BORDERS MSP and councillor Jim Hume has been forced to defend raking in thousands of pounds in expenses for overnight accommodation in Edinburgh, despite owning five flats in the capital.
Mr Hume, a Lib Dem MSP for the South of Scotland and councillor for Galashiels, who was originally a farmer in the Yarrow Valley, has claimed £13,000 in taxpayers’ cash to cover the costs of hotel stays.
As well as the five properties in Edinburgh – which includes a flat in the Royal Mile not far from Holyrood – he also owns two outside the city.
The properties are reported to be owned jointly between Mr Hume and his wife Lynne, and were said to worth about £1.25million and could possibly generate as much as £70,000 per year in rental income.
Details of Mr Hume’s property portfolio came to light in the newly-published register of MSPs’ interests, while parliamentary records contained information that Mr Hume had claimed £100 a night for his hotel stays in Edinburgh.
A spokesperson for Mr Hume said he was not available to speak to TheSouthern this week, but told us the flats in question had people living in them and that these properties had been occupied since the 1990s – before Mr Hume was elected.
“Jim can’t chuck them out for a couple of dozen nights a year when he has to work late in Edinburgh,” added the spokesperson.
But the revelation about the expense claims from Mr Hume, who already coins in £75,000 a year from his job at the Scottish Parliament and as a local councillor, has sparked outrage in some quarters.
Borders Party leader Nicholas Watson was unsatisifed by the explanation from Mr Hume’s office.
“Maybe that’s why he’s the Liberals’ portfolio holder for housing – and he could provide a flat for every one of their MSPs,” Councillor Watson told TheSouthern this week.
“What irritates people more is someone pretending they have the time to be both an MSP and a local councillor.
“But I suspect that even if Jim wanted to give up being a councillor, his party won’t let him, knowing they would never win a by-election in Galashiels – a clear example of national politics getting in the way of local democracy.”
Mr Hume has not broken any rules, but critics say the expenses scheme is to allow MSPs whose constituency homes are too far away from parliament to allow them to commute and who cannot afford a second home in the city to stay near the parliament.
John O’Connell of the Taxpayers Alliance said: “Taxpayers will be furious if MSPs with property portfolios go on claiming for accommodation costs. It’s crucial that parliamentarians respect the trust hard-working families have put in them to fight for their local interests and are not seen to be in it simply for the cash.”
However, Lib Dem group leader on the council at Newtown St Boswells, Councillor Alec Nicol, came to his colleague’s defence, pointing out that Mr Hume had owned these properties for more than 10 years.
“If you have a nice family which is renting a flat from you, it would not be right to simply turf them out. It would not be fair to disrupt them like that,” said Councillor Nicol.
“You do not want to put out a good tenant. The properties are part of the business that Jim has had for a long time.”