Last week the media criticised MPs for spending more in 2012-13 than in 2008-9 on running their offices and on their general expenses. After all, the critics pointed out, IPSA the independent body brought in to curb excesses this Parliament had changed the rules over what can be claimed, and cut the items and amounts in many cases.
Despite this total MP claims have risen from £95.4m in 2008-9 to £98.1m in 2012. That means the average is now £150,000 per MP. So why so much and why has it gone up?
The main item in the spending is staff. Most people working as executives do not have the salaries of staff reporting to them recorded as part of “their” expenses and remuneration. Some MPs employ staff to do research, to write speeches, to talk to the media, as well as employing staff to help with casework, office organisation and organising the diary.MPs themselves of course run the surgeries, supervise the casework, undertake the constituency visits and consultations, do all the work in the Commons, and undertake the political activities which Parliamentary staff must not handle. Staff wages and salaries have gone up since 2008-9, though more recently there have been tight controls on pay increases as for the rest of the public sector.
The other big item is living accommodation in central London for the majority of MPs who cannot get back to their constituency homes, given the working hours through to 10.20pm on Mondays and 7.20pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the need to be back by 9am the following morning. IPSA decided to disallow mortgage interest on a flat an MP had bought, but IPSA does pay rent bills. Many MPs have switched to renting, and all new MPs have to rent, so there has been a big increase in rental costs and an overall increase in cost as this is a dearer way of providing housing.
As some of you strongly think MPs claim too much, I am inviting you to contribute. How many staff you think would be appropriate, and for what tasks? Do you think IPSA have got the housing right?
I am also interested in your thoughts on employing a relative. This has attracted considerable attention, with some saying relatives work longer hours and will work outside normal office hours, whilst others think it is more difficult to ensure a relative does provide value for money.
(PS I will not publish personal assaults on individual MPs, as I cannot check it all out. I do not myself employ a relative, and last year claimed £65,807 for my office and other costs so you do not need to ask. ).