The Leader of the House of Commons today launched a stinging critique of the MPs’ expenses watchdog as it named more than 125 MPs whose claims had been rejected, as Cathy Newman reports.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) unleashed a slew of expenses data today showing £3.4m of legitimate expenses claims paid to 622 MPs in the six weeks to the end of October last year.
It also detailed more than £15,000 of rejected expenses claims.
These included the refusal to pay out £1,500 for office furniture to Jesse Norman and £762 accommodation fees lodged by Paul Flynn. Jack Straw was refused £600 of business rates, while Alun Michael was denied £189 for photocopying.
“Ipsa was set up quite rapidly following the expenses scandal. Clearly there are problems with the way it is working.” Downing Street spokesman
A total of 248 claims were rejected for not fully complying with the rules – mainly including mobile phone bills, taxi slips and public transport tickets.
However, Sir George Young, the Leader of the House of Commons, said the new Parliamentary expenses regime was “at best distracting, and at worst impeding” the work of MPs.
In a highly critical statement, Sir George said Ipsa was “failing in many respects” to support the Commons.
Downing Street stepped into the fray, adding that problems with the system needed to be addressed.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “You cannot have a system that costs £6m a year to administer the expenses of 650 people. Ipsa was set up quite rapidly following the expenses scandal. Clearly there are problems with the way it is working. The Prime Minister’s view is that we have got to deal with this.”
Ipsa was set up in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009 and has incurred the wrath of hundreds of MPs since its inception.
Sir George said: “Some aspects of the new regime are in danger of deterring people from less affluent backgrounds from becoming – and in some cases remaining – Members of Parliament and are also placing undue pressure on some MPs’ family lives.”
“Parliament has charged Ipsa with the duty of being an independent regulator – this means setting and governing the system and providing training to hundreds of MPs and thousands of their staff, not simply administering expenses.” Ipsa
He added that the Commons expected Ipsa to recognise the need for “substantial change”, including a “simpler and, in the long run, more cost-effective system that properly supports all MPs as they go about their duties”.
Ipsa however rejected claims that it is not cost-effective, and insisted that Number 10 was wrong. “Saying Ipsa costs £6m a year to administer 650 MPs’ expenses is not accurate,” it said in a statement.
“Ipsa’s costs in its first year were £6m, but this includes a number of costs associated with setting up an organisation, eg, IT, temporary staff and recruiting staff.”
The watchdog said it administers thousands of expense claims every week and also bears the responsibility of paying all MPs and their staff members – some 3,000 people.
“Furthermore, Parliament has charged Ipsa with the duty of being an independent regulator – this means setting and governing the system and providing training to hundreds of MPs and thousands of their staff, not simply administering expenses,” Ipsa said.
“We have already made a public commitment that we will cost less next year.”
And a court has been played a Channel 4 News interview with a former MP charged with fiddling his expenses claims, by asking a stationary firm to send him receipts for work which was never done.
The jury at Southwark Crown Court was told that Jim Devine was sent invoices for more than £5,500 of work – which was neither carried out, nor paid for.
Mr Devine has denied two charges of false accounting – involving more than £8,000 in Parliamentary expenses.