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Highland councillors claim £182,000 to cover expenses

By Andrew Dixon

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Highland Council used taxpayers’ money to subsidise more than £180,000 of councillors’ expenses last year.

The figures for 2019/20 show an increase in the total amount paid out in salaries plus expenses compared to the year before.

It came despite six councillors not making any expense claims for the past 12 months.

A total of £1,591,343.19 was paid in salaries plus expenses last year – up from £1,578,885.54 in 2018/19.

There were 24 councillors who collected a smaller total in 2019/20 than the year before.

Claims totalling £182,784.09 of expenses were paid out last year – down from £206,903.54 in 2018/19.

The highest amount came from Councillor John Finlayson (Eilean a’ Cheò, independent) who has a salary of £26,292. He had £10,980.97 of expenses – a larger total than he claimed last year when his salary was lower. He claimed the most of any councillors for mileage (£8334.45).

Councillor Biz Campbell (Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh, independent) made the highest claim for meals, collecting £784.31 – up by more than 50 per cent from £506.55 for the year before. Her total claims of £8816.46 last year made her the second highest overall expenses claimant and more than £1600 higher than in 2018/19.

Council leader Margaret Davidson (Aird and Loch Ness, independent) is the highest-paid councillor, collecting £40,764.96, and claimed £5285.43 of expenses.

Budget leader Alister Mackinnon (Dingwall and Seaforth, independent) had £434.09 reimbursed for “other travel” and topped that category of expenses.

A bill of £1324.71 was the highest for “direct travel” and was submitted by Councillor Jimmy Gray (Inverness Millburn, Labour).

Councillor Andrew Sinclair (Wick and East Caithness, Conservative) made the top claim for accommodation with £3553.16.

Receipts of £712.27 from Councillor Ian Cockburn (Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh, SNP) were the highest in the telephone and mobile section.

Council convener Bill Lobban (Badenoch and Strathspey, independent) was seventh overall highest claimant at £7015.26.

The other top 10 expenses claimants were: £8331.96 – Denis Rixson (Caol and Mallaig, Lib Dem); £7903.66 – Matthew Reiss (Thurso and Northwest Caithness, independent); £7872.14 – Donnie Mackay (Thurso and Northwest Caithness, Conservative); £7103.94 – Allan Henderson (Caol and Mallaig, independent); £6826.80 – Hugh Morrison (North, West and Central Sutherland, independent); £5946.91 – Linda Munro (North, West and Central Sutherland, Lib Dem); and £5924.54 – Struan Mackie (Thurso and Northwest Caithness, Conservative).

Other notable claimants of expenses were Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael (Aird and Loch Ness, independent) – £2359.38, which was less than the £2437.10 she claimed a year earlier; and Nairn provost Laurie Fraser (Nairn and Cawdor, independent) who dropped from £2563.67 in 2018/19 to £436.97.

Depute council leader Alasdair Christie (Inverness Ness-side, Lib Dem) made zero claims for the 10th year in a row. Others to claim nil were Bill Boyd (Inverness West, SNP), Derek Louden (Tain and Easter Ross, SNP), Ron MacWilliam (Inverness Ness-side, SNP), Niall McLean (Fort William and Ardnamurchan, SNP) and Carolyn Wilson (Cromarty Firth, independent).

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