COUNCILLORS expenses in North Lanarkshire have dropped by £6,400 on the last year despite them now having to claim for the use of local authority vehicles.
Previously elected members were given gratis use of the two council cars, but now in an attempt to make the process more transparent the Scottish Government insists that usage has to be tightly monitored.
To do this, after each journey the councillor is ‘billed’ a nominal amount which they put on their expenses, but no money actually changes hands.
The four most frequent users are the expected provost Tom Curley, leader Jim McCabe and their two deputies Jim Robertson and Jim Smith who claimed £12,663 of the £14,385 total.
Many councillors never used the cars over the year, but of those who did the lowest claim was Wishaw councillor Clare Adamson’s of £1.
Councillor Adamson’s only usage came when depute leader Jim Smith offered her a lift back from an International Children’s Games meeting in Hamilton, but she is happy councillor expenses are under such scrutiny.
She said: “I’m quite sure a claim of £1 looked a little strange and some people probably think I’d just taken a quick hurl round the car park.
“However, I am quite happy for every pound to be looked at in this way as we have to be as transparent as possible.”
In total expenses dropped from £193,045 to £186,553 ranging from Councillor McCabe claiming £8,100, the majority of which was the new council cars recharge, all the way to Motherwell South East and Ravenscraig councillor Alan Valentine on £44 as he refuses to claim mileage for carrying out his council duties.
Councillor McCabe said: “We have been doing a number of things to ensure so unnecessary expenses are incurred.
“For instance with the exception of the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) we don’t attend conferences.
“I am invited to speak at many, but if everyone else is taking a hit so should the councillors, and even when I do have to go through to the likes of Edinburgh for a meeting that starts at 8am whereas in the past I’d maybe have got accommodation the previous night, now I just get up earlier.
“In a similar vein we used to send new councillors down to a ‘planning school’ in Exeter, which was excellent, but now they just have to learn from their own experiences or talking to more experienced councillors like myself as we can’t afford it any more.”
In South Lanarkshire only provost Russell Clearie and leader Eddie McAvoy made use of the council car claiming £16,101, with only £1,079 being attributed to the latter.
Due to the council car recharge Provost Clearie made the largest expense claim of £17,585, while in complete contrast Clydesdale South councillor Danny Meikle claimed absolutely nothing.
Councillor Meikle said: “When I am out doing council work I try and ensure that I have some personal business to go along with it so that the expenses are just charged to my business account rather than to the council.
“I also don’t hold surgeries, I just make house visits and I don’t like carrying two mobiles so I haven’t charged the council for one of those either.
“Even going back to the days of the old Clydesdale council when I did claim expenses I never accepted the money and always insisted it went to charity.
“I just think it is a good policy not to exploit the public purse.”
While ever other councillor in South Lanarkshire made some sort of claim, it seems many of his colleagues have taken Councillor Meikle’s advice as this year’s total dropped by an incredible £41,529 from £137,523 to £95,994.
Council leader Eddie McAvoy said: “We decided to cut back on the number of conferences and dinners we attended as it was felt that due to the amount of savings we were making elsewhere that some had to come from the member services and that has made a real difference.
“We also got rid of one of the council cars so now only have one car and one driver, which 99 per cent of the time is with the provost as I tend to just take my own car places, but even then don’t usually bother to claim the mileage back.”