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Essex County Council leader Peter Martin: We will put all we buy on website, but it will cost

By Brentwood Gazette  |  Posted: July 11, 2012

Essex County Council leader Peter Martin with Chris Richards of the Brentwood Gazette

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THE leader of Essex County Council has said he hopes to publish explanations for each of the 36,281 transactions his staff have made on taxpayer-funded credit cards.

Peter Martin revealed his plan in his first interview with the Gazette since we revealed that county council employees had spent £5.1 million on so-called purchase cards, or P-cards, in 27 months.

Fast food, groceries, CDs, clothing, cosmetics, flowers, confectionery and cinema tickets were among the items bought using the cards – although the council insists that most of these purchases were made for children in care.

The authority had previously told the Gazette that it was considering whether to publish details of individual transactions on its website, but this week Mr Martin went one step further.

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"It is something that we are hoping to do," he said.

"There are more than 35,000 P-card payments and it is important that when people see what a payment is for that they interpret it properly.

"We are going to have to ensure that we give an explanation."

He did, however, caution: "It is going to cost the taxpayer quite a lot of money."

Mr Martin, who became council leader in February 2010, said he believes the authority is already open and transparent, but accepts that more can be done.

He also insisted that the council spends public money wisely.

"We have done a lot of work in the last couple of years to tighten up how we run our organisation," he said.

"We have reviewed all of our processes but we are still looking for waste all the time.

"At a time of austerity, it is really important that we deliver value for money.

"We have to be really careful about every pound of taxpayers' money that we spend."

He added: "We need to think about the taxpayers who are paying for the services that we deliver and it is a judgement all the time as to how we can achieve greater services but also real value for money."

Mr Martin said the council had already cut £350 million from its budget and warned that further savings would need to be found in the future.

However, he vowed that services would not suffer, adding:

"The most important thing we do, and a real priority for us, is looking after the elderly people and looking after the vulnerable children, in particular the looked-after children.

"I feel very strongly about that."

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