This review of councillor support involved separate surveys of councillors and governance staff on the support councillors receive, and an audit of seven randomly-selected councils to assess legislative compliance and identify best practice in policies and procedures.
In July 2019, council governance staff at all 79 councils were sent a survey requesting information on the level of support provided to councillors for items such as information technology, travel costs, training and childcare (Appendix 1).
This included providing expenses data for the 2017/18 financial year, confirming the types of resources provided to councillors such as vehicles and office space, and providing data on technology including mobile phone plans. The Inspectorate received responses from governance staff at 76 councils.
The following month, all mayors and councillors were sent a survey seeking their opinions on matters of councillor allowances, resources and facilities, and expense reimbursement (Appendix 2). Responses were received from 187 councillors and 39 mayors, representing nearly 40% of those contacted.
Apart from requesting input on their allowance and level of support from council, the anonymous survey also gained some interesting insights into the councillor role with questions on the percentage of time spent on tasks such as reading meeting agendas and administrative work, time dedicated to the role and current employment status.
The survey results showed that councillors are largely content with the resources and facilities provided to them but there were comparatively greater levels of discontent with the allowance they receive. Many councillors and mayors have employment, business and/or family/carer responsibilities, which is reflected in the greatest reported challenge being balancing the role of councillor with work and family/home commitments.
The Inspectorate conducted a separate audit exercise at seven councils in late 2019 and early 2020 with a view to ascertaining whether:
- documented policies and procedures are being followed in practice
- significant deviation from policy and practice exists
- practices meet public expectations
- any significant risks exist
The exercise included an audit of up to six months’ worth of councillor expenses reimbursement documents together with discussions with council personnel involved in the councillor expenses processes.
The audit exercise revealed some deviations from policy in practice, such as claims being submitted outside stipulated periods and incorrect claims forms being used. Some risks such as a CEO’s corporate credit card being used for councillor expenses and claiming expenses by way of petty cash were also identified. Overall, significant deviation from policy and public expectation was not identified.
The outcomes of the audit exercises and these discussions were used to inform recommendations for an expenses policy and updated guidance on expense reimbursement procedures.