Police commissioner’s £700 tripsin chauffeur-driven Mercedes

Date: Friday 5th April 2013
Police and crime commissioner Richard Rhodes, whose office defended the spending.
Police and crime commissioner Richard Rhodes, whose office defended the spending.

THE office of Cumbria police and crime commissioner Richard Rhodes spent almost £700 of public funds on hiring a chauffeur-driven Mercedes to take him and his wife to two functions in the Lake District.

Accounts seen by the Herald show that, in January, his office paid for seven hours’ work to have a driver wait while Mr. Rhodes and his wife attended an evening meeting with church leaders at the Rydal Hall Christian centre, Ambleside, plus 171 miles for the round trip from the vehicle hire depot in Carlisle.

This resulted in a bill of £313 despite Rydal Hall being about 15 miles from Mr. Rhodes’s home in Staveley-in-Cartmel.

A similar arrangement was employed in February when Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes went to the Pheasant Inn, Bassenthwaite, to speak to the King’s Own Border Guards. The bill, including having a driver wait, was for 8.5 hours’ work and a 220-mile round trip from the Carlisle car hire depot, costing £385. This venue is 40 miles from the commissioner’s home.

The expenditure comes despite Mr. Rhodes being bought at a cost of more than £19,500 a Hyundai IX35 in order to undertake his duties. It was felt to be more cost effective than paying him private mileage.

A spokesman for the commissioner’s office said that for both engagements, alternative arrangements had been considered, including taxis and overnight stays, but disregarded as they were found to be more expensive. However, investigations by the Herald suggest that a taxi to Rydal from Mr. Rhodes’s home would have cost less than £40 on the way there and under £60 to go back, the latter being more expensive due to the late hour, while an overnight stay for two at Rydal Hall would have cost under £100.

Even the longer journey to Bassenthwaite would have cost less by taxi approximately £240 return at South Lakeland maximum permitted tariffs, with an overnight stay at the venue itself costing £150 for two, or £90 for a single room.

Office chief executive Stuart Edwards said the decision was taken to hire a driver for some evening events due to the long hours Mr. Rhodes had been working. It was felt to be unsafe for him to drive himself.

A spokesman for Mr. Rhodes’s office added that while his wife driving had also been considered, she is not always with him. “Alternative arrangements” are now being progressed which include adapting his diary so that he does not have night functions to attend after working a long day.

Taxis, overnight stays or someone else who is attending undertaking the driving will also be considered in future.

Prior to taking delivery of his vehicle, Mr. Rhodes was also provided with a hire car for 16 days earlier this year, costing almost £1,000. The documentation seen by the Herald suggests this included £133 for the hire of a sat nav for this period, although a spokesman for his office said Mr. Rhodes had never requested a sat nav, and this bill would be investigated, as he prefers to use a map.

It has been alleged that staff in Mr. Rhodes’s office were not on properly graded salaries compared to their counterparts working for Cumbria Constabulary, and that correct procurement processes were not being followed.

However, chief executive Mr. Edwards said all recruitment had followed the correct personnel policies and procedures and correct procurement processes were followed throughout.

He said: “A pivotal part of the police and crime commissioner’s role in Cumbria is to meet the public and listen to their views on the future policing priorities.

“The office ensures that any expense by the commissioner is as cost effective as possible and a review of the expenditure has already been undertaken and alternative arrangements are now being progressed. The correct procurement processes were followed.”

He added that the vehicle purchased for Mr. Rhodes was procured in line with the constabulary fleet specification, gaining efficiencies for both procurement and maintenance.

l Commissioner sets out his policing priorities see Page 3.