Councillors’ allowances and expenses cost the public purse almost half a million pounds in the last year, according to official figures released this week.
The bulk of the £468,593 spend was accounted for by the 22 councillors’ £15,838 annual allowance, coming to a total of £348,437, along with a further £31,564 on additional allowances for the convener and vice-convenor roles and for chairs and vice-chairs of the various different council committees.
Sandy Cluness gets an additional £10,560 as convener, while vice-convener Josie Simpson receives £3,961 and Allan Wishart, as ZetTrans chairman, receives £3,713.
At a time when public attention is closely focused on politicians’ expenses, Mr Simpson – who has to travel to Europe to attend meetings from time to time – is the highest claimant, the bulk of his £15,478 going on travel expenses.
In second place is Florence Grains, who claimed £12,693 in “fares and other authorised payments” as she continued to takes taxis to and from her home in South Whiteness to attend meetings, which has led to public criticism in the past. She insists that, as she doesn’t drive and lives around a mile from the nearest bus stop, she has no alternative but to call a cab.
Councillor Robert Henderson, who lives in Cullivoe, claimed by far the highest amount for private vehicle use with £5,743, more than double the claim submitted by his fellow North Isles member Laura Baisley, who claimed £2,679 for using her own car.
At the other end of the scale, Shetland North councillor Bill Manson claimed just £4.56 in subsistence allowances – though he said there may have been some form of administrative error because he had travelled out of Shetland on council business twice last year. Although he lives in Sullom, having previously owned a shop in Lerwick he said he simply hasn’t “got into the habit of writing out expenses vouchers” to claim mileage.
The highest expenses claimant among the eight town councillors was the SIC’s European spokesman Gussie Angus with £9,298, followed by Lerwick North member Allan Wishart on £4,133. The lowest Lerwick claim was that of councillor Jonathan Wills, who recouped only £71 over the year.
Of the three Shetland South councillors, Jim Budge proved to be the most frugal with an expenses claim of only £1,446, compared to Allison Duncan’s £3,463 and regular traveller Rick Nickerson’s £4,974.
Among the Shetland Central bunch, meanwhile, Iris Hawkins totted up £4,755, comfortably ahead of Betty Fullerton’s £1,536 and the £1,335 claimed by Andrew Hughson.