Sunday, September 23, 2007

Accusations of nepotism as Scottish Parliament MSPs revealed to be giving jobs to family members

Another scandal over at the Scottish Parliament, as the Sunday Herald reveals the old ways die hard as MSPs give their family members all the jobs.

Surely an inquiry into crooked politicians would be called for, but who will run it ? Hopefully not the same politicians who are seemingly flouting the expectations of the public yet again ...

The Sunday Herald reports :

Revealed: MSPs who put family on the payroll

By Paul Hutcheon

ALMOST 50 MSPs have given parliamentary jobs to members of their immediate family, a Sunday Herald investigation has revealed. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of public cash have been taken out of the Holyrood expenses scheme to put MSPs' spouses, children and in-laws on the state-funded payroll.

Some have employed two relatives at the same time in what critics describe as a scam to "top up the incomes of their nearest and dearest".

The revelation comes as MSPs demand larger chunks of public money for staff. An independent review is currently examining the parliament's allowances scheme, an inquiry that has prompted members to call for their staffing budget to be increased.

However, Holyrood staff registers show an injection of public funds will have the effect of boosting the family income of a large number of MSPs: 47 of whom have hired a relative since 1999.

Of those elected on May, 18 are currently employing a family member, including seven new members of the Scottish parliament.

Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Tolson has hired his wife Alison, while his colleague, Orkney member Liam McArthur, has also given a job to his spouse, Tamsin Bailey.

The SNP's Angela Constance, MSP for Livingston, employs her mother-in-law, Mary, on a part-time basis and employed her sister-in-law, Heather, temporarily.

Similarly, James Kelly, member for Glasgow Rutherglen, employs his wife Alexa, while colleague Willie Coffey has found space in his office for wife Helen.

Holyrood's youngest MSP, 27-year-old Nationalist Aileen Campbell, is registered as having hired her mum, Ann.

Meanwhile, several members of the new SNP government have given plum parliamentary jobs to relatives.

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon, who used to employ her sister Gillian, currently has her mother Joan working for her, while communities minister Stewart Maxwell has hired his wife Mary, according to the register.

Brian Adam, the SNP chief whip who used to employ his son David, is now registered as having found work for another of his sons, 21-year-old Alan, while Labour whip Michael McMahon employs his daughter Siobhan and wife Margaret.

Further examination of the current staff register shows a battery of other MSPs hiring spouses, siblings and children. Helen Eadie, the Labour member for Dunfermline East, employs her husband Bob, while colleague Elaine Murray has her spouse Jeffrey on the payroll.

Sandra White, Nationalist MSP for Glasgow, used to employ her daughter Jennifer, and now has her son Christopher working for her. Fellow SNP member Christine Grahame employs her brother Tony, while Labour MSP Marlyn Glen is registered as having found work for her son Alasdair.

MSPs Andy Kerr, John Farquhar Munro and Hugh Henry have all employed their wives in the past, while ex-members Nora Radcliffe and George Lyon reportedly hired their daughters.

LibDem MSP Jamie Stone, an enthusiastic user of the allowances scheme, has employed two relatives, one of whom was his daughter. The Sunday Herald also understands that few, if any, of the jobs awarded to relatives were advertised or offered to a wider group of people. None of the MSPs contacted by the paper revealed how much they were paying their relatives.

In addition, several MSPs are employing the family members of party colleagues, such as Labour MSP Rhona Brankin, who has the wife of former MSP Bristow Muldoon working for her.

Finance secretary John Swinney has employed the son of SNP president Ian Hudghton, while former first minister Jack McConnell used to employ Christina Marshall, the daughter of a Labour MP.

The issue is controversial because the allowances review is being used by MSPs - including some named here - to demand extra cash for staff. Christine Grahame said she wanted an "independent appraisal of existing and proposed staff for placement on that structured pay scale". Jim Tolson said in his allowances submission that his £50,000 annual staffing bill was not generous enough.

Other MSPs who have complained about wages for staff include Labour's Trish Godman and George Foulkes, the latter of whom said the system was "paradoxical and unfair".

MSPs have also suggested other ways in which their allowances budget could be topped up with extra public cash. Labour member Jackie Baillie has floated the suggestion of a special communications budget, with which MSPs could update constituents about their activities. Her colleague Karen Whitefield believes additional allowances for fridges, heaters and fire extinguishers should be made available to MSPs.

One MSP, who did not want to be named, said: "I think employing relatives can be justified on the grounds that MSPs need to be able to trust the people they work with. It's also the case that MSPs hire family members because no-one else will work for such low pay."

The Campaign Director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, Blair Gibbs, said: "If employing family members is not against the parliamentary rules, it should be. They may be performing a valid role, but MSPs are nonetheless using taxpayers' money to top up the incomes and no doubt pensions of their nearest and dearest. If politicians can't see how bad this looks, it only proves how out of touch they've become."

A Scottish parliament spokeswoman said: "Members employ staff to support their work, which is paid for through the Members Support Allowance. Members are responsible for who they recruit to provide this support.

"The Members Support Allowance is part of the Allowances Review currently being undertaken by the review panel, which is expected to report no later than March 2008."

Margo MacDonald, the Lothians MSP, defended the practice of MSPs employing their spouses. "There are a number of husband and wife partnerships at Holyrood and Westminster, and I wouldn't condemn it," she said.

"It keeps a marriage secure in a profession that is notorious for causing marriage break-ups. It could also be said to save taxpayers money."

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