Politics Showdown

I was on the Politics Show on Sunday talking about my campaign to make MPs’ expense claims more transparent. It was me and three MPs: Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood, Conservative), Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrat MP for North Southwark & Bermondsey) and a Labour MP wearing a brown Corduroy jacket whose name escapes me.

I managed to get a smidge of air time betwixt the MPs to make my case for the publication of detailed MPs’ expenses, particularly the notoriously abused Additional Costs Allowance, which pays for members’ accommodation in London. My request for this detailed breakdown was decided upon by the Information Commissioner last month. He ruled against a detailed disclosure of all receipts (bearing in mind that MPs’ only have to provide receipts for claims above £250 – anything less is claimed carte blanche. What other company would operate such a lax system?)

However, he did rule that publishing a bulk figure of ACAs was not enough and MPs must now disclose their claims in the following categories:

• mortgage costs;
• hotel expenses;
• other food;
• service charges;
• utilities;
• telecommunications charges;
• furnishings;
• maintenance & service agreements;
• cleaning;
• insurance;
• basic security measures;
• other.

Download the full Decision Notice Ref. FS50124671 (pdf 219kb)

According to the House of Commons own accounts, the amount claimed in 2005/06 was £11million. All MPs outside of inner London can claim up to £23,0843 while those in London can claim just £2,812. Is it acceptable that an MP who lives in Romford, Essex claims for a second London home? What about ministers with free grace-and-favour houses who also claim the max and enjoy a second home paid for at taxpayer expense where they get to keep all the profits when the sell?

Nick Hurd said he was all for a more transparent system and said later that the Commons system was quite out-of-step even with most businesses. Simon Hughes seemed to indicate a change of position by the Lib Dems who have so far been right at the forefront of opening up the system (through Norman Baker MP). He now says that while category headings are all very well, detailed claims are not. “We shouldn’t have to say how much we’ve spent on a roll of wallpaper for our office,” he spluttered in indignation.

Of course you should if you’re claiming it courtesy of the taxpayer. This really summed up the arrogance that is endemic amongst so many of our public officials. They seem to think it an outrage that we, the proley public, should deign to ask them for a detailed accounting of how they’re spending our money. We’re not living in the feudal age anymore and it’s high time our public officials realised that the state is meant to serve the people not the people serve the politicians.

Some expense claims may be acceptable. I don’t doubt that. But surely it’s up to MPs’ constituents to determine that not the MPs themselves? If they have nothing to fear then they should have nothing to fear! So let’s see all the detailed claims.

3 Responses to “Politics Showdown”

  1. Simon Hughes

    […]

    “We shouldn’t have to say how much we’ve spent on a roll of wallpaper for our office,” he spluttered in indignation.

    MPs seem to have short memories. What about the £400 a roll simulated antique wallpaper for his re-furbished office, over which they criticised Lord Irvine, the then Chancellor, back in 1998 ?

    Wednesday, March 4, 1998 Published at 01:39 GMT

    UK: Politics

    Anger over Lord Irvine’s wallpaper defence

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/politics/61665.stm

  2. heather says:

    Yes – I think The Rt Hon Simon Hughes rather put his foot in it with that example.

  3. John Blackley says:

    This article addresses a topic more sinister than mere details of expenses would suggest. MPs (MEPs, MSPs, etc.) have grown accustomed to being non-accountable to their employer (the British public) – with all the negative effects that arrogance brings. I welcome every effort to use this topic (expense details) to pry open a crack in our elected representatives’ arrogance and, ultimately, to make them fully accountable and bring them to heel.

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