Daily Telegraph publication of MPs’ expenses

Some have asked why I haven’t updated my site to take into account the publication Friday in the Daily Telegraph of MPs’ expenses. Frankly, I’ve just been too busy! I was speaking at a conference for members of the Information Tribunal Friday morning and then doing all the television news rounds that afternoon and evening.

One highlight – debating Stuart Bell of the Members Estimates Committee on Channel 4 news (scroll down to watch). In the Green Room before the show, Bell told me Labour’s latest reactionary plan to hive off the auditing of expenses to a private company ‘like Capita or CapGemini’. These companies apparently picked at random by him. I assumed these were just his initial brainstorming thoughts. But no, apparently this was the government’s latest ruse to stop us, the people, getting a look directly at MPs receipts.

While I had his undivided attention, I asked Bell about Speaker Michael Martin who was behind the decision to take my case first to the Information Tribunal and then to the High Court, wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds in the process. “He’s a very nice fellow. A Glaswegian. He does a good job looking after MPs.”

Not, it seems, such a good job looking after constituents or indeed the taxpayer.

I have a plan which I hope to announce in the coming days. I’m going to set up some mechanism to register the public’s demand for change in Parliament. We need a new system for MPs expenses. One that is simple, transparent and gives the final scrutiny to those people in the best position to provide it – the constituents.

Much more to say, but the demands of work are pressing upon me and unlike MPs I have no taxpayer-funded staff to help me.

24 Responses to “Daily Telegraph publication of MPs’ expenses”

  1. alex says:

    Heather

    For those of us lucky enough NOT to pay PAYE as employees, we should refuse to pay any more taxes to HM government, until they stop their illegal activities.

    Westminster is home to more illegal tax dodgers, and money-grabbing people, than Moscow, Monaco and Milan combined.

    Please do let us know whether your work will encourage, and enable, us, the people to withdraw our financial support for the government, and politicians.

    ” No taxation without an election ” to paraphrase the Bostonians

  2. Martin Warne says:

    I would have thought the answer, with regard to second homes, was blindingly obvious:

    MPs with London constituencies don’t need a second home and shouldn’t get one (define London as ‘within the M25’);

    The other 550 or so should get a one- or two-bed flat, rent-free provided by parliament. The parliamentary authorities should buy the properties, distributed evenly across the 32 boroughs, and allocate them by random ballot after the next election. After subsequent elections MPs that are returning get the option to stay in the flat they previously had or go back into the ballot and flats given up by MPs leaving parliament get distributed among the new members.

    All perfectly fair. Everyone gets treated the same; no-one has the chance to profit from the public purse.

  3. David Lawrence says:

    Hi Heather,

    I suppose the Telgraph will eventually publish a ranked list of all MPs and expenses coupled to the distance of their constituencies from Westminster and the number of days they attended Parliament. This would, at least, allow the MPs with some integrity to avoid the tarbrush.

    re: your plan – although I’ve been following the debacle on the news and via the newspapers, I only came across your name and understood your part in the story today, from a blog reply to Nick Robinson. I think it’s going to be difficult to get the public’s attention for your “mechanism” without TV and print coverage. I’d be interested in helping if you have a plan that needs feet on the ground.

    David

  4. Jo W says:

    Just to say fantastic work on this issue.

    The majority of the public are appauled by the revelations and it is a credit to you that
    this information is now in the public arena.

    Hopefully an acceptable reform of the system will now have to be implemented.

    However, the suggestion that a private company, such as Capita or CapGemini, should get involved
    is simply adding more layers to the huge cake of scandal.

    The amount of money that these ‘management consultancy’ companies get from government departments already
    is another issue that needs to be explained to the public.

    With the number of failed IT and other projects that have been farmed out to private consultancies,
    ‘to reduce the risk for the government’ the cost must be in the billions.

    I know of just one case at DCSF where CapGemini have been in charge of a project to create a new website
    for teachers since 1995. They charged millions and completely mismanaged the project,
    nothing has ever been launched.

    It is not too much to ask for a system where public money goes to projects for the public good.
    Not into the hands of greedy and grasping MPs and equally greedy and grasping
    private management consultancies.

    Regards

  5. Nick says:

    Hiving off the auditing to an outside party simply wouldn’t work from an FOI perspective: the information is still held on behalf of the public authority, so can be requested.

  6. LP says:

    Agree with Nick- an ‘independent’ audit party will get the Boot just like Filkin did- MP’s like to scrutinise us- but they don’t like the tables turning on them. I want the money paid back into the Treasury, otherwise they have profitted by their mis-interpretation of the Green Book

  7. Paul Ingram says:

    Capita, ran into them in detail, in the Education system, ‘insider’ company, bad news. Bell’s (failed) effort has been another attempt to hide information – but I don’t expect they will stop trying.

  8. Amanda Jelley says:

    We are all absolutely appalled at the behaviour of the very people that we vote into the government with regard to their expenses. One simple answer to all of this….. make them all pay back all their expenses to the public purse as a gesture that they agree they have acted inappropriately.
    Amanda Jelley

  9. Joanna Jay says:

    While watching you and the others on the CH4 News tonight (Monday, 11/5/09) I was almost as amused as I was horrified by Jon Snow’s sudden airing of that oft repeated lament, viz: that to reduce an MP’s income is feared by those who believe it risks attracting Parliamentarians of poorer quality…! Quite how highly such people are inclined to rate elected Parliamentarians like Michael Martin, John Prescott or Hazel Blears I therefore shudder to imagine…!!

  10. Joanna Jay says:

    Surely, throughout the debate so far, there has yet to be shown one good reason why it seems almost accepted without question, by so many people – even those clearly shocked by their recent excesses – that in order to do their job it is imperative that MPs “own” a second property…??? Oh, sure – an MP whose constituency is outside the M25 needs somewhere to lay his or her head in the Capital, of course, but, to my mind, it doesn’t follow that they need to enter the property market to do so…! The HOC should enter the property market instead and purchase several apartment blocks within easy commuting distance of Westminster, in order to provide (adequately…!) furnished one-bedroomed accommodation to any MP who needs it. After all, Universities and Colleges have done much the same for students and staff for years…!

  11. BUSTOP says:

    Heather

    Thank you for your hard work – you deserve great credit.

    I agree with Paul Ingram above, I too have come across Capita, who are closely intwined with the Labour Party and Gordon Brown.

    I understand that much of the resentment from MPs (Nick Robinson made the point this morning) is based around their fear that the gravy will dry up, leaving them with Financial committments they cannot meet. Someone needs to make it clear to them that this is their problem and of their own making. By their own definition a second home is needed to fulfill their duty as MPs. It follows that when they are no longer MPs they no longer need a second home, and so, are no longer entitled to claim expenses for it. Therefore they should approach the aquisition of a second home on the basis that they may, every four or five years, lose £24,000 worth of contributions. If their motives for a second home are simply to enable them to do their job (i.e. be in two places at once) they will have no problem because they will no longer need the second home and they can sell it therby having no further costs. They should then repay, to the extent possible, all money received from the taxpayer including any profit from the sale, and from the sale of contents too. Put another way allowances for a second home might be seen as a loan to be repayed when they are no longer MPs. In this way their investment in property actually becomes an earner for the public and is preferable to money being thrown at hotel chains. At the same time they have a solid base for family life both at Westminster and in their constituency. We all win, except they do not gain financially at the end of the day. I see no reason why this approach could not be brought in retrospectively because MPs would not lose out on anything they were entitled to. Even the green book will not say that they have a right profit from allowances.

    Thus Jacqui Smith, when she loses her seat in Redditch in May, would have to sell her second home i.e. the one in Redditch, repay all money got from the tax-payer, obviously retaining any equity and associated profit that accrued from her own investment, and move her family into her first home in London. If this left her feeling a bit short of space she could have the option of selling her first home to fund the ‘buy out’ of the public’s stake in her Redditch home and live there with all of us happy ever after.

    I cannot see a defence against this?

  12. Nick says:

    @David Lawrence: such a table could be compiled already. The total sums claimed under this allowance are already published on Parliament’s website. See here: http://www.parliament.uk/about_commons/hocallowances/hocallowances06.cfm

    and column 1 in the table here: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/HoCallowances0708.pdf

  13. G Adlam says:

    Dear Heather,

    Just a line to say a heartfelt thank you for all your hard work in bringing this sordid business to light. We all are in your debt for the public service you have performed. You deserve public recognition for such.

  14. P.J.Bonnel says:

    What an excellent job you have done on behalf of the public by publishing details of how the public purse is raided by these people.
    As they are always so fond of reminding us, if they have nothing to hide then they have nothing to fear.Why then trying to exempt themselves from the Right of information act?
    This in itself,and in the light of what has been revealed,is an attempt to avoid any penalty for wrong doing.
    How long are we going to hear those guys banging on on the “Culture of Dependency” regarding people on any kind of benefits?
    Who is going to protect us from them?
    It is time those dis-honourable this and that had their DNA taken and stored. After all lots of people who have committed no crime are on it.

    Yours sincerely

  15. Andrew Watson says:

    Heather,

    A quick note of thanks and congratulations for all your hard work on keeping our politicians accountable. If nothing else, all this has been a helpful reminder to them that they work for us.

    Andrew

  16. steve says:

    I wondered at all these furores about the MPs expenses as published by the Telegraph-a paper that has its own ulterior motive and agenda. I also wondered if any of you knew the system is the same all over the world. Being an MP is a very tough job hence not most people can be or has the gut to become an MP. Could any of those criticising the MPs or the Telegraph journalists honestly say they have the guts to become one?
    Im sure many of the MPs appearrd humbled by the revelation with some offering to pay back some past claims, simply to assuage the feelings of the people and for not wanting to provoke more controversies by defending their position.
    For instance British MPS are perhaps the lowest paid MPs in Europe.
    They simply followed the rules laid down as regards claiming expenses and even though some took the advantage to the extreme no one is saying they have broken any rule – perhaps why David Cameron said that it’s not much a legal issue than a moral issue.
    MPs are only elected to serve a term of 4 years after which they might become jobless. Many have no jobs to go back to except some Tory MPs and perhaps a few Labour ones.
    The Telegraph started with the Labour MPs and followed with the Conservatives except that that two of the first names they chose are Duncan and Gove, the two openly gay front benchers, plus others mostly to the left of the party or pro-Labour. The motive here speaks for itself.

  17. Joanna Jay says:

    To judge by his overstated sympathy for what he claims are Britain’s overworked, underpaid and misunderstood Parliamentarians, “Steve” supports every suspicion that he probably knows a great deal more than most about personal agendas. No doubt there really are some MPs who work hard – though I doubt many (whether Labour, Tory or LibDem) whose self-serving attention to detail is matched by efforts on behalf of their voters – many of whom, even if lucky enough to still hold a job, are forced to regard £24,000 a year as a whole family’s one-and-only “living” wage in their one-and-only home…!!! And, for all their crocodile tears right now, I still can’t get over the way the vast majority of MPs in the HoC – (not to mention those “other” rogues in that “Other Place”…!) – have relentlessly opposed the public’s Right to Know at each and every turn…!

  18. Jill Smith. says:

    The MPs have hidden behind a flawed system and advice given to them by Officials in the Fees Office.
    Perhaps the Telegraph could focus attention on these faceless people who, obviously, are paid a salary
    to scrutinise claims and offer advice to MPs. I don’t feel they have done a very good job, given the
    level of questionable claims and payments. They could have sounded alarm bells long ago to their
    political masters. If they did and were ignored, who ignored them? Another point worth pursuing,
    given that you have highlighted a claim by Tam Dyal, what about Tony Blair’s expenses when he was
    in the House of Commons? Whilst many people wish the Telegraph would ‘put a lid on it’ it seems
    to me that you have a long way to go.

  19. Tim Reynolds says:

    Excellent work Heather – you deserve an honour for exposing this! But I’m not placing the house on you getting one!

    Nevermind a new plan though – what is wrong with the Scottish expenses system which seems open/ transparent at least from the outside? Also I do hope that this furore doesn’t lead to further (successful) requests for public funding of political parties in the UK – in place of individual MP staff expenses – that won’t help.

  20. john shale says:

    Why have expenses? Why have Parliamentary Privilege? Why have exemption from various tax laws for MP’s?
    A total Freedom of Information access, such as the Americans have, is contrary to the nature of British Government but has been proven, by the expenses scandal, to be overdue and to be essential to a true Democracy.
    The nature of the expenses scandal demonstrates that MP’s can not be trusted to exercise self-control.
    Replace expenses by purpose built accomodation, typing pool services and railcard travel.
    MP’s have a very generous salary, which should compensate for and cover the cost of any other aspects of their role.

  21. Colin Ross says:

    Thank you for finnally exposing the M.Ps, however dont stop there let the people know how much of taxpayers money is being used to subsidise the bars and the restaurants in both houses.

  22. Ian W says:

    Thank you – you deserve great credit for your dogged work, and also to The Telegraph for publishing details that would otherwise have never made it out without black felt pen through incriminating key details. I just wonder how long it takes before some of the examples published to date make their way into becoming criminal fraud cases. I also wonder whether Gordon Brown has paid back the £6500 or so he allegedly paid his brother for cleaning services; that seems to have gone off the radar again recently.

  23. Brian Baker says:

    Hooray for people like you who have finally exposed the M.Ps for the freeloading bunch that they are. As ex Serviceman the thing that sticks in my craw is that guys in Iraq have a ration allowance of £2.90 a day and this bunch of S.O.Bs claim £30.00 a day. Sheer greed don’t you think?Accomadation is available in the form of unoccupied married quarters scattered around the outskirts of London (there is a possibility that the serving soldiers might object to the quality of the neighbours FORCED on them though). Now we learn from the Met that the M.Ps probably can’t be prosecuted for the theft of public funds. When did immunity from prosecution for the priviledged few creep in?Sack them all AND bar them from ever standing for public office again.Thieves and fraudsters the lot of them.
    B Baker

  24. albert oram says:

    every police authority should investigate the mps in their area using the green book guide and prosecute any mp who breaks any rule.
    no governmentcan pass a rule that breaks thev criminal law

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