The Importance of Transparency: MP Expenses 17/18
All information relating directly to expenses presented in this article was found on http://www.theipsa.org.uk/ in their: annual reports, accounts publication (2017-18), total costs spreadsheet (2017-18), the interactive map and the debts written-off publications.
Following the recent revelation that Members of Parliament accused of harassment or expense fraud will be given anonymity under new behavior codes, many critics have likened this to a complete U-turn in the government’s policy making and dedication to transparency, particularly when one looks to the parliamentary expenses scandal of 2009, which prompted the creation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority’s (IPSA).
Alongside objections to the accused cover-up, critics have also pointed out that in providing anonymity to those who are accused of expenses fraud, we are taking a radical departure from ISPA’s aim for greater accessibility within our democracy. Simultaneously, this limits the effectiveness of IPSA and the public’s ability to scrutinize those who do make fraudulent expense claims.
Using data and information made available by IPSA regarding MPs’ salaries and expenses – we have decided to launch a review into the expense claims made by MPs against the following aims of IPSA:
“… to assure the public that MPs’ use of taxpayers’ money is well regulated [and] to resource MPs appropriately to carry out their parliamentary functions.” (IPSA Strategy)
The purpose of this was to highlight the importance of information being readily available to the public, however, we soon realized there are existing hurdles in regards to IPSA’s utilization of excel spreadsheets, as this is a rather ‘complex’ formatting of mass information which is in no way accessible to everyone and thus greater clarity is required; after all you should not have to be an expert to understand what MPs are spending taxpayer money on.
Therefore, we have presented some of the information available from IPSA, in context of their MP spending scheme, in a more reader-friendly way; presenting anticipatory answers from the aforementioned document to the most frequently asked questions when it comes to expenses.
[Disclaimer: before interpreting the data below it is important to note that these lists only account for the 2017/2018 period. We have not included expenses from MPs who were unseated in the 2017 election or whom have since resigned or passed away. In addition, IPSA have yet to publish claims for April, May, June or July as they publish claims quarterly. Thus, the lists and graphs below are subject to change, especially with the additions of payroll at the end of the financial year- we will update them accordingly.]
* The average claim for the 2017/2018 year (so far) is £34,453.56
* The ten MP’s who have claimed the most in the 2017/18 year (so far):
10. Alison Thewliss is a Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow Central who has claimed £73,074.38 this year.
9. Patrick Grady is a MP for both Plaid Cymru and the SNP who has claimed £74,740.74.
8. Gavin Newlands is a Scottish National Party politician and MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North who claimed £77,198.19p.
7. Alistair Carmichael is a Liberal Democrat Politician for Orkney and Shetland who has claimed £78,253.67p.
6. Nigel Adams is a Conservative Party MP for Selby and Ainsty who has claimed £78,863.26p.
5. Brendan O'Hara is us a Scottish National party MP for Argyll and Bute and has claimed £83,105.73p.
4. Gareth Snell is a Labour Co-operative MP for Stoke-on-Trent who has claimed £85,680.51p.
3. Drew Hendry is a Scottish National Party MP for Inverness Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey who has claimed £85,796.28p.
2. Shabana Mahmood is a Labour Party MP for Birmingham, Ladywood who has claimed £88,068.16p.
1. Ian Blackford is a Scottish National Party MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber who has claimed £100,165.86p.
* The ten MP’s who have claimed the least in the 2017/2018 year (so far):
10. Alex Burghart is the Conservative member of Parliament for Brentword and Ongar who claimed £5474.88p
9. Boris Johnson is a conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip who claimed £5102.36p
8. Julia Lopez is the conservative MP for Hornchurch and Upminister £5024.10p
7. Philip Hollobone is the conservative MP for Kettering who has claimed £4463.56p
6. Michelle Gildernew is a Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone who claimed £4216.68P
5. Kate Hoey is a Labour Party MP for Vauxhall and claimed £4040.31p.
4. Rupa Huq is a Labour Party MP for Ealing Cenral and Acton who claimed £3942.35p.
3. Rishi Sunak is a Conservative MP for Richmond (Yorks) who claimed £2672
2. Michael Fallon is a Conservative party MP for Sevenoaks who claimed £1828.97p.
1. Jacob Rees-Mogg is a Conservative MP for North East Somerset and claimed £1043.33p in expenses.
* A signifcant number of MPs have claimed expenses for first-class train tickets; not only themselves, but their staff and dependents. This is not against the MP scheme, however, with an average price difference of £154.10p to a standard train ticket, we would like information as to how a first-class is a better value for money.
* One thing that surprised us when launching our review was the discovery that debts to IPSA incurred by MPs can be written off if “it is not financially worthwhile to continue to pursue repayment.” As this information has yet to be published for the 2017/18 financial year we looked at the debts from 2016/17 which included a debt of £17,0660.80p incurred by Philip Hollobone for a claiming a combination of London Area Living Payment (LALP) and travel between London and the constituency, a combination which is not allowable under the scheme.
IPSA is a great resource to review your MPs spending, particularly with the interactive map tool and accompanying charts. However, the public should be able to review the entirety of MPs spending as a whole, not only to contextualize their MPs spending but also to aid greater scrutiny for the purpose of accountability.
As it currently stands IPSA publish annual spreadsheets, though these spreadsheets are not very accessible, especially in comparison to the format of individual MP expense claims on their website. To move forward we need to make information more reader-friendly and visually accessible for the general public.
The new plans for anonymity for those accused of expenses fraud combined with the existing inability to clearly access claims, is the equivalent of taking two steps back after a slight shuffle forward.