Councillors phone bills concern

TAXPAYERS have forked out nearly £20,000 in mobile phone bills run up by Doncaster councillors during a 17-month period.

New figures have revealed elected members ran up phone bills of 19,492.96 between May 2009 and September 2010.

The news comes at a time when the council is having to make hundreds of staff redundant in a bid to save 80 million over the next three years.

The highest bill was run up by Sue Phillips, Labour councillor for Mexborough, whose bill came to 1,274. It included 353.43 for the first quarter of 2010.

Also spending more than 1,000 was Conservative Coun Jonathan Wood, cabinet member for business, whose bill was 1.009.64.

He spent the most on the phone between April and June 2010, when his charges were 246.48.

Neither Coun Phillips or Coun Wood was available for comment.

The figures have raised concern among councillors.

Today Labour group leader Coun Sandra Holland defended the use of the phones by councillors, and said the high bills run up by some may have reflected the amount of work they were doing.

She said bills were itemised and Coun Phillips's call charges had all been for work-related calls.

She said: "All these calls are on council business so to some extent they reflect the amount of work they are doing.

"But we are concerned about how much the rental charges are.

"We had no idea they cost that much, and we have called for a review to see if they provide value for money.

"We are sensitive to costs, particularly in the situation we're in financially, so we want to see if we can get those costs down.

"We need some form of communication with our constituents. I don't say that has to be with a BlackBerry and some of us have our own mobile phones which we use.

"But what we have from the council is integrated with the authority's email system, so we can send emails to constituents and other organisations."

Coun Martin Williams, leader of the Community Group on the authority, called for councillors to pay for the phones themselves.

He said: "I think the simplest solution is that councillors get rid of them or pay for them. "They may be useful for accessing emails, but councillors can access them from their own computers.

"Now we know the situation, my recommendation is if councillors don't use them they should give them back, and if they want them they can pay for them."

He said he planned to ask questions on the issue at today's full council meeting.

Last year there were 55 local authority mobile phones being used by councillors, up from 46 in 2008.

Doncaster Council is currently looking to make 80 million in savings over the next three years.

It must make around 800 redundancies this year and more than 700 staff have come forward to volunteer for redundancy or early retirement.

Unions believe the final total of job losses in the next three years could run to 2,000 posts.

"We need some form of communication with our constituents. I don't say that has to be with a BlackBerry and some of us have our own mobile phones which we use.

"But what we have from the council is integrated with the authority's email system, so we can send emails to constituents and other organisations."

Coun Martin Williams, leader of the Community Group on the authority, called for councillors to pay for the phones themselves.

He said: "I think the simplest solution is that councillors get rid of them or pay for them. "They may be useful for accessing emails, but councillors can access them from their own computers.

"Now we know the situation, my recommendation is if councillors don't use them they should give them back, and if they want them they can pay for them."

He said he planned to ask questions on the issue at today's full council meeting.

Last year there were 55 local authority mobile phones being used by councillors, up from 46 in 2008.

Doncaster Council is currently looking to make 80 million in savings over the next three years.

It must make around 800 redundancies this year and over 700 staff have come forward to volunteer for redundancy or early retirement.

Unions believe the final total of job losses in the next three years could run to 2,000 posts.

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