Sunday, 16 March 2008

MPs expenses and other things

The constant trundle of new stories about MPs expenses is thoroughly depressing, and the sooner it all gets sorted the better. Have just got off the phone to my mother, who every Friday night has to put up with her friends making cracks about it. This week they were asking if I'd got a new £10k kitchen at their expense (much to my mother's bemusement as she'd spent the past 10 days in Spain visiting my sister and knew nothing about the so-called 'John Lewis' list.)

The main problem, as I've said before, is that every MP's circumstances are different. Those of us who got elected in 2005 will be paying an awful lot more on mortgages or rent on their London flats than people who were elected decades ago and bought properties then. At the moment there's nothing stopping someone who has paid off their mortgage, or has a very small mortgage, from using part of the Additional Costs Allowance (which is about £22-23k p.a.) to buy a £10k kitchen. Very few of the 2005-ers, or MPs who need a second family-sized home rather than the tiny flats most of us occupy, would be in that position. Similarly, some MPs use up every last penny of their Staffing Allowance on their over-worked and under-paid staff, whereas others with a less demanding workload can afford to 'employ' family members to do nothing.

I don't know quite know what the solutions are. I just want it to be resolved soon, not least to stop David "£13m family fortune" Cameron's shameless attempts to make political capital out of it.

P.S. My sister has just reminded me that on 'Any Answers' this week a caller suggested that the state should provide housing blocks for MPs, so we can all live together in the same type of accommodation. Why not go one better, and put us all in dormitories? Or better still, bunk-beds?

27 comments:

Elmer Quigley Gooseburger said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris said...

As a member of the tax paying public, I'd be perfectly willing to pay for a fully kitted out posh second home for MPs as long as it and its contents are returned to public ownership as soon as the MP ceases to be an MP.

Sim-O said...

Why the contempt at the housing block? It is a perfectly good suggestion.
I do not think it is in doubt that the majority of MPs need accomodation in London. What the problem is, is having up to £10 for a kitchen!
If housing stock was kept for MPs then there would be no need for a 'John Lewis list', all MPs housing situation would be the same. The accomodation would be vacated when the MP retires/doesn't get re-elected and a hell of a lot of money is saved.
Why does an MP need to buy a family house in London?

Tozznok said...

Why not bunk beds, indeed? What's wrong with them? Given that when parliament is in session, the hours are long, why do you even need top-notch Westminster accommodation when all you need it for is to sleep in it? At weekends or when parliament is in recess, you presumably live in Bristol, and therefore another house is just an extravagance.

willevison said...

In response to EQG;

Firstly, very brave of you to demand accountability using a pseudonym.

Secondly, extremely brave of you to infer something about Kerry from the writing style of her blog given the ill-informed tripe contained in yours and in the link you post. All the swearing does really elevate the argument though. Really.

A few points from a slightly less cynical standpoint;

What Kerry stops short of saying is that a high level of MP's expenses can in some areas be taken as a measure of how well they’re doing their job. A good example would be postage and printing costs: How is an MP with almost zero postage costs full-filling their responsibility to communicate with their constituents? How are they even responding to constituent’s letters? I’m pleased to note therefore that Kerry’s postage and printing costs are on the high side, as are her staffing costs. At least she’s taking her responsibility to her constituents seriously is my conclusion. A conclusion supported by a closer look at her record of attendance in the chamber, the questions she frequently poses on behalf of constituents, the diligence with which she responds to letters, and her frank and open style including updates through her newsletter and this blog.

When we’re talking about MP’s ‘expenses’, it’s also worth noting that we’re not talking about expenses like the ones accountants such as me and you enjoy EQG – for long lunches, dinners, drinks and client entertaining. ‘Expenses’ for an MP are to pay for their staff, their constituency office, postage, printing, stationary, travel costs and a second home if their constituency is sufficiently far from Westminster to demand it.

On the pay issue, the majority of MP's, Kerry included, could earn a great deal more working in the private sector; many take a pay cut when they enter politics. While I can’t claim to know what motivates all MP’s to get into politics; given the unsociable hours, stressful working environment, difficult decisions and constant misguided attacks from people like you, it’s hard to imagine that a drive to make a positive difference isn’t at the heart of many of their decisions.

I have no idea if or how Kerry chooses to spend her allowances, but since I start from a position of assumed trust rather than blind cynicism it doesn’t concern me greatly. There’s little doubt that greater transparency in expenses will be widely welcomed by MP’s, for the very reason that it will avoid this sideshow and let them get on with the job at hand.

I recognise your right to take a blindly cynical attitude towards politicians, your right to post drivel on your own blog, and to post links to personal and unpleasant material on others. I just question whether you actually think about what you're saying, or know anything about the people you vilify or the issues you address.

Tim Nice-but-dim said...

Unlike Willevison ( who must be unique among the voting public), where politicians are concerned I start from a position of MIStrust.

650 MPs cost 500 million this year from the public purse. Kerry McCarthy's own expenses for last year were 155,000 - 6 times the average wage - for expenses !

All this, whilst voting themselves immunity from each and every law they impose on us.

Look no further for a reason why they are now more mistrusted than estate agents.

Snouts in the trough, all 650 of them.Sleazy, selfish, patronising nannies. A plague on all your houses.

willevison said...

"Snouts in the trough, all 650 of them. Sleazy, selfish, patronising nannies. A plague on all your houses."

A thoughtful and valuable addition to the debate Tim.

On those expenses…

I’m guessing Kerry has 4/5 staff working for her, pays rent on a Bristol-East office and pays bills and other office sundries. Not bad to effectively run a small business on £155k per year and still provide an excellent service to her constituents.

I work for an accountancy practice and have on average 5 people working under me (earning between £20k and £35k), I travel a fair bit and so do my staff. So using the MP’s measure of ‘expenses’ - that’s around £125K for staff salaries, conservatively £20k rent for the office space we use, around £25k on travel, I guess another £20k on hotels etc. That’s £190k of ‘expenses’ before I count stationary, postage, computers, bills etc. I’m not saying that my job is similar to an MP’s, just that if I measure my expenses the way they are required to, it would come to a pretty big number.

What would your ‘expenses’ be if they were measured in the same way that Kerry’s are Tim?

If you were able to elaborate on your other balanced comment:
"All this, whilst voting themselves immunity from each and every law they impose on us."
It might help some of us understand where you're coming from.

Kerry said...

I'VE HAD TO REMOVE THE ORIGINAL POSTING BY EQG AS IT INCLUDED A LINK TO ANOTHER BLOG WHICH USED INCREDIBLY PROFANE LANGUAGE. LOTS OF SCHOOL PUPILS LOOK AT MY WEBSITE, E.G. IN SCHOOL CITIZENSHIP LESSONS, AND I DON'T THINK IT'S APPROPRIATE FOR THEM TO SEE SUCH MATERIAL. I HAVE HOWEVER REPOSTED HIS POST, BELOW, WITHOUT THE LINK.

KERRY.


Elmer Quigley Gooseburger said...
Kerry McCarthy says:

I don't know quite know what the solutions are...."

You don't quite know?

This statement infers that you have, at least, some partial solution? It would be interesting to learn what that is, and surely your readers will look forward to a follow-up post from you regarding this?

Until then, you might care - or not - to avail yourself of some alternative solutions, as suggested here.

On an unrelated note, congratulations on setting what must be a new record for the most number of references to "me", "I", "I'm", "I've" and similar first-person pronouns on one blog.

Speaks volumes.

Kind regards


EQG

17 March 2008 08:47

cookie said...

Kerry McCarthy is a rubbish MP.

Elmer Quigley Gooseburger said...

Firstly, I apologise to Kerry (isn't it nice that we are all now on first-name terms, Wille - and do call me Elmer, won't y'all?)

Yes, I am sorry for inserting a link to that foul blog; 'pon further reading it, I noticed that it exudes the language of the tavern, low, swinish entity that it is.

It was an act of the poorest possible judgement on my part, and I now appreciate absolutely the imperative to protect the sensibilities of schoolchildren, MPs and accountants.

Now, having apologised for my error, I would like to briefly take you to task Wille. Regrettably, I am unable to do so at length - having checked my diary, I see that I am scheduled to watch Coogan's Bluff on TV this evening, so must keep this brief.

Consequently, rather than debate with you the many points that you raise, I choose instead to take a coward's stance, and take you to task only upon the paucity of your grammar and spelling.

I will do this firstly in mime, and secondly, in the style of Kerry McCarthy....

1)






















2) I SEE THAT YOU ARE CLUELESS WITH REGARD TO THE USE OF APOSTROPHE'S, WILLE.

IT'S NOT MP's, SAME AS IT'S NOT DVD's, OR INDEED, CD's. IT'S MPs DVDs AND CDs. NO APOSTROPHE'S, DO YOU SEE?

ALSO WHEN YOU REFER TO MY CONSTITUENTS IN THE POSSESSIVE FORM, I WANT TO SEE YOU WRITE CONSTITUENTS' LETTERS, NOT CONSTITUENT' S LETTERS BECAUSE I HAVE MANY CONSTITUENTS NOT JUST ONE. ALSO I SEE THAT YOU HAVE MADE THE SCHOOLBOY ERROR OF CONFUSING STATIONERY FOR STATIONARY. I COULD GO ON. TSK. I HOPE THAT YOUR NUMERACY SKILLS ARE AN IMPROVEMENT UPON YOUR DIRE ENGLISH? PERHAPS IF YOU HAD SPENT MORE TIME STUDYING ENGLISH WHEN AT SCHOOL - AND LESS ON MEANINGLESS SCHOOL CITIZENSHIP LESSONS - YOUR POSTS MIGHT THEN CARRY THE REQUISITE DEGREE OF GRAVITAS....

/continued for the next 94 grammatical errors....

Anonymous said...

I agree MP expenses are a very tough area. Howvere, I do think Kerry McCarthy seems to be hard working representative, so I think the personal comments should stop!

The MP provided blocks isn't a bad idea, although I doubt it would happen today. Besides, I wouldn't want my worst enemy to share with Anne Widdecome!

Anonymous said...

Maybe Kerry would like to explain exactly how she spends £155,000 of taxpayers' money, why she thinks the taxpayer should give her even more money to buy a 2nd home, kit it out and flog it at a profit not to mention a daily meals' allowance and a subsidised bar. She might equally like to explain why she thinks it's ok at the same time to impoverish pensioners and the low paid by removing the 10% tax band.

willevison said...

“Me fail english? Thats unpossible.” (Ralph Wiggum / Wille)

I do appreciate the lesson Elmer, and I’m only mildly concerned about the odd world you inhabit where the correct use of an apostrophe adds more gravitas to an argument than it’s contents.

I’m much more concerned that you’re happy enough weighing in with abuse, casting aspersions left right and centre; but when challenged, you retreat behind a veil of stilted sarcasm and deliver nothing more insightful than a few points of grammar.

Regards,

Wille

* I bet you couldn’t resist a little smirk (a little mental rubbing together of hands) when you saw I’d written ‘it’s’ with an apostrophe. Be honest.

Elmer Quigley Gooseburger said...

Greetings, Wille!

Thank you for the courtesy of your reply, and yes indeed, I did enjoy a little rub while reading your last comment. I suspect that you did the same while composing it!?

Please do feel free to mail me if you require any further advice or help with your spelling or grammar? It's elmerqgooseburger@gmail.com. I also do crystal readings and provide a dog-walking service, but perhaps that's for another day...?

Sorry that last night I was unable to provide a critique on anything other than grammatical issues, and gave you no feedback on the substance of what you originally wrote.

I am sure, however, (subject to Kelly's blessing?), that opportunities will exist for me - and any interested others - to do so here later?

Meanwhile, thank you Kelly, for your continued generosity in providing this platform for what I am sure, will become an exciting and protracted debate.

Vote Labour!

Kisses


Elmer

PS. Wille. I should add at this point that your prose concerning Kelly is.... and I don't want to sound rude here, but it's somewhat oleaginous.... (I learned that one during my citizenship class)

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, Kerry McCarthy works hard for her constituents. Any organisation / individual that has its accounts open to public scrutiny is bound to be criticised. But I'd say the vitriol should be reserved for the MPs with ultra-safe seats who do next to nothing between elections.

Anonymous said...

She's certainly busy, though whether that's the same as working hard is something else. MPs got an extra week's holiday this year, and are currently in the process of out-sourcing 80% of (what's left of) their legislative function to Brussels. So they have to find something to fill their time.

The point is though that she's moaning about what she has to pay (or rather what she gets from the taxpayers to pay) for a 2nd home compared to what MPs who have been there longer have to pay. She knew what the pay & conditions were when she went for the job. If she didn't think they were good enough why did she bother?

miffed said...

Do you realise the contempt people now hold you and your ilk regardless of party politics - you need to get a reality check i am supposed to feel sorry for you because you haven't had your snout in trough ofr long enough. MP should stay in hotels and provide receipts you complain about poor wages etc but all of you leave office so much richer than you went in. I voted Labour since eligble I am now ashamed of this and would like to see none of the above on a ballot paper

Anonymous said...

Your dismissal of government provided accommodation is worrying! It is good enough for members of HMF so why not for MPs? MPs who live in the SE of England shouldn't even need accommodation as they could use the efficient and well run public transport system that hundreds of thousands of others have to use every single day.

Public funded accommodation would prevent the requirement for MPs to own / rent second homes. To dismiss the argument by insinuating the next step would be to provide bunk-beds is childish and pathetic! Hardly the virtues of someone who should be above that.

Anonymous said...

"HMRC is determined to protect its UK tax base from evasion"

Shame they don't go after MPs then.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/26/hmrc_disc_tax/

Anonymous said...

Your tax affairs all in order Kerry?

Or are you busy shredding?

Kerry said...

OK, probably time that I responded to at least some of these comments, although given the tone of many of them, I'm don't hold out much hope that it will achieve anything... But here goes.

My intention in the initial post was to try to clarify the terms of the debate - i.e. whilst everyone agrees that the system of allowances needs reform, it is difficult to find an equitable one-size-fits-all solution because of the massive disparities between MPs (depending on the nature of their constituencies, the location of their constituencies, how long they've been in parliament, their professional life before they were elected, personal wealth, family set-up, etc, etc).

Let’s start with the housing block notion, and why I think it’s a bad idea.

1) Security – it would obviously be a prime terrorist target so you’d need the same level of round-the-clock security as we have on the parliamentary estate (although judging from some of the comments that have been posted, you probably don’t think we deserve that either). Presumably the cost to the taxpayer of proving such security would be fairly significant, and the chance of breaches of security quite high.

2) MPs’ personal circumstances differ greatly. Some have their families in the constituency; some in London. Some move their families back and forth between the two every week (the Ed Balls/Yvette Cooper household for example). Some don’t have families. So for those who want their families to be with them in London, what are you suggesting? Larger flats within the housing block? Not a great place to bring up kids, especially given the security. I can’t see David Cameron moving out of his Notting Hill abode into one, but then he’s worth £13 million so presumably wouldn’t be bound by the same rules as the rest of us. (At which point it seems convenient to reiterate what I was told by a Conservative MP when I was first elected; that more than half the new Tory intake in 2005 were millionaires).

3) On a more personal note, (which I don’t suppose will engender much sympathy) being on the parliamentary estate for 12 hours plus a day can feel like being institutionalised. People often compare it to being at public school. It would be even worse if we all lived in the same place too; there’d be no breathing space. OK, we don’t spend much time at home during the Westminster week, but everyone needs to unwind at the end of the day; the last thing we’d want is to be bumping into other MPs or having them knocking on the door for a nightcap. (I spent a year in halls of residence at university listening to music on headphones and dimming the lights in case the rather strange guy in the room below realised I was in and came knocking on my door. Which he did frequently.) MPs lead a very public life; we expect to work long hours, and to be approached by constituents when we’re out and about, whether it’s on official business or in the supermarket or on the train. But we are entitled to a modicum of privacy, and we simply wouldn’t get that if we all lived together for half the week. And I don’t mean so that we can get up to things that would be splashed across the front page of the News of the World.

A few other related notes. Chris refers to ‘posh second homes; other refer to houses or family houses. I’ve got two flats, one in London, one in Bristol, both of which have one bedroom a combined living room/ kitchen and a bathroom. Not posh, by anyone’s standards. I know one (male) MP who has had a studio flat in Westminster since 1997, with a pull down bed. Yes, some MPs might have big houses in their constituency and in London (Cameron springs to mind again) but that’s almost certainly because they’ve got other sources of income too. Or a rich wife.

I wasn’t by any means complaining that I can’t afford what other, longer-serving, MPs can afford; I was just trying to explain why some might have money left over in their allowances to buy new kitchens, (or, in the case of those with more prosperous constituencies, enough in their staffing allowances to pay for their sons to ‘work’ for them.)

On the question of MPs being in it for the money… all I can say is that I was earning more 10 years ago than I am now. If I’d stayed in that line of work, and devoted as much time and energy to it as I do to politics, I’d be earning more than the Prime Minister. Considerably more. And yes, I know it was my choice to give it up – I’m not complaining. But I didn’t decide to stand for Parliament to line my pockets; that’s an absolutely ludicrous suggestion.

I think Willievision – who seems a sensible chap despite his name – says all I could say regarding what our ‘expenses’ actually cover. £90,000 or so goes on paying staff, for a start. In any other line of business that wouldn’t be classed as expenses.

As for the anonymous post about my tax returns... If you’re going to accuse me of tax evasion, which is, after all, a criminal offence, you could at least have the guts to put your name to it. It’s barely worthy of an answer, but for the record my tax return consists of my parliamentary salary – taxed at source – and a few pounds interest on a savings account. (And I mean literally, a few pounds). No shares, no investments, no other sources of income. Nothing hidden, nothing to hide.

The division bell is about to go. (Yes, it’s 10pm, I’m still at work). Probably haven’t picked up on all the points but I’m sure I’ve said enough for you to be getting on with.

Whitby Bridge said...

Ok. Tax evasion is a crime. Tax avoidance isn't. It's clear that MPs are engaged in tax avoidance on a massive scale. You may think you're a little minnow in a big fish pond but you aren't.

MPs' dorms are a non-starter. Who wants to share showers with someone they were bad-mouthing 2 hours earlier.

As for Yvette & Ed, where do their children go to school, where are the parents' evening letters sent to. Why do they claim London as a 2nd home? How much did they claim last year? I could check and post back later.

Meals' allowances? Bar subsidies? John Lewis list? Travel allowances? Pension?

Your PAYE plus your building society interest doesn't count as full disclosure.

Be honest, be open. You raised the topic. Post all your details. Like you might have to under FoI.

It might have been 10pm when you finished. What time do you start? How many days a week? How many weeks a year? How many actual attendances? How many votes where you didn't follow a three line whip? NR? 10% tax?

Kerry said...

I was talking about my personal income, not parliamentary allowances. My accountant does my tax return and gets all the info directly from House of Commons authorities re allowances and expenses. I have to pay tax out of my own pocket if I buy things such as computers for the office out of the office costs allowance, as I'm deemed to have acquired an asset - even though they're for office use, and not mine to dispose of. That's all declared on the tax return, which is why I get taxed. All I know about the pension is that my personal contribution is more than £500 a month.

As for bar subsidies - I don't drink. And as for hours worked - after the votes at 10pm on Tuesday, I was back in the House at 8.15am the next day for a breakfast meeting with BBC staff. I then wrote a speech, did some emails, and spent the next seven hours in the Chamber for the Local Transport Bill debate. Got home quite early, by about 9pm, but it was my birthday so I thought I deserved an early night.
Yesterday night I arrived back in Bristol at 1.30 am after addressing a meeting in West London. Got home tonight just after 9pm, after visiting Connexions, doing a 2 hour surgery, spending some time in the office, doing a radio interview, and attending a Labour Party meeting. Tomorrow - Saturday - I'm attending two events (one at the Sikh temple, the other on Female Genital Mutilation) and then visiting an Elderly Persons Home in my constituency. On Sunday it's the cycle path march/ rally. And it's 11pm on a Friday night, and I'm replying to you...

Dave, Worcester said...

Kelly,

In your first post you said "I don't know quite know what the solutions are. I just want it to be resolved soon......"

MP's had a bunch of solutions put to them last week. You, I note, voted against the new proposals, which goes to show just how keen you were to resolve this.

Your actions speak volumes. Your words to us however, are meaningless.

Dave, Worcester said...

Sorry, of course I meant Kerry.

Kerry said...

The new proposals were ill-thought through, as I said, and would have done nothing to address voters concerns. It would have replaced one highly unsatisfactory system with another. Better go back to the drawing board and get it right.

Mr Potarto said...

Kelly, you have given several reasons why MPs dormitories may be a bad idea and that seems fair enough.

But the essential point is that under the current system, MPs profit by having the tax-payer pay their mortgage. A more transparently fair system would have the tax-payer receiving the benefits of property ownership, either by having housing stock owned by the Government available to MPs, or by the Government taking part ownership in the house that is being subsidised.

I note you seem pre-occupied with David Cameron's £13,000,000. You do realise there are millionaires in the Labour party also?

I also note that while you mentioned the long hours on certain days, you neglected to confirm how many weeks you work. Looking here at the parliament website I see that the House of Commons is closed for 18 weeks in 2008. So for a third of the year, an MP can put their feet up and do nothing if they choose. I'm sure that is not your attitude, but there is nothing to prevent it, should an MP take that view.

Finally, you (and Willevision) commented about how expenses include employees' salaries and that is true. However I see that they also include other things that are more controversial. Gordon Brown himself claimed for food, light-bulbs and Sky TV. Quite why anyone who earns more that £100,000 a year feels that he should get his satellite tv paid for by the tax-payer I can't comprehend.