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Mayor defends £110,000 expenses
SWINDON mayor Mick Bray has come under fire from the Taxpayers’ Alliance for defending the ‘shocking’ £110,000 spent annually on the mayor’s office and allowance.
Figures obtained by the Adver show the total includes £83,400 spent on the mayor’s four dedicated staff, including a salary of £14,241 to £16,968 on the mayor’s attendant, who is the chauffeur and mace bearer, and a salary of £24,846 to £28,280 on the secretary.
Coun Bray also has £10,000 as a personal allowance, and deputy mayor, Coun Nick Martin , has £3,500, to spend on things associated with their duties, such as clothes for themselves and their consorts, presents for dignitaries, and tickets to events.
In contrast, the mayor of Royal Wootton Bassett , Mike Leighfield, has an allowance of £3,200, out of which he must pay for everything, including petrol for his own vehicle, which he must drive himself to engagements.
One volunteer fulfils the roles of town crier, mace-bearer and sword bearer, and there are no dedicated mayoral staff, but one of the admin officers doubles up as a secretary.
The revelations come only weeks after Coun Bray joined a campaign for the names of retired mayors to continue to be added to the solid gold mayoral chain – at a cost of more than £15,000.
Meanwhile, Swindon Council must close an estimated £15m funding gap for 2013/14, and the administration recently warned it might have to choose between cutting the grass and caring for vulnerable people.
Coun Bray said no savings could be made because the mayor has to set certain standards as the representative of the borough, so for him it was a choice between having a mayor and not.
He said he would be too busy to process his own appointments, which would mean hours on the phone, and pointed out that the chauffer was also a personal attendant.
He said: “To put it bluntly, no office, no mayor. You just cannot operate without one. And it’s not a part-time function, you cannot say these persons could be doing a committee job and do the mayor’s work later on in the day.
“I know my staff are fully concentrating on emails which they receive overnight for the first part of the day before they get to the nitty-gritty of dealing with anything else.”
But Robert Oxley, campaign manager at the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Councils have to find big savings in the coming years and Swindon’s mayor shouldn’t think that he is exempt from that.
“Many people value the role of a ceremonial mayor but will be shocked at this bill for his extensive staff and chauffeur-driven car. If other mayors can find practical ways to cut costs, then so should Swindon’s.”
Swindon’s previous mayor, Coun Ray Ballman , carried out a total of 480 functions in her year, while Royal Wootton Bassett’s mayor, Coun Leighfield, said he had done about 400 in his last stint as first citizen of the town.
He said: “I cannot talk for them, but it just seems an awful amount of money if Mick only does the 500 functions per year and we do 400 or so. It does seem an enormous amount of money,” said Coun Leighfield.
Coun Ballman said Swindon’s mayor needed a chauffeur-driven car to give the impression that it is a proud, prosperous town, while the driver was also a personal security guard and helper, which was imporortant when the gold chain was worn in public.
She said: “If I drove a three-wheeler and I turned up in a three-wheeler with the chain on, what sort of impression does that give for Swindon? We meet delegations from China and all over the place, they have a very high regard for the office of mayor and if we turned up in our own bit of whatever it is, it doesn’t look quite right.”
Council leader Rod Bluh said the council was always looking to cut costs, but these could only be brought so low and the administration in organising the mayor’s activities was considerable.
He said the mayor was an important part of civic life who did a lot of fundraising. Coun Ballman raised at least £11,429 for charity.