City councillors claimed almost £24,000 of public money for bus passes in one financial year – while tallying up a taxi bill of almost £4,000, an eightfold increase on the previous 12 months.
The council’s expenses documents reveal that 37 of the city authority’s 63 councillors claimed a Lothian Buses annual Rideacard, which costs £665. Liberal Democrat Cllr Louise Young claimed £992 for an annual rail pass while Labour Cllr Lezley Marion Cameron claimed a £665 bus pass, £745 in taxi fares – as well as having access to a free parking space in the city centre.
Cllr Cameron’s taxi bill in 2018/19 of £744.72 eclipsed the entire 63 councillors’ combined taxi expenses for the previous year, which totalled £508.76. SNP Cllr George Gordon claimed a £665 bus pass, a taxi bill of £468.14, rail fares of £28.30 and £148.95 in car mileage.
Bus pass costs totalled £23,898.35, taxis fares tallied up £3,811.86 and £1,276.95 was claimed for rail tickets by councillors during the 2018-19 financial year.
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Finance and resources convener, Cllr Alasdair Rankin said: “Councillors need to travel daily around their wards, the city and outside the Capital when attending meetings when required.
“It is important that a councillor’s ability to afford to travel doesn’t impede their ability to effectively represent their constituents or the city.
“Expenses are a matter for the individual members but obviously we always encourage members to use the most sustainable mode of transport possible.”
Labour group leader Cllr Cammy Day added: “Access to bus passes, taxis or a parking space help us to do our duties in the city and in our wards we represent – but I think it’s a bit cheeky to have all three.
“Elected members need to take licence of public perception and not abuse that. I will be reinforcing to the Labour group on Monday, the appropriate use of the taxi account.”
Conservatives said some councillors using multiple means of free travel would raise eyebrows with the public.
Conservative group chairman Cllr Jason Rust, said: “It is important that there is legitimate use of expenses and that those in public office are accountable. I suspect most people would be aghast at regular usage of taxis from home to the City Chambers for instance or regular mileage claims where in receipt of a bus pass.
“However, it should also be remembered that members have to balance council, local ward and other commitments and these bus passes which are a taxable benefit in kind are to help fulfil their duties in their wards which involve sometimes multiple journeys in the space of one day and often in outlying areas. Our group is always conscious of the public purse in our decision-making.”
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Free bus passes have been a permanent offer for councillors, which has been in place since at least 1996 when the Lothian Regional Council split and the city council was established.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Kevin Lang said: “Given the financial challenge facing the council, it’s important that every part of the council’s spending is scrutinised so there is value for money. It’s always been my understanding that paying for annual bus passes is more cost effective than spending money on individual journeys.”
Co-convener of Green group, Cllr Melanie Main added: “Most councillors I know have very limited expenditure, linked to travel around their ward or being available by phone or email.
“For any councillors who are the exception to that, they need to review their costs and carbon footprint. Given the climate crisis and the council’s strategy for carbon neutral Edinburgh 2030, I would hope all our councillors consider very carefully how they travel and lead by example.”
A city council spokesperson said: “All elected members have the right to claim for costs incurred when travelling on council business. This includes bus journeys and necessary taxi travel.
“We are also proud to be an inclusive council and the diversity of our elected members is something we really value. As part of this, it is worth noting that a number of our councillors are entitled to additional support for disabilities under the Equalities Act and this may be reflected in their expenses.”