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Housing Allowance Abused by MSPs 2006-11-07

Posted by clype in Money, Scotland.
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‘Holyrood’ managers came under increasing pressure last night to scrap a controversial allowances scheme for MSPs after it emerged that an Executive minister was charging the taxpayer nearly 1 000 GBP/month to cover his costs for a 380 000 GBP house in Edinburgh.

  • MSPs can claim ‘The Edinburgh Housing Allowance’ to cover the mortgages of properties in the capital if they live too far away to commute to Edinburgh. They can also claim back the cost of utility bills and council tax on these properties.

It emerged yesterday that MSP for Shetland — The Transport Minister Tavish Scott,was claiming 979 GBP/month from the taxpayer to cover the costs of a mortgage and other bills on a house in the city’s Morningside area.

The Transport Minister has already made 36 000 GBP on an Edinburgh flat that he bought with the public purse and traded up to the bigger property with the help of the accommodation allowance.

Critics say this is just the latest example of MSPs profiting from the rising housing market with taxpayers’ help and have renewed calls for the system to be changed. The Transport Minister has not broken any rules, and yesterday he stated:

‘I have followed the rules that are set down for all MSPs. I am not going to comment on anything to do with this.’

But a spokesman said The First Minister Mr.Jack Mcconnell remained concerned about the issue and hoped it would be looked at by the parliamentary authorities.

The First Minister has already written to The Presiding Officer Mr.George Reid, expressing his fears that the allowance scheme is becoming discredited. Yesterday, The First Minister’s spokesman said:

‘This is a matter for the parliament, but he believes there is, at best, public confusion and, at worst, public concern about this and he would like the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body to examine the Edinburgh accommodation scheme.’

Mr.Tommy Sheridan, of the breakaway socialist party ‘Solidarity’, yesterday called for the entire scheme to be suspended. He said:

‘I have been campaigning against this scheme for seven years and have warned that the more the public see members profiting from it, the more the parliament will be brought into disrepute. Tomorrow I will be putting down a parliamentary motion calling for an urgent review of the scheme.

‘We have an election coming up — will [members] want to be seen to be upholding a scheme which can make them thousands of pounds’ profit at the taxpayers’ expense?’

The revelations about The Transport Minister’s claims follow disclosures last week that, under the scheme, New Labour MSP Mr.John Home Robertson is billing the public 7000 GBP/year to stay in his son’s flat.

A spokesman for The Scottish Parliament said:

‘The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body recognises there are issues relating to the operation of the Edinburgh Accommodation Allowance that need to be considered and reviewed.’

CONTROVERSIAL CLAIMS

‘The Edinburgh Accommodation Allowance’ allows MSPs who live at least an hour’s commute from the capital to claim back the costs of staying in Edinburgh on parliamentary business.

They can claim back-rent, mortgage payments or hotel costs. They can also claim back the council tax, utility bills and television licence charges for these properties. Payments for the mortgage element are capped at about 11 000 GBP/year and most do not claim the full amount.

The scheme has proved controversial because it has allowed MSPs to buy second homes in Edinburgh using taxpayers’ money to pay the mortgages, and then to sell these properties some years later, pocketing the profit.

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