Monday, April 06, 2009

More on expenses

Since my original letter to the Herald Express reminding voters of my promises concerning the allowances -and especially the bloated staffing and office allowances- being claimed by MP's both the other main parties have kicked up a huge fuss. I have had to reply to a letter from Labour in the Herald Express, and today, a letter from the Lib Dems.

This is my reply after Labour's press spokesman Barry Kaye complained last week:

"Barry Kaye, the press officer of the Newton Abbot Constituency Labour Party, seems to have been stirred up by my promises last week concerning what I would do concerning my own allowances if I am elected as Torbays next MP.

Having worked in business for twenty five years during which I have had to account for every penny it irritates me as much as the next man how lax the regime for MP's is, but I cannot promise to -as he so graphically described it - "ride into town and clean up Dodgy City'" - that is not what I said in my letter.

The only people who can ever 'clean up' Westminster properly are the electorate by considering carefully who they vote for. If people continue to elect people like Labour minister Mr McNulty who think it is all right to claim £60,000 in allowances for a second home that is nine miles away from his main home, or Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith saying her sisters spare room is her 'main home' so that she can claim £116,000, then that is their democratic choice and I am not going to interfere in it.

In the meantime, I am standing for election here, so I have told everyone clearly what I will do about my expenses if they decide to send me to Westminster. Long ago I invited the our existing MP to join me and make a similar pledge and he declined, so Torbay residents will have to compare what I have pledged with what the competing candidates offer, and make their own decision."

And today I have replied to the Lib Dem chairman who has penned a fairly tedious attempt to distance her MP from the expenses controversy in todays Herald. I have replied as follows:

The chairman of the Torbay Liberal Democrats Jean Cope weighed in from the yellow corner on Monday to attack me for making a clear statement about what I intend to do about my Parliamentary Allowances if I become the Bays next MP, she joins the Labour press spokesman who had a go at me for the same thing last week.

Both the other two parties have now had a high old time complaining about the promise I made (originally in 2003)to use the staffing allowance properly - to employ only essential staff in published job roles working exclusively on non political constituency matters; and to advertise any vacancy openly (including salary details) so that anyone qualified can apply. In addition I have said I will not employ family or political colleagues on the taxpayer and to publish all claimed expenses - including the detailed receipts.

I specifically did not mention the existing bay MP's staffing arrangements in either of my letters - so her claim that I have attempted to link Mr Sanders with the 'proven dishonest practices' of some MP's seems strangely paranoid. Perhaps Mrs Cope was unconsciously reflecting on her own members disquiet about their MP employing his political colleagues and his partner all these years on our taxes, or perhaps she was thinking about all the people looking for one of the good quality jobs that Mr Sanders is always saying Torbay needs - who have never been given so much as a sniff at working for him.<

As Jackie Smith has established, however immoral, claiming £40,000 from the public purse to pay your spouse is neither dishonest or illegal; but that does not mean it is right, or fair.

It's still not too late, Mrs Cope. Your MP could kill this off as a political issue tomorrow by simply matching my promise.

This is a really easy problem to deal with. Any MP who thinks the expenses are too generous really doesn't need to claim them. Banging on about how wrong the system is whilst milking it for all it's worth is the epitome of Hypocricy - which is why I really shouldn't be surprised at the letter from the Lib Dems.

What is a really interesting giveaway here is that in spite of massive hand-wringing and complaints along the lines of 'you have MP's on your side doing it too' neither the Labour candidate nor the Lib Dem MP have attempted to deal with this properly by matching my pledge.

Which tells you all you need to know.


Paul Fisher said...

I thought I would make an exception and post on your blog Mr Wood, as for once, I agree with you.

Shame on our MP's, of all political persuasions, for not issuing such a clear cut statement of intent.

Marcus Wood said...

Thank you. This is a problem for all politicians. Sadly too many MP's have forgotten why they are there... and who sent them.

I'm NOT Barrie Wood! said...

I think you should remind the Lib Dems that being a Liberal doesn't mean liberal with other peoples cash, and being a Democrat doesn't mean suppressing the right of your electorate to know what you claim as expenses....

C'mon namesake Barrie, don't play tit for tat politics, but be a good christian soul and admit that your lot are just as bad as "the nasty party" and those Red Flaggers and that at least the other Wood is saying the right thing (What he does if elected remain to be seen!)

BRian Taylor said...

I would love to know what the other Mr Wood (Barrie, not Marcus) thinks of the local MP employing his missus because I cannot imagine that deep down most Liberal Democrats approve of nepotism.

Barrie Wood said...

How interesting that my thoughts are so sought after ! It is interesting to note that the man who aspires to Westminster office under the Tory banner is reticent in answering questions, especially as he is standing for public office and I'm not.

Get off your high horse Marcus - there is no evidence that either the Tories or Labour wish to clean up politics by taking 'big money' out of politics like we Lib Dems do. No Marcus and his party are still happy to be bankrolled by big business. Like many others he's happy for campaigns to be funded by the largely overseas based Lord Ashcroft and others. People with no interest, connection or knowledge of areas like Torbay. The Tories are using financial muscle to tip the balance in key marginals like Torquay. Labour, of course, is happy to take the TU shilling. Both are backed by vested interests. Personally, as we see in local authority elections, I'd like to limit spending to an agreed maximum locally and nationally and, for spending to be limited between all elections as well. Then we might see elections being a battle of ideas, rather than a contest to show how well funded a campaign is. It is good for democracy, as I found out only too well, that well run independent or minor party victories can prevail over the larger party machines. To this end, hats off to 'independent' Cllr Parrott in beating both myself (as a Lib Dem) and the Tories in Ellacombe in 2007. Likewise, also, to the 'independent' ex-Labour winners in Brixham.

Yes, of course, reform of MP expenses is entirely necessary. But, I do think the service provided to Torbay constituents by Adrian Sanders and his support team surpasses that of the ineffectual Anthony Steen in neighbouring Totnes. And, Mr Steen has happily engaged family in employment, but without the abuse heaped on Adrian.

Adrian's own response to the concerns about MP's expenses is copied from his blog entry of 04/04/09
Saturday, April 04, 2009 :

How I Spend Your Money

Nobody can be in any doubt now that MP expenses need a complete root and branch reform.

The summary of MPs’ expense claims for 2007-08 published this week brought another round of criticism – most, but not all of it justified, as I will try and explain.

My biggest 'expense' is the cost of employing staff. I employ one full-time member of staff at Westminster and three people in the constituency working different combinations of hours.

The staff in both offices are qualified and experienced and do the jobs they are employed to do to a very high standard. They offer constituents an excellent service – not my words but the comments of countless constituents who contact me to let me know how pleased they are with the help received.

My staff ensure constituents get a quality response when I'm busy at Westminster or out on constituency visits. They also help to brief me for my contributions in Parliament. Their salaries, and 11 per cent on-costs, are included in my total expenses figure.

I record the names and job titles of everyone I employ in my annual report and the recommended pay scales for each job, together with a description of the duties, are published on the House of Commons website.

The next biggest 'expense' is the cost of living in London around 180 days and 130 nights a year. I rent a one-bedroom flat near the House of Commons and claim for the rent, council tax, phone, utility charges and incidentals. I do not claim for the cable TV service, but I do claim for the TV licence. I also claim £20 for each day I am away from home to meet the costs of food, drink and incidentals.

The next expense is the cost of travel between the constituency and Parliament – usually by train on a Sunday evening or Monday morning, and back on a Thursday or Friday evening - and a limited amount of mileage around the constituency, or to visit agencies/departments that serve the constituency but are based elsewhere.

I occassionally drive but this is usually at the start or end of a Parliamentary session when I need to transfer more papers and personal effects than I can carry.

On the busiest services I travel first class by train to ensure I get a seat and can work without compromising constituents’ confidentiality. However, I always try to purchase my tickets in advance to save on the fare and I travel standard class on less busy services when I can spread out across a couple of seats and work without interruption.

The final main expenses are the costs of renting and running a constituency office and communicating with constituents.

I rent an office in Torquay on which I pay rent, service charge and business rates. Further costs include things like phone bills, postage, office equipment, stationery etc. The latter is also a cost at my Westminster office although the space, phone, heating and lighting are met centrally.

Communicating with constituents includes the costs of my annual report, consultation exercises and the advertising of my weekly surgeries.

Adding these up comes to a significant figure, but I hope that this breakdown helps to explain a bit more of the story behind the figures. I should add that I have always voted for greater openness in these matters and for tougher independent audit, and will continue to do so.

I'd add, do you think we'd ever get such a response from your fellow Tory Mr. Steen ?

FINALLY, after telling me how the Tories will help take 'big money' out of politics, Marcus you can then enlighten me as to which parties you think the Tories should be in alliance with in the EU parliament ? The suggested parties in Latvia and Poland have deeply unsavoury elements attached to them. Have YOU an opinion Marcus, or do we have to wait for the next pronouncement from your leader ? After all, it may be a long wait, it took him four years to fulfill the pledge for the Tories to leave the influential EPP group.

If anyone really wants my views on issues then, of course, click on the link and visit my blog for yourself ;-)