Highland councillors claim £206k to cover expenses including meals, mobiles and mileage
CASH-strapped Highland Council used taxpayers’ money to subsidise more than £200,000 of councillors’ expenses last year.
The figures for 2018-19 show an increase in the total amount paid out in salaries plus expenses compared to the year before.
This came despite five councillors not making any expense claims for the past 12 months.
A total of £1,578,885.54 was paid in salaries plus expenses last year – up from £1,569,565.16 in 2017-18.
This came despite 17 councillors collecting a smaller total in 2018-19 than the year before.
Claims totalling £206,903.54 of expenses were paid out last year – down from £208,699.91 in 2017-18.
The highest amount came from Councillor John Finlayson (Eilean a’ Cheò, Independent) who topped up his £22,277.74 salary with £10,181.12 of expenses. He claimed the most of any councillor for mileage (£8084.70) and conferences (£464.40).
Councillor Biz Campbell (Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh, Independent) made the highest claim for meals, collecting £506.55. This total was down from the £548.45 she claimed for her meals the year before. Her total claims of £7183.55 last year made her the eighth highest overall expenses claimant.
Council leader Margaret Davidson (Aird and Loch Ness, Independent) is the highest paid councillor, collecting £39,654.96. She made the highest claim (£807.98) for telephone, broadband and mobile costs.
Councillor Linda Munro (North, West and Central Sutherland, Lib Dem) was £9.45 shy of Cllr Finlayson’s mileage claim with her receipt for £8075.25. Her total expenses claim of £8643.25 made her the fourth highest overall.
Councillor Margaret Paterson (Dingwall and Seaforth, Independent) had £505.65 reimbursed for “other travel” and topped that category of expenses.
A bill of £2167.60 was the highest for “direct travel” and was submitted by Councillor Muriel Cockburn (Badenoch and Strathspey, SNP).
Councillor Derek MacLeod (Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh, Independent) made the top claim for accommodation with £3951.31. This contributed to a total of £7154.30 which made him the 10th highest expenses claimant.
Councillor Richard Laird (Inverness Central, SNP) put in the highest claim for surgery costs at £56. Councillor Andrew Jarvie (Inverness South, Tories) submitted a top claim of £230.46 for “all other expenses”.
Council convener Bill Lobban (Badenoch and Strathspey, Independent) was sixth overall highest claimant at £7323.22.
The other top 10 expenses claimants were: £9520.98 – Donnie Mackay (Thurso and Northwest Caithness, Tories); £9232.37 – Denis Rixson (Caol and Mallaig, Lib Dem); £7737.98 – Allan Henderson (Caol and Mallaig, Independent); £7286 – Hugh Morrison (North, West and Central Sutherland, Independent); and £7170.78 – Matthew Reiss (Thurso and Northwest Caithness, Independent).
Other notable claimants of expenses were budget leader Alister Mackinnon (Dingwall and Seaforth, Independent) – £4470.53; Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael (Aird and Loch Ness, Independent) – £2437.10, which was less than the £2508.53 she claimed a year earlier; and Nairn Provost Laurie Fraser (Nairn and Cawdor, Independent) – £2563.67.
Deputy council leader Alasdair Christie (Inverness Ness-side, Lib Dem) made zero claims for the ninth year in a row. Others to claim nil were Bill Boyd (Inverness West, SNP), Derek Louden (Tain and Easter Ross, SNP), Niall McLean (Fort William and Ardnamurchan, SNP) and Carolyn Wilson (Cromarty Firth, Independent).
With salaries increasing last year, Cllr Wilson was the only zero claimant to take home less money last year than for the previous 12 months.
Provost Fraser and Cllr Laird were among the councillors whose overall salary plus expenses figure was lower last year than in 2017-18. Others were: Roddy Balfour (Culloden and Ardersier, Independent), Jennifer Barclay (Black Isle, Independent), Michael Finlayson (Cromarty Firth, Independent), John Gordon (Eilean a' Cheò, Independent), Alex Graham (Inverness West, Lib Dem), Jimmy Gray (Inverness Millburn, Labour), Deirdre Mackay (East Sutherland and Edderton, Labour), Donnie Mackay (Thurso and Northwest Caithness, Tories) Bet McAllister (Inverness Central, Labour), James McGillivray (East Sutherland and Edderton, Sutherland Independent Group), Karl Rosie (Thurso and Northwest Caithness, SNP) and Graham Ross (Inverness West, Independent).
The 75-name list of members includes former councillor Kate Stephen, who collected £11,931.37 in salary plus expenses before resigning in September last year.
The total figure of salary plus expenses for 2017-18 included £81,525.91 paid to people who were no longer councillors after the local elections in May 2017.