/11 it spent £666,807, and in 2011/12 it spent £559,357 on 220 vehicles.
The figures were revealed in a freedom of information request submitted by Midgham resident Mathew Brooker, who also sent the same request to Slough, Reading and Wokingham councils, all of which had a definite policy of not deploying company car schemes as remuneration to their staff. Instead, they spot- hire vehicles as and when they are needed.
Mr Brooker said: “These represent significant figures, especially against a backdrop of belt-tightening among many taxpayers, environmental concerns and supposed public sector austerity.”
“Unless they are made to do it, the council won’t cut things like this. That is a lot of luxury cars for a relatively small number of staff.
“That amount, £2.8m, is about the same cut from the adult social care department which has meant the closure of day centres and cuts to other services.”
A spokeswoman for West Berkshire Council, Peta Stoddart-Crompton, said that the council had taken steps to reduce the cost of the initiatives, which had become less of an issue owing to the economic downturn.
“The scheme was introduced to enable the council to attract staff and therefore the entitlement forms part of their contracts of employment.
“While breaking contracts is clearly possible, the risks and benefits have to be assessed,” she said.
“When considering the financial benefits of closing the scheme it is important to take into account that while the staff- lease cars cost £559,357 in 2011/12, those staff would otherwise have been required to provide and use their own car for council business and the car allowances paid would have cost the council in the region of £400,000.”
“The council only contributes a set amount towards the cost of leasing a car. If an employee wishes to lease an ‘executive car’ they have to meet all the additional cost.
“Staff travelling costs are a significant area of spend for the council and, while we take every opportunity to make savings, we do have to recognise that we provide services to residents across a very large and predominately rural area.
“Public transport options are very limited and therefore car journeys are very often either the only option, or the most cost- effective option when staff time is taken into account.”



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