Questions over Labour MSP’s £14,000 bus hire costs

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Labour MSP Frank McAveety has defended his expense claims after it emerged he claimed a staggering £14,300 to hire a bus in order to meet local constituents.

Mr McAveety, the Labour MSP for Shettleston, made the claims over a three year period under Holyrood’s ‘hiring for halls and surgeries’ category after submitting invoices from a vehicle repair company named Ferrymill Motors.

Newsnet Scotland understands that the bus is an ageing Leyland Leopard commonly in service in Scotland in the early seventies and eighties.  It has been stored at the First Glasgow Larkfield depot on Victoria Road.

Mr McAveety, the MSP for Glasgow Shettleston, apparently used it from 2007 to 2009 to travel around the area meeting constituents.  The silver and purple bus was decked out in livery identifying it as a mobile surgery for Frank McAveety, MSP.

When Newsnet Scotland questioned the Labour MSP over the costs, he claimed to have used the bus “primarily for community events and for access to and for constituents”.  However Mr McAveety declined to reveal exactly what these ‘community events’ were.

In May 2007, Mr McAveety claimed £4,700 and submitted an invoice from Ferrymill Motors.  The next expense claim for the bus came 17 months later in October and was for £4,406.25.  In May 2009 Mr McAveety claimed a further £5,198.  Mr McAveety claimed that costs had been higher in recent years due to “an unavoidable change in garaging facilities” and he was currently looking at alternative facilities to “garage and secure the bus”.

A Freedom of Information Request (FOI) to the Scottish parliament revealed that the payment of £5,198.00 included sums of £190 for road tax, £80.00 for MOT and £500 for fuel.  There are no breakdowns provided for the earlier years or any mention of garaging costs.

The same FOI request revealed that the Scottish parliament had no knowledge of who owned the bus, when it was used or who has used it since 2006.  Holyrood’s Head of allowances said the expense was allowed under the ‘Hall Hire/Surgeries’ category “As the bus is hired to enable surgeries to be held within Mr McAveety’s constituency,”.

Newsnet Scotland also understands that the colour of the vehicle was changed to silver with a purple skirt when Mr McAveety took possession.  However the current DVLA record has the colour of the bus as blue.  If the vehicle colour has been altered, then by law, the DVLA must be notified.

Ferrymill Motors, according to their business website, is a body shop repair company and seemingly shows no sign of being a coach hire or storage business.  Just prior to the 2007 Scottish election the company part funded a newspaper advertisement expressing their support for the Union.

Kieran McCahill, their Managing Director, signed up to a press statement that read: “We are the businessmen and women committed to the future of Scotland.  We believe Scotland’s best future for investment, jobs and prosperity is being part of Britain and we believe that the break-up (sic) of Britain would damage Scotland.”

In 2005 Mr McCahill was one of 70 invited guests who met then Labour leader Tony Blair in McGregor House in Southbank Business Park in Kirkintilloch for a ‘meet the people’ question and answer session.

Mr McAveety’s £14,300 claims for hire of halls for surgeries over three years is significantly higher than for other MSPs.  His claim of £4700 in 2007/08 was more than three times greater than that of the next highest claim which was £1410 by Cabinet Secretary John Swinney and will raise questions over whether the use of taxpayers’ cash was appropriate in terms of “value for money “ and “efficiency and effectiveness” in line with para 1.1.2 of the Members’ Expenses.

As well as continuing to run the bus Mr McAveety also holds two surgeries a month at Parkhead Library, Bridgeton Library, Gorbals leisure centre, Shettleston Library and Govanhill Community Centre.

Mr McAveety defended the use of public cash for the bus and claimed that all expenses were approved by the Allowances Office.

He said: “It has been used primarily for community events and for access to and for constituents and is part of my commitment to working with my constituents .  The costs have been approved by the Parliamentary authorities and are within the overall cost envelope for office costs.

“Over the period of use for the bus over a number of years the costs have varied and only in recent years have costs been higher due to an unavoidable change in garaging facilities.  I have been in discussion with other facilities on how to garage and secure the bus and would expect that arrangement to be in place if elected after May 2011.”

The Labour MSP explained that the colour of the bus had been changed in order to “conform with the colour scheme of the Parliament”.

Mr McAveety attacked what he claimed were “factual inaccuracies” made by Newsnet Scotland.

He said: “I am surprised that you intend to write an article based on a series of assumptions and factual inaccuracies relating to the Parliamentary mobile bus.  I believe it may be best that you re-examine a number of the claims that you have made in your late Friday night e-mail.” He added: “if you wish to discuss further I believe it would be better than writing an article with significant inaccuracies.”

However despite being asked to detail the ‘significant inaccuracies’ Mr McAveety declined to do so.  He also declined to confirm who in fact owned the bus.

Mr McAveety’s response left some questions unanswered.

  • How often was the service used by constituents for surgeries?
  • What was the nature of the ‘community events’ the bus was ‘primarily’ used for?
  • If the bus is being leased then why is the taxpayer paying for the road tax and MOT?