SALARIES and expenses for Shetland Islands Council members cost the taxpayer just shy of half a million pounds in the last financial year, according to figures published by the local authority.
The 22 SIC members were paid £402,000 in nationally-set salaries which ranged from the basic councillor’s rate of £16,726 to council leader Gary Robinson’s £27,878. A total of £93,616 was claimed in expenses for mileage, travel and various other costs incurred on council business.
The total for members’ salaries and expenses has shown a very small increase of around 0.5 per cent on the previous financial year, while the overall figure for expenses has fallen by 1.9 per cent.
Robinson claimed the highest amount, £18,402, in expenses – reflecting the amount of travel to the UK mainland and Brussels for meetings in his role as the SIC’s political leader.
Council convener Malcolm Bell claimed a total of £10,525 – again reflecting the amount of travel required for the role of representing Shetland at various events and meetings outwith the islands.
The third-highest expenses claim came from North Mainland councillor Drew Ratter, who claimed £8,763, followed by Lerwick member Amanda Westlake, who claimed £8,052.
The lowest claim came from harbour board chairwoman Andrea Manson, who filed receipts worth just £21.99 in 2016/17.
Lerwick member Allan Wishart and Shetland Central ward councillors Davie Sandison and Mark Burgess were the next cheapest, each claiming around £200 over the year.
Councillors are only allowed to claim back money they have already spent on official business up to a limit set by the Scottish Government. Receipts must be presented before money can be reclaimed, and members must pay anything over the limit themselves.
Bell said: “Members are well aware of the requirement to keep costs to a minimum, whether the travel takes place within or outside Shetland.
“We are always mindful of striking a balance between, on the one hand, adequately representing our ward and/or Shetland interests and, on the other, the costs incurred in doing so.
“Members try as far as possible to conduct business remotely by audio or videoconference, but it will be necessary to attend some meetings in person.
“Shetland is a remote island community and as we are all too well aware, travel is expensive. The alternative, however, is that Shetland’s interests would not be properly represented or articulated alongside other communities and that, in my view, would be unacceptable.
“When travel is unavoidable members always try to maximise the value of the travel by attending to as much official business as possible and make strenuous efforts to utilise the lowest cost options.
“It is necessary to understand that members do not benefit personally from the allowances set out in the table. These figures represent costs attributed to them in carrying out their official duties or are amounts reimbursed for official expenditure, already paid for up front and in advance by members themselves.”
Members’ attendance figures at council and committee meetings have also been published.
Impressively, the North Isles councillors’ average attendance rate of 89 per cent was the highest of any constituency despite the need for a long journey by ferry and car to Lerwick.
Central ward member Vaila Wishart enjoyed a 100 per cent attendance record, attending all 57 of her meetings, while West Mainland councillor Theo Smith and South Mainland member George Smith were next with 97 per cent.
The lowest attendance came from Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills, who runs wildlife tours around Bressay, with 58 per cent and South Mainland councillor Allison Duncan, a crofter, with 60 per cent.
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