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Sunday, April 30, 2006

In the money

I once read a novel by Kingsley Amis in which he speculated that the rich stay that way by using whatever means they can to avoid spending their own money. It now transpires that Labour MP, Shaun Woodward, is a big fan of this method.

Today's Observer reports that Mr. Woodward is a multi-millionaire by marriage, and owns a 'Wren-style pile in rural Oxfordshire, complete with organic farm', a home in the Hamptons, summer playground of New York's wealthiest families as well as a £55,000 modest redbrick terrace, bought without a mortgage in his St. Helen's constituency. Despite all of this wealth Mr. Woodward claimed £20,092 - to the penny, the maximum allowed by Commons authorities - in the last recorded year in 'additional costs allowance', the fund designed to allow MPs to maintain a second home so that they can carry out their parliamentary duties between constituency and Westminster. His claim for 2004-5 was his largest, but over the past four years he has claimed £71,719.

Even more surprisingly, the money does not go towards his constituency home in St Helens - a modest redbrick terrace bought without a mortgage for only £55,000 - but to his rather more expensive apartment on London's fashionable South Bank. Woodward counts his main residence not as that in his constituency, but his family home in Oxfordshire, where he used to hold the seat of Witney as a Tory before crossing the floor.

There is no suggestion that Woodward has broken Commons rules, which allow MPs to stipulate whichever home they wish to fund via the allowance. But the revelations will trigger calls for reform of the expenses system, which allows MPs to claim back not just mortgage payments on their second homes or even utility bills, but expenses ranging from food bills to buying new fridges or microwaves, and redecoration. Receipts are required for anything more than £250, except food.

Nice work if you can get it.
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