07 April 2009

Bad MP!

So I decided to undertake the task of organising the MPs expenses myself - not too hard, just got the main spreadsheet off the net and split it into my own and sorted them - unfortunately while we are without specific receipts there's not a lot to tell except where an MP is outside the median

The additional costs allowance: ('Cost of staying away from main home')

Of note are the nine MPs who do not claim anything, nor get the London allowance:

Adam Afriyie (C-Windsor)
Celia Barlow (L-Hove)
Richard Benyon (C-Newbury)
Philip Dunne (C-Ludlow)
David Howarth (LD-Cambridge)
Anne Milton (C-Guildford)
Geoffrey Robinson (L-Coventry NW)
Martin Salter (L-Reading West)
Rob Wilson (C-Reading East)

Little surprise - all from along the heavy commuter lines - Cambridge, Reading and Hove are well-served and within an hour of London - what is also striking is that several of them are in their first term (mostly the Tories, who made gains in the 2005 election)

The exceptions are Geoff Robinson, who is a veteran Labour MP and very wealthy - it would seem he prefers to use his own properties than claim on the allowance, which is a damn sight better than a lot of MPs, I'd wager - and Philip Dunne, who comes from Shropshire and doesn't claim a lot really - very little travel, but he does have a massive office expense - make of that what you will, he is from the upper classes so maybe pays his own way

Others worthy of note are James Brokenshire (C-Hornchurch) and Kelvin Hopkins (L-Luton North) who both claim a noticeably low amount - again these two are within easy reach of the capital - Anne Widdecombe is also low, but I have ignored her as she's virtually retired (and yet retains her seat when she really shouldn't)

So I think what is of interest here is the people in similar positions who claim large amounts, while their comparable peers claim for travel (for example Kelvin Hopkins claims under £4,000 for his train tickets from Luton)

Let's pick some notable cads:

Oliver Heald (C-NE herts) - he lives in Royston, a commuter town on the Cambridge line - the same train David Howarth gets on earlier (and claims four and a half thousand for), and therefore is only a 45 minute train ride from London, and yet he claims £104 under the maximum (or nearly six times what his neighbour does) - worth exploring that one

Also in that area we can see South Cambridgeshire and SE Cambidgeshire, represented by two Tories - Andrew Lansley and James Paice respectively - Lansley has an office in Cambridge and Paice appears to do house calls rather than surgeries, so I can't find his office address - needless to say they are both very close to the city itself and in much the same situation as David Howarth, and yet Paice claims the full amount, and Lansley is just under £22k

Four MPs, potentially within 20 miles of each other, in a well-connected area and yet only one manages to fit commuting into his work, I have previously said I don't mind the claim if it is fair and hardly expect a commute from the Hebrides to London - but I have deliberately picked on Cambridge because it is the most used commuter line in the country - granted it isn't pleasant in peak hour (as you may have gathered from my knowledge, Cambridge is my homeland) but if Howarth can manage it for a few thousand a year so can they

You know what really grates me? Howarth, the commuter, claims £4348 on rail, Lansley claims £1822 on rail and £3125 on mileage (ie. car), Paice claims £4890 on mileage and £545 on rail and Heald claims £3246 on mileage and £3870 on rail! Somehow they all claim more than the bloke who doesn't even stay in London!

Now I'm not surprised those three have car expenses - rural constituencies will require some driving around, and Howarth would be an idiot to drive in Cambridge - but maybe they will have cheaper offices? Especially as Paice goes on call - nope, all four are within the £120k band, Lansley the most and Paice the least (and I'm willing to bet the difference is Cambridge rent)

I'm not too interested in their office expenses, I barely regard it as an 'expense' - but I was just checking for value's sake - so of these four geographically-close MPs, one seems to give immensely better value (about £4.5k vs £30k) - are rural areas really six times more expensive?

Now let's head over to one of those other areas - west of London, you will note that two Reading MPs, and the ones for Windsor and Newbury do not claim to stay in London, while the member for Slough (L-Mactaggart) claims less than £3,000 in travel, and only £3,400 on the ACA (and somehow got her employee's travel at less than £7 a go)

You would think the member for Wokingham, just south-east of Reading, John Redwood, would also be pretty cheap - oh no, he claims over £22k despite representing an area with a direct London train route - his travel is pretty good - under £4000 for mileage, clearly he drives and parks up at his London address - but he still claims what is virtually the full amount on that second home, and that is where most of the problems arise (you can't really get much benefit out of a travel allowance, can you) - you have to ask: is it worth it, and is he providing good value by claiming such an amount?

Enough of that, let's look at travel:

Travel is pretty dull really - unless somebody notes how many use those ridiculous 1st class tickets, what I'm looking for is oddities rather than how much people claim on train fares

In fact they look pretty reasonable - the highest spenders are those from Northern Scotland and the islands up there, they make up the very few MPs that are claiming over £30k - so not bad

There are however MP expenses for employee and family travel - once again the remote members make up the most expensive of employee travel, although I am slightly dubious of Geraldine Smith (Morecambe) claiming 10 employee trips at a cost of over 170 quid a go, or how about Alan Campbell's (Tynemouth) staff at over £200 each, is it that much for a return from Newcastle? Indeed quite a few of these employee trips from the remote regions are well over £100 a pop, I guess the employees take taxis and claim everything they can, but the airfares or train fares seem a bit 'steep' to me

I'm more interested in the spouse and family claims - of which you can use 30 each I believe, and which a few, mostly Scottish, MPs seem to be making good use of - is there really a good reason why Charles Kennedy and Alastair Darling need so much family support? Maybe because they stay down south longer? Either way they both stand out having used 60 and 55 expensive trips respectively

Charles Kennedy also seems to fork out nearly twice as much for his wife than for his employees per trip - rather odd as I would expect them to not be a million miles apart, at least Caroline Spelman (she of the dodgy nanny) is getting good value - 100 trips out of her £6k

There also seems to be a weird correlation between those that don't use the family allowance at all and those that spend lots on their employees - hmm...very interesting that

A better analysis may also reveal people like Malcolm Rifkind - A London MP who needs £5000 in travel apparently, half of which is airfares? (he's going up to his Scottish home, but there's no reason he should be claiming that)

One also wonders where Gerry Adams has been flying...considering he has never taken his seat in Westminster

I must admit Ann Keen has caught my eye - not a single travel expense for the west London representative, and yet she comes in at no.27 on the total expenses list, and as Wikipedia points out - if you discount travel, which disproportionately hits MPs from further away, she is no.1 - with a whopping office expense, and yes this is the woman who is married to another MP, with whom she combines the second home allowance (because that makes sense...) and has some rather dodgy allegations against her and her spouse

It's also interesting that despite there being dozens of london MPs (74), only nine don't bother with travel expenses, and even one out in Windsor doesn't - that's it, why can only these ten people get by without claiming for their tube tickets - even Mark Field, who represents Westminster, claims nearly a grand in train tickets, as do neighbours Karen Buck and Rifkind - these guys could bloody walk to work

What about Staffing? Well there's not a huge amount to go on - most are within a fairly wide band, for some reason Ann Keen and Ed Davey need obscenely expensive offices, the only two over the £140k mark

At the bottom end only our friend Hollobone comes in low, at £17k, the only other two below £50k are the speaker, not surprising, and Dennis Skinner

The average cost of running an office with staff is £116,000 - not bad I think

there are only 260 below this, or 40%

Personally, while some of them are trying to say most MPs are honest, while admitting some are dodgy, I feel that more than half are playing the system - some far more clearly that others - you can't even tell from the data I have that McNulty and Smith are up to anything - in fact McNulty looks like one of the best (within the bottom 200), and look what he was up to

Here are some averages:

Average cost of an office: £17,813 - 354 above this (54%)
Average staffing costs: £85,872 - 385 above this (59%)

Average ACA: £19,469 - 409 above this (69%)

MPs who claim within £100 of the full ACA: 198 (claiming full amount is 143, many claim within pounds of that)

over £22,000: 292 (£22-23,083: 292)
over £21,000: 346 (£21-21,999: 54)
over £20,000: 388 (£20-20,999: 42)
over £15,000: 494 (£15-19,999: 106)
over £10,000: 553 (£10-14,999: 59)
under £10,000 (and eligible): 42

So, well over half are within a few grand of the total, and taking away the 50 who aren't eligible, it's 58% who claim more than £21k, and 24% claim the full amount, and yet only 7% use slightly less than half (9% claim less than half) - it is this 'allowance' that definitely needs reforming - why is there any reason for these massive differences? They are all London living arrangements after all

I think we'll be lucky if 40% of MPs are being honest

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