Steps to cut council's mileage 'not enough'

Steps designed to cut the 20 million miles a year travelled by Suffolk council staff were attacked as "not good enough" yesterday.A proposed 1pc cut in mileage was condemned as too small and not taking account of the need to cut costs fast.

Steps designed to cut the 20 million miles a year travelled by Suffolk council staff were attacked as "not good enough" yesterday.

A proposed 1pc cut in mileage was condemned as too small and not taking account of the need to cut costs fast.

Members of Suffolk County Council told a meeting of the cash-strapped authority's resources and finance scrutiny committee to be more rigorous in looking for savings.

They also demanded more use of video conferencing facilities and public transport while questioning the reason for different pence-per-mile rates for different staff.

Councillors argued that looking for cuts through a staff consensus would not be enough and better controls had to be imposed.

They also added that to ask Suffolk people to use their cars less while council car use was perceived to be "through the roof" was unacceptable.

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Council officials faced a barrage of questions and comments demanding tighter controls on mileage and a greater commitment to cutting costs.

Peter Bellfield, Conservative chairman of the committee, criticised the wide variety of different claim rates for mileage, from about 40p per mile to nearer 80p per mile, but added that no one wanted to see front line staff stopped from reaching residents.

"I do not see why we should be giving more than the basic level of about 40p," he said. "Some travel will always be necessary, for example for staff travelling as carers, and we don't want to stop this happening. But we must find more effective ways of working so that we can reduce all our transport costs, including business mileage."

Andrew Cann, a Liberal Democrat member, added: "We don't care about the mileage. We care about the cost," he said.

And Labour councillor Kevan Lim said: "You are expecting people to use cars less and we are perceived to be using cars through the roof.

"It can't be done through consensus. It has to be done through control," he said. "People are not going to use the train to get to Bury St Edmunds from Ipswich instead of taking their car unless they have to."

The council has been under pressure over its mileage claims, expected to cost up to £10m in 2006/7, since it was revealed that they were large enough to account for a journey to the moon and back every six working days.

Lucy Robinson, enviro-nment and transport director at the authority, defended the situation yesterday, arguing that consultants had claimed Suffolk was not the worst offending county in the UK.