MSPs expenses bill hits record £15.8m as extra staff hired

The amount MSPs can claim to pay staff increased in May last year. PIcture: Andrew Cowan
The amount MSPs can claim to pay staff increased in May last year. PIcture: Andrew Cowan
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The bill for MSPs expenses rose to a record £15.8 million in 2016/17, an increase of more than £3 million on the previous year.

The increase of 23.97 per cent in the amount claimed from the taxpayer was largely due to a change in parliamentary rules which allows MSPs to employ an extra member of staff.

The amount MSPs can claim to pay staff increased from £62,300 in May last year to £85,000 – a change that reflects new rules allowing members to employ three staff, where previously they employed two.

The rule change was introduced by the previous Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick in an anticipation of Holyrood’s new tax and welfare powers increasing MSPs’ workload.

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The Holyrood authorities stressed the increased limit of £85,000 a year that MSPs are allowed to spend on employees is still less than it is for Members of the Welsh Assembly and MPs at Westminster - with the latter allowed to employ up to four people at a cost of £140,000 a year.

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With 50 MSPs not returning to Holyrood after the 2016 election, winding up costs for MSPs’ staff rose from £193,544 in 2015-16 to more than £1.6 million last year.

The salaries, pension and national insurance contributions for MSPs’ staff amounted to more than £12.1 million in 2016-17, an increase from £9.5 million the previous year.

A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “The increase in support staff provision came into effect in May 2016. It reflects the increasing demands being made on MSPs and their staff as the Parliament assumes significant new powers over tax and welfare.

“To be clear, this is funding to enable MSPs to employ up to three full time staff, instead of two, so they can better meet the needs of constituents, scrutinise the Parliament’s new powers effectively and continue to hold the Government to account.”

As in previous years, MSPs with far flung constituencies tended to claim the most with their travel expenses bumping up their bills.

Tavish Scott, the Lib Dem MSP for Shetland, had the highest expenses claim submitting £51,664.70, excluding postage and staff costs. His colleague Liam McArthur, who represents Orkney, also saw travel expenses push his claims, excluding postage and staff costs, up to £42,590.41. Another high claimer was Labour’s Lewis MacDonald, whose expenses bill - excluding staff and postage costs - came in at £41,204. Over the last year the SNP’s John Mason made multiple claims for milk under business meeting expenses.

The ten MSPs with the highest travel and offices expense listed are below. These figures exclude staff cost provision.

1. Tavish Scott (LD), Shetland £51,664.70

2. Liam MacArthur (LD), Orkney £42,590.41

3. Lewis Macdonald (LAB), North East Scotland list, £41,204.18

4. Rhoda Grant (LAB), Highlands and Islands list, £38,004.18

5 Mark McDonald (SNP), Aberdeen Donside, £36,850.40

6. Alasdair Allan (SNP), Na h-Eileanan an Iar, £36,554.39

7 Stuart McMillan (SNP), Greenock and Inverclyde, £35,438.27

8 Kate Forbes (SNP), Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, £35,165.59

9. Michael Russell (SNP), Argyll and Bute, £34,976.94

10. Finlay Carson (CONS), Galloway and West Dumfries, £34,859.65