Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Scottish Parliament : Christine Grahame’s £26k stationery expenses claim on 'consultations'

Life is fine despite the global credit crunch, if you are a member of the Scottish Parliament, as we found out this week with the publication of stationery claims, showing among others, the Scottish National Party’s Christine Grahame claimed some £26,465 in stationery expenses.

‘Ms’ Grahame put her huge expenses claim for stationery alone, down to consultations on Post Office closures and television services in the Borders. (how many sheep does it take to install a TV mast ? – Ed)

The Edinburgh News reports :

Holyrood bosses stamp down on stationery and mail costs

Published Date: 20 April 2009

HIGH-SPENDING MSPs have been ordered to slash the amount they claim for stationery and postage after taxpayers were left to foot bills of almost £500,000.

Scottish Parliament bosses have written to MSPs announcing a limit of £5500 a year on mail costs in a bid to curb claims, some of which ran to more than £26,000.

But one Holyrood insider said the attempt to keep spending under control could lead to even bigger bills if everyone decided to spend the maximum allowed.

Up until now, MSPs could use as much stationery and postage as they felt they needed and the cost was met out of central funds rather than their individual allowances.

But members sending out surveys and circulating newsletters to all constituents saw costs soar – particularly in election years.

In 2006-7, which included the run-up to the last Holyrood election, 12 MSPs made five-figure claims for stationery and postage. SNP South of Scotland MSP Christine Grahame had the biggest bill at £26,465. She was trying to win Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale from Liberal Democrat Jeremy Purvis, who spent £14,045.

Other big claimers included Edinburgh South Lib Dem MSP Mike Pringle (£11,360) and Bristow Muldoon, former Labour MSP for Livingston, at £10,968.

The total bill for MSPs' stationery and postage in 2006-7 came to £477,672. The following year it fell to £363,742, but three members still claimed more than £10,000. Tory MSP John Lamont claimed most at £19,410, while Ms Grahame claimed £15,881 and Labour's David Whitton £10,233.

The spending cap took effect at the beginning of this month.

One parliament source said: "In the early days, the view was that what an MSP has to do, an MSP has to do, and there was no logic to setting an upper limit.

"But some individuals have taken advantage of that and now it has been decided a limit is needed. The figure agreed is well above the average, but well below the maximum."

Another insider warned: "The trouble with setting a limit is people will spend up to it."

If every MSP claimed the maximum £5500, the total cost to the taxpayer would be £709,500.

Ms Grahame defended her high spending, which was due to consultations on post office and TV services in the Borders, and criticised the new cap.

She said: "If I have a serious issue and I want to put political pressure on the Government in Edinburgh or London, it's important I can carry out a proper consultation.

"I would rather spend the money on that than a second home or home entertainment like the Home Secretary."

Mr Pringle said mailing constituents was the only effective way of contacting them, but it was expensive.

He added: "It depends on what issues you have to deal with whether you spend more one year than the next."

A parliament spokesman said: "We have placed an annual limit on the provision to make it equitable to all members while, at the same time, putting in place accountability arrangements for the use of public money."

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