SBC leader’s ordeal over disability question

2012-Council-Elections. David Parker
2012-Council-Elections. David Parker

Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker has admitted he was “genuinely very upset” to be quizzed publicly last month about his travel expenses.

Mr Parker, who is visually impaired, appeared shaken when he rose in the Newtown chamber to explain why his mileage claims were not, like the other 33 elected members, listed on SBC’s website below the register of councillors’ interests.

Since that meeting, Mr Parker has instructed that details of all his taxi journeys, backdated to April last year, are listed online.

Confirming that decision this week, he reflected on his emotional reaction which led to catcalls being aimed at the questioner, Conservative opposition councillor Gavin Logan.

“The last thing I wanted was the sympathy of colleagues, but thequestion came out of the blue and, yes, it was hard to conceal that I was genuinely very upset,” recalled Mr Parker. “I had to explain, as if everyone didn’t know, that I was visually impaired and required members of staff to drive me around on council business and, occasionally, I had to use taxis.

“I also had to explain that this was reasonable under equality legislation and, while all my costs are published in the annual report on members’ expenses, I make no direct claims and therefore had no forms to publish like other councillors.

“What upset me most was having to discuss and defend my disability in public which is something I have never done.

“I did my best to answer the question in a spirit of openness and transparency, and it is in that same spirit that I have chosen to list my taxi journeys, based on the invoices which the taxi companies send in.

“As I stressed at the time, I depend for most of my journeys on council officers and I am not in a position to publicly disclose their mileage claims.”

Mr Parker’s online listing for last month shows he made two return taxi trips to Edinburgh for meetings of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) and three other journeys to and from his home in Tweedbank – a business visit to Farne Salmon in Duns and, as a ward councillor for Leaderdale and Melrose, to two community council engagements in Oxton and Earlston.

The annual report on members’ allowances and expenses in 2013/14 revealed that the 34 councillors claimed around £80,000 in travel expenses. In Mr Parker’s case, his expenses totalled £3,373 on top of his leader’s salary of £32,759.

Meanwhile, Councillor Logan has commended Mr Parker for posting his taxi journeys online.

“He should be praised for taking this swift action,” said Mr Logan. “As far as I am concerned the matter is now closed.”