Well, after 5 years of fighting, debating and legal battles, today Parliament has finally released the details of MPs' expenses. Or rather, they have released some heavily edited sections of the details of MPs' expenses. After MPs themselves have been allowed to go through all their own claims "redacting" information, there are some glaring gaps in what the public are being told. It turns out that "redacting" is a technical term for "obscuring potentially embarassing information with a big black marker pen".
The High Court last year of course ruled that all details of MPs' expenses claims other than bank account and credit card numbers should be released. However, Parliament then voted to overrule the High Cour and keep information such as second home addresses secret. At the time, MPs such as Julian Lewis argued that this was essential for security reasons.
The revelations by the Daily Telegraph of flipping and avoidance of Capital Gains Tax have demonstrated beyond any doubt that second home addresses are crucial to being able to properly scrutinise MPs' expenses claims. Of course, the fact that the Telegraph have published so much of this stuff already makes this heavy handed and secretive redaction process a farce that simply angers people more.
Given that so many MPs' details have been released online all at once, the help of TPA supporters in analysing and scrutinising what MPs have been claiming for is going to be really valuable. Please follow this link to the expenses website, and let us know any suspicious, absurd or otherwise dodgy claims that you spot. If everyone starts by looking at their own MP, no matter how obscure they might be, then we will swiftly get through the whole set, I'm sure.
Please send anything you spot, with links, to firstname.lastname@example.org
We will keep a rolling blog here to post notable examples:
- George Osborne MP: Paul Waugh at the Evening Standard has spotted that the Shadow Chancellor claimed £47 for two DVDs of his own speech. Ironically, the topic he was discussing in the footage was "value for money".
- Alan Campbell MP: The Honorable Member for Tynemouth has regularly claimed £200 in cash every month on his Incidental Expenses Provision giving only the explanation that it is "petty cash". It is remarkable that in effect he has been able to claim £2,400 a year without any attempt to say what it is for! Where did it go, Mr Campbell, and did you actually spend all of it every month? If not, what happened to the remainder?
- Julian Lewis MP: This long-standing enemy of oppenness has some very odd bits and bobs in his claims records. Having claimed for "20 calligraphy pens", he seems to have then used them to black out as much of his expense forms as possible - meaning that in some cases he has made the information totally incomprehensible. As well as routinely deleting the destination of his taxi trips, he has actually gone through whole claim forms and deleted the labels of what he has claimed for wholesale, leaving us with only the prices. Bizarrely, he even claims his membership of the Royal United Services Institute on expenses! Among the other "redacted" details there are a number of references to "subscription to BLANK". What could be so embarassing that he needs to hide his subscribing to it? Given the experience of Mr Jacqui Smith, the mind boggles.
- Neil Turner MP: One of our supporters from Wigan has been through Mr Turner's expenses and has pointed some curious duplications. In some months, he claimed £400 for food, between £200 and £250 for petty cash and then claimed for specific foodstuffs and office provisions including coffee, Jacob's Cookies, a box of 48 four-finger KitKats and Millac Maid. Given that other MPs are trying to justify their petty cash claims by saying they were for coffee, biscuits etc, what on earth was he spending all the cash on?
- James Purnell MP: £19.55 for a 3 kilogramme jar of mint imperials?
- Gary Streeter MP: The MP for South West Devon apparently paid "Maradufu Christian Missionary Ministry" £1,000 a quarter for upkeep of his Parliamentary website. Weirdly, checking through Google Maradufu Christian Missionary Ministry does not even appear to have its own website - are they really web experts offering best value?
- John Grogan MP: Bizarrely, the Selby MP billed taxpayers £110 for English lessons for an employee who proved unable to communicate with his Yorkshire constituents.
To be continued...