Is 20p okay to claim on expenses?

31 03 2011

I understand that City Hall could impose a minimum expense limit on senior staff and politicians after it was revealed some have been claiming for items costing as little as 20 pence.

Several assembly members and GLA employees have questioned whether it is right that people on often very high salaries should be able to make such small claims.

Measures to be considered could include a ban on claims below a level of around £5 or if those already claiming for a publicly funded season ticket or travelcard can legitimately ask for additional travel expenses.

Documents released by the GLA show that between November 2010 and January 2011 travel claims included one for 20 pence made by Assistant Director of Health and Communities, Helen Keenan.

Another travel claim was made for 80 pence by the Mayor’s Arts Advisor Munira Mirza, who earns £82,000 a year.

In the last year several senior staff and politicians have claimed for single oyster journeys, and members of the GLA’s Standards Committee have asked officers to go away and review the current procedures and guidance on claim levels.

The current expenses system at City Hall has no low-limit and any changes would have to be agreed by the whole London Assembly.

Group Performance Manager at the GLA, Tom Middleton said: “One of the issues that has come up is claiming for very small amounts and the costs that are incurred through the system of processing it.

“There have been examples where senior staff are claiming quite minor amounts on occasion.”

When asked if a de minimis” level of £5 was worth considering, he said: That could be a route to go down, yes.

“I know that the rest of the staff, middle management included, just do not claim. If we have a couple of pounds here or there we just don’t have minor expenses. It is a fact.

“Other organisations do have guidance on what is appropriate.”

Liberal Democrat leader at City Hall, Caroline Pidgeon, has backed the decision to consider whether it was right to use taxpayers’ money to pay such small claims.

“I think there is a point here when it comes to staff who are paid a lot and whether this is something members could also employ. I personally wouldn’t claim,” she said.

But others are concerned that people could be left out-of-pocket or would claim more because of a minimum expense claim level.

Deputy Mayor of London for Communities, Richard Barnes said: “We can’t just add anything under £5 people must just swallow it themselves.

“We don’t know what every individual’s financial circumstances are. They may be maintaining three or four different families and be behind on their mortgage payments. We can’t make those kind of assumptions about why some reclaim and some don’t. But £1.50 for somebody may be a huge amount. Salary levels do not tell the whole story.

“I would oppose any de minimis level. You have to remember this is out-of-pocket expenses.”

Conservative assembly member Victoria Borwick added: “If we said the minimum was £5, people would genuinely say I’d rather have five pennies rather than one. I would be concerned you would up the unintended cost.”


Forget it Orient

16 03 2011

London 2012 bosses have today branded plans for Leyton Orient to move to a 15,000 seater football stadium in the Olympic Park as “inconceivable”.

Chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), Baroness Ford, says Orient’s chairman Barry Hearn has failed to understand that his proposals would damage the legacy of the games and the park could not support two football clubs.

Mr Hearn believes that the OPLC’s recent decision to recommend that the Olympic Stadium should go to West Ham United after London 2012 would lead to the eventual extinction of Leyton Orient.

To battle this he wants to sell-off the club’s Brisbane Road ground to help fund a new £35 million new stadium at Eton Manor in the Olympic Park, or move into the Olympic site’s 2012 hockey stadium, which is due to be taken down after the games.

Eton Manor will have temporary swimming training pools during the Olympics and wheelchair tennis during the Paralympics, before becoming the site of a new hockey facility, which will replace the 2012 one and also cater for up to 15,000 spectators.

But speaking to members of the London Assembly on Wednesday, Baroness Ford said that she believed that the Eton Manor site is not “up for grabs”.

“I personally think that it is inconceivable to put two football stadia in the Olympic Park. I mean, this is much needed open space for recreational and employment space, and housing. And I have made that point to the chairman of Leyton Orient. This isn’t land that is up for grabs, nor earmarked for anything else. It is very clearly earmarked in the master plan for specific legacy purposes set out long ago.

“The chairman of Leyton Orient is not quite clear on the use of Eton Manor. In terms of the planning consent there is an obligation to deliver a certain quantity of metropolitan open land in the Olympic Park. That northern part of the park is part of that.

“The hockey complex will be reconfigured in legacy and there is no question of a hockey stadium being left there.”

Earlier this month Barry Hearn said this idea was the only way to ensure that West Ham’s move to the Olympic stadium would not cripple the League One club, which he predicts will reduce Orient’s revenue by at least £1.5 million a year.

The Leyton Orient chairman is also still considering using funds raised from its successful FA cup run as a war chest to challenge the OPLC’s backing of West Ham in the courts.

But he has admitted he would drop any legal action if people like the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, local councils or the OPLC itself helped Orient move to Eton Manor or into the hockey stadium.

“To compete we would have to move out of the area completely or be housed in the Olympic Park itself,” Mr Hearn said recently.

“That way we could have the same facilities and transport links that West Ham would have and then there would be a level playing field for us to compete on. There are options such as moving into the hockey stadium or building a new venue at Eton Manor playing fields.”

During a meeting of the full London Assembly, Baroness Ford also told politicians that official confirmation that West Ham will take over the Olympic Stadium is being held up, especially as the OPLC is still to hear if rival bidder Spurs want to appeal their decision.

“Because we are still in the negotiations with West Ham and Newham (council), and because Tottenham Hotspur have not yet said whether they or not they will review the decision we are not at liberty to put out much information yet.”

Ford and OPLC chairman Andrew Altman also confirmed that they would probably decide to close the park completely after the games and spend at least a year making it ready for use by the public from 2013 at the earliest, with key venues like the Olympic Stadium and Aquatics Centre open to the public no earlier than 2014.

Government buys 9,000 2012 tickets to entertain dignitaries

18 02 2011

A bit of an exclusive by me in today’s Telegraph, showing that officials will plough at least £750,000 of public money into games tickets because they believe it “would be wrong” not to and will be for the “benefit of the whole of the UK”. These tickets will be used by politicians and Westminster mandarins to entertain international guests, foreign dignitaries like royalty, business leaders and people they claim have strong links with the Olympic movement and London 2012. BoJo also has a 2,000 allocation but is yet to decide what to do.

Please take a look here: LINK

Champions League rip-off

17 02 2011

Boris is right to extol the virtues of the Champions League final being at Wembley this year, but has he not seen the prices? My goodness.

The public can get tickets, but it seems the minimum price is £150 for adults and £80 for people in wheelchairs, which is  really steep, especially as the top tickets are going for £300. What I’m even more annoyed about is the administration fee, which is an incredible and perhaps record-breaking £26 per transaction! There will be a package for adults and a child at £338, and only go with the £225 adult ticket. These all go on sale a week today.

But in much better news London will also host a FREE eight-day UEFA Champions Festival in Hyde Park in the run up to both the women’s and men’s finals at the end of May.

The festival site will consist of live football areas, five a side tournaments and master classes, alongside a wide range of entertainment and bars, plus a dedicated UEFA travelling museum which will give fans an opportunity to get close to the UEFA Champions Trophy.

Boris, whose press officer tried to make him sound like he understood football, but failed, said: “We are home to footballing giants and this is the contest of Europe’s best. Londoners are incredibly passionate about football, not least because our capital contains some of the best clubs in Europe. So with our enviable pedigree in running top-notch sporting occasions, and our passion for the beautiful game, there can be no better city to host the UEFA Champions League finals.

So as the excitement builds and you can’t wait until kick off head instead for Hyde Park and soak up the atmosphere at the wonderful, free, UEFA Champions Festival that I am delighted London is hosting.”

And all this allows me to show Boris playing football again:

Boost for fans wanting to use Olympic ‘fan sites’ in 2012

11 02 2011

For all those interested in the Olympics games, especially those who accept they may not get or cannot afford Games tickets, then some good news is brewing at City Hall.

I’ve been told that Boris Johnson may add an extra event in central London to allow tens of thousands more sports fans to watch the action.

An insider has tipped me off  claiming the Mayor of London is considering land on the edge of Thames next to the London Eye as a potential spot for one of his Olympic ‘live sites’, which will show sporting action for free throughout the games.

He has already announced there will be giant screens broadcasting 2012 events in London’s Hyde Park, Victoria Park, and on land next to his City Hall building close to Tower Bridge, some of which could attract up to 80,000 people per day.

But it is understood a fourth venue could be necessary to cater for all those who fail to secure or cannot afford any of the 6.6 million Olympic tickets set for release next month.

I also understand that they are furiously putting together ticketing plans for these events, but I have it on pretty good authority that these will be free and ticketed for security and safety reasons only.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games have also confirmed to me it will run 18 others sites across UK town and city centres throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Games, all of which will also be free.

Here I am in dispatches in the Telegraph on the matter this morning: LINK

17.42PM: and now here: LINK

Pressure on Boris to give the gift of free travel to Tube sufferers

10 02 2011

At this morning’s budget debate at City Hall Boris Johnson was pressed again on the poor reliability on many Tube lines in recent months and weeks, and he again said he was “frustrated” about it all but claimed it was improving.

Also interestingly he did not deny blasting Peter Hendy on the phone last week because it had all gone to pot again.

In particular, there was a plea to improve life for the long-suffering people who have been stuck using the Jubilee Line  with all its delays and closures.

As a result of years of misery there, I know that he is currently being put under pressure to give them a day of free travel to recognise the disruption they have suffered.

Opposition politicians at City Hall say travellers deserve the gift because the line’s signalling upgrade is 18-months late and its stations have closed on more than 100 weekends since 2007.

They have asked that the Mayor repeat what happened on the East London Line’s opening day last year, where thousands enjoyed free travel along the route, or hand out free travelcards to commuters at Jubilee Line stations.

Mr Johnson says he wants to reward people because of the “highly disruptive” delays and that Transport for London is considering what to do when the Jubilee Line’s upgrade is completed this Spring.

But he has also admitted that he considers a day of free travel would probably be too expensive in the current financial climate.

Leader of City Hall’s Liberal Democrats Caroline Pidgeon insists that Boris Johnson should try to find the cash to recognise how much communities along the Jubilee Line have suffered.

“Given the immense disruption Jubilee Line passengers have suffered the Mayor must properly thank them for putting up with so much,” she told me.

“Regular users of the Jubilee Line deserve a few days free travel, but if the Mayor won’t fund this then he needs to come up with alternative proposals to celebrate the line operating properly again and to thank passengers for their patience.”

A series of delays and problems means the improvements on the Jubilee Line will finish 18 months later than promised this April-ish.

To speed the process Boris Johnson and London Underground stepped in last year to buy Tube Lines, who they blamed for the delays, at a cost of more than £300 million.

Because of the lessons learned from the disruption on the Jubilee Line, Tube bosses have decided to upgrade the Northern Line while imposing a ban on weekend and early evening closures.

“Both London Underground (LU) and I fully appreciate that Tube Lines’ lengthy programme to upgrade the Jubilee line has been highly disruptive to London,” Mr Johnson said in a new written response.

“In recognition of that, LU is investigating the most appropriate way to mark the completion of this major piece of work. Of course, the real benefit to users of the line will come in the form of more frequent trains, faster journeys and increased capacity that the upgrade will eventually deliver.

“Bearing in mind the cost incurred by LU in resolving the serious failings in the Tube Lines approach and the importance of prioritising the investment needed for the vital upgrade of the Tube, my initial reaction is that I could not justify such a costly concession.

“The opening of the East London line was slightly different in that it offered TfL the chance to attract new customers to what was effectively a brand new railway, showcasing the new stations, reopened stations and connections that can now be made to new areas of east London.”

Christ on a bike.

10 12 2010

Merry Christmas from the Mayor of London. The Three Kings on Boris Bikes riding to the stable to hand gifts to the baby Jesus.

The card, designed by 10-year-old Ellie Feldman, was unveiled today and Boris Johnson went to meet her at her school and speak to pupils during the school assembly.

The card will be sent to individuals and organisations across the capital by the Mayor.

Boris said: “This tremendously fun festive card caught my eye immediately – what an ingenious idea to place the Three Wise Men on our magnificent hire bikes! It’s guaranteed to put a smile on everyone’s face and I’d like to thank the creative youngster who designed it for me.”

But is this actually a protest picture from our Ellie? Maybe she decided it was better for the three kings to get on bikes because nobody can rely on the tube or trains at the moment.