“Politicians in Edinburgh are at the centre of another expenses shock.. .” begins an article in the Edinburgh Evening News on 26th May.
The shock is that expenses claimed by Edinburgh councillors for 2008/9 are around half the amount claimed three years ago. Several observations follow from this.
First, it underlines the obvious, though little recognised truth, that not all politicians are on the take. The oft heard line ‘they’re all just as bad’ is sloppy.
But it is instructive to look at why expense claims have fallen. The Scottish local government elections of 2007 returned an unusually high proportion of new councillors. Edinburgh Council found it had 29 (50%) new councillors. Many had little political experience of any kind. That, along with the very thorough breaking of the iron grip of the previous (Labour) administration, meant that the familiarity of longstanding power did not downgrade the importance of spending the public pound frugally. Certainly in Edinburgh there is a healthy rivalry amongst councillors to have the lowest expenses.
Finally public scrutiny through the local paper’s use of FOI to obtain details of expenses has helped to drive down expenses.
The prominent and regular publication of detailed expense claims now being adopted in some councils (here and here) may not make much difference to Edinburgh councillors’ claims in the current climate.
But I am confident it will act as a check on excessive claims in a few years time when the shock of the current furore has died down.