Wokingham Times – MPs’ expenses

The press has done a good job exposing the expenses of MPs. The system has been far too generous, and some MPs have made bad judgements about what to claim. As someone who believes in transparency and value for money, I want to see reform and a much tighter system. I was one of only 25 MPs to oppose plans to exempt MPs’ expenses from the Freedom of Information Act, which would have stopped the truth from coming out.

I am glad David Cameron and Nick Clegg both offered to pay back some money they had claimed and have told their MPs to do the same where the claims were unreasonable. It is good to see more than £200,000 has already been promised back from MPs of all three parties, with more MPs still to be investigated. David Cameron was right to apologise on behalf of MPs, and to understand the importance of this issue to Parliament and the public we should serve. He was right to say Conservative MPs should only claim for mortgage interest or rent, Council tax, and service charges on a second property they need for their job.

In 2007-8 I claimed a total of £105,917. This made me the 19th cheapest MP, claiming around £40,000 less than the average. One fifth of that claim was the mortgage interest costs, the Council Tax and service charge and maintenance on a bedsit flat in Pimlico. It is entirely used to enable me to work longer days in London when there is important Parliamentary business. During my ownership it has only been slept in by myself. I do not need it for any other purpose. The deposit and repayments of capital are of course paid for out of my taxed income.

Some people locally think that I should travel to and from London by train on days when Parliament is in session. I have given this serious thought. My nearest station is Crowthorne. On two days a week business of the House continues until 10 pm, often followed by two votes. I am not able to leave until after 10.20 pm on such occasions. If I caught the 10.50pm from Waterloo, I would arrive in Wokingham too late to catch the last train to Crowthorne which departs at 11.43. Sometimes important business can go on even later. During the budget debate on the 12th May I made my first speech just before 4pm and my last at 1:15am. It was long after midnight that the issue that had generated the most correspondence from constituents finally came up. I was back at my desk at 7am the next morning.

With the flat I am able to be in my office by 7am to deal with emails and letters, and to write my daily blog to keep constituents informed about what I think and am doing. I can be back in the flat ten minutes after the Commons business finishes for the night. It enables me to save on staff and travel costs, as I can do more of the job myself. I write all my own speeches and all the daily web pieces, and do most of my own research.

I decided early in 2008 that although my claims were low by reference to others, I could do the job to a good standard whilst cutting my costs. I set myself the target of cutting my total expenses by 10% in 2008-9 and by a further 10% in 2009-10. As an advocate of getting better value for taxpayers across the public sector, I felt it especially important to show I could practise what I preach. I have preliminary figures for 2008-9 which show that I have cut by more than 10% in that year, which will put me more than £50,000 a year below the likely average MP claim.

Throughout my time as an MP I have always had a second job. The nature of Parliament often requires it, as for years I was a Minister, and then a Shadow Cabinet member. These were very demanding jobs requiring substantial travel around the country and a great deal of case work, meetings and reading. Like being an MP, these jobs require you to be on call seven days a week, and to undertake numerous evening meetings and events. When I have not had these responsibilities I have been a non executive chairman of a company, which has always made much less demand on my time and can be arranged to avoid any conflict with the Parliamentary diary.

At the beginning of last year I agreed to chair a new company for a friend of mine who had been made redundant, for no fee and light duties. Unfortunately he died young and suddenly of pancreatic cancer towards the end of last year, but not before he had expanded the company, creating nine new jobs and brought in outside shareholders. They have asked me to do more to help them, for reward. I have agreed a contract which states “There are no fixed hours of work. Parliamentary duties always take precedence.” I have therefore decided to do more for them at times of my choosing. There is more time available for example when Parliament is in its very long recess. I will make no further claims for Additional Cost Allowance, and pay for the flat which I think is wholly necessary for my job as MP out of my other taxed income.

I trust the proper scrutiny which is currently going into MPs costs and expenses will also be undertaken throughout the public sector. We need to ensure that everyone who is in public service, as MPs are, remembers who pays the bills and uses public money wisely.

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14 Comments

  1. upbeatskeptic
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    It is always a straw that breaks the camel’s back, which is illustrative of the point that the MPs expenses debacle really is pocket change considering the extent to which taxpayers money is frittered away through other more ‘legitimate’ means. The mood for revenge is more about the feeling that the political classes have become detached from the electorate, and vice-versa, and the expenses affair has provided the perfect vehicle for an outpouring of the frustration felt. It is also, for a large part, anger that the beliefs and opinions of Mr. Joe Public are perceived to be dismissed or sometimes even villified by the ruling classes, such that a feeling of being unrepresented is rife. Perhaps a smattering of independent MPs might go some to release this tension, perhaps not.

    If we’re really concerned about waste then I think one of the most encouraging suggestions to come out of this whole episode is the publishing of all spending over £25, 000 by departments and local councils. This is very welcome indeed. I recently had my council tax breakdown for the year and my county council takes 78% of my total payment of around about £1400 – I want to see where all that money goes.

  2. RobertD
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    John,

    Where can we find more MP’s like you?

  3. sm
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    ”I was one of only 25 MPs to oppose plans to exempt MPs’ expenses from the Freedom of Information Act, which would have stopped the truth from coming out.”

    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. (Possible attribution http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Edmund_Burke)

    You have my respect and probably the country, 25 members or so in parliament may be worth saving.

  4. Voter Rick of Oxford
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Still far too much : why why why should I pay your council tax, your mortage interest etc? I pay my own out of my salary : your salary is large enough so that you can pay these charges yourself.

    I so much want to vote Conservative : but if you charge me for your home, and it is *not* returned to the taxpayer as state-paid-for property, then NO NO NO

    I pay your bills : reucing by 10% is just not enough. Pay your own bills, I will pay for office expenses.

    Reply: Please read the statement. I am paying my own bills. and have already cut by more than 10% and am cutting by aother 10%

  5. THE ESSEX BOYS
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Events are moving quickly!
    How can WE complain when Ms Kirkbride resigns only 3 hours after we blogged on Conservative Home with a copy to DC’s office at 10am this morning! SEE BELOW
    As those dire cabinet members trot out time after time – “It’s the right thing to do”.

    Well done DC, Julie and all those voters who applied pressure.

    ************************************************
    10.11am 28th May

    To DAVID CAMERON:

    We have greatly admired your strong and decisive handling of this whole issue so far but the conclusion from all the above is inescapable.
    Ms Kirkbride must and we now believe WILL agree to stand down by the weekend.
    She has colluded with her husband on the maximisation of the family’s expenses income for years and her connection to him will always be an inescapable millstone.
    In short you have no option if you wish to retain the support of your party and the electorate.
    On a wider issue we understand that Sir Stuart Bell has revealed that ‘very high’ government interests pressurised the former Speaker to go to the High Court in the failed attempt to maintain secrecy. Harriet Harman has seemingly not denied this but we suspect the hand of the PM in this. This may well prove to be the other story of the weekend and prove to be the circuit breaker on the call for an early general election.

  6. Elisabeth
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    I am a little confused: why can you not simply commute from Wokingham station itself, as it is only a couple of miles from Crowthorne?

  7. THE ESSEX BOYS
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Julie Kirkbride etc apart…John your explanation is illuminating and welcome. We musn’t allow the current febrile atmosphere deter the members who have worked out what’s best for themselves and the taxpayer.
    There seems to us to be no reason why the 2 things should not be mutually compatible; indeed the very opposite.

    If other members went to the trouble of explaining rationally instead of trying to slug it out indignantly their constituents would most likely be understanding and appreciative. That, of course, is where there IS a rational explanation!

    As Watergate and most other poitical scandals in the 35 years since have proved, it’s not necessarily the crime but the cover-up the media and public won’t tolerate.

    TACKING SLIGHTLY…we read in Private Eye that…

    “MPs have their own tax office – Public Dept 1 in Cardiff – which deals with sensitive tax files. The word among tax accountants is that the inspectors there, like officials in the discredited Fees Office, know better than to raise too many questions. What’s good enough for the Fees Office is likely to be OK in Cardiff. The MP cheats Bible is the ‘Green Book’ on salaries, allowances and pensions rules”.

    We can’t help feeling that there’s a whole web of intrigue awaiting media and public scrutiny within the Fees Dept AND HMRC, Cardiff…

  8. Cliff.
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    John:

    You are indeed a model that many other MPs should follow.
    I too am pleased the situatuion has been highlighted however, I feel very uncomfortable about the way the story has been managed by the media.
    The drip drip drip way the Telegraph has chosen to cover the story has led to a witch hunt. Question Time last week was little more than a lynch mob.
    The MSM appear to me, to have gone after Conservatives as if to try to discredit us.
    Today Julie was forced to stand down by a combination of a petition championed by a member of the respect party and the main news channels. Neither of the main news channels made clear that the person organising the petition had her own political agenda.
    We now have the spectacle of so called celebs looking at standing for election. We are in danger of ending up with a parliament we deserve!!

    I see in today’s Wokingham News that Bracknell’s “bin baron” is thinking about standing to replace Mr Mackay, this in my opinion, if it were to happen, would damage the chances of a Conservative victory in the borough, as most people I speak to dislike the way he forces them to accept crazy bin policies. I hope the local association take this into account when selecting their next candidate.

    Keep up the good work John and stay true to Conservative values!!

  9. Mike Stallard
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how many Labour MPs are in demand to start up a business?
    Whelks anyone?

  10. alan jutson
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Thank you.

    Good to hear.

    Although I think it would be better for everyone if all MP’s had access to sensible, secure and comfortable overnight accomodation provided and maintained by the State, at no cost to MP’s.

    This would then eliminate any thought that MP’s were in some way or another speculating on Property, to a degree at the Taxpayers expense.

  11. Bill Nicol
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Sir,

    Your comments and principles are commendable. Still I hold to the premise. That a police investigation is a must. This to determine if, or not, fraud has been committed.

    Their excuse “within the rules” is not acceptable. Just as “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

    Immediate suspension with no further monetary gain as well a return of tax payer’s money. Must be implemented against those found guilty. Even if only stretching the rules they implemented.

    Best wishes,

    B. nicol

  12. Ben Hennessey
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I respect your integrity John. As you have no axe to grind, you are just the man to raise the matter concerning the Barclay Brothers, their ownership of the Daily Telegraph and ( ed -how much UK tax they pay)

  13. Andrew Watson
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    I see mr Redwood ‘accidently’ submitted a second home £3000 redecorating bill twice, which he had to repay. With this being one of dozens of similar examples of ‘mistakes’ made by mps in their expenses claims, it makes you realise why the country is in such a state. How can we expect these people to make important decisions for the country when they can’t even run their own finances competently.

    Reply: I did make an obvious mistake by submitting the same bill twice. All of us can make mistakes and should say sorry and rectify them as soon as we see them or they are pointed out.

  14. DK
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    I am a little confused why the commute option is such a non starter. As someone that also works long hours and commutes from London to wokingham everyday (not just 3 days a week) it is something that I feel is perfectly reasonable. Trains run sufficently for you to get to your office for 7.30 and you could even use the commute to go through emails on a blackberry.

    If however the commute is really too difficult I would suggest staying at a hotel. You could even expense that if required, I am sure that this would sufficiently reduce costs from the 100k+ you quoted above.

    From

    Unimpressed constituent

    Reply|: MY overnight costs are not £100,000! That was the total cost, mainly staff. It meant I was the lowest cost Berkshire MP that year, and have since cut my costs further. This year I am charging nothing for overnight stays, as I made clear recently.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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