MPs’ Expenses

The House of Commons Commission published MPs’ and Lords’ expenses on Thursday (26 October) generating a good deal of press coverage. I was live on Sky News debating with Grant Shapps the reasons why MPs should provide a more detailed breakdown of their expenses.

We’d been told the expenses would be published at the highly inconvenient time (for reporters) of 3.30pm that day. It was some poor hack’s job to keep pressing the ‘refresh’ button on the House of Commons website to see when they were published. In the end, they came out at 3.45pm.

Currently MPs only provide bulk figures in set categories for the entire year. As I’ve said before, such wholesale sums can hide a myriad of sins. For example, there is no way to tell if an MP is say, claiming for taxi journeys when he isn’t even in the county. It was only when Scotland moved to a detailed breakdown of its MSPs’ expenses that such abuse was revealed, leading to the resignation of Tory leader David McLetchie. Another MSP quit and several others had to pay back improper claims.

While Scotland steams ahead into the age of open government, Westminster continues to stubbornly refuse all FOI requests for a detailed breakdown of costs. I have three cases now pending against the House of Commons for a) travel expenses, b) additional costs allowance including mortgage payments, c) names and salaries of MPs’ staff. These are all at various stages of appeal.

The House of Commons Commission is fighting all disclosure. But as the government is fond of telling us every time it invades our privacy, surely if you’ve nothing to fear then you’ve nothing to hide. The sustained stubbornness with which MPs’ are refusing to account for spending public money fuels suspicion that the system is corrupt and poor value for money.

As Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayers’ Alliance told BBC News: “It’s not surprising people think politicians have got their snouts in the trough.”

As a further ruse to make it more difficult for the public to quickly get a sense of who spends the most, the Commons’ releases the expenses in a static, non-searchable PDF.

I have created a more user-friendly searchable Excel expenses chart with totals (135kb).

Press on MPs’ expenses

Evening Standard – Fury over Westminster Gravy Train

Information campaigner Heather Brooke, from the website Your Right to Know, says: “These people are paid for with our money and we have a right to know who they are and what they are doing.”

Guardian – MPs’ expenses claims hit record £86.8m

It’s not surprising that politicians think they can get away with these huge expense accounts because there’s no transparency in the system,” said Heather Brooke, a campaigner for open government and the author of Your Right to Know.

MPs’ expenses was also the main topic of conversation on last Thursday’s edition of Your Money on the fledgling internet television station 18 Doughty Street. In case you haven’t heard about it yet, this is one of the first internet TV stations in the UK, though they are fairly well established in the USA.

11 Responses to “MPs’ Expenses”

  1. Matthew says:

    I’ve put up the expenses on http://www.theyworkforyou.com/ on each MP’s page, so you can compare them with previous years; e.g. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/tony_blair/sedgefield

  2. Nick Evans says:

    What’s “non-searchable” about that PDF? The little binoculars button seems to work fine for me.

    And what’s wrong with them publishing at 3.45? This might be inconvenient for journalists – although even then you might concede that Commons staff should tend to spend their mornings preparing information for debates and so on, before turning to FoI requests – but the FoI Act isn’t for journalists, it’s for members of the public. Who probably don’t care what time the information becomes available, unless it’s time sensitive, which this is not.

    That kind of complaint is similar in vein to the grumbling about departments publishing their FoI disclosures on their websites, and so preventing journalists from getting scoops, even though the information reaches more members of the public that way.

  3. Vort1gern says:

    Using “They work for You” I emailed my local MP to enquire about his IT budget, which had been the same amount for three years running. Seemed strange to me, as a builder of PCs, as the cost of technology has fallen considerably in that period.

    He didn’t know how the figure was arrived at, although said that he “hadn’t had any new PC in the office for years” and assumed there was a centralised cost for each MP. I tried some random samplings but couldn’t correlate a cost ratio, even when looking at staffing allowance in case the IT budget covered office staff too.

    This was at the end of 2005. When the expense figures were released in 2006, his IT expense budget was £0. What a co-incidence.

  4. L. Coster says:

    At £87,672,957 in claimed expenses and the Banks ripping us all off and putting people out of their homes surely it would be better to allow the Banks to go Bankrupt that bail them out with tax payers money. 644 MP’s have claimed £87,672,957
    why has this been allowed. will they pay my mortgage will they pay my phone bill and my TV licence as well as pay for the flat screen TV with SKY Digital and a car to carry me from one meeting to another. MY kitchen furniture needs replacing will they replace it for me. They get beer and spirits 24 x 7 food subsidised were does all this end. They let out their homes and draw in rent then get us to pay for an apartment in the City. This list is a disgrace will they pay it back, never in a month of Sundays will they pay a nickel back. Yet there are people being put out of their homes daily. We talk about the FAT CATS, they are all FAT CATS and should be fired at the next elections and taken to court, and the courts demand that they re-pay the expenses they have claimed, wit interest, even those in the Grace and favour apartments……..

  5. michael says:

    I THINK THAT WE COULD MANAGE WITH HALF THE MP.S AND WE SHOULD BUILD AN HOTEL FOR THEM TO STAY AND WE WILL SAVE MILLIONS OF TAX PAYERS MONEY AND AS FOR COLLECTING 600 BILLION LAST YEAR AND HAD TO BORROW 40 BILLION WHERE DID ALL THAT MONEY GO, I THINK EVERY PENNY OF TAX COLLECTED SHOULD BE TRANSPARENT.

  6. Sharmian Rio says:

    a) how is a large 2nd home justified for maybe a few days a week when millions of people manage by staying in B&Bs or have a studio flat.
    b) How can anyone charge for meals when away from “home”. You can’t eat in 2 places at once so there should be no meal allowance
    c) how can a housekeeper be justified? millions of people come home from work and cook and clean and go to the launderette. Plenty of time for MPs to do this in the mornings
    d) how can selling a so called 2nd home and keeping the cash be justified when the mortgage has been paid by the country. When the house or flat is to be sold, give all the money back
    e) it would be cost effective for Parliament to buy in or rent a block of flats available for MPs when in London. They pay a fair rent of course. When they leave Parliament, another MP can use the place. If family members want to come and stay, they may have to go to an Hotel
    f) how come Brown when Chancellor and the previous chancellors before him never noticed that some £70 million a year was being taken up by these grafters. Think of the services that could be provided by that money

    I think someone has a mote in his/her eye……..

  7. L. Brown says:

    I have just contacted DSS to inform them of my change of circumstances and that I assume I will no longer be entitled to Income Support as I had been since I retired; Makes me FUME that someone of my means can be so open and honest about my finances when greedy dishonest M.P’s are raking it in. If people like me had defrauded the DSS I would no doubt be given a hefty fine or even sent to prison – this should surely be the case with the relevant M.P’s who have been found to be fraudulent – preferably prison in my opinion since a fine would mean nothing to them. It begs the question “what do they spend their SALARIES on” when they can just put in an expenses claim for what they need”?!!!

  8. Jim Ingram says:

    I agree with 5.Michael Re a Hotel to stop the thieving. But what really gets my back up is if it was anyone other than an M.P.we would be charged with fraud and lose our jobs. The government say they are going to charge benifit cheats.
    What are M.P.s who are CHEATING on their Expenses????
    M.P.Just have to say Oophs I just made a mistake or I didn’t notice or It’s the way
    the rules work ( for me Ha Ha ) and they walk away scott free they’re untouchable.
    They should be shown otherwise and charged with Fraud even if they pay it back because everyone else would be.
    Jim

  9. John Dickinson says:

    Another reason to stop voting, there have been too many cases on both sides of the house. Deception, lies, affairs, sleeze, cash for questions, knighthoods for ‘contributions’ made., they no longer have any dignity, have you ever heard of them resigning?
    One of the reasons I left the UK was because I no longer, trusted or remotely respected the politicians, that was fifteen years ago. I no longer pay tax, I can save money every month, have no overdraft, no mortgage.
    Of course I miss the British quality newspapers, Radio Four, and the wonderful choices the british have in food BUT that’s not enough for me to come home.
    Besides I feel like a foreigner when ever I visit London.

  10. John Jones says:

    Re the m.p. expenses. How about buying some two/three star hotels around westminster and refurbishing them up to council standard. The M.P.’s who do not want to live in the hotels can find, and pay for their own accomodation. This would cut the Security cost for them. Also, the pay of M.P.’s should be aligned with the National average at twice the average wage. Ministers should be paid 2.5 times, and the P.M. 3 times the average. On another point, lets hope Lembic Opic does not commit a serious crime or one of the Taxpayer might end up serving time at Her Majesties pleasure.

  11. Derek Lowe says:

    The MP’s who have clearly committed fraud should be punished through the courts, in some cases sent to prison. Those MP’s that say they have not broken any rules by their extravagance, merely made a moral mistake should be sacked, demoted and made to pay back every penny with a penalty charge for incorrect accounting.

    This procedure is quite simple, and so as not to take all our governments time by investigating themselves, should be put to an arbitory body, which would be set up by the Inland Revenue SFO and the Police.

Leave a Reply