The Times October 15, 2005 

Tory in fresh row over taxi trips

By David Lister, Scotland Correspondent

DAVID McLETCHIE, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, was at the centre of a new expenses row yesterday after it emerged that he had billed the taxpayer for a journey to the Tory conference in England.

Holyrood confirmed last night that Mr McLetchie had charged the Scottish Parliament £166.39 for a return flight to Southampton and a train journey to Bournemouth for the Conservatives’ annual gathering on October 7, 2002.

Mr McLetchie, a member of the Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh Pentlands, also claimed for a £90 return taxi journey on November 28, 2002, to Midlem, near Selkirk in the Borders, which is outside his constituency. On neither occasion was he engaged on Scottish parliamentary business.

The latest revelations come days after the Scottish Parliament published the full details of Mr McLetchie’s travel expenses over the past five years. Papers released under the Freedom of Information Act show that Mr McLetchie, who was top of a list of Holyrood politicians’ taxi bills published this year, spent at least £900 between 1999 and 2004 on journeys to the law firm where he worked, and a further £5,000 on taxi journeys that were not explained. In all, he spent more than £11,500 on taxis.

The journeys, all paid for by the taxpayer, included trips to his dentist and the street where his mother lives. He also claimed for a range of other trips in Edinburgh, including to the Playhouse Theatre, the National Gallery and the exclusive New Club.

Mr McLetchie insists that his publicly-funded taxi trips were for legitimate purposes, and has said that coverage of the affair has amounted to a “disgraceful slur” on his character.

A spokesman for the Scottish Parliament said yesterday that Mr McLetchie had now paid back the claims for his journeys to the Conservative Party conference and the trip to Midlem.

The spokesman said: “We can confirm that David McLetchie discovered two errors in claims he had made in the years 2002-03 to 2003-04 respectively. In March 2005 he notified the allowances office of this and repaid the sum of £90 in respect of a return journey to Midlem in the Borders and the sum of £166.39 in relation to a return journey to Bournemouth.”

A Tory spokesman said: “Administrative errors resulted in these invoices being incorrectly settled from David McLetchie’s allowances. When David himself became aware of these errors, he contacted the allowances office and immediately reimbursed the Parliament in full.”

Mr McLetchie’s future looked increasingly uncertain last night after a left-wing lawyer called for the Auditor General to investigate the latest revelations. Mike Dailly, principal solicitor at Govan Law Centre in Glasgow, said that the affair threatened to impugn the good reputation of the Parliament. “I would like that £5,000 accounted for. I don’t think that’s unreasonable . . . it’s incumbent on Mr McLetchie to vouch for the purpose of those journeys and if he can’t do that, he has to pay that money back,” he said.

Expenses claims by MSPs have been the subject of mounting scrutiny over the past few months. Earlier this week the Parliament disclosed that it had deducted £6,000 from the pension of Keith Raffan, the former Liberal Democrat MSP, after an audit into irregularities in his travel expenses claims.