MSPs agree rise in expenses despite zero inflation

MSPs in the debating chamber at Holyrood
MSPs in the debating chamber at Holyrood
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HOLYROOD politicians have voted themselves an increase in their expenses as latest official economic figures show inflation at zero.

The latest uprating of MSPs’ allowances sees the maximum amount they can claim for office costs rise to £17,600 and staff costs to £63,200, while the rate for overnight stays increases to £150 in the UK or £175 in London, Brussels or Strasbourg.

Most of the rises – around 1.1 per cent – are based on the Retail Price Index (RPI) for January. But they come as the alternative index of inflation, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), yesterday recorded zero for the second month running.

The MSPs’ expenses scheme allows the cross-party Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), made up of senior MSPs, to choose which index they should use when deciding on the annual uprating.

RPI used to be the official measure of inflation in the UK, but benefits and pensions are now calculated using CPI and RPI was abandoned as an official national statistic in 2013.

But Holyrood officials said it was the index which the parliament had used consistently to uprate expenses.

RPI includes the costs of housing – mortgage interest costs and council tax, for example – while CPI does not.

CPI is said to be a better reflection of changes in consumer spending patterns.

But because of the way it is calculated, RPI – which the MSPs chose to use – is always higher than CPI. In January, the CPI was 0.3 per cent compared with the RPI of 1.1 per cent.

The MSPs’ expenses scheme also lays down that the figures in the major expense categories should be rounded up to the nearest £100. The increase in staff costs provision, however, is calculated using the headline rate for average weekly earnings, which works out at 2.13 per cent.

And the party leaders’ allowance is fixed according to a combination of indices, giving a 1.86 per cent rise, from £14,688 to £14,961 for parties with between 15 and 29 MSPs and from £27,993 to £28,514 for parties with more than 30 MSPs.

Former Lothian MSP and Scottish Socialist Party leader Colin Fox said the increases sent the wrong message, especially in the run-up to an election when all parties were talking about the plight of the in-work poor.

He said: “It’s unfortunate timing for MSPs to be awarding themselves bigger increases in expenses than the public would receive in their pensions and benefits.

“The last thing people want to hear is politicians giving themselves further increases when other people are suffering.” A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “For consistency, we apply the same well-recognised inflation indices as used in previous years.”