Friday, 23 May 2014

Public pays for Labour MSP's meals and drinks

Taxpayers have been forced to fork-out almost £600 to pay for the ‘evening meals’ of Labour MSP Margaret McDougall.

Mrs McDougall, who receives a salary of £58,000, charged her meals to the public purse, meaning hard-pressed taxpayers, including those on the minimum wage, picked up the tab. Astonishingly, the North Ayrshire-based MSP also had the public pay almost £120 for ‘refreshments’ she had with her evening meals.

The shocking figures came to light following an investigation by the3towns.

In addition, questions are now being asked over Mrs McDougall’s use of a ‘second’ office provided to the 3 Labour MSPs elected to represent the West Scotland region at the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election. Normally, regional or ‘List’ MSPs are allowed only one office per region, which means they have to share the facility, irrespective of how many MSPs are elected. This was the rule imposed by the Labour-led administration following the first Scottish Parliament Election in 1999.

However, in certain circumstances regional MSPs can apply to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) to be allowed a second office. All of the MSPs from a particular party in a region must agree such a bid before the SPCB will consider the application. It is also the case that any second office is provided for the use of all of the MSPs making the application.

At the 2011 election, Labour had 3 ‘List’ MSPs elected to represent the West Scotland region – Margaret McDougall, Mary Fee and Neil Bibby. The Labour MSPs’ regional office was established in Paisley. However, in December 2011 McDougall, Fee and Bibby submitted an application to the SPCB to have a second office located in North Ayrshire. In the application it was stated, “Irvine is the most highly populated town in the area and is accessible by good transport links to all smaller towns and villages in North Ayrshire including Arran and Cumbrae.”

The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body agreed to fund a second office, based in Irvine, for the 3 Labour MSPs elected to represent the West Scotland region, but the investigation carried out by the3towns shows that only Margaret McDougall lists the North Ayrshire facility as her ‘constituency office’. Her party colleagues - Mary Fee and Neil Bibby - remain listed as having their ‘constituency office’ in Paisley. Likewise, only Margaret McDougall has a telephone number listed for the Irvine office.

the3towns investigation also revealed that, despite the Labour application for a second office citing the issue of accessibility for ‘constituents’ in North Ayrshire, specifically mentioning the islands of Arran and Cumbrae, Margaret McDougall has made just one visit to each of the islands in the past financial year. Mary Fee and Neil Bibby do not appear to have made any such journeys.

Irvine is the largest town in the Cunninghame South Scottish Parliament constituency, which Labour lost to the SNP’s Margaret Burgess at the 2011 Election. On Margaret McDougall’s website, a ‘news’ story records that the Irvine office for the 3 West Scotland Labour ‘List’ MSPs, funded by the Scottish Parliament, was ‘officially’ opened by Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont MSP. The same ‘news’ item records Margaret McDougall saying, “It is important to me to have an office in North Ayrshire to be more accessible to those who live in the area especially those on the islands.” The Labour MSP then states, “I look forward to leading the Scottish Labour fight back across North Ayrshire and welcome the opportunity to meeting (sic) as many constituents as possible to hear their concerns and their priorities for the future.”

Mrs McDougall’s linking of a publicly-funded Scottish Parliament office with her intention to lead “the Scottish Labour fight back across North Ayrshire”, coupled with the fact that, of the 3 West Scotland Labour MSPs, only she is listed as using the facility, has raised concerns that the purpose of Labour wanting an office in Irvine had more to do with party politics and attempting to win back the Cunninghame South constituency from the SNP than the stated intention on the application to the SPCB - making the MSPs more accessible to ‘constituents’, especially those resident on Arran and Cumbrae.

In 1999, while opposing any ‘constituency’ offices for regional ‘List’ MSPs, Irvine-based Labour MP Brian Donohoe said, “It's a question of whether the taxpayer should fund political offices for MSPs who don't have constituencies. It's absolutely absurd if list MSPs can make a purely political decision about where to establish an office and then cherry-pick issues at public expense.”

Mr Donohoe insisted at the time that if taxpayers' money was allowed to be used to set up what he called “political offices”, then the matter should be investigated, arguing it was “astonishing it's even being considered”.

the3towns has previously revealed that Margaret McDougall, while serving as a Labour councillor on North Ayrshire Council, twice made mileage claims relating to her attendance at armistice parades held to commemorate those who died fighting for their country.

In the last financial year (2013/14), in addition to forcing taxpayers to meet the cost of her evening meals and drinks, Margaret McDougall also charged the public purse £84.55 for the purchase of newspapers. In addition, the Labour MSP also claimed £589.40 to advertise herself in Irvine-based publications.

Mrs McDougall also submitted claims, and was paid, for tea bags (£26.31), sugar (£2.51), coffee (£62.90), kitchen roll (£13.71) and toilet roll (£6.78).

In December 2013 the3towns reported that Margaret McDougall and her Labour colleague Hanzala Malik had been criticised by community activists after voting in a Scottish Parliament committee against an SNP proposal to increase financial support for people affected by the Bedroom Tax.

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