Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner defended over £14 funeral claim

Independent Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk Constabulary Stephen Bett . Photo: Steve Adams Independent Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk Constabulary Stephen Bett . Photo: Steve Adams

Peter Walsh peter.walsh@archant.co.uk
Saturday, January 4, 2014
6:59 AM

A close ally of Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner has leapt to his defence following criticism he has received after claiming £14.40 to attend the funeral of a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) who died in a road crash.

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Stephen Bett joined hundreds of mourners at St Faith’s Church, in Gaywood, King’s Lynn, for the funeral of mother-of-four Sandi Greenacre after she was killed in an accident near Dersingham last year.

But it later emerged Mr Bett, who is currently paying back about £3,000 in claims he made for 70 trips from his home to his headquarters 43 miles away between November 2012 and August 2013, claimed for the journey from his home in Thornham to the funeral.

It has prompted a great deal of criticism from some quarters but the claim has been defended by James Morgan, electoral agent for Mr Bett when he was elected as the county’s first crime commissioner.

In a letter to the paper, he said: “In Norfolk Mr Bett, as an elected representative, has a role similar to that of an MP (but with the added burden of managing a huge budget) yet has to cover an area covered by nine parliamentary constituencies with a considerably more miserly expenses system.”

He added: “The truth here is that Mr Bett claimed what he was advised he could claim for and frankly the sums involved are very small in the context of the actual savings Mr Bett has created by not setting up a special ‘office of the commissioner’ away from Police HQ.”

Here is the full letter from Mr Morgan:

As the electoral agent for Stephen Bett when he was elected Norfolk’s first Police and Crime Commissioner, I have been following with interest the letters and articles in your paper about his motoring expenses.

I think the time has come to throw a few actual facts into the mix. Firstly, the government, when it introduced PCCs, posted the new expenses regime for PCCs on the Home Office website.

The chief executive of the old Norfolk Police Authority (who transferred over into the new Police Commissioner’s office) followed the Home Office guidance to the letter when he advised Mr Bett what he could claim for.

Mr Bett made it clear from day one that he was based from home and his claims were made following the guidance his then chief executive provided.

Secondly, the issue of whether what Mr Bett has done concerning his expenses is incorrect has not in fact yet been determined.

The rules are so vague that Mr Bett’s accountant is taking the issue up with HMRC as an analysis of the law would suggest Mr Bett is defined as ‘an area-based employee’.

If that is agreed with HMRC, then what Mr Bett has claimed for is in fact legally correct.

Thirdly, Mr Bett always made clear he would be based from home. In the west of the county we even made a virtue of this in his campaigning.

As Mr Bett does own a landed estate, he has a full office already set up at home.

He has not – unlike say the Cambridgeshire PCC – burdened the taxpayer with the cost of setting up a new PCC office.

He is actually in the process of stripping cost out of the old Police Authority office at Wymondham that transferred over.

Fourthly, Mr Bett uses his own vehicle for his work as a PCC. Last year he covered more than 12,000 miles on his public duties.

Mileage claims are not just for petrol but are for reasonable wear and tear on a vehicle.

I would suggest that if Mr Bett is using his own vehicle on public duties then it is fair he is compensated for that.

Fifthly, if you look up on the internet the travel expense regime for MPs, you will see it is enormously more generous than that for PCCs.

In Norfolk Mr Bett, as an elected representative, has a role similar to that of an MP (but with the added burden of managing a huge budget) yet has to cover an area covered by nine parliamentary constituencies with a considerably more miserly expenses system.

Finally, the truth is that none of this boils down to money. If Mr Bett cared about the money so much he would not have

given approaching 10% of his first year’s take-home salary to charity shortly after taking office.

The truth here is that Mr Bett claimed what he was advised he could claim for and frankly the sums involved are very small in the context of the actual savings Mr Bett has created by not setting up a special ‘office of the commissioner’ away from Police HQ.

I would suggest that Mr Bett’s first year as PCC has been pretty successful if the only negative story that has emerged, despite the huge level of scrutiny Mr Bett is under, is this one.

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