Labour council chief in perks row quits

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The Independent Online
Two leading councillors in Doncaster have resigned following allegations that they took unauthorised trips abroad and had drunken "working" lunches on council taxpayers' money.

The leader of Doncaster Council, councillor Peter Welsh, and his deputy, Ray Stockhill, have stood down in the wake of a damning District Auditor's report published last month.

The Independent revealed exclusively three weeks ago that the report raised doubts about the legality of trips abroad taken by a number of councillors and it criticised the council for poor financial control.

The council has withdrawn credit cards from all councillors and all but six council officers and has banned all trips to conferences, both domestic and abroad.

A Jaguar car provided for the council leader was also withdrawn after the report and Labour's selection committee interviewed candidates about the allegations.

The councillors were under pressure from Labour Party headquarters to stand down after the issue embarrassed the Labour leader, Tony Blair, who had been advised of the problems a year ago.

Mr Welsh and another leading councillor, Tony Sellars, also failed to be shortlisted for the local vacant Don Valley seat after the revelations became public. Mr Sellars, who is deputy mayor recently, decided not to stand as mayor because of the District Auditor's report.

Yesterday, Mr Welsh acknowledged the embarrassment councillors had caused.

"After careful consideration I have decided to step down as leader of Doncaster Council," he said in a statement.

The statement added: "Allegations have been made which I need to clear up, and out of respect to the Labour group and my colleagues, I feel at this time this is the only action I can take."

However, both men are to continue in their position of ward councillors on the council.

In his report, the District Auditor, Gordon Sutton, highlighted "abuse of the system" on a host of foreign trips including visits to Japan, Hong Kong, Sweden, China and the United States.

Expenses for "working lunches" came to pounds 50 per head in some instances with most of the bill for alcohol. One meal for two people claimed on expenses came to a total of pounds 284.

No details of the trips were provided to other councillors and no reports were provided of what they achieved.

A second auditor's report is due to be published later this month and is expected to provide details of which councillors went on trips.