Expense claims of all MSPs available via the internet

Editorial from the Evening News: "As the cost of local and national government continues to spiral there is a need for greater scrutiny and more public accountability over the vast sums being spent. That process moves a step closer today, when for the first time members of the public can directly access the expense claims of all 129 MSPs via the internet. It is a logical progression from the annual publication of raw statistics and will doubtless reduce the inconvenience of submitting, and dealing with, requests for details of claims through the Freedom of Information Act.

It is hard to blame the public for being sceptical that many of those they elect are milking the system to the full. MSPs claimed £9.5 million in expenses in 2004 and matters have not been helped by financial difficulties which have rocked the fledgling parliament. First there was Henry McLeish's "muddle" over office lets which led to his resignation. David McLetchie was forced to step down as leader of the Scottish Conservatives after claiming £11,500 in taxi expenses over six years, some of which had nothing to do with parliamentary business. Perhaps worst of all was Lib Dem MSP Keith Raffan, who quit Holyrood after claiming over £40,000 in travel expenses which included mileage claims when he was out of the country. Mud sticks, and the public can be forgiven for not allowing MSPs to rid themselves of it so easily.

Even legitimate claims have attracted criticism. The SNP's Alex Salmond claimed £8500 in minicab fares from his Linlithgow home to Holyrood in the two years he served as an MSP. As with all elected members he is entitled to claim commuting expenses to Edinburgh but it raised eyebrows as his home is on a main rail link, and a mere 20 minutes from the city centre.

Put in perspective, the accusations that seven city councillors had between them claimed £3500 for taxi trips to which they may not have been entitled are indeed small beer. A report out today says that council leader Donald Anderson's claims for 167 journeys at a cost of £1500 were justified on the grounds that if he had use of a civic car, as are many council leaders, the cost to the public purse would have been far greater.

The report generally dismisses any wrongdoing but as a safeguard all councillors are to be sent letters reminding them of the procedures for taxi use and officials will monitor individual members making unexpectedly high claims. What a pity Westminster politicians have yet to be subjected to the same level of scrutiny."

Need for greater scrutiny over the sums being spent (Evening News, 8 June 2006)