Tuesday, 19 April 2016

No expense spared by Borders Tory MSP!


Featuring a story you're unlikely to read in tomorrow's Scottish Daily Mail


John Lamont, the Tory hopeful in Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire constituency claimed more in members' expenses than Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale put together during the first nine months of the 2015/16 financial year.

A trawl through the Scottish Parliament's financial records shows most of the Conservatives elected in 2011 - many of them as list rather than constituency MSPs - are among the highest claimers of expenses across the political spectrum.

Whether they represent value for money is entirely a separate issue for debate.

The statistics covering the period April 1st to December 31st 2015 show Mr. Lamont handed in 369 separate claims (that's more than one per day) totalling £23,234.11. These included £10,427 for office costs and £5,900 for travel expenses.

A random sample of 33 members who served mainland seats and are representative of all political parties at Holyrood failed to produce a higher figure than Mr. Lamont's. And it was usually his Tory colleagues who featured near the top of the expenses league.

Two other members of the Conservative group, Alex Fergusson (Galloway & West Dumfries) and John Scott (Ayr) claimed £19,519 and £18,485 respectively.

Turning to the list MPs, the Tories again appear to have raked in more than most with Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland & Fife) on £18,756; Jackson Carlaw (West Scotland) at £14,386; Alex Johnstone (North-east Scotland) £17,143 and Mary Scanlan (Highlands & Islands) £16,608.

Mr. Lamont's latest claims appear to be the continuation of a trend. In the past political opponents have dubbed him 'the most expensive' MSP in the Parliament following annual sums claimed of £30,385 in 2012/13, £33,676 in 2013/14 and £27,631 in 2014/15.

His out-of-pocket expenditure for 2015/16 (so far) leaves Sturgeon, Davidson and Dugdale trailing in his wake. The leaders' respective claims under the heading Member's expenses are a modest £9,712 for the former First Minister, £8,559 for Ms. Davidson and a totally paltry £2,064 for the Labour leader in Scotland. The combined spending of the three ladies comes to £20,355, well short of Mr. Lamont's achievements.

If that comparison appears unfair, how does his spending stack up against that of other Borders politicians from other parties?

Paul Wheelhouse, Mr. Lamont's SNP opponent at the May elections was a list member for the South of Scotland last time round. Like his Tory adversary, Mr.Wheelhouse has an office in Hawick.

The figures show Paul Wheelhouse submitted 107 claims totalling £8,674between April and December last year. Office costs came to £3,878 and travel swallowed up just £210, a fraction of Mr. Lamont's hefty £5,900. Yet the two men live a few miles apart in Coldstream (Lamont) and Ayton (Wheelhouse).

Meanwhile in neighbouring Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale SNP MSP Christine Grahame, who is seeking re-election, submitted 122 itemised claims worth £12,196. Her office costs were £8,112 with travel claims amounting to £1,386.

The conclusion is that having Mr. Lamont as an MSP has cost more in expenses than Ms. Grahame and Mr. Wheelhouse combined. It will be up to the voters to decide which 'models' have produced value for money in the past and which ones might cost more to run in the future.

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