THOUSANDS of pounds of taxpayers money is spent filling up the Lord Mayor’s luxury Bentley each year.
Figures obtained by the Leader under a Freedom of Information Act request revealed it has cost local ratepayers £19,877 in petrol to run the council’s chauffeur-driven Bentley, which does 16.6 miles per gallon and has cost £150,900 in the past four years.
The council refused to release the cost of leasing the car from Bentley for reasons of commercial confidentiality. The Leader rang a Bentley dealer to find out the rough cost of leasing the car to the council and, with a £40,000 deposit and a 12,000 per year mileage, we were quoted £1,692.15 a month, or £20,305.80 a year, to lease the luxury car which has hand-sewn A-grade leather upholstery and goes from 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds.
The car is mainly used to take the Lord Mayor, currently Councillor Jill Houlbrook, to hundreds of events in and around Chester, each year.
Deputy Mayor Bob Rudd said the council was keeping a close eye on the cost to the public purse.
He said: “The Lord Mayor has got to travel to get to various civil engagements which the public expects the Lord Mayor to attend.
“I do not think it would be appropriate for the Lord Mayor to turn up on a bicycle.
“There certainly has to be some notice given to costs and that is appropriate, not just in times of austerity but in times of plenty. You should not waste public money.
“I was privileged enough to be a mayor of another borough in the south of England in 1988.
“There were complaints made by some people about the costs of the mayor’s transport then. This is nothing new.
“There are costs attached to having a Lord Mayor of Chester. That cost will vary from year to year, depending on where the Lord Mayor lives and how many engagements there are.
“I do not think it is a vast expense or an extravagant expense but I’m mindful of costs.
“I, as Deputy Lord Mayor, go to a lot of events where I do not have to wear my chain and go in my own car.
“When the Lord Mayor has to wear the chain, she has to have a driver otherwise the insurance for the chain is invalid.”
Robert Oxley, campaign director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, says councils need to look at ways of saving money and changing the mayoral car is an easy way of saving money.
He said: “Many people like the tradition associated with a Lord Mayor but that doesn't mean more can’t be done to cut the bill to taxpayers. With council budgets tight, getting rid of a chauffeur or using a cheaper vehicle is an easy saving that would not affect services.
“When families are tightening their own belts they have a right to expect politicians to do the same.”
Ian Callister, spokesman for Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “The Bentley is a Cheshire brand of international prestige and complements the stature of a mayorality dating back to the 13th century.
“An increase in the fuel costs over the last two years is related to rises in petrol prices but still represents good value for money in helping to maintain an ancient office important to so many.
“The Lord Mayor of Chester, also the chairman of the council, receives and accepts many hundreds of invitations each year from individuals and organisations across the borough to attend a widely diverse range of events.
“Judging by the messages of appreciation we receive and the publicity engendered for the borough, we believe the petrol costs are more than justified.”
Mr Callister added that over the last two years the Lord Mayor has attended more than 700 events.
The current Lord Mayor, Cllr Jill Houlbrook, declined to comment on the fuel costs.