The SNP has called on the two Labour MSPs involved in the ME2 Communications revelations to be “fully open” with any investigation that might follow after it emerged they had paid over £11,000 of taxpayers’ cash into a company set up by a Labour party researcher.
On Sunday, Newsnet Scotland revealed that ME2 Communications, set up by a husband and wife team who also work for the Labour party, received over £11,000 from Labour MSPs John Park and Claire Baker despite appearing to have no premises for printing or any staff.
The firm was set up in late 2007 by Labour’s Scottish Parliament researcher Sarah Glen Metcalfe and her husband James Elliot Metcalfe, who is described as PR Consultant. Shortly after, in March 2008, the firm received over £11,000 in public cash that had been claimed by Labour MSPs John Park and Claire Baker, wife of Labour’s justice spokesman Richard Baker.
The two MSPs have thus far failed to respond to questions posed by Newsnet Scotland. However, speaking to The Courier newspaper Mr Park claimed that one of the documents, a consultation on apprenticeships costing £2533.92, had been “designed and produced” by ME2 Communications.
Party colleague Ms Baker, according to the same newspaper, claimed that ME2 Communications “designed the documents and then sourced and paid other firms to print and distribute them”.
According to the Courier Mr Park said he had an audit trail for the work and the origins of the firm had been reported in the press at the time.
“I still have copies of the documents, and anyone who is interested can see where the money was spent,” he said.
Both denied any wrongdoing and claim everything was above board and had been approved by the Scottish Parliament’s allowances system.
However questions remain over the identity of the firms who carried out the work and what they in fact charged. There is also as yet no indication of the quantities involved.
In 2008 when originally quizzed about these expenses the MSPs apparently claimed that there had been “a thorough sift of suitable candidates”. It will raise questions as to why a company with apparently no printing staff and no premises were chosen to carry out over £11,000 of printing work at the public’s expense.
The SNP have compared the revelations to the Jim Devine case and have called on both Labour MSPs to cooperate with any investigation that may follow.
A spokesman for the SNP said: “This could have very serious implications for the MSPs involved and for Labour. Dodgy accounting and false expense has plagued the Labour Party and this story sounds all too familiar in the aftermath of Jim Devine’s invoices.
“John Park and Claire Baker must be fully open with any investigation that follows these revelations. Dodgy expenses may be no shock to those at Westminster, but at Holyrood we have a much more transparent system, and I hope that there has been no wrongdoing here.”
The Westminster expenses scandal has led to former Labour MPs being convicted of fraud and sent to prison. Former Livingston MP Jim Devine is currently awaiting sentence after being found guilty on two charges of expense fraud. During his trial, Mr Devine claimed he had been told by a senior Labour colleague to get a “friendly printer” to provide false invoices.
In January 2009 Gordon Brown imposed a three-line whip to force a move to block full publication of MPs’ expenses through the Commons. The Commons had been on the brink of publishing receipts for every claim made by an MP after losing a High Court battle in May 2008.
The legal challenge cost £100,000 of taxpayers’ cash and was instigated by Speaker Michael Martin who was also the Labour MP for Springburn. Martin came in for heavy criticism over his decision to fight the case and was forced to resign a year later after The Telegraph newspaper published the leaked expenses of MPs and exposed the extent of expense abuse.
In 2009 ME2 Communications was struck off and dissolved by Companies House after submitting no financial accounts. James Metcalfe subsequently went to work in Gordon Brown’s parliamentary office in Kirkcaldy.