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Ex-Chester council leader Mike Jones requested to pay back £459.64 spending on alcohol

But Tattenhall councillor declines to reimburse council coffers after being cleared by inquiry

Former Cheshire West and Chester council leader Mike Jones

Former Tory council leader Mike Jones has declined a request to reimburse the authority to the tune of £459.64 for spending on alcohol.

This followed an inquiry into expenditure on his council credit card which found he did not break any rules.

The Tattenhall councillor, who was leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) until Labour took control in May 2015, was the only council member with a ‘purchase card’ which was used to pay for food and drink, rail travel, parking and hotels during the course of his council business.

Labour Cllr Ben Powell

But Labour councillor Ben Powell raised concerns earlier this year after details were released under the Freedom of Information Act revealing some of the meals bought on the card for more than £300 and £400 were for several diners including 12 Cheshire business leaders on one occasion.

CWaC director of corporate services Mark Wynn, who carried out the investigation, accepted Cllr Jones ‘did not breach council policy’ but that some of the transactions, particularly those relating to alcohol purchases, were ‘not in the spirit’ of council policy.

Based on these findings, Cllr Jones concluded he had been ‘cleared of any wrongdoing’, the card purchases were justified and he has declined to repay the amount requested.

Cllr Jones has not issued any public comment.

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) HQ Building in Chester(Image: Ian Cooper)

But it has previously been pointed out that in his role as leader, he regularly met with potential external investors with a view to attracting regeneration and development to the borough, using the card on these occasions.​

Commenting on his findings, investigator Mr Wynn said in a statement: “We have completed our internal review of historic purchase card transactions, which has been approved by the external auditor.

“While we accept that Councillor Jones did not breach council policy with the use of his purchase card, we felt that some of the transactions, particularly those relating to alcohol purchases, were not in the spirit of what purchase cards were intended for.

“In light of these findings, we wrote to Cllr Jones to suggest that he voluntarily paid back a sum of £459.64 to reimburse these transactions.

Former CWaC Mike Jones with the new CWaC leader Samantha Dixon. Photo by Ian Cooper

“We have received a response from Cllr Jones who acknowledges and welcomes the findings of the review that found there had been no breach of council policy. He has explained, in his opinion, why he felt these transactions were acceptable and how they were made to further the borough’s priorities on the national stage, and actively seeking and securing external funding to the borough, and has therefore declined to reimburse the sum.

“Since this request was voluntary, we cannot take any further action and, given the resources the council has already utilised on this review, we must accept Councillor Jones’ response as the end of this matter.

Expenditure on Cllr Jones' purchase card, revealed under Freedom of Information, included a £319 bill for lunch, including alcohol, at Chester Racecourse’s 1539 restaurant for Cheshire business leaders attended by 12 guests.

“Public trust in how the council spends taxpayers’ money is absolutely critical and it was proper that we investigate these enquiries. The council changed its policy in 2013 to tighten a number of procedures and as a result significantly reduced the number of purchase cards issued. No elected members currently have a purchase card.”

Minutes of the audit and governance committee from November 12, 2013, show councillors did indeed back the recommendations of a review into the use of the Visa purchase cards, operated by The Co-operative Bank, which reduced the overall number of active ‘P-cards’ by 30%, from 492 down to 347.

The review indicated ‘significant weaknesses’ in control and a requirement for urgent system revision. Weaknesses included ‘no formal policy in place’ and ‘inconsistent approval and authorisation process’. However, the revised policy that was adopted appears to relate to council officers only with no mention of any policy being in place for cards held by councillors, either in the past or going forward.

The investigation was sparked after Labour councillor Ben Powell – ex-chair of CWaC’s public accounts scrutiny panel – raised concerns around some of the purchases on Cllr Jones’ purchase card after checking details provided under Freedom of Information, including:

■ Four transactions at Conservative Party fund-raising events

■ High value expenditure at restaurants and pubs

■ Card used to pay off £35 NCP Ltd parking fine

Cllr Jones agreed the £35 parking fine should be deducted from his councillor salary after it emerged he used the CWaC purchase card to settle the charge.

His recollection was that he previously asked for the sum, relating to an NCP Ltd parking fine dating from January, 2013, to be taken from his councillor’s allowance but an extensive council investigation revealed the deduction was never made.

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