McLeish in £30,000 pay-off scandal

HENRY McLeish went back on a pledge not to accept a £30,000 pay-off from Westminster barely a month after resigning as First Minister, it emerged yesterday.

Mr McLeish decided to take the cash despite an earlier assurance to MSPs that he would not apply for the resettlement grant he was entitled to after standing down as an MP.

In Question Time exchanges with Tory leader David McLetchie, he said: "I put on record that I will not take financial advantage of the situation."

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Members of the Scottish parliament’s standards committee this week rebuked Mr McLeish for his actions, but found that he had not breached the Holyrood code of conduct.

The committee’s full report was published yesterday and contained a letter to Mr McLeish from Caroline Stockton, the Westminster payroll manager, confirming he had applied for the money on 10 December last year. He had resigned on 8 November.

The former First Minister has always remained tight-lipped about the matter, but his statement to the standards committee was also published yesterday.

In it, Mr McLeish said his original comment had been "spontaneous" and that he had not sought to mislead the parliament.

He added: "I responded in my capacity as First Minister and at that time I had no intention to claim the payments available to me on ceasing to be an MP.

"I did not anticipate the situation that I might cease to be First Minister soon afterwards.

"In light of the change in my circumstances, I reviewed these matters and consequently addressed the issue of my entitlement on ceasing to be an MP."

However, Mr McLeish made no reference to claims that he used the cash to help pay back 39,000 in wrongly claimed expenses to the Westminster fees office.

Mr McLeish claimed the expenses to run his constituency office in Glenrothes even though he was sub-letting part of the property to other organisations.

The scandal, dubbed Officegate, eventually led to Mr McLeish’s resignation as First Minister.

The standards committee’s inquiry followed a complaint by the Scottish Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan, who accused Mr McLeish of greed.

He said: "I calculate that Henry McLeish will have got over 1 million from the taxpayer by the time he is 70.

"Meanwhile, one-third of pensioners live in poverty. There is only one word for this and it is greed."

Mr Sheridan added: "This kind of snout-in-the-trough behaviour brings the Scottish parliament into disrepute.

"For the standards committee to find Mr McLeish innocent of breaching the code of conduct makes a mockery of the code itself and further diminishes the credibility of politicians in the eyes of the public."

Mr McLeish is to retire from politics at the election in May. He will step down as the MSP for Central Fife but has not made it clear what he will do then.

His place as the Labour candidate will be taken by Christine May, the Labour leader of Fife Council who became embroiled in the Officegate scandal when it emerged that the council had been one of the organisations which let Mr McLeish’s office.