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IPSA blog > Posts > Expenses in perspective
 

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January 28
Expenses in perspective

From time to time there is media coverage – often billed as an investigation, but actually built on information which we make available for all to see – which criticises MPs or pokes fun at them because of the cost of running their Parliamentary office or travelling in their constituency. At times, I feel some of this goes beyond holding to account and becomes an unfair attack on individuals or MPs as a group. Such articles invariably include the line ‘MPs don’t get it’ before raising eyebrows about the business costs MPs incur in going about their duties of serving constituents or legislating. 

Before reaching for such hackneyed lines, it is worth remembering that there has been major reform. The system is unrecognisable from the one in 2009 – and rightly so. We now have clear rules properly enforced. Genuine transparency meaning all claims are online for anyone to see. At times that has meant some try to trivialise the smaller amounts. These claims provide support to help MPs do their Parliamentary work and are published in such detail because the stationery bills are itemised and we ask MPs to account for individual journeys in the constituency. This approach has to be the right one, doesn’t it?
 
And, in addition to this new approach of openness, the changes we have introduced have saved the taxpayer around £35m since 2010. 
 
The crisis is over. The system is working. And the taxpayer and public are benefitting. And MPs are getting the support they need to do their job
 
Yesterday, I sent the following letter to the Daily Mail for publication:
 
Sir,
 
In response to the article published on Saturday, claiming ‘Proof expenses loving MPs still don’t get it’, it is worth making three points.
 
First, in response to the suggestion that MPs are squeezing every last penny out of the taxpayer – that simply isn’t right. IPSA has checks in place to stop that happening. We have actually saved the taxpayer around £35m since 2010.
 
Second, the list of office costs you cite as evidence of abuse are no such thing. MPs should not have to fund the costs of running an office from their own pockets – doing so would make Parliament the preserve of the rich.
 
Third, the idea ‘they don’t get it’ ignores the major reform to MPs’ costs and expenses we’ve introduced. There is now real transparency which is why your paper and any member of the public can go online and see in precise detail what their MP has claimed for. Add to that the savings for the taxpayer of £35m and it is clear that things really have changed for the better.
 
Sir Ian Kennedy
IPSA, Chairman

Comments

Dodgy maths

Do please stop banging on about the £35m 'Ipsa savings' figure - it doesn't stand up to any scrutiny
 on 1/30/2014 4:09 PM

MPs' Expenses

Several issues are raised by Sir Ian's assertion that all is well

If Sir Ian's savings are genuine then the average, annual, inflation adjusted over-claim by an MP, pre-2010, was about 18,500 GBP and tax free. That is about 240,000 GBP during Labour's last period in office. Most of the MPs from that period are still in post so presumably the dishonesty needed to over-claim year on year is latent and remains within Parliament.

Sir Ian has published his correspondence with the Speaker in which the latter makes clear his wish for a more "MP friendly" Board to control IPSA.

MPs are sharing in a subsidy of their food and drink that is worth about 5,000,000 GBP annually. This is in addition to MPs' right to charge their food and drink at work to the public purse: a rare privilege.

Sir Ian accepts that we do not know what MPs are doing for their pay and expenses, so we do not know whether MPs are being reimbursed for useful purposes. Are we sure that MPs are doing anything worthwhile?

MPs' selling consultancy services and MPs' paying friends and family as employees  both appear to offer considerable scope for continuing abuses. Given the past approach to expenses it would be surprising if abuses were not taking place.

IPSA'S astonishing pay rise for MPs has made up about a third of their "loss" through reduced expenses. The pay rise ignored the huge reduction in MPs work derived from loss of powers to the EU and national assemblies in Wales, Scotland and N Ireland as well the reduced financial, military and political span of the UK. IPSA have not spotted, or have ignored, that most people in the UK have failed to maintain their standard of living post-crunch.

So, there might be a temporary brake on expense claims but the suggestion! that "MPs still don't get it" remains reasonable. MPs are hostile to IPSA and in the long run they will probably find a way to re-instate the pre-2010 levels of expense claims.
 on 2/6/2014 10:12 PM

Expenses - really?

Mark Harper's resignation has revealed that MPs may claim for the costs of their cleaning staff. Where else are the costs of cleaners a business expense? MPs and members of IPSA appear to live in a bubble of entitlement. MPs "Don't get it" : they cannot see the problem in maintaining their luxurious and well-subsidised lifestyle whilst the rest of us manage an average loss of income of 6% since 2010. Sir Ian Kennedy "doesn't get it" either. The "going rate" was lost for many of us post-crunch but not apparently for MPs.

I know people who work away during the week and travel home at the weekend. They cannot claim for the cost of someone to clean for them whilst away. Nor should MPs. Nor should MPs receive a multi-million subsidy for their food and drink.

If Sir Ian believes that he has restored confidence in MPs' expenses I believe he is mistaken. It may be that IPSA is enforcing tighter expense regulation. However, that regulation remains unfairly generous to MPs.

I do not care about MPs claiming for stationery and other low value claims provided they group them together so that the processing costs of claims are minimised.I do care about and object to being told all is well when IPSA continues to maintain MPs' strong sense of entitlement by subsidising activities MPs should pay for themselves.

I accept that IPSA has reduced expense claims by 35 million GBP since 2010. Sir Ian thinks is a great achievement. As someone who manages to complete expense claims honestly I am not that impressed. IPSA is a costly organisation made necessary by the dishonesty of MPs. If MPs ars now claiming within the rules that is the minimum I would expect.
 on 2/11/2014 2:19 PM

Re: Expenses - really?

The previous comment asks "Where else are the costs of cleaners a business expense?"

Whilst I agree that cleaners for private homes should not be a business expense, MPs should not have to pay for the cleaning of their constituency offices out of their own pockets.  The media often presents legitimate business costs as though they are personal 'perks' when, in the main, they are not.  Some of the media also like to lump staff salaries into 'expenses', as though it's the MP who receives that money.  This is untrue and designed to mislead.  Staff salaries are paid to staff, and it is extremely irritating when the press appear to claim otherwise.
 on 2/13/2014 12:22 PM

Re Expenses - really?

An MP should certainly be allowed to claim the costs of cleaning his or her offices. Unless The Telegraph is mistaken Mark Harper claimed for the cleaning of his home.

The main point is that Sir Ian Kennedy's letter masks the true position. Today's news that there will be no legislation to allow the recall of MPs who fail to meet the standards Parliament expects of them is significant. The failure shows that MPs are confident they can carry on as they did before the expenses scandal. The reluctance to legislate must mean that a lot of  MPs are  "at it", probably on consultancy work, otherwise, as William Hague would say, "only those with anything to hide have anything to fear."
 on 2/14/2014 9:17 PM

Expenses - really

This is another problem with media reports. They do not differentiate between historical claims dating before 2010 (eg cleaning of second homes) and what is allowed now (eg cleaning of second homes). The Mark Harper case is a good example. It all happened before 2010 and he can not claim for a cleaner for his second home now.
 on 3/5/2014 9:59 AM

The above statement is a whitewash and the crisis is not over

"The crisis is over. The system is working."

No it is not.  On the figures quoted by Sir Ian's "savings", it is clear that the level of "expenses" was and is unacceptable.

Added to which nothing is done about situation's where an MP's private affairs conflict with items being voted in the house.  Commercial and residential landlords.

Something like 1:3 or 1:4 of MPs are private residential landlords yet they are voting on statutory, regulations and policy decisions that directly affect them as landlords, their tenants and the income they are likely to receive in their pockets. Prices are pushed higher even though this IS a major crisis across British life because housing need is the one single issue that affects people of all ages,incomes and types for want of a better term. It may be themselves, a sibling, a child, parent, relative or friend. 
The decision on bedroom tax is one example, thousands of people pushed into private sector because they have an extra room in social housing - that means a larger pool of potential tenants, enabling private landlords to charge maximum they can and those people are now proving to be claiming more housing benefit assistance than when they were in the larger social housing with a lower rent!
Financial assistance to buy properties is another there is opportunity to enter the market and convert the mortgage to buy to let later, this is in is ensuring residential property prices are rising, certainly protecting their capital investment and likely increasing it. 

Such MPs should not be allowed to vote on such matters and Parliamentary Standards has failed in it's duty to stop them.

Sir Ian your organization is despised as a totally useless organization, papering over the cracks rather than fixing matters . Show us there is more to you and control the excessive claims (Ian Duncan Smith over £30 for a breakfast, and I am sure we can show MPs of every other party doing the same but it is not right. Act on expenses and act to prevent MPs voting on matters where they have a personal financial interest.




 on 3/8/2014 3:52 PM

Expenses - really?

The Useful Documents page of the IPSA site makes clear that cleaning of MPs' second homes was forbidden in 2010. So my comments in relation to Mark Harper's cleaning claims are withdrawn.

The comments under MPs' Expenses stand. There is no reason to suppose that MPs suddenly became honest in 2010. MPs continue to receive over- generous subsidy of food and drink - GBP 5m annually for the Commons and apparently for every other cup of tea and biscuit. It would be surprising if there were no abuse of consultancy deals and staff payments to
family members.

Standards in Parliament are much lower than elsewhere in the UK. Neither MPs nor IPSA "Get it" - many people no longer trust MPs to act in any interest but their own. Clearly, there is little to be done about the low standards to which MPs operate. Once elected, most MPs have a job for life, now with guaranteed annual pay rises care of IPSA. The cost of running IPSA demonstrates that we cannot trust MPs to make expense claims honestly. The change IPSA has made is that we now pay a huge sum to ensure MPs claim expenses within the rules - something most of us manage as a matter of honesty, personal integrity. So IPSA's change is not impressive. I will not be told nor accept that the standards in Parliament are adequate.
 on 3/10/2014 5:02 PM

To be fair

Seriously, the IPSA is an 'independent' body? According to the Parliamentary Standards Act, the IPSA needs to consult nearly everybody who is going to be affected if it wants to revise the MP's allowances scheme, and refer its findings from investigations on MPs back to the Committee on Standards and Privileges under the House of Commons. Do you call this independent from the Commons or the MPs? But to speak fairly, we should not blame Sir Ian, because all of the problems arise from the IPSA itself, which was set up by those MPs who are now under 'regulated'. Would anyone expect a thief to establish a piece of law to get himself caught? To be honest, the IPSA is set up only for rescuing the reputation of the Commons of the MPs. Nonetheless, it would be a wise recommendation for MPs to tide over the financial difficulties with their electorates, at least pretend to.
 on 3/24/2014 10:13 PM

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