AN independent review into Cllr Paul Bettison’s council phone bill has said elected members should be given guidance on how they use their mobiles.
The investigation was set up after the News revealed Bracknell Forest Council’s leader’s sky-high bills – which totalled about £29,000 between 2004 and 2009.
In her report for Bracknell Forest, Victoria Jackson, senior investigations officer at Wokingham Borough Council, said: “There is not currently a process in place to alert members of the expected standards of mobile phone use when they receive one, other than the brief declaration on the request form.
“The Bracknell Forest mobile phone do’s and don’ts should be issued to all council mobile phone users.” Four council staff and Cllr Bettison were interviewed during the review, which revealed he is the highest phone user of the 983 people with a council phone – making up 10% of all council usage.
Our revelations showed Cllr Bettison sent up to 2,400 text messages a month. Between 2004 and 2010, Cllr Bettison paid about £5,000 of the £29,336 bills himself. In August 2009, he received a council phone, though the annual cost to the authority for the financial year 2012-13 was £2,136.
Following our stories on his phone bills last year, Cllr Bettison changed his tariff to a £10-a-month deal outside of the council-wide deal with Vodafone covering all other council mobiles. The new deal entitles Cllr Bettison to unlimited calls and text messages.
During the interview with Miss Jackson for the council report, former borough treasurer Chris Herbert confirmed Cllr Bettison did not regularly file expenses claims because, due to the length of each statement, “it would be far too much work for someone to go through every bill”.
Miss Jackson said: “This review has established there had been a failure in not recognising Cllr Bettison as an exceptional user earlier and not making other contract arrangements, but this has now been rectified.
“There is only one tariff for the whole council, which was not suitable for his usage, hence why alternative arrangements of the £10 per month contract had to be made separately for him to reduce cost.
“The review has found no evidence to suggest regular checks are made to monitor individual high volume member usage to ascertain whether the tariff is the most cost-effective.” She recommended the council explores whether any other phone users would save it money by having their contracts changed.