As suggested by Gareth, I wrote to my MP and asked him to vote against the attempt to change the Freedom of Information Act so that MPs can hide their expenses. He actually replied to me for a change – normally he doesn’t bother, this time he might as well not have.
Dear Stuart Parr
Thank you for your recent email relating to members’ expenses.
I have to say I do not know how much more information needs to be published considering that the order to be put to the vote on Thursday means that the following categories of expenses will be reported:
(a) Administrative and Office Expenditure:
(i) Accommodation costs for offices, surgeries, etc;
(ii) office equipment and supplies;
(iii) telephones and other telecommunications;
(iv) professional fees and charges;
(v) agency and other staff costs;
(vi) travel costs;
(b) Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure:
(i) mortgage interest;
(iii) hotel costs;
(iv) council tax;
(v) fixtures, fitings and furnishings;
(vii) other household costs, including service charges, utilities, telecommunications, maintenance and repairs;
(c) Communications Expenditure:
(ii) reports and surveys;
(iii) delivery charges, postage and stationery;
(d) Staffing Expenditure;
(e) Travel Expenditure in relation to travel by Members:
(i) car, including third party vehicle rental and mileage;
(iv) other UK and European travel;
(f) Resettlement Grant;
(g) Winding-up Expenditure.
A committee is also to be put in place to review these headings.
I am sure you will agree that this is reasonable.
None of this is new information, it’s the same information packaged up in a different way. What MPs have been ordered by the High Court to disclose and what they are proposing to change the law to avoid is the disclosure of their receipts so that we – the people who are paying their expenses – can see exactly what they’re spending our money on. I know my employer wouldn’t be satisfied with me putting in an expenses claim without receipts so why should we, the MPs’ employers, be satisfied with it? I’m not satisfied and I don’t think it’s reasonable so I sent this in reply:
I am disappointed but hardly surprised that you support your government’s attempt to keep MPs expenses secret from the people who pay for them.
Breaking down MPs expenses into categories doesn’t do anything to improve transparency – that information is already supposed to be available but without the headings. If I want to know, for instance, how much taxpayers money you have spent on taxi’s or restaurants, why shouldn’t I be entitled to that information? If I wanted to know how much taxpayers money you spent in the off-licence in Oakengates why shouldn’t I be able to find that out? I can find it out for any other public servant under the Freedom of Information Act so why should you be treated any differently just because you’re an MP?
The High Court ruled last year that it was unlawful for MPs to hide their expenses from the taxpayer so rather than comply with the ruling, you and your colleagues are instead conspiring to change the law so that the judge’s ruling is no longer valid. That is not improving transparency, that is an outright abuse of power and totally unacceptable.
I would strongly urge you to reconsider your support for this assault on democracy and accountability. Or is your desire to hide your expenses, perhaps, because you have something to hide?
I fully expect him to ignore me for the next 3 months which is what normally happens when he doesn’t like what I say.