Saturday, 9 May 2009

Spending the afternoon in a slowly revolving door


Expenses... what to say? Starting point is, yes, the revelations of the past few days, or at least the way they have been reported, are grim and hugely damaging to the reputation of parliament and MPs. I don't intend to comment on any individual cases - except to say that I think the way the press and the BBC reported the story about Gordon Brown reimbursing his brother for paying their shared cleaner was appalling and obviously designed to mislead. Apart from that, all I will say is that I think it's up to each MP to justify themselves to their constituents, and the wider British public. But I can understand why people are angry and appalled.

I haven't, by the way, checked through my bundles of past claims yet; in fact I only collected them this week. I suppose I should do that on Monday when I'm back in the office. I did hear Frank Field MP say that he'd got some of Mark Field MP's paperwork in his bundle, and there have been loads of other similar complaints, so being one of many, many 'Mcs' I'm expecting the worse.

I have to say I'm rather bemused to read the weird selection of items being mentioned in the press, many of which are things MPs simply aren't allowed to claim... I suspect we will find, as with the Phil Woolas case, that the Telegraph has got the wrong end of the stick and confused receipts with claims; if someone has, for example, bought a toaster and a microwave and some bedding for their second home in a Tesco superstore, and also bought shampoo and magazines and cigarettes at the same time, then they would make clear on the claim form they were only claiming for certain items but the receipt would show everything. (Although when I've been in such a situation I've always crossed out the items which aren't being claimed for). This must be the case for some of the confectionary and cat food and eyeliner and things like that. I also think the press have been a bit misleading when they've pulled out individual items from receipts and called them 'claims'. Whoever it was who claimed 5pm for an Ikea bag obviously didn't submit a 5pm claim; he'd have bought some stuff from Ikea's market hall and a 5p bag to put it in, and that would have been just one item on the receipt. What was he supposed to have done? Deleted the 5p? Ditto the 26p wooden spoon mentioned on the Telegraph website as being purchased by a Labour female backbencher. (Which incidentally is the only item where there is even the slightest possibility it might be me. I'm not saying it is. I'm just saying I have one, or two, whereas I don't have a patio heater or a wet room or a barbecue. I have no idea if I've ever claimed for one, but if I did it would have been with other items).

As for what you can and can't, or do and don't claim for, it's a tricky judgment call sometimes... I was with my office manager in Staples in Bristol a while ago. Can't remember what we were buying, but it was probably envelopes and possibly a telephone... put it all on my credit card, as usual. Anyway, at the till we spotted a couple of cute funny-shaped magnetic calculators, one bright pink, one purple, and threw them into the basket too. They were only a few quid each but when it came to filling out the claim form for office costs I decided that we hadn't really needed them and had only bought them because they were fun, so I didn't claim for them (although we do actually use them). A trivial anecdote, but one I tell just to illustrate that we're not all engaging in some sort of MPs' edition of Supermarket Sweep.

It's important to note that the claims appearing in the press at the moment relate to the 2004-08 financial years. I'm told by older colleagues that the system used to be far more lax, and far more widely abused, but that was before the Freedom of Information Act and so we will probably never know the details. (And please can we have just a little bit of credit for introducing the FOI? No? Thought as much.) It's also important to note that the system has been tightened up several times over the past year or so, and will no doubt be further tightened after the Kelly inquiry reports. I would also like to say at this point that when I voted against external audit of our allowances last year, I was patently obviously wrong. I thought the Fees Office did a pretty rigorous job in monitoring our claims, but it looks as if an awful lot of questionable claims were allowed to slip through the net. For what it's worth, I've never had any cause to argue with, or challenge the Fees Office. I once claimed for a hotel room in London, because we were voting till very late at night and I had a very early start the next day. I was told by a colleague I could claim, but then it turned out I couldn't, so I said 'fine'. (This was in the days before I got sorted with a flat in London). But that - and the fact they occasionally chased for receipts that I'd actually already sent them - gave me the impression they were being fairly rigorous in their scrutiny.

During the period 2004-08 no receipts were required for household items under £250 per month. I am sure the coming days will reveal that some MPs abused this by claiming just under that amount each month, in the same way that I'm sure some MPs will have abused the 'up to £250 petty cash' each month from the office costs allowance. All I can say is, I didn't, as will I guess become clear in a few days.

Anyway, from April 2008 (I think) the rule has been that receipts have to be shown for all items over £25 and we have now just voted - a couple of weeks ago - that receipts should be required for items below that amount too. Until April 2009 there was a £400 per month food allowance. As new MPs in May 2005 we were advised by the old hands to claim this as a matter of course; it was our entitlement. So I did, although not over the summer or other periods when I didn't have to be in London. I admit to being uncomfortable with this. It is, I suppose, possible to argue that the cost of feeding yourself when away from home is higher, especially given the long hours, and most businesses or organisations will pay employees a subsistence rate when they're working away. But £400 a month? So I gradually started claiming less and less under this heading. Since April 2009 it's been scrapped and we have a flat £25 subsistence allowance for every night spent away from our main home. I've interpreted this fairly strictly, as nights that have to be spent away from my main home in Bristol. If I choose to spend a few extra days in London over the recess, catching up with friends or shopping, that should not of course count. But if I'm there for meetings or to do stuff in the Westminster office, then it should.

By the way, despite what some press reports are saying about Labour MPs having affairs with each other and double-claiming the costs of hotel accommodation at Labour Party Conference and MP away-days , we are not allowed to claim for any costs at all associated with Party Conference, as it's political not parliamentary work. And Labour doesn't have MP away-days (or weekends). The Tories do; we don't. So that story sounds like rubbish to me.

As for second homes, let me start by saying that the system is obviously massively flawed.... I was selected only a few weeks before the May 2005 election. I didn't have a base in Bristol, so just rented the first place I came across (a small, not very nice flat) and didn't have the time or energy to do anything about settling in or making it home. After the election I used the house I co-owned in Luton as my 'Westminster' base, although the travelling back and forth was a killer (getting home gone midnight, having to be back in London first thing the next day) and designated my Bristol flat as 'my second home'. Over the summer recess I moved out of the place in Luton, got myself sorted in Bristol, and also sorted out a London flat - since then I have considered Bristol to be my main home (I've got a nicer flat now, which is small but has a wonderful view of the floating harbour), where I spend most of my time when Parliament isn't sitting. The London flat (equally small and no view at all because it's a ground floor flat on a main road, so I keep the blinds permanently closed) is my designated second home. I can't see that changing in the foreseeable future.

Other dilemmas... furnishing the second home. I believe that MPs should be entitled to an allowance to do so. We don't all inherit our furniture! But I think that the suggestion that has been made, that newly-elected MPs should have a one-off allowance of about £5000, would be better than the current system. At present if an MP has a low mortgage or rent, there's nothing to stop them spending the rest of the £23,000+ Additional Costs Allowance on furnishings (subject of course to the 'John Lewis' list or home improvements).

And this is easy to exploit - although I would say, once again, that I have never done so. I don't think we're under any obligation to tell the Fees Office any details of our second home so there would be nothing to stop an MP with only a one bedroom flat buying two or three beds. I suppose you could then either put the extra bed(s) in your other home, or - if you were being really dodgy - you could just submit receipts for furniture that someone else had bought, or you could buy it and then return it to the store later for a refund. I have no evidence anyone has done this; I'm just saying it's technically possible.

And of course there's the issue of how you choose between the basic or deluxe model. I've always tried to work on the basis of 'would I be buying this if I had to pay for it myself?' Although in the early days I didn't actually realise we could claim for furniture, so when I kitted out my second home in London from Habitat (mostly, apart from a few item from the Purves and Purves sale), I did it on the assumption I'd be paying off the credit card bill for some months to come.

For most MPs, claims for parliamentary allowances are something they do in a rushed moment at the end of the month, and the paperwork is usually something of a muddle. MPs lead fairly chaotic lives - we have two homes, two offices, we work strange hours, we have people making demands on us from all quarters, and we usually are trying to keep at least six or seven balls in the air at any one time.

I can entirely understand how, for example, could have mistakenly claimed for the same bill two months in a row. You see the bill, you can't recall if you claimed or not, and all the past month's paperwork is at a different home or office or you didn't actually get round to taking a copy of it... so you put the claim in and expect the Fees Office to tell you if you've got it wrong. I've usually erred on the other side of caution, or, rather erred on the side of inaction and not got round to claiming for things I could have done, just because the receipts weren't with me when I filled in the claim forms and I just wanted to get it over and done with. I didn't claim for a TV licence in London for several years because I couldn't remember whether the quarterly direct debit payments were for London, or the monthly ones, and frankly life was too hectic to be bothering about such things. (If you're about to erupt at the very thought of an MP claiming for such things, remember, they are still paying for at least one property. I pay council tax, electricity bills, a TV licence, water rates, insurance, etc, etc, for my home in Bristol).

Anyway... that's a probably futile attempt to go with my other futile attempts to explain the system and why we are where we are. It's not intended to justify what you've been reading about over the past few days, and I agree with those who have expressed their anger at MPs sticking to the mantra 'it was within the rules'. It's not good enough.

As I've said, the rules have changed and further change is needed. I don't have the solution. I don't think anyone does at this stage. But if we have to wear hairshirts for a while, or from now onwards, then so be it. Frankly, we - collectively speaking - deserve it. Although I do still draw the line at sharing a dormitory with Ann Widdecombe and Nadine Dorries!

PS If this isn't enough, I have blogged about this issue on here several times before. And I'm not prepared to post or respond to allegations about colleagues, because I simply don't know what is true and what isn't. Some of it might be libellous.

44 comments:

The Grim Reaper said...

Are you not going to say anything about your expenses claims, Kerry?

Or are you waiting in fear for the Telegraph to tell us on your behalf?

pagar said...

I do not believe for a moment that you went into politics to feather your own nest.

Like so many other things in the anachronism that is the Palace of Westminster (subsidsed bars and restaurants????) the expenses system was clearly flawed and invited abuse.

What has mystified the public is that so many of the people they entrusted with their vote to represent them were prepared to steal their money when given the opportunity to do so.

Would they be foolish to vote for them again? I think so.

Remember Remember said...

Can't see why MPs should get ANY subsidy for food at all. The HoC feeding troughs and boozeries are already subsidised to the tune of millions and a slap-up meal only costs under a three or four quid.

You want lunch, pack some sandwiches for work, like most labour voters do.

There seems to be a huge gap between what MPs delude themselves to be "entitled" to and life the real world.

When you flog the London home bought with tax payer's money, the lucre must go back to the tax payer.
ALL OF IT, including the money from the furniture.

Chris Paul said...

Excellent Kerry, thanks for this

Catosays said...

If, as you say, your expenses are whiter than white, then I take my hat off to you.
Sadly, there are many MPs (of all parties) whose expenses would not bear detailed scrutiny. They should now be investigated by HMRC, although why they weren't before is a mystery.
As to why you should be able to claim for food, then so should everyone; we all eat don't we?
Somehow though I can't see me being allowed by HMRC to claim that as an allowable expense.
It seems to me, and doubtless to many in this country, that there is one set of rules for the plebs and one for you MPs and people are getting more than slightly angry about it. There's no point saying the system is flawed....YOU MPs voted it in.

Kerry said...

GR - This post was, at least in part, about my own claims as with previous posts. Headline figures are in the public domain and details will be published online soon. So what's your problem? Are you expecting me to spend hours going through the (as yet unopened) bundles in my office and post every last detail online when HoC staff have already done it and will be publishing it soon? (Probably sooner than July now, given the fact the Telegraph has all the info).

P - I'm not sure actually how true it is that restaurants and bars are subsidised. It might be that they're non profit-making - i.e. drinks are priced so the bars break even, rather than make money for someone. But you'd have to ask someone who knows how much a pint of beer costs in the Strangers. I don't!

RR - the food allowance was intended as subsistence costs for being away from home. My understanding is that Network Rail, for example, pays its employees £50 a day when they have to work away, plus of course hotel costs. By comparison the £400pm for MPs (which has now been changed to £25 per night away from home) is quite a bit lower. You're forgetting that MPs work 12 or 13 hour days in Parliament - we don't vote till gone 10pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, so it's not just a case of sandwiches at lunchtime. Frankly I'd much rather be able to cook a decent meal for myself at home, but the job doesn't allow it.

Catosays - Well I'm not sure I did vote this system in. It dates back beyond my time. And I don't think most of those MPs who did vote for it thought the allowances would be used to buy chandeliers or kill moles or whatever.

The case of the MP who tried to claim for a chandelier actually raises an interesting point. The guidance I was given from the Fees Office was that a reasonable claim would be one that mirrored your normal expectations of home life, so for me that would be Ikea, Habitat, maybe the Pier. But if someone has the kind of home that has chandeliers, they probably regard £600 for a glorified lampshade as quite reasonable. I'm not for one moment saying that the taxpayer should pick up the tab for this guy's claim - just musing on the fact that perhaps he thought he was being quite modest in his claim.

Kerry said...

PS Seeing as I replied to everyone else, I think it's only polite to say thanks to CP - thanks Chris!

Iris said...

Hi Kerry,
Nice post. And some fair points made about how the press has reported the claims as sensationally as possible to elicit the strongest response from an outraged public.

That said: About getting credit for the FOI act, do you really think you deserve credit for it or do you think previous govts should be thoroughly ashamed for not having introduced it? I'd contend it's the latter. So, no brownie points for the FOI, it's what you'd expect from a democratic government. Any democratic government. But MPs are not the great Satans they've been portrayed as over recent weeks either.

Steven_L said...

I reckon you all want to reform the allowance from mortgage costs to a cash handout because property is a bad investment at the moment and you all want to fill your boots with cheap shares instead.

Bristol Dave said...

Why was the way the press reported Gordon Brown's reimbursement appalling? As far as I know, none of the report was incorrect. It was £6.5k over a period of months - If I remember rightly it basically worked out at £280 pm. A cleaner can't work any more than a couple of hours a week - that's a hell of an hourly rate to be claiming off the taxpayer!

Also this idea of the press confusing reciepts with claims is clearly absolute rubbish, given as far as I can tell MPs don't have submit reciepts anyway for food claims up to £400 a month and other low value items. I'd put money on the fact that the MPs (e.g. Woolas) claimed for these items fully knowing they'd claimed for them, and did so because they thought they'd get away with it. Also, how do you know the Telegraph haven't got the actual claim forms rather than just the reciepts? It's possible.

This expenses story has revealed what a lot of people needed to know about how taxpayer's money is being abused. Please don't try to cloud the issue with phrases such as

or at least the way they have been reported- it's nothing to do with the way they've been reported, it's what they've been reporting on. It's shocking and all MPs affected should be thoroughly ashamed.

Oh and Kerry - if you can pass a message to other MPs, please get them to stop using the excuse "it was within the rules". It may well have been, but we all know that you write, vote for, and oversee the rules yourself, so this is hardly an excuse and just insults our intelligence.

As for credit for the FOI - no, I don't think so. The documents that were going to be released under the FOI, as you know, would have had so much redactions in black marker it would have barely been readable. Interesting the press have had to resort to underhand methods to get hold of the kind of information that should be freely available to the public that financially support the activity. And what was Parliament's response? First priority was to find out who leaked it!

I'm still reeling from the arrogance.

Kerry said...

Well I don't want to get drawn into commenting on individual MPs cases, but I'm going by what Phil has said - and presumably he wouldn't be saying it if there was evidence in the public domain that could very soon be proving him wrong. As for Gordon's cleaner, it was over a couple of years and there was contract which is in the public domain. I don't know how much it worked out at per week or month, but I suspect it included ironing too and that takes ages! All I can do is speak for myself and I've never claimed for a cleaner, or indeed ever had one. Always seemed like more hassle than it's worth.

By the way, MPs can also claim for dry-cleaning costs, which I find surprising. In fact I met a Lib Dem in the dry-cleaners the other day who said he'd always claimed for his suits and shirts, but was now having second thoughts. I have never done so, despite my propensity to spill coffee down myself on a regular, almost daily basis.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Kerry,

Thank you for being so frank: it seems that, as far as I can see, you are one of the honest ones.

And you can have two points for bringing in the FoI, but I'm afraid that you lose one for MPs' attempts to exempt themselves.

DK

Dick Puddlecote said...

Fair post Kerry, apart from this snidey coment, We don't all inherit our furniture! It's very class war and not attractive.

I would hope though, that seeing as you were part of the government which brought in powers to prosecute this woman, that MPs will be consistent and push for the same court proceedings to be directed at those in Westminster who designate themselves as living where they don't.

If this beats moderation, you go up another notch IMO. ;-)

Paul Halsall said...

Iain Dale's Daily Dozen sent me here, and I have to say it is just about the most sensible thing I have read on the whole to-do.

Frankly, I think The Telegraph as a newspaper is probably doing what it should, but given is is owne by the very odd and gnarly (as the Americans would say) Barclay brothers, I also see a more overt political agenda as a possibility here.

Bemused Wolf said...

Actually, DK has said exactly what I wanted to say about this expenses situation, so I'd like to add my name to his.

It's true that I hold many MP's in the highest contempt for these disgraceful examples of exploitation at the taxpayer's expense, but I feel that credit should be given where it is due.

Thanks Kerry.

Carl Gardner said...

Thanks for this, Kerry. It's good to read something from an MP that isn't justifying this greed at my, and their constituents', expense.

On hairshirtedness: probably most members of the public agree it'd be okay for your second TV license to be funded, and your second council tax, since you're paying those in full at your real home. Fine. But we're not just talking about TV licenses. We're talking about posh tellies and Sky subscriptions - things that are unnecessary. I have neither in my rented flat, which I think would suit an MP very nicely. I don't see why they need more than that, or why I should fund it. You should put up with watching Sky news on a cheap freeview box, if you want us to pay for it.

And food! Well. You're right that others get paid subsistence allowance when they're away from home. MPs aren't away from home at all, though, if they're living at their second home funded by the taxpayer! A free, modest canteen for MPs would be fine (in which case it should also be available free for other workers who need to be in Parliament late, as I used to be sometimes as a civil servant). But I can't understand a food allowance.

And Kerry, it really doesn't help MPs to go on and on about how tough their jobs are, how they're going for hours and all that. Many of us have jobs that are very tough, too, and that force us into chaotic lives, and MPs failure to realise this just proves to us you don't know what's going on in the real world. By the way, we get no slack at all from HMRC or any other government agency.

On FOI, DK is absolutely right. Hooray to the government for bringing in the Act; boo to the Speaker and MPs for trying to resist these disclosures.

And do you agree these leaks were in the public interest? Or at least, that they should not be treated as criminal? I think it's outrageous for the Speaker to have called the police in, and hope MPs like you raise it in the House.

The Grim Reaper said...

Kerry said "GR - This post was, at least in part, about my own claims as with previous posts. Headline figures are in the public domain and details will be published online soon. So what's your problem?"

None at all, Kerry. I'm just wondering how you feel about the details of your own expenses being made public soon. Are you absolutely sure there's nothing in there that people won't respond to by going "this is a bit fishy"?

I'm just trying to get an understanding of this from an MPs perspective. Which is damn difficult when you consider how few MPs actually have blogs.

Kerry said...

I don't doubt there are things in there that people could take objection to, particularly if you're from the school of thought that thinks second home claims should not be allowed, or that council tax, utility bills, etc for a second home shouldn't be claimed. Although actually I didn't claim elec/gas for the first couple of years because the energy company couldn't get its act together to bill me properly, but that's another story. As I've said in this post, I was never very comfortable with claiming the food allowance, and eventually claimed less and less under that heading. There might be small items thrown in with larger items - like the anonymous MP's Ikea bag - I don't know, I haven't gone through the forms yet.

But if you're talking about things like second homes in Cornwall, or jacuzzis or wet rooms, or chandeliers and tennis courts, or 'flipping' properties or spending lots of money on refurbishments to improve a property's value, then no, nothing like that. And no mole killing either.

Basically we all know it's open season on MPs, we all know we're going to get some flak, whether it be for our own transgressions or under 'a plague on all their houses' (which is a pretty apposite phrase in the circumstances). But as to why I haven't published my own details before someone else does, it's as I said - there are two grey bundles sitting on the spare desk in my London office that have not been opened yet. Because I preferred to get some proper work done instead.

I think on balance most MPs will actually be quite relieved this has come out sooner rather than later. We were all dreading the prospect of this dragging on all summer after the official publication date in July. At least this way we can get some real progress on cleaning things up before summer recess. Will some MPs, like the Tory who emailed round saying 'I personally am not prepared to become poorer at this stage of my career', hold out against change? Possibly. But I think most of us realise we're going to have to pay a price for this, not just politically but financially too.

TheFatBigot said...

It seems to me there are two problems.

One is MPs seeking reimbursement costs that are not a necessary additional expense caused by them having to have a second home. It is in this context that I find it absurd that taxpayers should be paying for an MP's cleaner (whether that MP is Gordon Brown or anyone else and regardless of whether the cleaner also does ironing or, if it comes to that, performs the dance of the dying swan before chucking bleach down the loo). Having a cleaner is a luxury not a necessity.

The second is profit. There is no justification for any MP of any party making a profit on the disposal of a second home ("flipped" or otherwise) save to the extent that he or she has paid towards the purchase price (treating mortgage interest payments as part of the purchase price for these purposes).

The justification for the taxpayer paying towards purchase is that most MPs need an additional base not that they need an additional source of a tax-free lump sum at some time in the future. If those payments result in a capital gain that gain should accrue to the Treasury not to the MP's pocket. I hope to hear MPs volunteering to repay any such unwarranted profit.

It cuts both ways, of course. In the event that the property sells at a loss the MP should not have to incur that loss personally. The whole exercise should be revenue-neutral for MPs.

Please tell us that when your time as an MP ends you will not seek to profit from the sale of your second home save to the extent that you have paid personally towards the purchase.

Dick the Prick said...

Mole killing!! There's just nothing to say.

Putting on the Ritz said...

I think you're missing the point that raises the ire of the public.

i) MP's have been knowingly taking advantage of the system irrespective of whether controls were in place or not. MP's have a responsibility to not only do the right thing, but be seen to do the right thing. And, yes there are probably honest MP's why have most MP's fought tooth and nail against any tightening up of the sytem? Why haven't the honest ones pushed to have the loopholes closed, exposed etc?

2) MP's are fundamentally out of touch with the real world. If this was the private sector and daresay within most govt depts, the individual would be sacked, irresepective of whether they broke the rules. let me give you an example.let;s say i am allowed to travel business class for flights for my job. i decide i want to bring my wife along and i cash in the buisiness flight ticket and buy two economy tickets for the same price. right or wrong or borderline? actually wrong. the company is reimbursing for flying on business to do my job--they feel i should fly business class. so it's not my decision to simply cash in a ticket and do something else even if it's cheaper.

3) most mp's, the cabinet, the speaker's office and most of the civil service have fought AGINST much of the FOI Act--why is that citizens journalists etc have to fight and challenge rulings of FOI time and time again. Shouldn't the principle be that ALL information is freely available unless it is a matter of ntl security (and even that is sometimes questionable). that would mean information is freely available on the web. that means exceptions should be just that, not the norm.

4) why did MP's vote to change the law in order to exempt MP's from being subject to tax for their expenses.

if i have private health, or a car or other "benefits" provided to me by my employer, than i am taxed fully on those benefits. and if i move and my employer reimburses me for those expenses, HMRC allows up to 8k tax-freee. anything above is subjet to being a taxable benefit.
shall i go on about all of the benefits that i am taxed on?

5) and my finally pt, is that if MP's need a london residence because they are working in london, then why isn't the parliamentary year extended? perhaps the length of the parliamentary recesses should be shortened so you can spend more tme in the london base? and, yes, Parliament should eliminate of the silly late night sittings where no one shows up--and I have yet to see cabinet minister attend a session at 1130!

regards
Kerry

Devil's Kitchen said...

Kerry,

I shall repeat here, as I have on the blog, kudos to you for being so frank. As you know, I don't agree with your politics (although I do like the fact that we were able to have a decent conversation over, for instance, the government's role in controlling fatty substances) but it is still absolutely fascinating -- and very, very important -- to get the insider's view.

It's why blogging is such an interesting and vital thing: plus, of course, no matter how rude I am about or to you, you are still higher in my estimation than most MPs simply because you do blog.

As I said over at The Kitchen, perhaps this is because I have a sentimental attachment to a "community of bloggers" -- something that existed, regardless of party lines, far more when I started four and a bit years ago than it does now.

Anyway, praise over...

"Will some MPs, like the Tory who emailed round saying 'I personally am not prepared to become poorer at this stage of my career', hold out against change? Possibly."Oh, certainly. And they are going to have to be removed, by hook or by crook. A continuation of the status quo simply isn't an option.

"But I think most of us realise we're going to have to pay a price for this, not just politically but financially too."I'm afraid so, Kerry. The widespread abuse -- whether or not all of this was "within the rules" is immaterial, the public view it as abuse -- has ensured that the stock of politicians has never been so low.

Any attempts to rig something that will give substantially the same result, or the same amount, will also meet with short shrift.

Ultimately though, if politicians are ever to be rehabilitated, then it is blogging politicos that will make it so: you humanise the political class.

But, as you said, right now it's hair-shirt time.

DK

DaveA said...

Kerry I hope you are well and here is my tuppence worth. I have seen your expenses, although undetailed, shock, horror I thought they were reasonable. From what I can remember, please feel free to correct me but I worked out that your flat in London costs £1,500 a month. It is unreasonable for you to commute daily from Bristol to London and SW1/Belgravia is the most expensive real estate in the world. On what you spend on staff was fine with me as the money does not end up directly in your pocket. The criticism was that your staff costs were amonst the highest. The reason you do have a large staff because you have to deal with large amounts constituent's queries, especially Somalians. The way you indulge one of your constituents, I am entirely happy to accept your explanation.

On a more positive note as someone who is peripherally involved in politics on the smoking ban, I am struck from the politicians and lobbiests I have met how intelligent and even erudite you people are. You have a vast range of knowledge on many differing subjects. If you were in private enterprise I would estimate your salary would be £80-100,000 a year. My provenance is that I have worked in recruitment for 24 years.

What has been impressive so far is that politicians have been contrite. The apologies from me have been well recived. Cynics would rightly argue that if the data had not been released the situation would of continued.

There have been some quite disgraceful abuses of the systems, which are questionable up to fraud levels. A friend of mine suggested that Guido Fawkes, Paul Staines should chair the committee in the review. Parliament should consider this recommendation seriously.

The Penguin said...

Fair play and well done to you for staying honest.

Shame you all get smeared because of the dishonest greed and arrogance of the many rotten apples in the Westminster barrel.


The Penguin

Richard said...

First - glad to hear that you are not involved in the scam, and i do not object to MPs being paid expenses (even if your government changed the rules so some of the things you get freely I get fully taxed on as if they were benefits).

However you do have a cheek asking for Labour to get credit for the Freedom of Information Act. If you hadn't spent so much time trying to avoid disclosure, and actually cahnged the rules to try to prevent it, then you might.

Guthrum said...

All credit to you

Bristol Dave said...

Tory who emailed round saying 'I personally am not prepared to become poorer at this stage of my career'Just as we thought MP's reponses had hit the limit of arrogance. I cannot believe somebody would say such a thing.

Come on Kerry, spill! Give us coded references as to who it was ;-)

Hushberlin said...

I too came here via Iain Dale's blog, which recommended your account. He was right. It read to me as an honest account of how I imagine I and most others would behave if in your situation.

I do think though that you too easily accept the Phil Woolas claim that just because ineligible items were on his receipt, it didn't mean he claimed them. The Telegraph subsequently said that his claim matched, to the unrounded penny, the amount on the receipt in question.

The question remains, what is to be done now? Most MPs want to concentrate on how to stop these abuses in future. It's clear to me that no one will dare to act this way again for some time. The key question is not so much the future but the past, and whether action is to be taken against those who've seriously abused the system in the past. Not wooden spoons on a receipt, but seaside homes a hundred miles or more away from Westminster and constituency.

Matt Wardman said...

>Can we have just a little bit of credit for introducing the FOI? No? Thought as much.

Yes.

And thanks for the post.

Kerry said...

Laurence Robertson was tje MP who said he wasn't prepared to become poorer - it was in the press too.

As for coming towards the top of the scale re staff allowances. Yes it's because I have a very busy office. As well as casework I also have a lot more people contacting me about policy issues than in some other seats. East Bristol is that kind of place!

It's possible to transfer money between the office costs allowance and staffing allowance, so the money I save by having a relatively cheap rented office, for example, can then be used to pay a decent number of staff a decent wage. None of which are related to me, I would hasten to add.

Thanks for comments - no time to respond to any more at this point!

The Misadventuress said...

Hi Kerry

Would just like to add to the other sentiments that it's refreshing to see an MP talk honestly and openly about what's going on. Seeing Tessa Jowell on the Politics Show last weekend was like watching a puppet spout every cliche and excuse from the 'I'm not guilty guv' tool-box that seemingly every other PM, regardless of party, has been dipping into too. What she, and the others who keep up this arrogant denial that they've done nothing wrong, have done is simply confirm most people's view that they're hiding things and treating us like children who can't see past their bluster.

Personally, it's far more engaging to hear an MP like yourself detail the expenses rules and regulations, and on top, how you have interpreted them. It also makes me far more open to trusting the other things you say as I regard you as an honest person doing a job to the best of your ability. Surely that is the way to win back trust across the board?

I suspect the reason most other MPs haven't been so forthcoming is because they can't - as they have not interpreted the rules with anything like the degree of caution you have, but rather used it to make money and top up their salaries. And it is this ethos, more than any other, that upsets me most. Nobility, honesty, integrity, morality... these seem to be severely lacking in the MP lexicon of personal standards. Maybe it's a peer group thing - everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't I?

But it's singularly depressing that so many seem to have found themselves working under the same roof, and worse still, purporting to be public servants carrying out services on behalf on the people who elected them into those places when in fact they are treating it like a job in any other industry, or more specifically, high-earning industries like the city. I would argue that if it's money and a property portfolio they want, they're in the wrong job. Or am I just being far too naive to expect MPs and other elected officials to see what they do as more honourable than corporate enterprise?

aproposofwhat said...

Thanks Kerry - small, cute and honest! Now there's a trifecta ;o)

Bristol Dave said...

Laurence Robertson was tje MP who said he wasn't prepared to become poorer - it was in the press too.He's got some cheek, given that he was joint top of the table of additional costs allowance in 2007-2008 (£23,083 - the maximum amount), and joint 2nd on the "Incidental Expenses Provision" (whatever that is - £30,374). He also paid his wife, Susan to write his appalling website out of his Communications Allowance (£10,015). Nice bit of nepotism there, I wonder what her bill was?

Matt Wardman said...

>It's important to note that the claims appearing in the press at the moment relate to the 2004-08 financial years. I'm told by older colleagues that the system used to be far more lax, and far more widely abused, but that was before the Freedom of Information Act and so we will probably never know the details.

I missed that paragraph - sory :-)

There's an issue here for the Speaker in that the house authorities shredded all the (1 million) 2001-2004 receipts for all the other MPs after a High Court test Case ruled that an FOI request for receipts of half a dozen MPs should be made public.

I don't think that should have been done - as it is the House Authorities undermining the principle behind decision by both the Information Tribunal and the High Court.

See:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/5301739/Ben-Leapman-My-four-year-battle-for-the-truth-over-MPs-expenses.html

Putting on the Ritz said...

Will you go on the record to support Kate in her challenge to the Speaker. Is it time for the Speaker to be replaced--he has failed to support MP's when appropriate (eg arrest of Damian Green); and he has failed to institute the proper controls in the parliament including his own office.
If you truly believe in the House being accountable, then surely Michael martin is an anachronism whose time has come.
Comment please?

Will said...

Kerry, Thanks for you comment's. What would be your opinion be if the Bristol East constituency owned a flat in London and paid for it to be furnished? That way if you were to get voted out the next Bristol East MP would move in after you move out. The Tax payer would then only be liable for the cost of furnishings ect. once, minus the cost of maintenance and repair of broken damaged items. Another bonus would be that the government or council could pay for the flat outright and not have to further fund the banks with interest payments on mortgages.

Kerry said...

That assumes all MPs want their main homes in the constituency, and second homes in London. A lot of MPs with young families want their main home in London so they can see something of their kids during the week.

Kerry said...

BTW I have conducted a bit of investigatory journalism of my own, following up on Pagar's post - a pint of bitter in the Strangers is about £2.10-2.20, which I'm told is roughly the same as the price in your average 'working man's' club. And you can't claim for it on expenses!

DaveA said...

Across the road at the Westminster Arms two pints of Bishops Finger and a pint of Guinness for a well known blogger, lobbiest and me. £10.25. A saving of £5.65.

Methinks a saving of 40%.

Two cups of coffee at the HOC 70p, £2.40 in Cafe Nero.

Will said...

Hi Kerry,
Further to your response ie. second homes. If a MP's main residence is in London what is the NEED of a second home at tax payers expense? If there is a need regardess of geographical location the rule could still apply and goverment/council can own the MP housing stock/potfolio.

Kerry said...

Dave, You're drinking in overpriced Westminster tourist traps. And you can't compare coffee out of a push-button machine (which I think is 50p, though it might be 40p for the smallest - even tea is 40p now) with Caffe Nero.

Will, most MPs need somewhere in London AND somewhere in their constituency, although we've just tightened this up so anyone within the M25 has to commute. I spend 3 or 4 nights a week in Bristol and 3 or 4 nights a week in London, but I count Bristol as my main home because I spend nearly all of the 10 week summer recess here as well as half-terms and Easter. (Christmas I'm at my Mum's!) Constituents would I am sure be very unhappy if I resorted to what used to be the common practice of spending all my time in London and paying the seat a visit twice a year.

DaveA said...

Will as Kerry will tell you politically I am not her greatest fan. I think some of the revelations have been an utter disgrace. However MPs do serve a great purpose in democracy in being YOUR representative in Parliament. I hope I am not betraying any confidences here but I know Kerry conscienciously replies to all her constituents letters. Even when she does not agree with the content. I have even met people who have worked with Kerry and not one of them have a bad word to say about her.

As I mentioned before I have also met quite a few MPs, minsters, lobbiests and also their staff and most, if not all, are extremely well read. From my experience of recruitment imhp MPs are underpaid. However it does not justify the abuse that has gone on. Belgravia where the Houses Of Parliament are, is the most expensive real estate in the world, and I mean anywhere. Kerry's £1500 per month flat I think is good value for money. It is unreasonable to be voting at 9 o'clock in the evening and get the 10 o'clock train to Bristol, be home at 1.00 am and get up at 6am to be in Parliament for 9.

Kerry, the price of drinks at the Westminster Arms is the average price I pay in central London. Maybe I might of got 25-40p change elsewhere.

And please don't think I have gone native :)

Kerry said...

Just to correct you a little bit (tho' thanks for the post) - on Mondays and Tuesdays votes START at 10pm, so if there were two votes, (which each take about 15 minutes) I'd miss the 22.45pm from Paddington and would end up on the last train, the 23.30 - which gets to Bristol at 1.35am. And that's if the trains run on time... which is a big 'if'!

emma said...

Hello Kerry,

I am a teacher, I work long hours but we are not even allowed a free cup of tea at school because it is public money and there is no allowance for it. How can you justify your £25 a day?
Emma