A TOP councillor has hit back at allegations his family were claiming expenses while living in France - saying they were trapped there during lockdown.

Councillor Tom Druitt spoke out after a member of the public claimed “two of the wealthiest councillors" in the city had been claiming an allowance for a live-in nanny for meetings that took place online.

Cllr Druitt, who is married to fellow councillor Alex Phillips, hit back against the suggestion that the councillors in question were not living in the country at the time.

After the meeting of Brighton and Hove's full council last night, he spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service to address the claims.

He said: "There have been a couple of quite ridiculous assertions made during public questions this evening concerning me and my family.

"We went on holiday to France in March 2020, to visit a good friend from Brighton who now lives there.

"It was supposed to be a five-day break, but while we were there, France locked down, and two weeks later, the UK locked down.

"It was both impossible and illegal to make the trip back, and we came home as soon as both countries' rules allowed it and travel between two countries resumed."

During the meeting, resident Laura King asked whether the council takes wealth into consideration when payouts from allowances are made.

She asked if it was appropriate for councillors to claim money for babysitting or au pairs.

Council leader Phelim Mac Cafferty responded that an independent panel makes decisions for allowances for councillors and considers the importance of accessibility of people from all backgrounds and circumstances to work as councillors, including if they are parents.

Councillors applauded as he said: “That’s something which we should be very proud of and do more of, because long should we banish the days of councillors just being old men.”

While Ms King accepted that some parental allowances are appropriate, she went on to ask whether it is appropriate that “two of the wealthiest councillors in our leader’s Green administration are claiming for a live-in nanny during council meetings via Zoom during Covid".

She also asked whether they were resident in France at the time and that, if they were living on the continent, could Cllr Mac Cafferty confirm if travel allowances were also claimed.

However, this question went unanswered with Mayor Alan Robins saying that it was “tipping over the edge into very personal details”.

Before leaving the meeting, Ms King said: “You can only be a councillor if you live in the city, so if these councillors have moved abroad they need to resign.”

Mayor Robins said that proof that a councillor does not live in the city should be directed to the council’s monitoring officer.

While a question from another resident, Andy Maclay, also addressed the same topic, asking the council whether the accepted rule for councillors is that they should live in the area they represent.

Cllr Mac Cafferty responded by saying there are a number of grounds for qualifying for election and to continue to hold office after being elected.

He said: “They are not, however, limited to residents in the local authority area.

“Some of the reasons you can stand for office include being on the electoral register, occupying land or being a tenant, having one’s place of work in the area, or during the 12 months preceding the election residing in the area.

“Although in Brighton and Hove most councillors do live in the authority, across both East and West Sussex counties, it is not necessarily the case that councillors do live in the area of the authority they serve.”

Mr Maclay went on to ask whether the council leader is aware of those in his team that have spent considerably more than half their time over the last 18 months living outside Brighton and Hove, while not naming any councillors in particular.

Cllr Mac Cafferty said: “What we are talking about 18 months ago were people’s circumstances that meant they were perhaps away from the city council area for a period of time.

“The pandemic did things like stop travel. It meant that there were lockdowns not just here, not just in Europe, but all over the world.

“During that period of time, they had caring duties as well. They may have needed to support friends or families elsewhere where restrictions allowed.

“Unexpected circumstances did occur over the past two years, such as people being unable to return for periods of time due to lockdown.”

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