Article: There’s nothing private about an MP’s expenses

There’s nothing private about an MP’s expenses
The Independent, 10 April 2006
By Heather Brooke

Few of us would assume we could claim more than £120,000 in expenses every year without handing over receipts to the boss. Yet that’s exactly what Westminster MPs are doing, forgetting that it’s the public who put up the £80 million claimed for staff, postage, offices, second homes, travel and ‘additional costs’.

With such a lack of transparency, it’s no surprise that Tony Blair is now facing questions about a ‘black hole’ in his expenses. In the past four years, about £45,000 of Blair’s expenses have remained publicly unaccounted for. On Saturday, Downing Street admitted for the first time that £15,000 claimed for his constituency home in Co Durham was not being used to pay the costs of a mortgage on the property.

Politicians must understand that if your nose is in the trough, expect to have your tail tweaked!

The Scottish Parliament has accepted this. After the Easter Break, they will begin online publication of all MSPs’ expense claims, utility bills, travel and mileage forms. This level of transparency will make Scottish politicians some of the most accountable in the world. The Scots should be proud of the proactive approach taken by their government. Instead of reacting defensively to a series of expense scandals, George Reid, the Presiding Officer at Holyrood, decided to throw open the doors of the expense system.

“It means we’ll no longer have to respond to mounting Freedom of Information requests for MSPs’ expense claims,” said a Scottish Parliament spokesman. Such requests led to the resignation of Tory MSP leader David McLetchie over questions about taxi misuse. Brian Monteith, a former Tory Monteith was forced to pay back £250 after admitting he made false claims for taxis to return from various nights socialising in Edinburgh restaurants and bars. The Scotsman revealed how Alex Salmond claimed £8,500 to commute by taxi from his home in Linlithgow to the Scottish Parliament, and Keith Raffan, the former Liberal Democrat MSP, claimed mileage expenses for driving round his constituency when he was out of the country.

If this is happening in Scotland, it’s undoubtedly going on in Westminster to an even greater extent. After all, there are only 129 MSPs (compared to Westminster’s 659) and they get roughly half (£61,240) the amount of their Whitehall compatriots.

Only in October 2004 did MPs even agree to publish headline figures for expense categories. By contrast, the Scottish Parliament began publishing these figures in 1999 and in each subsequent year they added more detail. We know that Geraint Davies, Labour MP for Croydon Central, topped the list in 2005 by claiming £176,026 while Terry Davis claimed the least (£42,709), but we have little detail on where and why this money was spent.

It is erroneous for MPs to claim such information is private. MPs are public representatives. Money for expenses comes from the public. Therefore MPs’ have an obligation to account for how they spend this money to the people who provided it in the first place.

Instead, politicians have refused all FOI requests for a detailed breakdown of expenses. A few weeks ago, the Commons was finally forced to publish totals for all travel by air, car and rail, but this is a case of too little, too late. A myriad of sins can be hidden in sum totals. For example, they’re not going to expose the MP who uses taxpayer funded black cabs to ferry himself to Annabel’s for a private rendezvous. The abuse by Scottish MSPs’ of expenses would never have come to light under Westminster’s secretive rules.

As I so often hear from the State when it invades my privacy – what’s the problem, if you have nothing to hide? Can I then assume, using the Government’s own logic, that our MPs do have something to hide as evidenced by their stubborn refusal to open up? One should always be suspicious when politicians hold fast the doors of government with white-knuckle desperation. Invariably it means there’s something scandalous going on. Other people’s money is remarkably easy to spend, so if MPs want us to have faith in their propriety, they must open up.

In the long-term it is in MPs’ interest to create a transparent and accountable expense system that rewards responsibility and highlights abuse. One the public can trust because they can see their MP isn’t on the fiddle.

Westminster’s feudal secrecy is completely out of step with other democratic countries, too. Members of the Houses of Oireachtas in Ireland have published detailed expenses since 27 July 1999. Australia and New Zealand came to the same decision years ago. In 1991, I discovered as a young reporter covering the Washington state legislature, that all senators’ and representatives’ expense receipts were public records available for anyone to view. Not only that, but they had to publish their entire tax return as well.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance and author of “The Bumper Book of Government Waste” recently made an FOI request for a detailed breakdown of MPs’ additional costs allowances after hearing rumours that some politicians were using taxpayer money to buy expensive electronic goods and a top-of-the-range food mixer.

“The sums may be small, but if they are being profligate with their personal expenses, they are probably not giving good value for money with larger spending projects,” Elliott said. “Open government is crucial for taxpayer value, so MPs should open their expenses to scrutiny.”

The short-changed British public deserve better from Westminster.

This is the full version of the article in Monday’s Independent.

18 Responses to “Article: There’s nothing private about an MP’s expenses”

  1. Shabby tiger says:

    It is absolutely shocking that MPs can misuse the system for their own benefit. I am a
    widow living on a weekly income of £96 per week, I would like to see ALL MPs living on the same income as myself (for 5 years max) without being able to access their savings etc.,
    they would then see what it is to scrape by.
    It is time for all polititians to be accountable to their voters

  2. PATRICIA HOPKINS says:

    I WAS ABSOLUTELY DUMBFOUNDED AND VERY VERY ANGRY AT THE INFO ON BBC POLITICS SHOW, THAT NOT ONLY DO OUR POLITICIANS CRIPPLE THE TAX PAYER WITH THEIR GREED OF EXPENCES (ABSOLUTELY UMBELIEVABLE) BUT THEY ALSO CLAIM £400 PER MONTH FOOD ALLOWANCE.PLEASE SOMEONE LET US TRY AND MAKE SENSE OF THIS.(IS IT POSSIBLE)
    I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A EURO-SCEPTIC,BUT THE MORE I THINK ABOUT IT,PROBABLY, IT WILL BE BETTER IF WE COULD BE GOVERNED FROM BRUSSELLS IF ONLT IT MEANT GETTING RID OF A LOAD OF SELF SERVING SUPPOSSED PUBLIC SERVANTS, WHO DO KNOW THE MEANING OF HONESTY AND FAIRNESS.
    P.S. I AM A LADY OF 70YRS, WHO HAS VEVER EVER MISSED A VOTE OF ANY DISCRIPTION ,NATIONAL OR LOCAL,I ALWAYS CONSIDERED IT A PRIVILEGE TO HAVE THE RIGHT.POLITICS HAS REACHED AN ALL TIME LOW IN THIS COUNTRY AND I VOW I WILL NEVER PUT MY CROSS TO ANY BALLAD PAPER AGAIN ,EVEN THE SITUATION WITH THE SCOTS AND ENGLISH IS SO UNFAIR.

  3. KEVIN EMMERSON says:

    If this fraudulent misuse of public money were in the private sector the people concerned would be disciplined /sacked .Why are the police not investigating this issue and the cover up over euro mps expenses?

  4. Paul O says:

    If some one wishes to work 100 or so miles from there place of residence then that is there choice, if you work in London then some companies will pay London weighting to cover some travel costs, if you decide to stay away from home because of business then normally you have to foot the bill, again that is your choice. So! why is it that politicians can get expenses to support a 2nd home and expenses to pay for a car, driver, window cleaning, food etc, this is not fair on the tax payer who has to pay for this. Why can’t a politician have a set fixed price London Weighting like everyone else and should they have to stay in London due to sessions and debats etc then they should be put up in a hotel. If I take a job where I have to be away from home and stay Mon – Fri away, I have to pay this bill myself I have worked in other countries, I got no extra money to support my family back home. Cost of living, taxes etc are already to high, people are struggling to keep there heads above water, then you have a politician who is living a life of luxury. The money that I pay in tax is already high, I cant change that, what I want with my tax money is for it to be used properly and wisely for things like the military, schools, prisons, transport that is what I pay my tax for, NOT to suppport a politician 2nd home, I see this as a misuse of public money. Our erdlery peopel are struggling to pay there bills, come winter they can’t afford to put a heater on. SOMEONE HAS TO STOP THIS ASTE OF OUR MONEY

  5. Paul Hubbard says:

    Why should anyone be suprised at these revalations. ALL MPs are a bunch of egotistical selfcentred troughers who’s prime motivation in life is to promote themselves and stick their miserable, untalented snouts well into the trough. But then we get what we deserve for sitting on our backsides and letting them get away with it time after time.No one with an ounch of shame would dream of joining this brigade but then shame disappeared in the 1980s as our lust for ME ME ME was promoted and supported by the troughers of the day!

  6. Paul G says:

    So now they have given themselves the right to do what they want. Plasma TV’s, expensive plants no receipts or expense justification.
    Why are MP’s surprised we have no confidence in them. No company would be able to behave this way no matter what trade they are in yet Mp’s feel free to squander our money

  7. Tony Vanner says:

    That MPs should try to undermine a legal law because it does not suit them is beyond belief,also one has to wonder what they need to cover up since they are so reluctant to have their expenses open to the public.As for using the terror law to prevent examination it could only be because they want the public to spend a lot of money on ID cards.They should not be suprised ,if at the next General Election , the pecentage of those eligable to vote don’t bother since it will make no difference whoever gets into power.

  8. Zoe Cole says:

    It’s fraud, plain and simple, and should be investigated by the police.

    We have married MP couples claiming TWICE even though they share the same home, and someone bunking up with a relative but claiming full expenses as though they were paying the full costs of a mortgage and utilities themself.

    What disgusts me most is not that we have appalling policies that allow these gargantuan expenses in the first place – it’s that the self-serving horrors who represent us show not one ounce of decency – they could limit or turn down these expenses – yet every last one of them claims prety mcuh the maximum allowed.

    Thieves.

  9. John McCaffery says:

    How do we go about stopping this discusting practice and making MP’s repay these expences and the speaker as he has been taking us for a joy ride also. If I work away from home I go alone and my employer will pay these expences with stipuated limits they do not pay for my home why should we.

    THIS HAS GOT TO BE STOPPED

  10. Andy Thompson says:

    I for one will never vote for another crooked British MP again ,It turns my stomach when I think of how these greedy over paid crooks that we have put in a place of trust have ripped off the tax payers without giving a toss about any one apart from their selves.I hope all 600 of them are proud of them selves. Im a full time carer to my disabled wife who gets paid £56 a week .

  11. colin meadley says:

    I am no Brown supporter but I laud him for attempting to change this system. It was once thought that MPs were honourable and therefore would not exploit the expence system. But now we know that all men and women will exploit to the maximum any benefit. For example who can say that they have not exploited the 3 days without a sicknote rule ? The only way to control abuse is to have clearly defined control.

    It is our duty to make sure that Browns reforms actually are reforms in line with stanard ( not fat cat ) business practice

  12. John says:

    The Commons authorities have called for the police to investigate the leak of MP’s expense details.
    How do I get the police to investigate the the wealth of criminal fraud the leaked information has uncovered?

  13. Stop future MPS from fiddles
    by asking them to sign something like this.”If you elect me as your MP I will swear on oath that I will not fiddle expences or take on directorships and never be involved in sleaze of any kind whatsoever if I break this undertaking I will resign and lose my pension”you could word this idea much better but we really must have something like this ti stop these pathetic morons ripping us off! no agreement ,no vote,its as simple as that.

  14. Philip Adams says:

    why haven’t the fraud squad been called in this is a definate case of fraudulent claims and probably tax evasion

  15. Robert Knight says:

    My usual voting pattern is now interupted, I need to know that the candidate in my area is and will be ‘clean’ of this totally disgusting practice —- how do I judge this ?— do I even vote ?—– is there any point ? maybe they are all corrupt ? a major clean up, deselection of ALL guilty members is maybe the only way forward, but who is clean enough to police this

  16. Roger Mitchell says:

    Why is the British Lion still sleeping? Its time to wake up and get these people Who have taken advantage of the expences system removed and should not be allowed to hold office of any kind and return them to the gutter where they belong. When there ill begotten gains have come to an end, let them find out what it is like to live on the bread line and find out what it is like to be means tested. This will most certainly get them of there high horses..

  17. I notice Geriant “I spend so much money because I work harder than other MPs” Davies who was claiming £20,000 a year for a second home while living 8 miles away from Westminster when there is an all night train service every hour on the hour to East Croydon next to where he used to live has managed to get himself a position as prospective parlimentary candidate for Swansea. I wrote to Micheal Martin demanding an investigation in 2007 and was roundly ignored. Well, maybe now the met will find time to investigate the £176,026 and where it actually went!

  18. E. Leach says:

    Gordon Brown, the peoples vote is a strong and precious thing and can be the deciding factor of weather an MP keeps his A*** on that seat, do the right and honourable thing and set an example to these greedy existing and upcoming MPs that, abuse of the tax payers money will not be tollerated and heads will roll, if Queen Elizabeth 1st was here, your head and many others would be on a pike, and rightly too!I dont work 2 low paid jobs so these blood suckers can live the life of riley.

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