FOR the first time, the current leader of Bexley Council has spoken exclusively to chief reporter Linda Piper about the scandal which has engulfed former leader Ian Clement.

Councillor Teresa O’Neill, was Mr Clement’s deputy when he left Bexley in May last year to become a deputy mayor with London’s new Mayor, Boris Johnson, a post he was forced to resign on June 22. A police investigation is now underway into his possible misuse of a Greater London Authority (GLA) credit card and moves are already underway to expel him from his local Tory party.

An internal probe is also taking place within Bexley Council into the expenses he claimed on a council credit card, the only one ever issued to a Bexley councillor.

In response to the many questions posed by News Shopper about Mr Clement’s Bexley expenses, Cllr O’Neill said, like most Bexley residents, she was “very disturbed” by the details of his GLA card spending.

As a result, she said: “I instigated an investigation into whether Ian had held a similar card when he was at Bexley, and I was shocked and surprised by its findings.”

Cllr O’Neill said Mr Clement was issued with a Bexley purchasing card in July 2007 when he was council leader and he returned it when he left for his City Hall job in May last year. She added: “Ian was the first, and the only councillor to have a purchasing card. No other councillor was aware of its existence.”

Cllr O’Neill maintained most of Mr Clement’s spending on his Bexley card, was in connection with his position as council leader.

She added: “There were some occasions when Ian made personal use of the card, paying back the money when the statements were received.

“This personal use is not permitted under the terms and conditions that users sign up to when they are issued with a purchasing card.

“Most of Ian’s personal use of the card was in the month before he left for City Hall, meaning the statements were not received and payments made until after he had left Bexley.”

Cllr O’Neill said Bexley had acted quickly to publish the details of his spending, when it was revealed he had a Bexley card.

The council has also launched an internal audit of his card use, and a review of the use of all council cards.

She said: “This work is still underway, but we will make its findings public and act upon any recommendations.”

Adressing Bexley residents, she added: “Like many of you, my colleagues and I are still upset and surprised by Ian’s use of the council puchasing card.

“The shock is even greater for those of my colleagues who had meals with Ian over the last year, none of whom were aware that their meals were being paid for on a GLA credit card.

“I am satisfied that the integrity of those colleagues should not be questioned at all.”

Cllr O’Neill said details of all councillors’ expenses were published on the council’s website.

She added: “You will see from these figures most members, including myself as the current leader of the council, have claimed no expenses in the last year, despite carrying out many duties on behalf of Bexley residents.”

And she promised: “No other councillor has, or has ever had, the use of a council purchasing card. “None will, as long as I am leader of the council.” >