I SPENT a good part of last week up to my elbows in expenses forms.

They showed the claims for travel and subsistence made by every councillor and senior officer of Kirklees for the last three years.

Four highlighter pens were called into service as I tried to whip dozens of pages of information into some kind of shape.

I hope you have seen the result of my labours, the story on Monday which showed that the 69 Kirklees councillors have claimed more than £40,000 of expenses since April 2008.

It may have been my name on the piece, but the real credit for the article belongs to two other men: Tony Blair who introduced the Freedom of Information Act (even though he now says he regrets it) and Trevor Woolley, of Linthwaite, who used the act to extract the information from Kirklees.

The data he was given was page after page of monthly claims by councillors and officers for travel, hotel stays and food at party conferences, away days and awards ceremonies.

At this stage m’learned friends would urge me to make clear that all this is within the rules, that nothing was paid out which shouldn’t have been paid out.

And, in fairness, I should also note that none of the claims was for a huge amount of money. I searched in vain for details of trips to a waste disposal conference in Tahiti or a seminar on parking enforcement in the Bahamas. But there was nothing that juicy.

However, there were endless claims for away days, award ceremonies, training seminars and party conferences. Which begs the question: should the taxpayer have been forced to fork out for all these events?

I accept that councillors need time and space to meet as political groups to discuss their options, to go in for a bit of blue-sky thinking or whatever the latest buzzword is. But I don’t agree that these sessions have to be away days in hotels with paid facilitators.

If councillors need to meet as political groups there are any number of meeting rooms in council buildings across Kirklees which could be made available to them free of charge.

I also fail to see why the taxpayer should fork out for councillors to go to their party conferences.

I accept that some valuable networking and training may get done at these events, in between the plotting and the drinking. But I don’t see why we should pay for councillors to attend what are, by their very nature, nakedly party political events.

But perhaps the most interesting of all the claims I waded through last week were those of the chief executive, as outlined in a separate piece in yesterday’s paper.

You can almost track the decline of the wider economy by looking at the expenses claims of Kirklees’ top director.

Back in 2007 and 2008, when all was still peachy with the public finances, head honcho Rob Vincent was claiming for train journeys, parking at railway stations, food bought on trains and the occasional hotel room. Again, this was all above board.

But as the recession bit in 2009, Mr Vincent’s expenses declined in both scale and scope. By the early months of last year, he was only claiming for rail tickets.

Presumably he was still parking at the station and still buying food on the train when he went on these journeys. But he appears to have taken these incidental costs on the chin.

Mid-way through last year Mr Vincent rode off into the sunset – well, to Doncaster at least – and finance director Adrian Lythgo stepped up to the big seat.

The new man has been even thriftier than his predecessor, refusing to claim for any journey within Yorkshire and only asking for money back when he has to travel to London.

When I spoke to Mr Lythgo about this a few days ago he mentioned the current financial squeeze as one of the reasons he was showing restraint.

And you can see his point. With more than 1,000 jobs to go at Kirklees because of the spending cuts, this is no time for the guy at the top to be maxing out his expenses.

The cynic in me would point out that the savings made from a few unclaimed train journeys to Leeds are minimal compared with the millions which Kirklees has to slash from its budget.

But that shouldn’t detract from the fact that Mr Lythgo clearly gets it: Maximising your expenses looks bad. And it looks even worse when so many of your staff are living in fear of the P45.

It is ironic that the chief executive, an unelected bureaucrat, seems more in tune with the people than the elected councillors of Kirklees.