Councillor criticised for travel expenses in lockdown year

James MacLaren was repaid £969.65 by Refrewshire Council during 2020/21.

Councillor criticised for travel expenses in lockdown year iStock

A veteran councillor has been criticised for claiming almost £1000 in travel expenses during the coronavirus pandemic when no other elected members asked for a single penny.

James MacLaren was repaid £969.65 by Refrewshire Council during 2020/21 despite people being told to stay at home and limit their trips out for much of the year.

Labour councillor Carolann Davidson demanded an explanation from the former Conservative group leader during the latest full council meeting and queried why the local authority had continued to reimburse him.

“It’s not been a normal year and there have been massive financial strains on the council,” said the Paisley East and Central representative.

“So I would really like to know how James MacLaren can justify claiming nearly £1000 in expenses when not one other councillor has claimed as much as a penny?

“We were in lockdown for most of the year so £969.65 is shocking in my mind.

“I’d like to know how he can justify that and why the council continues to just pay it out?”

Councillor MacLaren – who was first elected in 2012 but sat on Renfrew Town Council prior to that – chose not to comment during the meeting.

But he has since said his claims were in line with council policy and guidelines and represented his commitment to his constituents.

The Bridge of Weir, Bishopton and Langbank councillor has tended to claim much more for travel than his counterparts over the years.

During 2019/20 and 2018/29 he was repaid a total of £3170.45, which was almost £1000 more than all other councillors’ claims put together during that period.

The vast majority of elected members have opted not to claim travel expenses since being voted in back in 2017.

Afterwards, councillor MacLaren said: “All the expenses I have claimed this year are in line with council policy and guidelines.

“I represent one of the largest wards in Renfrewshire and I believe my work shows I work hard all year round for my constituents, as I travel across the area.

“I will always be open and transparent in relation to any expense queries and fully appreciate the concerns raised by councillor Davidson, especially given the devastating effect on so many individuals during the pandemic.”

By local democracy reporter Steph Brawn