Sunday, May 17, 2009

Subject best avoided

This last week or two we’ve pretty much heard it all, on the expenses issue, and for me I would think the best policy for any MP, is to condemn the excesses and just keep a low profile on the subject.

Still Thanet South’s MP has taken the position of publishing, his expenses warts and all, at the earliest opportunity. Now clearly Stephen Ladyman has nothing to hide, so just out of curiosity I thought I ‘d take a quick glance.CropperCapture[7]

Now I accept that MP’s do need additional accommodation just like say a sales rep or engineer working on the road, so claiming for additional expenses is right and proper, that said though, on inspection, its interesting that the claim form ACA2 has various little headings maintenance, council tax, cleaning (fair enough who wants their MP in a pinny dusting and hovering 2 hours a week when theirs governing to be done) but hang on, how about this item for “Food”, for which Stephen Ladyman claims a monthly £340-00, now I’m willing to accept that figure is inline with the appetites of other MP’s. But can someone tell me why MP’s should be eating at my expense, excluding meals etc. taken in restaurants on business.

Before anyone’s tempted, to give some indignant response I’d like to just point this out, since even professional local Labour politician Cllr Mark Nottingham seemed a bit cloudy on the issue, the minimum wage is currently £5.73 so for a million or so they’d need to work a few minutes short of 60 hours to pay for that lot, accept of course they’d be paying tax.

Thankfully Labour has made sure that British workers can afford food, albeit by working, dangerously long hours, allowing opt outs from the European working time directive, sorry for the diversion but I doubt your average, Labour party dib dob has worked on sites where safety is eroded by the long hours culture.

Still if you look on the local blog sites of David Green and Mark Nottingham you’ll be able to read Stephen Ladyman’s statement amongst which you’ll see that it noted that 440 MPs’ claimed more than he, which presumably means 219 claimed less.

Fortunately the Sunday Times didn’t include Stephen Ladyman in its front page story concerning the 150 MPs’ who despite their busy Westminster lives manage to moonlight with second jobs, one Tory Tony Baldry having 10 jobs, still maybe Ladyman has given up his job as “adviser” to ITIS Holdings featured in an earlier Times story ”Labour MP Stephen Ladyman uses inside track to strike deals” click here for details.

You’ll find it difficult, I’m sure, not to believe I’m on some sort of witch hunt, but there is no point in pussy footing around the issues, its clear to me that politicians have strayed from what most perceive as acceptable conduct.

My solution is this, that we accept MPs are only human, ask them all to make clear, as Stephen Ladyman has done, and from now on, claim out of pocket expenses (the sort acceptable in business) which doesn’t include hundreds on food you’d buy anyway  or kit-kats or even eight grand televisions.

It’ll be interesting to see how Roger Gale compares when we get to see details of his expenses, still hopefully some day soon MPs will get back to the honourable business of governing us citizens.

Finally should we be too harsh, lets be honest if I was given the opportunity of helping myself to the odd DVD Television or gadget on the taxpayer would I say no, yes …. NO COMMENT !


  1. Leave em alone Tone, Politics is a noble profession!

  2. By Political Editor Paul Francis - Tuesday, January 20 2009

    Thanet South Labour MP Dr Steve Ladyman is backing a controversial Government move to block the publication of detailed information about MPs’ expenses.

    But at least three other Kent MPs disagree with him, arguing that there should be total transparency.

    The Government is facing widespread criticism after announcing it intends to change the law to prevent the disclosure of detailed information and receipts from MPs’ expenditure.

    The move follows a lengthy campaign by journalists and Freedom of Information groups which led to a ruling last year that all details of how money had been spent should be published.

    Now the Government wants to bypass that ruling with a proposal that annual totals for MPs will be published, broken down into more categories than they have been.

    It would mean that MPs would be able to withhold details of precisely how they had spent money on things like furnishings and other items for second homes.

    Thanet South MP Dr Steve Ladyman said he did not object. "The proposal allows for the continued publication of expenses broken down into categorie. One of those categories is ‘fixtures, fittings and furnishings’. This seems reasonable to me - I don’t see that any public servant should have to go further."

    But that view is not shared by a growing number of other MPs and there is a growing backlash against the Government’s proposal, due to be voted on this Thursday.

    Dover MP Gywn Prosser (Lab) said: "I cannot see the justification for such exemptions and I will not be voting for any exemptions."

    Ashford MP Damian Green (Con)echoed: "Under no circumstances will I be voting for this. I believe in transparency where public money is concerned and I will do whatever is required [to publish details]."

    And Hugh Robertson, Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, said, "All our allowances are funded from public money so we should all be held fully accountable."

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  3. Roger Gale's been putting his expenses up on his website for years now matey!

  4. Tony,

    I'm not going to make a habit of responding on your blog - but I'll make an exception just this once as people are so angry about, and interested in, MPs expenses and I think that total openness and full disclosure now is the only way we can reassure them.

    First my website has had details of my expenses for two years now and has always gone a lot further than most MPs. Your readers can do a comparison of my website with that of other local MPs if they doubt me.

    It's interesting is it not, that the Conservative MPs mentioned in the KM article calling for 'transparancy' and saying we should be 'accountable' have not put any information on their own expenses in the public domain? A case of do as I say, not as I do, perhaps?

    What I have done now is extend my website even further to include the claims and receipts themselves and some, so far unaudited, details of my expenses for 2008/9. So everything that is available on me is now in the open - when those Tory MPs quoted as believing in 'transparancy' have gone as far then they can talk again.

    The KM article quoted puts the issue being discussed at that time in a rather strange context - what I was supporting was not a plan to block publication - but a plan to publish the data on expenses in a way that gave the public the information they needed to form judgements about their own MP (including how much they spent on alterations and furnishings etc) whilst not publishing information on addresses and bank account details. It was an arrangement that was negotiated with the Conservatives and when it was proposed had been agreed by them - they changed their minds about 48hrs before it was put to Parliament and so the Leader of the House had to withdraw it - so in the end I never had to decide which way to vote.

    The food allowance that MPs can claim is generous as you say - but keep in mind my working day starts at 8am and finishes when the House goes down (about 11pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, at about 7.45pm on Wednesdays and 6.45pm on Thursdays with sitting Fridays finishing late afternoon) and most of the time you have to be in Parliament or the surrounding area which is why we have to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between in the canteens and restaurants of the House or 'the division bell area'. In the last 12 years the number of times I have cooked in my London accomodation kitchen can be counted on the fingers of one hand - so the cost involved is far greater than if we could buy food at the supermarket and cook it like everyone else.

    The system has now been changed so rather than allowing MPs to claim £400 per month for food we claim £25 per night spent away from home for food (which would come to about £400 if you are in Parliament every sitting day). Of course, £25 is still generous and will no doubt be one of the things that Sir Christopher Kelly reviews as part of his inquiry - but if you have to buy all your days meals in Parliament and Central London then £25 is probably round about what most workers, working away from home in London, would expect.

    Last but not least, the PM has called for a complete independent audit of all MPs expenses since the last election and I support that call. MPs who've made mistakes should repay the money and MPs who have cheated should answer in the courts like anyone else. When the Kelly report comes out we should accept it without any messing about and from then on all MP salary and expense decisions should be made by an independent body and not interfered with either by MPs or Prime Ministers and all claims should be independently audited.

    Commenting for the first and possibly the last time on this site ...

    Steve Ladyman