MSP pays £2,800 over 'error' on leaflet printing
A LEADING Lib Dem has handed back thousands of pounds after he billed the taxpayer for printing and delivering 35,000 glossy newsletters to voters without revealing he had used public money.
Mike Pringle, who is running for re-election as an Edinburgh MSP, agreed to repay the 2,830.65 after he broke Holyrood rules with his annual report to constituents.
Mr Pringle told The Scotsman that he agreed to repay the cash from his "own back pocket" after he made an "expensive mistake" by failing to state on the leaflet that it had been paid for using parliamentary resources.
The Lib Dem agreed to repay the money after the Scottish Parliament's head of allowances quizzed him about the matter following a complaint by Edinburgh resident Peng Lee Yap, a Labour Party member.
Mr Pringle was a member of the Scottish Parliament's corporate body, which agreed a ban on members issuing taxpayer-funded publications covering their activities over the past four years.
The aim was to stop those seeking re-election from using their normal annual reports to constituents, paid for by the parliament, as election propaganda.
Under parliamentary rules MSPs are now restricted to using the annual report on "parliamentary and local issues" they have been involved during the year.
Meanwhile, Mr Pringle's report, sent to the 35,000 voters on the electoral roll in the Edinburgh South constituency, had included the slogan "standing up for you at parliament" as well as a bar chart showing the support for the different parties at the 2007 election.
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In the annual report, entitled "Mike Pringle Reports Back - Spring 2011 Edition", he boasts of his work on issues ranging from education to post offices to the environment, with specific campaigns itemised against different years.
It also includes a full-page headed "An eight-year record of action" which lists campaigns he has been involved in over the last two terms of the Scottish Parliament.
But Mr Pringle denied the annual report was promoting him as a Lib Dem and said there was "no party logo" on the leaflet.
He said: "They didn't ask me to repay the money. A complaint was made about the leaflet to the parliament.
"They looked at the leaflet and when they realised the part about the leaflet being paid for out of parliament resources wasn't on it, they discussed this with me.
"I volunteered to repay the money as soon as I realised the mistake.
"It was for the cost of printing and distributing. But if the leaflets don't say it was paid for by parliamentary resources then parliament can't pay for them."The head of allowances said that it was up to me and that I could go through the process, but I wasn't asked to pay it back. I volunteered to repay the money."
However, Mr Pringle admitted that he "would probably have been asked to pay it back" anyway.
He said: "This was an expensive mistake. It came from my back pocket.
"This was not a political report and there was no party logo on it."
A Scottish Parliament spokesman confirmed that Mr Pringle had repaid the cash to the public purse.
He said: "Mike Pringle repaid 2830.65 in respect of a newsletter he had issued.
"Officials spoke to Mr Pringle in person to raise the issue. Mr Pringle volunteered to repay the cost as soon as the matter was brought to his attention, and has now done so."
Paul Godzik, Labour's candidate opposing Mr Pringle, claimed that Mr Pringle's rule-breaking was an "abuse of public money".
He said: "Attempting to misuse parliamentary resources on this scale is an abuse of public money but shows how desperate the Lib Dems are now.
"The public are rightly furious at how some politicians abused their parliamentary expenses but the Scottish Parliament is meant to have much stricter rules to stop this happening."
In his complaint to the presiding officer, Mr Yap had said: "This raises great ambiguity on whether this latest leaflet is a party political or parliamentary communication.
"I would therefore be grateful if you could confirm if this leaflet has, or has not, been paid for out of Scottish Parliament funds."
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