BOLTON Council has been accused of wasting thousands of pounds in taxpayer money by paying its staff above the Government-approved mileage allowance.

New figures show that the town hall spent £788,000 in mileage allowance payments last year, according to the TaxPayers' Alliance.

However, that number could have been significantly reduced if the council had applied HMRC's suggested rate of 45p per mile, rather than its 52.2p.

The council's rate — which it says is negotiated at a national level — is also higher than the national average of 48.92p and is the joint-second highest in Greater Manchester, after Manchester City Council.

Bolton Conservatives leader, Cllr David Greenhalgh, said: "There is no justification why Bolton Council should be paying considerably more than the national average.

"The Labour leadership can't blame this on the Government, this is their decision.

"I would call on the Labour Group to reduce the mileage allowance payment immediately and add the amount saved to any future savings target."

However, the council says its rate was negotiated with unions nationally and local Unison chiefs have called for assurances that it will not be reduced.

Cllr Akhtar Zaman said: "We have always gone with the national agreement from our unions and we see no reason to change that. The agreement is negotiated nationally and that is what we have followed."

Matt Kilsby, Bolton Unison chairman, said: “The current mileage rates in place with Bolton Council have been in force for a number of years and have not increased.

"Some time ago there was a fundamental review of essential car user status which was carried out jointly with the unions and the council. This significantly reduced the numbers of staff who can now claim essential mileage allowance.

"This was a review which aimed to ensure that those working out in the community are able to claim for essential car mileage rather than senior managers who are primarily office based.

“Effectively hundreds of Bolton Council staff subsidise the local authority every day of the working week, by using their own vehicles for work in all weathers with council staff shouldering the costs of maintenance, repair and insurance.

"Unison would like to see the council trial the use of pool cars for council staff. That could help reduce the burden on staff and help to reduce traffic congestion on our busy roads at peak times. It might not work for everyone but could benefit many staff including those who currently face paying excessive parking charges.”

He added: "If anything, we firmly believe that council workers in Bolton need assurances that mileage rates will be maintained and increased, not reduced.”

Across the country, local authorities made £223 million in mileage allowance payments to their employees in 2016/17.

John O'Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Driving is extremely expensive in Britain thanks to sky-high rates of fuel duty and vehicle excise duty, but there's no excuse for councils to pay more than HMRC's approved rate for mileage.

"It's simply not credible for local authorities to plead poverty and raise council tax while paying over the odds for basic expenses, especially when the government has been telling them to rein in these payments for the past five years.

"Councils must continue to root out wasteful spending like this so that they can deliver tax cuts for hard-pressed residents."

A council spokesman said: “The council employs a large number of people who travel by car as part of their role.

"The amount which the council pays for mileage is in accordance with what is agreed by the National Joint Council, which agrees pay, terms and conditions for local government workers.

"This covers petrol and diesel costs, as well as any maintenance needed on the car due to the mileage travelled.”