What did your MP claim on expenses?
- Credit: Archant
Our five Conservative MPs claimed just shy of £3 million in allowances and expenses during the past five years, new figures have revealed.
An analysis of claims for staff, office costs, travel and accommodation shows how two MPs saw their bills rise by more than 25 per cent for the year up to May’s general election, when compared to four years earlier.
Meanwhile, latest figures released by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority show that MPs Stephen McPartland, Sir Oliver Heald, Peter Lilley and Alistair Burt all registered increases for what they received in 2014/15 when compared to the 12 months earlier. Only Nadine Dorries receives less cash.
In the year-long run up to the election, Sir Oliver’s claims rose by 9.6 per cent, Mr McPartland’s by 5.9 per cent, Mr Lilley’s by 3.8 per cent and Mr Burt’s by 2.4 per cent. Most of those rises were due to increased staff costs, but all were higher than the national average rise of 1.6 per cent.
In the four years from 2011/12, all of the MPs saw rises in what they claimed annually – 27 per cent for Mr Burt, 17 per cent for Sir Oliver, 13 per cent for Mr Lilley, 4.2 per cent for Ms Dorries and 1.4 per cent for Mr McPartland.
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For year-on-year comparisons, we have used figures for the last four years, rather than five, due to a change in how staff costs were reported. The totals do not include MPs’ basic salary, which was set at £67,000 but recently rose to £74,000 per year.
Of the five MPs, Ms Dorries claimed the highest amount in the five years. The Mid Bedfordshire MP recouped £680,000, even though she did not claim any accommodation costs for the final year. Her staff costs rose by £32,000 in 2014/15 compared to four years earlier.
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North East Bedfordshire MP Mr Burt claimed £666,000 and also saw a £31,000 increase in staff costs for the final year. He said: “I have more staff than before because the workload is larger. MPs used to have two members of staff, now four or five is not unusual.
“Prior to the election I had a part-time caseworker, a senior parliamentary assistant, an office manager, a secretary and a part-time admin assistant. Currently we have one staff member on maternity leave, and have two new part-time staff to cover.
“Salaries have only risen on increased hours or additional change of job description. My parliamentary assistant and my office manager have had no increase for five years.
“I rent a flat in London to ensure best use of my hours working for constituents. The prices change as I have moved flats when I considered rent had risen too high. I now rent an unfurnished flat to again keep costs to a reasonable level.
“Overall I employ six staff, (four part time) run an office in Biggleswade and London, all within the costs allowance. Every cost for office equipment and consumables are invoiced, listed and accounted for, and all are available via the IPSA system so fully transparent.
“My staff and I offer a good value for money service to constituents, and I know my team regularly go above and beyond in assisting individual constituents.”
Sir Oliver, MP for North East Herts, claimed £606,000 and during the period in question saw rises in office, travel and staff costs.
Hitchin and Harpenden MP Mr Lilley, who claimed £573,000 in his five-year term, saw his staff costs rise considerably during the last four years, from £110,000 in 2011/12, compared to £129,000 last year.
He said: “I recruited a research assistant in 2012 at a low salary which I increased after one year as she was excellent. Sadly she was poached off me in August and I have not yet found a replacement, so I fear my salary bill will have fallen this year. The reason we have a budget to employ staff is to do our job effectively. The rise in the total was more than accounted for by this rise in the staff bill.
“I do think it is pathetic that the only items your investigations unit single out are two books purchased in 2010 and 2011 for a grand total of £20.99 – apparently the only two I have claimed for in five years. But if it affords me a chance to recommend them to your readers so much the better. I recommend all three books, along with 20 others by him which I possess but obviously failed to claim for!”
“In general my claims oscillate simply because claiming is time consuming and if legitimate expenditures are not lodged within a certain period they become invalid. So I consistently claim less – but by varying amounts – than I am entitled to. Thus my claims for travel fell by a third – not because I travelled less but because I did not have time to compile all my journeys, my PA submitted only those journeys she had dealt with.”
The lowest claimant was Mr McPartland – whose total of £474,000 remained relatively small in comparison because he made no claims for travel or accommodation in the five years.
All MPs are entitled to claim expenses to aid their parliamentary work. However the scheme was brought into disrepute in 2009 when it was revealed that a minority had been claiming for items such as decorative ornaments, entertainment equipment and even a duck house.
Our investigation found no evidence among MPs from this area of the sorts of claims that sparked scandal six years ago.
IPSA chief executive Marcial Boo said: “As the regulator of the public funds that go to MPs, IPSA ensures that taxpayers’ money is used transparently, and that MPs are appropriately resourced to carry out their parliamentary functions.”
Ms Dorries, Sir Oliver and Mr McPartland all failed to respond to the Comet’s questions.