Counting the cost of your MP

THE five MPs in Comet country are costing taxpayers over £600,000 a year it was revealed in the table of members allowances and expenditure published last week by the House of Commons Fees Office. It included a bill for £67,745 claimed by disgraced form

THE five MPs in Comet country are costing taxpayers over £600,000 a year it was revealed in the table of members' allowances and expenditure published last week by the House of Commons' Fees Office.

It included a bill for £67,745 claimed by disgraced former Mid Beds Tory MP Jonathan Sayeed for just two months' work before he quit Parliament last year.

Top of the expenses league was Oliver Heald, Tory MP for North East Hertfordshire, who claimed £135,057 which included £88,217 on staff costs and over £7,000 on travel. He also claimed £21,319 for staying away from his main home. Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, was second in the local league. His claims totalled £134,994 including £87,528 for staff, £16,553 for office running costs and £19,183 for living away from home. Stevenage's Labour MP Barbara Follett came in third spot with a claim for £130,971 with staffing costs at £83,157 and living away from home expenses of £21,634.

Mid Beds Tory MP Nadine Dorries claimed £123,225 with the same living away from home expenses as Mrs Follett, staffing costs of £68,006 and office running costs of £21,559.

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Mr Sayeed was forced to stand down as an MP after revelations that he offered private tours of the House of Commons to wealthy American tourists.

He cost the tax payer over £67,000 during his final two months as an MP.

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He claimed £51,015 to close his office down and almost £5,000 for living away from home.

MPs have a statutory annual salary of £59,095. Only personal expenses go into an MP's pocket while all other expenses are paid directly by the House of Commons Fees Office. This week local MPs defended the cost of keeping them in the House of Commons.

Alistair Burt said: "Two elements in my allowances have notably increased. The first relates to costs of living in London.

"Until the election of 2005, I had largely stayed in hotels and had no fixed address in London. This was partly due to my wife being at home with our children and therefore not able to accompany me often.

"But in October 2005 our second child went to university and my wife, who works full time for me, can now work in the London office during the week so we decided to rent a flat close to Parliament.

"The advantage to me is less commuting, earlier starts and sometimes later finishes at work." Mr Burt added: "The second increase is in staffing which is for an extra researcher to provide me with extra support both for constituency and front bench work.

"Is it value for money? I serve some 72,000 adult electors plus young people. If you added my total costs including salary and divide it by my electorate it works out at around 5p per week per elector.

"I try to do the best I can to ensure the money I receive from taxpayers is well spent on hard work for them. It is, as always, for them to judge value for money."

Mr Lilley's office responded concerning his stationery and postage bill of over £8,000 saying: "The stationery and postage figure is because of the huge correspondence and petitions about Luton Airport and Harpenden Memorial Hospital.

"This is on top of Mr Lilley's base-load of correspondence which is one of the highest of any MP since the residents of Hitchin and Harpenden are highly literate." Mrs Follett defended her expenses saying: "Because Ken, (her husband and best selling author), can afford to keep me I use this to fund the salaries of two of my constituency case workers. "When an MP from outside London is elected, they have to make a decision as to whether they should (a) live in London when Parliament is sitting, or whether they should (b) travel to London each day. Obviously the factors that have to be considered are to decide which makes best use of my time and energy and what the chosen option costs are.

"I chose the former option and consequently Ken and I bought a small house which we use three or four days a week. Clearly having a home in central London is expensive which is why most non-London MPs, including myself, claim all or nearly all the living away from home allowance of £21,634.

"I also claimed travel allowances of £2,277, (which includes my travel in and around the constituency), making the total cost of my living away and travelling to London of £23,911 and this makes me the 410th most expensive MP in relation to living away/travelling costs.

Oliver Heald said: "Because of the nature of the job I now have within the Conservative party I have a lot of extra travelling to do and speaking engagements.

"One must remember that I have the second largest constituency in the House and my workload has increased significantly."

Mid Beds MP Nadine Dorries said: "I don't see a penny of my expenses. Everything goes towards the expenses and costs of being an MP. I wish the House of Commons was at the end of my garden in Woburn so I could work from home and not live in London.

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