Tuesday, May 12, 2009

LibDem MPs expenses get Telegraph treatment

So, the Telegraph has done its worst on LibDem MPs' expenses. Having spent a day periodically being blasted against the wall by colleagues (who normally take no interest in politics) whenever I breathed a word of explanation about MPs expenses, I am not going to minimise any of this.

Sir Menzies Campbell should pay back some, I would suggest half, of the £10,000 used to refurbish his rented flat. I say that because I feel the luxurious nature of some of the items causes revulsion amongst the public. Having said that, you have to read well down the Telegraph article to read that it is a rented flat and it is hard to see how Sir Menzies would profit from any of the £10,000 refurbishment. These things are usually self-repairing leases (so Sir Menzies had/has the responsibility to maintain the flat in good condition) and you have to hand on the lease in a default good condition. Having said, as the lease runs to 2034, I would like to be reassured that Sir Menzies will not benefit from the refurb if he were to sell on the remainder of the lease in, say, ten years time. I doubt it and indeed he has said that he has not and will not profit from anything supported by the ACA. And I think it is unlikely that he will benefit from some, say, 10 year old scatter cushions and pulled out built-in cupboards if he were to sell them off when eventually he retires. Menzies Campbell had already explained his situation to his local paper and makes a further statement on his blog here.

I don't think Andrew George should benefit in any way from the investment he has made with the substantial help of the taxpayer in his flat. The funny thing is, nor does Andrew George - if his statement to This is Cornwall on 29th April here is anything to go by. Nick Clegg has also said that any LibDem MPs selling a second home paid for with the ACA should hand back the profits to the Commons authorities. Andrew George says "Allowances cover interest payments on 70% of the value of the flat I took a lease on in 2007" so I would have thought that would allow occasional use of the flat by his daughter.

An existing statement on Andrew George's web site outlines his vigorous stance against MPs profiting from properties through the ACA and says:

I never believed it was acceptable for MPs to 'profit' from allowances in this way (purchasing and selling properties), and hope that we can all agree to come to a settlement with Parliament that we will give taxpayers interest in the properties and any profit back to the State. All of the furnishings paid for through allowances (including the dreaded bath plugs!) should be handed back too.

So I expect to see Andrew George doing what he has advocated.

I note that the following people have said they will pay back money for over the top items: Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and Lembit Opik. I do hope they pay back the money for all luxury unnecessary items. That pergola cross beam of Chris Huhne's is troubling me.

It is Julia Goldsworthy's situation which troubles me most. (By the way, we still haven't had a proper answer on Lord Rennard's situation). The Telegraph says:

Julia Goldsworthy, the Treasury spokesman, bought a leather rocking chair from Heal’s as she spent thousands of pounds just days before the deadline for using the second homes allowance.

I would like to see further explanation of this from Ms Goldsworthy. I think she should pay some money back. Leather rocking chairs are not needed for operation of an MP from a second home in London.

Update: Explanation from Julia Goldsworthy follows and is here:

12.00.00pm BST (GMT +0100) Wed 13th May 2009
In its report today, the Daily Telegraph has focused on some claims I made under the MPs expenses scheme. It does not report that:
1. I opposed attempts by Conservative and Labour MPs to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act , and I have consistently called for reform of the allowances system.
2. I have been publishing my quarterly expenses on my website since last July. I informed my constituents of this fact by writing to them about it in a leaflet, which my local party sent out to every constituent.
3. I have never sought to use the expenses system to make financial gain for myself or anybody else.
4. I moved flats because my existing property was shared with my sister who was getting married. The costs for which I sought reimbursement for were explicitly related to my move to a one bedroom flat . The property was unfurnished and so I purchased furnishings that could be delivered on the date I moved in.
5. I did not claim the full cost of items such as the television and living room chair (which incidentally is not leather), and purchased other items that I did not claim for at all
6. My food claims were based on calculating the number of days that I spend away from home either in Parliament or travelling.
I still believe there is a need for total transparency in MPs expenses - which is why I am more than happy to answer any questions. The system needs to change fundamentally - not just by requiring MPs to enclose receipts for all expenditure, but by ensuring that MPs can no long play the property market to make capital gains. This means ending the payment of mortgage interest and ensuring that capital gains made at taxpayer expense are returned to the taxpayer . These are the proposals that Nick Clegg has put forward, which I support. Only then can people begin to have confidence in the system.

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