Councillor in row over expenses ‘asked to resign’

Councillor Fred Walker
Councillor Fred Walker

A LEIGH councillor who claimed a £20,000 lump sum in expenses has been urged to step down from his role as a fire chief.

Coun Fred Walker – chairman of the Greater Manchester Fire Authority – has been asked to resign by Labour leaders after claiming the amount in one go for travel expenses stretching back three years.

The Leigh East councillor received the cash to cover scores of train trips to London costing almost £350, even though the authority’s guidelines suggest expenses should be claimed within four months.

It is understood that six out of eight of Labour’s local authority leaders in Greater Manchester have requested Coun Walker step down as chairman. If he refuses, he will face a vote of no confidence at the fire authority meeting next month.

Coun Walker’s expense claim has now been referred to the independent district auditor, which will also examine the fire authority’s expense claim procedures.

Despite numerous attempts, the Leigh Reporter was unable to contact Coun Walker at the time of going to print.

However last week he said: “Originally I wasn’t going to claim this money. I enjoy doing the work and planned to pay for this travel myself.

“However, I hadn’t realised how much it had become. A colleague felt this would be unfair on others who, in the future, may have felt pressure to follow my example but might not have been able afford to pay for these journeys.

“These figures are not just the cost of train journeys. They include 6,000 miles travelled in my Mercedes as well taxi fares and other travel costs.”

A senior Labour source said: “Labour leaders and delegates are very angry. Clearly they feel Fred should consider his position as the chair. Approaches will be made to him to consider his position and if he doesn’t do the honourable thing there might well be a vote of no confidence at the next fire authority meeting.

“We are on the side of the public on this one. We don’t think it’s appropriate. You can’t wait three years before claiming your expenses.”

Another senior Labour source said: “There is a degree of concern and unhappiness about this. Expenses should be claimed within the designated time frame. There is another issue – why was the fire authority not buying the tickets on his behalf? Using that method could save the authority money, and there is no problem then with having to keep receipts. That is the method used by local councils.”

A third source said: “He is going to be asked to go.”