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Friday, June 19, 2009

Paint it black

I finally got around to looking at the expenses of the seven MPs who represent constituencies within my region last night and found a lot of....black. From what I see in this morning's press, on blogs and elsewhere my experience is not unique.

What were the Parliamentary authorities thinking? This must be their most spectacular own-goal yet though there is some close competition. What saddens me most is that this fiasco is being overseen by a small group of MPs who should know better and who should have provided better oversight. Perhaps they need to follow Speaker Michael Martin into retirement. If it had not been for the Telegraph we would not have know about the abuses at all as these details would have hidden many of them. All the Parliamentary Commission have achieved is to undermine the reputation of Parliament and of politics still further.

Despite the blackness there were still one or two gems that caused a wry smile to cross my face and, in one or two instances led me to bury my head in my hands in despair. The Western Mail and the BBC have details of a few bizarre and in some cases indefensible claims by Welsh MPs.

For a start we have Ogmore MP and minister Huw Irranca-Davies who has now agreed to pay back £127 claimed in an "indefensible" error for whisky used as a raffle prize. He also sought reimbursement of donations for the poppy appeal to the Royal British Legion (two photocopies in the same period) a further claim for £60 for a wreath to the same, £25 claimed as a contribution to the Xmas lighting (shopkeepers cannot claim their donations back), £240 for tiles for his bathroom and of course, £700 for the garden in his London flat in May 2007, supposedly necessary because of a broken elbow sustained in April 2007.

Monmouth MP David Davies paid nearly £2,000 to a haulage company called Burrow Heath, based in Newport, for the production of newsletters and other promotional material. The company is no longer trading but belonged to his family. Mr Davies said that the work was done at short notice and at cost value, and neither he or any of his family made any profit from it.

There is also the bizarre and the absurd with Lembit Őpik claiming for “the mother of all wigs” and the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne claiming £47 for two copies of a DVD of his own speech on 'Value for Taxpayers'Money'.

My interest is in the Communications Allowance and I have not yet started to look at that in detail. However, I have noted that my own MP, Sian James paid £2197.25 for her website and photos. That is about ten times what my website cost and I do not claim that back. She also has claims in for newsletters and postage that promote her work. That is not allowed in the Assembly and quite right too. Again, I send out similar materials but I pay for them myself.

The Gower MP, Martin Caton is rather more parsimonious with his allowances but I still found an invoice for £634 in his communications allowance to pay for 10,000 full colour 'called to see you today' leaflets. He must have a lot of time on his hands to be able to knock on 10,000 doors personally. Surely, this expenditure is marginal party political.

I am sure that I will find a lot more over the next few days. Meanwhile the latest batch of Assembly Members' allowances are due to be published on 29 June with monthly disclosure thereafter. There will be no black.

We will also be publishing our review into allowances on July 6th and initiating changes to make them more acceptable and more transparent. Perhaps Parliament would like to follow suit.
Yes, a lot of it was unnecessary. For example, on rail tickets all but the blacked out price was available.

We couldn't see destination, ticket type, time etc. Without those we don't know if it's been good value or not! It's hardly as if knowing that south Wales MPs travel between Paddington and south Wales compromises security!
"What were the Parliamentary authorities thinking?"

Thinking is not, I fear, their long suit.
Yep! Regarding Huw Irranca Davies's expenses, I noticed the claim for three wreaths also Peter, since he only lays one wreath at the Cenotaph, who has the other two wreaths?

In addition there appears to be a large number of receipts for two copies of the Glamorgan Gazette bought from a Spar shop, one assumes this is the Spar shop in Commercal Street, Maesteg. I would suggest that he only requires one copy of said publication, and then there's the subject of the tea fund, again loads of receipts for Milk bought in Tescos; it would be nice to get your cup o' char on expenses!!!!
No comment on the Aberavon & Neath MPs? On the subject of the latter, are you aware of the allegations made in the section headed "Should Gordon Brown use BossHunters
to solve his problems?" in the Neath Ferret?
I wrote about the claim for the contributions to the Royal British Legion and the wreaths, Xmas lighting, gardening and others. I am also querying the claim for kitchen repair and renovation £3924.80 in Feb 05 and £4500 for kitchen repairs and replacement in July 05. There is a claim for £240 for bathroom tiles with no invoice in March 07. I too wondered about the frequent 2 copies of the Gazette.
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