Saturday, October 23, 2004

Our Expenses

Interesting reaction to the publication of expenses. The local media have been comparatively even handed with a recognition that we do deliver a service to constituents (probably because they are more aware of the sort of problems we regularly deal with) but some of the national media coverage has been very negative.

Eyebrows have been raised at some of the expenses and there have been two issues that have attracted more concern than others.

The biggie is the "London living allowance" and some of the MPs attracting the greatest flak are those within spitting distance of London who quite legitimately claim the allowance (and use central London accomodation). Most of the MPs bought or rented their flats when the sitting hours were longer and have found it convenient to keep them on. My personal view is that there will be increased pressure on this sort of allowance.

Less contentious (but with the potential to become more so) is the London living allowance for those who live within commutable distance. I suppose that I fall into that category as the journey is an average of two hours from home to office.I know that there are huge numbers of people locally who undertake what amounts to a four hour daily commute but I also know that I am far more productive because I don't have to do the journey every day. It all begs the question of what we want from our MPs (who are really public servants)

It isn't that great living in London and the reality (for me and a number of my colleagues) is that we tend to work in our Westminster offices until 10ish anyway, share a taxi back to our flats (not at public expense), frequently taking papers home to read for the next day.

The other interesting area has been the huge variations in postage and the comments of some of the highest scoring MPs that they "consult" their constituents regularly. This is interesting because my interpretation of the rules has always been that we cannot use parliamentary envelopes to write to people unless they have written to us first - or there is a clear constituency interest. It is obviously important to prevent mass mailings of party political propoganda.
So - you can imagine my surprise when Gordon Brown (in his capacity as Chancellor) wrote to MPs recently suggesting that we write to bodies in our constituency to inform them about X. Gordon may be a canny scot and prudent to boot but my interpretation was that this was not a proper use of parliamentary funds and the Treasury should be disseminating the information.

It is all as clear as mud but I do beleive that, despite the occasional raised eyebrow, the vast majority of MPs are not gaining personally from their allowances.