By Derek Lambie
LABOUR’S Shadow Cabinet has been accused of wasting almost £1.4million of taxpayers’ money on “frivolous” political fishing exercises during their four years in Holyrood opposition.
The team of 23 MSPs, which harbours ambitions of replacing Alex Salmond’s current administration, bogged down civil servants by tabling an incredible 14,017 parliamentary questions since 2007.
One senior shadow minister, Jackie Baillie – who would be in line for the Health Secretary portfolio – accounted for more than £205,000 singlehandedly with a series of written requests for information.
It is estimated the cost to the public purse from her 2,081 questions – which included asking how many babies were born in one hospital between 9am and 5pm over three years – could have paid for eight NHS nurses.
Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Baker, a Labour list candidate for North East Scotland, submitted the second-highest number of written questions with 1,327, while Richard Simpson, the party’s public health spokesman, was close behind with 1,320 over the past four years.
With Holyrood estimating each query costs £98.51 in civil service man hours to answer, the taxpayer bill for the two MSPs was £260,755.
The new figures yesterday sparked accusations that Labour MSPs had needlessly wasted public funds since losing the 2007 election, and prompted a fresh debate about whether the Parliamentary Question (PQ) process needed urgent streamlining.
Emma Boon, campaign director with the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Parliamentary questions can be an important and useful tool, but they should not be abused by those in the position to ask them.
“The Shadow Cabinet should have the best interests of their constituents at heart when they ask a question, and should not be submitting vexatious or unnecessarily elaborate questions just to spite their rivals.
“Those tabling questions should bear in mind the cost to taxpayers and assess whether the information they seek is worth it.”
Figures show Labour’s 23-strong Shadow Cabinet asked a total of 14,107 PQs since May 2007, costing the taxpayer £1,380,814.
In addition to the three most prolific MSPs, Elaine Murray (environment) tabled 1,100 queries at a cost of about £108,000 and Des McNulty (education) asked 1,064, while Labour’s deputy leader Johann Lamont was responsible for the £93,584 cost of her 950 questions since 2007.
Many of the Labour MSPs asked for information that was either already in the public domain or about to be published.
Richard Baker asked Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill “on what date [he] will publish Police Officer Quarterly Strength Statistics” only to be informed the document “was available” online. Outwith the Shadow Cabinet, Labour peer George Foulkes racked up a bill of £189,135 for 1,924 questions in his four-year term as an MSP.
He asked why Holyrood’s security gates were not working and if mounted police are banned from using mobile phones. He also queried how often the First Minister had been 30 minutes late for a public engagement.
SNP officials yesterday claimed the money spent could have employed 50 nurses and branded the repeated use of PQs by Labour as “silly”.
Pubished with thanks to Sunday Express Scotland