Councillor claimed costs to attend colleague’s funeral

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An internal investigation has been launched this week into the expenses claims of a suspended SNP councillor.

The probe, by Scottish Borders Council’s monitoring officer Brian Frater, will focus on claims submitted by Councillor Alastair Cranston since his election to the Hawick and Denholm ward in 2012.

The investigation was requested by Councillor Stuart Bell, leader of the nine-strong SNP group at Newtown.

It follows the revelation that Mr Cranston claimed £6.45 in February this year for a 17-mile return journey from his home near Lilliesleaf to attend the funeral of his fellow ward councillor Zandra Elliot at Teviot Parish Church in Hawick.

Although that claim – one of 32 made in that month alone – was deemed admissible, another eight were rejected, including a bid to be similarly reimbursed for signing a book of condolence for Mrs Elliot in Hawick Town Hall two days later.

A trawl of Mr Cranston’s expenses applications, which can be accessed via SBC’s website, shows that nearly 50 of his claims have been disallowed.

These include attempts to get payment for attending meetings of Hawick Community Rugby Trust, common riding functions and ride-outs, as well as meetings with South of Scotland SNP MSP Paul Wheelhouse.

Counted among Mr Cranston’s successful claims was one for mileage from his home to SBC HQ at Newtown – to hand in his expenses claim form.

Responding to our sister paper the Hawick News, Mr Cranston said there had been no attempt at dishonesty, adding: “I just have to stop putting daft things in like I have been doing. I just have to be reminded what I can and can’t claim for.”

In October, the 64-year-old former Scottish rugby international was suspended from the council for three months following a hearing by the Standards Commission which found he had failed to declare a business interest during a renewable energy debate in December last year.

The issue of his expenses was due to be raised at today’s full council meeting.

Conservative Tom Weatherston had submitted a written question, asking SBC leader David Parker: “Do you share our group’s disgust at an elected member claiming expenses to attend Councillor Elliot’s funeral...?”

But the question has been disallowed as a result of Mr Frater’s investigation.

“I cannot object to this ... but I can say I am disgusted at what he [Mr Cranston] has done,” said Mr Weatherston.

Mr Bell said it was the responsibility of councillors as individuals to ensure all expenses claims were legitimate.

“I have asked the monitoring officer [Mr Frater] to investigate all aspects of Councillor Cranston’s expenses,” he told The Southern.

“If Councillor Cranston needs help with, or clarification of, the proper procedure or if he is at fault, it is up to the monitoring officer to decide this and take appropriate action.”