City council bosses faced a grilling over their controversial decision to pay leader John Gilbey’s £1,250 tax bill with public money. Chief executive Colin Carmichael and director of resources Tricia Marshall were hauled before the authority’s scrutiny committee to explain the move. They also came under fire for failing to publicly announce the decision, which was revealed exclusively in the Kentish Gazette after an internal email was leaked.
The debt was unknowingly run up by Cllr Gilbey after he failed to pay any tax on his mileage expense claims for the past five years. But the mistake was only uncovered after council chiefs checked with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which ruled only Cllr Gilbey was liable to pay because the authority’s Military Road office is classed as his place of work. The issue was brought to the meeting on Wednesday, June 11, by Cllr Simon Cook (Con), who said:
“The council has no duty of care to members to give tax advice or correct problems. The council has a much more significant duty of care to the council taxpayer to not spend their money in this way. While I think it’s fine and wonderful that the council sought clarification from HMRC, I don’t think it follows that there is any onus on the council not to recover the tax from Cllr Gilbey.”
But Mr Carmichael said the council approached HMRC without councillors’ knowledge, and considered it “a matter of natural justice” to pay the bill that followed. He said:
“I feel that because we initiated this without ask. lag councillors’ views, we were therefore burdening at least one of them with a fairly hefty tax bill without them being aware of it.”
Mr Carmichael also said he knew it would be a controversial decision, and approached the party leaders to see if they accepted the reasons behind it. Only Lib Dem leader Alex Perkins responded, saying he understood the reasons but thought it should be done “publicly and openly”. Cllr Cook agreed, adding
“Anything like this must be done in public and councillors notified. The fact it appeared as a leak in the Gazette made us look like fools. If we don’t think it’s something we want to tell the public about, we ought to think whether It is the right thing to do with their money.”
Herne Bay Gazette, June 26th 2014