Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 10:51 UK

Seeda boss spent 50k on car bill

Reaction to news that SEEDA boss spent 50,000 on car bills

The chairman of a government-funded agency has been criticised for spending more than 50,000 on taxis and executive cars for two years running.

Last year James Braithwaite, who works for South East England Development Agency (Seeda), ran up a 53,803 bill.

The previous year he had a car bill of 51,489 for his part-time job with the quango that promotes the country's largest region to business.

Lewes MP Norman Baker has demanded an investigation into the expenditure.

Mr Baker, a Liberal Democrat MP, said: "People like Mr Braithwaite are given enormous powers and unlimited access to public budgets and there is no-one apart from the Secretary of State that can remove them."

'Cost effective'

A Freedom of Information Act request revealed Seeda spent 4,032 on taxis and 49,276 for Mr Braithwaite's driver and car in the year up to March.

Mr Braithwaite defended the figure, saying he travels 35,000 miles a year in the largest region in the country.

The agency covers the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey and East and West Sussex, an area of 19,000 sq kms.

Mr Braithwaite told BBC Southern Counties Radio: "This region is the largest in the country. I have to look after eight million people, and 700,000 businesses, of which I try to visit as many as possible.

"I'm also on call to ministers, to MPs and I travel around.

"I do a lot of travel by train when I possibly can, but if I'm in a town and I want to visit one business after another or visit the local councils, I have to use a car."

It's long overdue for this body to be either abolished or brought back under democratic control to stop it continuing to squander our money
Mark Wallace, Taxpayers' Alliance

A Seeda spokesperson said Mr Braithwaite worked more than his contracted three days per week and car transport was a "cost effective use of his working time".

She said: "Jim Braithwaite uses public transport where possible, but very often car travel is the only available option.

"He uses a car and driver as a mobile office - making phone calls and reading working papers while 'on the go'."

The Taxpayers' Alliance campaign director, Mark Wallace, said: "This is a very large bill that taxpayers are being made to pay and far exceeds the costs of people in identical jobs in other regional development agencies.

"It's long overdue for this body to be either abolished or brought back under democratic control to stop it continuing to squander our money."

Seeda is responsible for the sustainable economic development and regeneration of the South East of England, which its website describes as the "driving force of the UK's economy".




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