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Edinburgh politician under fire for claiming £2.40 expenses for bike commute

Criticism speaks volumes for mainstream press attitudes towards cycling

A councillor in Edinburgh has been criticised for legally claiming £2.40 on expenses for a 12-mile return trip from his home to the Scottish capital’s City Chambers. In an article that says much of the mainstream media’s attitudes towards cycling, the Evening News didn’t seem to see anything untoward in the same councilor claiming back money for other trips made by car at twice the mileage rate.

According to the Edinburgh Evening News, 73-year-old Conservative councillor Alastair Paisley is believed to be the only local politician in Edinburgh ever to have claimed back mileage for a journey undertaken by bicycle. With council rules allowing for 20p per mile to be claimed, Paisley “charged the taxpayer” (in the newspaper’s words) for the 12-mile return journey from his home to City Chambers in May last year.

The paper points out that had Mr Paisley claimed that rate every working day for a year, “his journeys would cost the taxpayer almost £550,” although that ignores the fact that even when using his car, Councillor Paisley didn’t claim for every journey he made. In fact, with Mr Paisley claiming 40p a mile for using his car for all other trips he was claiming for, his total expenses for the year came out at £280.80, half the total the newspaper predicts he may have been to claim for riding his bike.

A graphic in the newspaper suggests that Edinburgh councilors have collectively claimed more than £19,000 in expenses during 2010, many of them receiving higher amounts than Councillor Paisley, yet it is his £2.40 claim for using his bike that has seen him come under fire – the implication, perhaps, being that a bicycle can’t be viewed as a legitimate form of transport in the same way as a car is.

Speaking to the Evening News about the £2.40 cycle mileage claim, Councillor Paisley said: "I claimed it back because I was entitled to. I have to have a specific reason to claim it back, like a committee meeting. If I just cycle in to do a bit of work then head off again I don't claim for that.”

He continued: “I would hope that people younger and fitter than me would cycle in too. [Tory councillor] Cameron Rose cycles every day but he's only going across the Meadows so I don't think he claims it back. 

"But if, like me, you live six miles across the city and you're entitled to claim it, then claim it. It is shown in the [expenses rules] book that I can claim 20p a mile, so why not? 

"I'm 73, I have angina, I'm type two diabetic and I cycle because I'm told I should,” he added.

“But to get in for nine, cycling is a bit of a struggle, so I drive then and claim back mileage. Why shouldn't I for cycling? I charge what I have to charge and I'm not in the least bit bothered," he concluded.

The newspaper added that Edinburgh City Council expenses claims are governed by rules establishes in 2007 by the Scottish Governing, and that Councillor Paisley’s claims for cycle mileage had the support of his fellow councilors.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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