Birmingham City Council’s bill for taxi journeys and private hire vehicles hit a staggering £1.4 million last year, it can be revealed.
The scale of the amount spent – much of it on ferrying staff around the city – prompted demands for council leaders to show more restraint at a time when local authorities are facing an unprecedented public spending squeeze.
Council bosses admit they don’t know exactly how many staff use cabs during the course of the year because the taxi firms they deal with often do not identify the person responsible for booking a trip or state the destination of the journey when submitting bills.
In answer to a Freedom of Information Act request, a spokesman said: “We cannot say with any degree of certainty how many different staff have used taxis due to the fact that taxi companies on the whole submit invoices on a monthly basis.
“These invoices do not always detail specific individuals or even specific routes in some cases, the governance of this spend is down to the various cost centre managers to approve the bills for their respective areas.”
He added that the council receives about 24,000 separate invoices from taxi firms during the course of a year.
Topping the list was the Adults and Communities directorate, where social services spent £1.1 million on taxis and hire vehicles mainly on transporting elderly people, and adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues to days centres.
At the Democratic Services directorate, the taxi bill for clerks sent to run constituency and ward committees was £51,697.
Business transformation, responsible for making the council more efficient and saving money, ran up a £36,573 taxi bill.
The council confirmed that 200 people work for the department, including eight managers who accounted for £1,367 of the total bill. The bill for the remaining employees amounts to roughly £180 per employee.
The school effectiveness team spent £36,000 on taxis and hire vehicles, while colleagues in leisure, sport and culture got through £13,000.
Private hire car journeys for cabinet members cost £6,559, while human resources management spent £3,385 on taxis.
Staff development and training courses involved spending £8,180 on taxi fares, and the communications unit’s cab bill was £3,450.
The housing department’s taxi bill was £10,771.
Almost £25,000 was spent by the Lord Mayor’s Parlour, most of it on private hire vehicles.
Birmingham MP Steve McCabe urged the council to “get a grip and stop frittering money away”.
Mr McCabe (Lab Selly Oak) added: “It really is quite extraordinary. This is a council that seems to have no worries about cutting major services, closing down nursery schools for example, but is seems unable to stop wasting money on the fringes.
“Clearly, the first thing the business transformation team needs to do is transform its own costs. And is it really necessary to spend £51,000 on taxis to ferry clerks around the city to attend ward meetings where council officers often outnumber elected members?”
The council insists it only uses taxis when absolutely necessary, but watchdog the TaxPayer’s Alliance described the cost as “astronomical”.
TPA West Midlands spokeswoman Fiona McAvoy urged staff and councillors to cycle, walk or catch a bus whenever possible.
It was unbelievable that so much should be spent on taxi fares at a time when the council was complaining about spending cuts, she said. “All these taxi journeys are bad for both the public purse and the council’s carbon footprint. Considering Birmingham City Council is so keen to preach at us about environmentalism it is surprising they are so shy of using public transport.’’
The travel bill for Birmingham’s 120 city councillors was just under £27,000 in taxi fares, train fares and car mileage. The highest bill, £1,970, was submitted by Labour councillor Carl Rice, followed by £1,718 by Tory cabinet member John Lines.
Coun Rice (Lab Ladywood) said his claims were mainly for car and train travel between his place of work in Walsall and the Council House in Birmingham for meetings.
He added: “This is a consequence of the fact that I am one of the few councillors to have a full time job.
‘‘I have to travel back and forth between Walsall and Birmingham during the week.”
A Birmingham City Council spokesman said: “On occasions when the use of public transport or walking is impractical due to distance, time or disability, it is necessary to hire taxis. The council has corporate contracts with cab firms in the city to ensure the best rates possible are obtained.”