UK & World News

  • 10 January 2014, 1:28

Carry On Claiming: MPs' £4.5m Expenses

Gordon Brown, who recently described himself as an "ex-politician", has claimed £1,012.75 for the rent of his constituency office.

The former prime minister's large claim for his office - one of the biggest - in his Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency is one of 35,000 expenses claims totalling £4.58m made by MPs in August and September.

The claims have now been published by expenses watchdog, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).

"He's an elected politician," an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) insider told me when I raised it in the context of the ex-PM's much-criticised comment about his current status during a radio discussion back in October.

And so he is, of course, even though his Commons interventions are now extremely rare.

But it looks as though the love-in between Gordon's chief crony, Ed Balls, and Nick Clegg may have prompted the Deputy Prime Minister to attempt to airbrush some of his previous warm words about the Tories and his frosty comments about Labour.

The DPM, we learn, claimed for three Tipp-Ex products, a correction pen, mouse and bottle of rapid correction fluid among his stationery items. Trying to wipe the Con-Lib Coalition slate clean before a Lib-Lab pact after 2015, perhaps?

Former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy charged a rather large sum, £839.76, to run a job advert in a newspaper in the Scottish Highlands. Who says the regional press is struggling for advertising revenue?

And despite the expenses crackdown after the 2009 scandal, the latest IPSA paperwork reveals many MPs are still claiming for first class rail journeys, including Tories like David Jones, Anne McIntosh, Paul Maynard and Sheryl Murray (all the way to St Austell, costing £258.57).

Labour's first class rail claimers include Ed Balls (between London and Wakefield) Shaun Woodward (a man it was once claimed had two butlers) Louise Ellman (who chairs the Transport Select Committee), John Healey, Frank Field, Clive Betts, Wayne David, Linda Riordan, Steve Rotheram, George Howarth, Phil Wilson, Ronnie Campbell, Stephen Hepburn and Kevan Jones.

Among the Lib Dems, Norman Baker - the Home Office minister who wants a ministerial bike instead of a car - also claimed for first class rail travel.

The SNP's Angus MacNeil claimed for a first class flight to Scotland. But then with his long and difficult weekly journey to the Western Isles, often involving sea planes, he has my sympathy.

These MPs are not necessarily breaking IPSA rules by travelling first class, I'm told. The new rules state that where a first class ticket works out cheaper than the standard fare, that's OK, apparently.

Some MPs made big claims for the recall of Parliament in late August for the Syria debate, including Stephen Gilbert, who charged £274.40 for coming back from Cornwall.

One of the more interesting travel claims was by veteran Tory MP Brian Binley, who charged £496.70 for an air fare to Malta.

Commendably, perhaps, a tiny number of MPs charged for Tube fares and one, Bracknell's Phillip Lee, claimed for a bus fare. How frugal!

Among the more unusual claims, many MPs have claimed for unexplained legal costs, including Foreign Secretary William Hague, ex-minister Chloe Smith, Angela Eagle, Nicholas Soames and the outspoken Peter Bone, who each charged £577.70.

Hilary Benn appears to have hired Westminster's most expensive photocopier, costing £1,291.17. I'm sure it makes lovely copies.

The tiniest claims, however, were by veteran Labour MP Austin Mitchell, Scots Labour MP Anas Sarwar and Robin Walker, who each claimed 2p for a pencil sharpener.

At first glance, I was surprised to see that Louise Mensch, who quit as an MP for than a year ago, appears to be still claiming. But I'm assured she is not. Some of her old claims still appear on some spread sheets. It's a "data cleansing issue", I was told.

Never mind, more than four years after the big expenses scandal, those MPs who remain in the Commons are still claiming millions from taxpayers.

A case of Carry On Claiming.

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