COUNCILS have been accused of wasting millions of pounds by paying staff above the recommended vehicle mileage rates.

New research has revealed some local authorities are paying employees more than the 45p per mile rate for the first 10,000 miles set by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The figures, published by The TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) pressure group, show that nationally local authorities paid out £223m in mileage allowance to staff in 2016/17.

The average payment per mile was 48.9p, nearly 4p above the rate approved by HMRC.

Councils in County Durham, Teesside and North Yorkshire paid out a total of £10.8m in 2016/17 – down from the £11.4m paid out in 2015/16.

The two authorities covering the biggest geographical areas, North Yorkshire and Durham county councils had the largest individual bills in the region, at £4.2m and £3.3m respectively for 2016/17.

On mileage rates, Middlesbrough Council paid employees 52.2p per mile in 2015/16, increasing to 60p per mile in 2016/17. This added more than £100,000 to its mileage bill in one year.

Darlington and Hartlepool Borough Councils both paid staff 52.2p per mile in 2015/16 and 2016/17, more than 7p over the HMRC recommendation.

TPA chief executive, John O'Connell, said there was “no excuse” for councils to pay more than HMRC's approved rate for mileage.

He said: "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 spokesman for Middlesbrough Council said the almost 8p increase was “cost neutral.”

“Prior to July 2016 Middlesbrough Council paid two rates of mileage, one for casual car users which was set at the rate quoted and a second for essential car users which was set below the rate suggested by HMRC, but which was supplemented by an annual lump sum to make up the difference,” he said.

“In July 2016, in agreement with trade unions, this was standardised for all car users at 60 pence per mile with the lump sum removed. The change was cost neutral to the council and also removed unnecessary administrative burdens.”

A Darlington Borough Council spokesman said its rates were in line with National Joint Council rates.

He said: “Mileage is paid at 46.9p per mile for vehicles with an engine size smaller than 1000cc and 52.2p per mile for 1000cc and above.

“These figures are in line with the National Joint Council rates, which have been negotiated and agreed upon nationally.”

Durham County Council reduced its mileage rate for staff from 48p per mile in 2015/16 to 45p per mile in 2016/17, lowering its total bill by more than £500,000.

Some local authorities have been found to pay less than the recommended rate of 45p.

North Yorkshire paid staff 42p per mile for 2015/16 and 2016/17 and Redcar and Cleveland paid staff 40p for both financial years.

Hambleton, Richmondshire and York all paid staff in line with HMRC’s 45p recommendation and Stockton-on-Tees paid out 46.9p per mile for both financial years.