Dear Daily Telegraph, Enough already. It’s actually okay for MPs to claim 11p for a ruler.

The_Daily_TelegraphSo the Telegraph is back to its old tricks on expenses. Five years ago, the paper uncovered some serious abuses by MPs at the taxpayers’ expense – along the way, the paper was also (as I wrote at the time) “guilty of flaky fact-checking, unfair distortions and disgraceful smears”.

Yesterday the paper attempted, rather desperately, to re-live past glories by running the story, ‘MPs’ expenses: Ken Clarke bills taxpayer for 11p ruler’. It wasn’t just Ken who attracted the Telegraph’s ire though: ‘Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, was found to have claimed 43p for scissors. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, claimed the cost of a £4.68 glue stick and 8p for a box of clips.’

Yes, that’s right, folks, it’s a new scandal — apparently taxpayers are footing the bill for MPs’ office supplies. How very dare they? They should pay it all themselves out of their own salaries. Actually, scratch that: they shouldn’t even have salaries. In fact, they should pay us for the privilege of being an MP. Yes, much better they have a private income – that’s the only way we’ll get MPs who are in touch with ordinary people.

But seriously, though… Can we all maybe agree that office supplies are legitimate items of expenditure for MPs in their everyday business? And that, in the great scheme of things for which we should hold our elected representatives to account, spending 8p on a box of paperclips really isn’t worth a single column inch ever again?

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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22 Comments

  • The glue stick seems a bit expensive, but everything else is well cheaper than I can source it, having looked at a few shops. I think Ken and Vince in particular should be congratulated for their frugality in saving the taxpayer money.

  • Gwyn Williams 12th Jul '14 - 12:06pm

    Like the first cuckoo of Spring, the Telegraph has the first offering of the silly season.

  • True but come on, Id be embarrassed about claiming 11p. when I was earning a guaranteed wage of 50k or whatever it is,

  • when you have the minister for work and pensions claiming £30 for breakfast when the people on benefits cannot afford £30 a week for food Something is very very Wrong

  • Andrew Suffield 12th Jul '14 - 12:54pm

    True but come on, Id be embarrassed about claiming 11p. when I was earning a guaranteed wage of 50k or whatever it is,

    Okay hold up, time for a reality check, because I know some of the people involved here and so should some of you. When it says “an MP claimed”, what it means is “the MP’s office claimed”, because MPs have real work to do and don’t spend their time filing expenses reports. Yes, an MP makes 65k… but their office manager makes about 30-35k, and the other 3-4 staff in that office will make around 25k. Those are the people who filed these expenses, which go in the official reports under the name of their MP.

    25k is below the median salary in the UK. It’s not a well-paying job and this makes it hard to recruit and retain good people. When they need office materials to do their job, they aren’t going to pay for them out of their own pocket.

    By the standards of any reasonable business, MP’s offices are chronically underfunded, and this is entirely because of the way the tabloids would react if they were funded like a real business instead of a charity shop.

  • Andrew fair points,
    But MPs offices aren’t businesses, They are public services, funded by taxation and the wages are about on par with local government admin workers.

  • Richard Dean 12th Jul '14 - 2:06pm

    How about postage stamps? Can Cable bill the taxpayer for a billion or so?

  • Glenn: do local government admin workers have to pay for their own stationery? Genuine question, I don’t actually know either way.

  • Andrew Suffield 12th Jul '14 - 6:13pm

    But MPs offices aren’t businesses, They are public services, funded by taxation and the wages are about on par with local government admin workers.

    The same problems are indeed often replicated in local government admin offices, and a substantial chunk of the time of the MP’s office staff is spent trying to cope with the problems caused by the underperformance of those local government offices.

    Why do we glorify having the cheapest government that we can get away with? Why are we not trying to make the best government that we can? It would not even be a substantial expense, compared to the council budgets.

  • Richard Harris 13th Jul '14 - 7:49am

    Am I the only one who wants to know what on earth you use a ruler for in a modern office? Perhaps they need to make another claim for staff training and learn where the Underline button and revision option (for crossing out) is on the toolbar!

  • Peter Andrews 13th Jul '14 - 10:57am

    What would you use a ruler for in a modern office? Well measuring things springs immedietnly to mind to me

  • Peter Watson 13th Jul '14 - 11:54am

    @Peter Andrews “What would you use a ruler for in a modern office? Well measuring things springs immediately to mind to me”
    Also still very useful for drawing straight lines, and also as a guide when reading long pages of text or tables of numbers. But best of all, is that twanging noise when you hold it over the edge of a table and flick the end. Well worth 11p.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Jul '14 - 1:00pm

    Jennie
    “Glenn: do local government admin workers have to pay for their own stationery? Genuine question, I don’t actually know either way.”

    No, they don’t.

    Overall, this is a very silly story and those trying to make out that there’s actually anything it (yes, I mean you, Glenn) should examine their motives.

  • Malcolm.
    the typical starting wage of a local government admn officer iis $16000 to £20000 per year.II admit I was being flippant, But this is because I suspect MPs are really only needed for the occasional vote or crisis and no one would notice if they went on holiday for months at a time.

  • Richard Harris 13th Jul '14 - 11:17pm

    @ Peter Andrews and Peter Watson
    Measuring things? Of course, an essential task in a modern office. Drawing straight lines, or as a reading guide? No, I’m convinced only by the twanging argument.
    …oh, penny’s just dropped…it’s flicking little balls of paper isn’t it?

  • Imagine Mr Harris not knowing what a ruler – or more properly a rule, of course – is for!

    I half expect someone to ask next what use a slide-rule is in a modern office …

  • Peter Watson 14th Jul '14 - 12:11pm

    I just wanted to add that I have got a brilliant rule/ruler for computer programming, a very modern activity.
    It is 15″ / 38 cm long. There is a magnifying strip along it and a gap, both of which help isolate and read individual lines in computer printout. It is also marked to help count lines and columns at 6 and 10 characters per inch.

    P.S. When I say “modern activity” I have to admit that this ruler is most useful for dealing with 30 year old Fortran code 🙁

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