Saturday, December 01, 2007

Kenny MacAskill and that £1 bus ticket claim

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The Scotsman reports on MSPs claims including Kenny MacAskill's £1 bus ticket ride on the Scottish Parliament, errm sorry, the Scottish taxpayer ...

Lothian MSPs rack up £325,000 expenses


MSPs in Edinburgh and the Lothians claimed more than £325,000 in expenses last year as the amount they charged to the public fell.

The bill - which covers office costs, travel, accommodation and other expenses - was nearly 12 per cent down on the previous year.

There were wide variations between the amounts claimed by individual MSPs.

And the detailed list of expenses also revealed some unusual claims.

Former communities minister Rhona Brankin, the Midlothian Labour MSP, claimed £517 in accountancy fees while party colleague Susan Deacon, former MSP for Edinburgh East & Musselburgh, claimed £300 for staff eye tests.

And SNP MSP Kenny MacAskill, now the Justice Minister, put in a claim for his £1 bus ticket to get home from George Street on February 19 this year.

The total bill for all 129 MSPs' allowances in 2006-7, including staff costs, was £10,261,285 - up nearly £500,000 or five per cent from the previous year.

Among Lothians' representatives, Independent MSP Margo MacDonald once again emerged with the lowest expenses claim - just £2383, even less than the previous year.

And she said the fall in MSPs' expenses showed the politicians were learning lessons from the intense scrutiny of their claims.

She said: "People have become much more cautious of how they go about their business and that can only be a good thing.

"There is a greater awareness, which may have been born out of an unwelcome spotlight being shone on some careless use of public funds.

"But whatever the reason, the fact the bill is coming down shows MSPs have not ignored the lessons and are learning from them."

Edinburgh South Liberal Democrat Mike Pringle - whose own bill fell by £876 - said MSPs knew they were being watched much more closely than their MP colleagues.

He said: "They know if they start claiming for a pint of milk or a Mars bar, someone will very quickly be asking about it. We are scrutinised to the nth degree while Westminster seems to get away with blue murder."

More than half the Lothians MSPs recorded lower claims last year than the previous year.

Former East Lothian Labour MSP John Home Robertson claimed more than £3000 less, although his total of nearly £25,000 was still one of the largest.

Former Livingston Labour MSP Bristow Muldoon saw his bill fall by more than £2100 and the SNP's Kenny MacAskill cut his claims by £778.

Others, however, did claim more last year. Scottish Nationalist Fiona Hyslop, now Education Secretary, claimed an extra £2645 and her shadow, Ms Brankin, claimed £2600 more than in the previous year The figures show former SSP leader Colin Fox had the biggest claim of the Lothians politicians - more than £60,000 - but most of that was staff wages, which show up in his claims because SSP MSPs pooled their staff.

Where MSPs employ staff directly, the costs are not included in the table of expenses for data protection reasons. If staff costs are excluded, Mr Fox's expenses come down to £11,666.27.

The Greens used to suffer a similar distortion in the level of their expenses as published by the parliament, but they made other arrangements, resulting in the large reductions in the amounts shown for Robin Harper and Mark Ballard last year.

MSPs broke up yesterday for their two-week autumn recess and will return to Holyrood for business on October 22.

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