We all know that a large number of MPs have been caught out claiming expenses for items that are not exactly vital to their duties. Remember moat cleaning? Duck Island? Those movies ordered by Jackie Smith’s husband?
The new system of parliamentary expenses has very much reduced the excesses, and rightly so. Indeed, some MPs now see it as so difficult to get their expenses back that they don’t even make claims any more.
But now it seems that certain local Councillors are getting in on the gravy train and misusing some of the perks of office.
Two stories from my local authority, Glasgow City Council, have hit the press in recent times. Now Glasgow is a council that doesn’t exactly need any more bad publicity following the resignation of its leader amid claims of drug use and cronyism. But a couple of elected members have given the media something else to write about.
First up was Councillor David Meikle, the city’s only Tory councillor. Councillor Meikle, who hopes to join the Scottish Parliament next year, has repeatedly criticised Labour councillors for “extravagant use” of council cars. Pity he doesn’t practice what he preaches.
Cllr Meikle was recently invited to attend an awards ceremony in a city centre hotel. He was not there as an official representative of the Council. But he decided that the event merited the use of an official council car so that he could arrive in style.
According to records signed by the Tory councillor, the car picked up Meikle from his home at 6:30pm before collecting a companion and completing the four mile trip to the Hilton hotel. Although other attendees at the event have stated that it finished at 11pm, Meikle did not leave the hotel until 2:30am.
Council records show that the car, complete with chauffeur of course, was booked out for 10 hours 45 minutes at a cost of £381, which includes time for preparing it and returning it to the council garage and the driver’s overtime.
The leader of the council drove his own car to the event, while at least one senior member of the administration took a train and others travelled by taxis. Had Meikle taken a cab each way the total bill would have been around £20.
Also in the news Is Labour Councillor Irfan Rabbani and the subject is his phone bill.
Councillors are all given a BlackBerry for use in their official duties and they sign a waiver that makes it clear the device is for council business only. The bills for the first quarter of the financial year have now been compiled by Council officials and have also appeared in the press.
The average for 78 of the city’s 79 councillors was £86.64. Cllr Rabbani’s bill came in at £900.15.
And figures from the last financial year show that Cllr Rabbani’s bill was £1,828, much higher than any other member of the Council. The average total per councillor was £424.
Councillor Rabbani admits that many of his calls were of a personal nature and will therefore have to reimburse the Council.
There are just two examples that have made the press from one of Scotland’s 32 local authorities. Would it be a great leap of logic to assume that there will be similar examples to be found elsewhere?
Distrust in our politicians is at a high level, and this public feeling is not restricted to MPs. There must be an onus on all representatives of all political parties to ensure that they do not provide any further ammunition.
Still, perhaps we should take comfort in the fact that these Councillors were found out.