There has been a lot of adverse publicity over recent years about the MP’s so called ‘Expenses scandal.’ In the past of course I was one of the first to provide details of my Parliamentary costs on my website even before it was a requirement for them to be published centrally. Subsequently a new independent body the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) was created by Parliament to oversee and regulate MPs’ business costs and expenses. You can see what they get up to here with quarterly update of costs broken down by each MP.
IPSA was created in 2009 by the Parliamentary Standards Act. New rules governing MPs’ expenses were introduced on 7 May 2010, immediately following the election by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act. IPSA has two main roles: to regulate the expenses system and administer and pay MPs’ expenses and their salaries.
Invariably the costs of running Parliament are fair game for journalists and despite the substantial transparency now available and the very strict rules that we all have to abide by, there is still an awful lot of misinformation in the media. Contrary to what you might read MPs do not have any expense accounts. Any money we are able to claim has to be wholly in the pursuance of our jobs as Members of Parliament. We cannot claim public funding for overtly party political campaigning. We cannot fund capital goods for our homes. Any lunches or other entertainment we provide for constituents visiting Westminster for example, as happens weekly, has to be paid for out of our own pockets. Because we all have to run our own Parliamentary offices and employ our staff directly, and procure everything from printer ink to drawing pins ourselves, we have to pay the bill and then claim back from IPSA. Unlike anyone else working in an office there is no one to do all this for us centrally and pay direct. That is the system, whether we like it or not. That does mean therefore that the main item coming under ‘MPs costs’ are staffing costs which do not benefit MPs directly in any case. In my case that involves around 70% of my budget and I have provided a table and graph for the last 4 years below. More detail is available on the IPSA website.
Essentially MP’s costs are made up of the following five elements in addition to our basic salary which as of 1 April 2016 will be increased through the standard annual adjustment by 1.3% bringing the overall salary to £74,962 for the year 2016/17. Salary and pension levels are set independently by IPSA with no facility for MPs to be voted on them now.
* Office staffing costs: I employ 2 office managers at Westminster who job share, one of whom is my wife Elizabeth who also takes care of my constituency surgeries. In addition I have a part-time case worker working from home; a full time parliamentary researcher and a one day a week administrator. From time to time we take on short term interns and usually will pay them at the living wage level. As we are typically dealing with over 200 emails every parliamentary day alone they are all kept very busy and work well beyond a typical 40 hour office working week.
* Parliamentary office costs: apart from a dedicated budget for basic IT equipment which is sourced through the Parliamentary IT Department this covers everything you would expect for the normal running of an office from printer paper to pens.
* Constituency Office costs: I also maintain a constituency office in Shoreham which constituents can visit and I use as a base for a variety of meetings when I am in the constituency. The office is hosted by the East Worthing & Shoreham Conservative Association and they pay the majority of the costs, including for staffing. I pay a fee for rent and for hiring other local premises where I hold surgeries/public meetings etc. and a contribution to utility bills. We are obliged to seek a commercial rental value from time to time which invariably confirms that this arrangement costs much leaser than renting an office independently on the open market.
* London living costs : given the demanding and often unpredictable Parliamentary timetable I tend to travel to Westminster on Monday mornings and stay in London until Thursday or Friday when I return to Sussex for constituency duties. Typically I am in my Westminster office before 8am and rarely leave before 11pm during the week. Subsequently I claim rent for a small flat in Victoria. The only other claims permissible are for electricity, water, council tax, telephone for that property only. No running costs can be made for my home in Sussex where I pay all my utility bills and council tax etc. myself as with anyone else.
* Travel costs : uniquely MPs have 3 places of work – Westminster, the constituency and home. That is why we are entitled to claim overnight living costs (hotel or rent but not mortgage costs) if we live a certain distance from London and travel costs to travel between all three. Typically I will travel by train between Westminster and my Sussex home and drive around the constituency claiming mileage costs, all of which have to be supported by detailed routes and receipts.
Last year my overall budget appears higher than normal which is down to two one off elements. Firstly I had a full time PA on long term sick leave and we have to account for employing temporary staff to cover within these figures. Secondly there had been an underpayment on my flat rental from previous years which was taken in one lump sum in 2014/15. I hope these figures and explanation is helpful and as I have always done I am always happy to file d further questions if you have any.