Tag: expenses

Still protesting too much

Mr Wills — who is suspending his website in a few days’ time because he can nolonger use our money to subsidise his political ramblings there — like so many of his colleagues just does not understand the public outrage over MPs’ expenses. Like many, he continues to protest his innocence for financial errors — errors which if made by his constituents would get little if any sympathy from the state.

To Mr Wills there’s nothing wrong with using a disallowed claim as an excuse for not paying back an overpayment of expenses.

[A] series of accounting mistakes result[ed] in double payments of claims by the Fees Office. I deducted from the repayment the amount I was owed by the Fees Office for receipted train fares to and from my constituency. The Fees Office has still not paid this because they say the claims were submitted 16 days after a deadline they had imposed, despite the fact they are entitled to waive the deadline.

Imagine missing a deadline for filing details for a tax claim, then using that as an excuse for not paying income tax. It wouldn’t work: the Inland Revenue would not be sympathetic; neither, I suspect, would Mr Wills. Yet he expects our sympathy for doing much the same thing.

By the standards of many of his MP colleagues, Mr Wills has been relatively well behaved financially. But when it comes to understanding the mood of the electorate on this issue, he’s as out-of-touch as the rest of them.

Protesting too much

One could be forgiven for thinking that Mr Wills’ little outburst against the New Swindon Company and Swindon Borough Council was just a rather poor attempt to divert attention from the revelations about his parliamentary expenses, revelations about which he did protest rather too much.

I am not facing questions over items purchased at taxpayers’ expense during the past financial year ’ not least because travel costs are not items purchased at taxpayers’ expense and these are legitimate travel costs.

Ahh, spin, spin, spin. Travel costs may not be ‘items’, but they were still at the taxpayers’ expense.

I did not agree it was a mistake to claim this amount. It was a mistake to claim it under this header, which I did on the advice of the Fees office. It should have been claimed under the travel heading. I did not add that the costs ‘would have been’ allowable under my travel allowance. They are allowable under my travel allowance and they are being allowed under my travel allowance.

Spinning again: picking at individual phrases whilst not substantively disputing what was alleged. Does he really believe that saying ‘the trips would have been allowable under his travel allowance’ makes much difference from ‘the trips are allowable under his travel allowance’? And has he not realised that the whole problem with MPs’ allowances is that far too much is allowable?

The only reason my wife was hiring a Street Car to make journeys to and from the constituency was to save the taxpayer money. It is far cheaper — though more stressful for her — than claiming the train fares to which we are entitled.

Again, he misses the point. In what other job could anyone trough to this extent at the public’s expense?

And what of Mr Wills’ little outburst against the New Swindon Company and Swindon Borough Council? He admits to pushing for the creation of the New Swindon Company.

[T]he company was created, partly due to me pushing for it.

Yet he absolves himself of all responsibility for it.

Not enough has been delivered and both Swindon Council and the company are to blame.

The company is financed and controlled one third by the Council, one third by the South West Regional Development Agency — a quango created by his own government — and the Homes and Community Agency — a quango created by his own government. So that’s mainly his government wasting our money, rather than the council.

Mr Wills also seems not to have noticed the dire state of the economy that his government has created.

The plans don’t have sufficient vision, they’re humdrum…. I suggested a design competition with the likes of Norman Foster and Michael Hopkins taking part, but when I sent letters nothing was done.

Many would say that Swindon town centre has suffered from far too many council and developer visions over recent decades, and the Regent Place development failed through being too big a vision in a poor economy. Even in the topsy-turvy world of New Labour economics, it’s hard to understand how Mr Wills can believe that employing some of the most expensive architects in the business have made regeneration any more viable.

Annie’s expenses in detail

Since my posting yesterday, the government’s representative in South Swindon, Ms Snelgrove, has published a more detailed breakdown of some of the expenses she had earlier grouped together. To be honest, there’s little of interest in this additional detail. One might wonder in what way a vase (£3.99), pictures (£130) and an ornament (£25) were essential to her performing her duties as an MP, or whether they are consistent with yesterday’s claim

my claims should be for expenses I would not have if I was doing another job working in Swindon only, rather than living and working in two places (London and Swindon) as MPs have to.

We can see how she managed to spend over £2000 on her bedroom (£1000 on a bed, over £1100 on wardrobes, cupboards and drawers) and over £4000 on her living room (including £1000 on a suite, then £356 on chairs two years later, and over £700 on storage units and £395 on a TV unit) but that doesn’t make it appear any better value for money. However, what it does is show how shallow is the spin she’s given the Adver.

I would like the House of Commons to have a hotel because all you really need is a crash pad.

If she really believed that all she needs is a crash pad, then would she have bought something that is clearly much more than a crash pad and then furnished it in some style at our expense? Ms Snelgrove’s actions — and her expense claims — speak louder than her words.

Swindon MPs’ expenses

In all the furore over MPs’ expenses, Mr Wills must be feeling fairly calm. For some time now he has published full details of his expenses. For example, his statement of expenses for 2008/09 is itemised down to individual items, such as filing folders bought for £3.61 on 23rd March from a supplier called Banner. When it comes to the Additional Costs Allowance (the allowance for second homes and living in said second home) which has been the centre of attention lately, although his claims are not cheap (£19753.56 in 2007/08 and £18476.53 in 2008/09), they are restricted to paying for his mortgage, council tax, utility bills, telephone and insurance.

In contrast, the government’s representative in South Swindon, Ms Snelgrove, has been far less open. Until today she has published no more than the house of commons authorities published. Her claims do not match her voting record.

I pride myself upon being an open and accountable Member of Parliament and I am happy for my constituents to see what allowances I use in order to serve the people of South Swindon.

Anyone that claims that whilst consistently voting against such openness clearly doesn’t understand what openness and transparency mean. Only in the last month as the anger has mounted does she seem to have had a change of heart.

So it was that late last week Ms Snelgrove put her signature to a letter urging her colleagues to publish their expenses sooner rather than later.

I will be preparing my expenses over the coming days and will make them public to my local newspaper on Monday 18 May at 2pm.

This she has now done, but in comparison with Mr Wills, Ms Snelgrove’s effort is half-hearted: it’s a summary-level breakdown of the Additional Costs Allowance rather than a full breakdown, and there is no breakdown at all of her other allowances. It is also accompanied by a rambling attempt to justify her troughing at the public expense.

In addition to following the rules I have based my expenses claims on two principles ever since I became an MP in 2005.

That’s the now thoroughly discredited rules.

The first is that I don’t want to profit from the taxpayer in the short or long-term.

Well, she may not be profiting, but she’s certainly been living very comfortably — some might say luxuriously — in her second home at our expense. Over £4000 spent on her living room in three years, over £2000 on her bedroom and over £500 on bedding in the same period.

The second is that my claims should be for expenses I would not have if I was doing another job working in Swindon only, rather than living and working in two places (London and Swindon) as MPs have to.

I presume then that she would have chosen to starve if she hadn’t been an MP, as she claimed £4300 on food in one year.

The majority of items I have bought are one-offs, apart from replacement items when a cupboard collapsed and all the contents were smashed, and water damage to towels and bedding following a leak.

Was she not insured? Perhaps not as it was only in 2007/08 that she claimed £137.23 for insurance.

I want to see the House of Commons introduce a system which is transparent yet enables all MPs to fulfill (sic) their parliamentary and constituency duties fully

That’s not what her voting record suggests.

I also pledge to clean up the second jobs scandal, where many MPs work not for their constituencies but for commercial or lobby companies despite receiving a full parliamentary salary.

Lets not forget that every Labour MP is sponsored by a union. It’s not just those with second jobs that represent interests other than those of their constituents.

I want to be accountable to constituents in Swindon South and I want to maintain your trust.

On the evidence so far, Ms Snelgrove’s failed on both counts.

MPs’ expenses

Parliament has today published the expenses and allowances claimed by MPs in 2007/08. The figures for Swindon’s MPs are:


Member Cost of staying away from main home Office running costs Staffing costs Centrally purchased stationery Stationery associated postage costs Central IT provision Staff cover & other costs Comms Allowance
Ms Snelgrove £20,913 £21,605 £89,656 £2,917 £3,277 £1,078 £0 £8,923
Mr Wills £20,766 £10,216 £100,554 £1,732 £5,254 £1,328 £2,429 £9,406

Travel expenses

Member MP Travel: between home/constituency/Westminster MP Travel: Other Rail Spouse Travel Employee Travel
Mileage Rail Misc Spouse Total No. of Journeys Employee Total No. of Journeys
Ms Snelgrove £2,853 £5,096 £264 £25 £90 2 £532 18
Mr Wills £580 £834 £0 £0 £39 0 £0 0

Add in their salaries of over £60,000 and each of them has cost well over £200,000 a year. Mr Wills already publishes his expenses in full detail but Ms Snelgrove is more reticent. She may be proud of what she delivers for that price; I think the people of Swindon deserve a refund.