There’s a new expenses scandal in the offing. Today’s Sunday Mirror headline screams that 340 MPs are getting their second home energy bills paid. Yes, energy bills are a hot topic at the moment but let’s look behind the hyperbole.
Of course, MPs are paying their own energy bills in their homes out of their salaries. What is being paid by the public purse is the cost of their accommodation in either their constituency or London. If you’re going to do the job of an MP properly, you need two bases. It stands to reason, therefore, that the second base should be paid for by the taxpayer as it would be by any other employer.
It is a perfectly legitimate expense. IPSA, the independent expenses administrator, is explicit that these costs are allowed in its guidance.
Of the 340 claims outlined, only those above the average energy bill of around £1350 a year make me raise my eyebrows. There are only about 20 of them. The most expensive Liberal Democrat is Sir Nick Harvey at £740. Most are significantly cheaper with Ian Swales claiming just £21.32.
Only 31 Liberal Democrats made a claim at all, not that much more than half. What about the rest?
Well, 7 of them don’t qualify because their constituencies are in or around London.
Of the rest, some will use hotels rather than rent flats. Former Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore does that. Tim Farron told me on Twitter that he doesn’t get charged separately for energy which explains his lack of claim.
I would be annoyed if anyone was paying legitimate work expenses out of their own pockets. You’d certainly be hard pressed to find a journalist who did. It puts pressure on others to do the same and if you don’t provide expenses you end up with Parliament being the preserve of the independently wealthy. As I said recently at another exaggerated headline:
I am more than happy for some of my taxes to go towards ensuring that we have a diverse range of people in Parliament. If we didn’t give these pretty modest allowances, then you might well find that parents with particularly very young children would just not bother standing unless they were rich enough to be able to afford a nanny 24/7. I don’t think it’s healthy for a legislature to be lacking in parents with children of all ages. We need their experience in there.
You can say the same about energy costs.
The spiralling cost of heating homes a huge issue, but let’s not use it as another excuse to give MPs a kicking.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings