herald

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Less talk for councillors as phone bill cut down to €264

CITY and county councillors have had their mobile phone allowances slashed by 56pc, from €600 to €264.

It means they will have to cut their phone usage drastically or end up footing part of the bills. The allowance equates to €22 a month, down from €50.

A bundled bill was agreed with Vodafone, which was the successful bidder after the contract was put out to tender.

Phil Hogan, who left the Department of the Environment in last month's cabinet reshuffle, sought a review of local authority expenses in one of his final acts as minister.

Councillors are free to use other phone providers, but they are restricted by the €22-a-month limit.

Before the revised rate, some €976,200 of public money was spent on councillors' mobile phone bills.

With the reduced numbers of local authority members as well as the lower monthly cap, the total annual claim will be €250,536.

But Dublin Lord Mayor Christy Burke described the cut as "unfair".

"Today, for example, I have made 14 calls, yesterday about 25 to 30 at least. I would be doing at least 100 calls a week," he told the Herald.

"If people are engaged in telephone use and that is part of their work, they're entitled to be reimbursed.

"Nobody abuses it. They should look at the big pensions paid to retired ministers rather than cutting councillors' paltry telephone allowances."

All national calls to landlines and mobiles are included in the Vodafone bundle. The previous system allowed councillors to submit claims for their home phone, broadband and mobiles.

CRACKDOWN

The reduction is part of a major crackdown on expenses payments to councillors initiated by Mr Hogan. Amounts claimed to attend conferences and educational seminars were also targeted for reductions.

"Abuse of conference attendance has in the past reflected badly on elected members to the extent that a cap had to be placed on total expenses paid," Mr Hogan said in May.

"I intend to significantly further reduce the ceiling on expenses for conferences."

comurphy@herald.ie

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