Saturday, May 16, 2009

MP Expenses: the System is Broken

Well the MP expenses jamboree is providing a lot of laughs and provoking a lot of anger. Perfectly right that it should, and nothing that follows should be taken as implying that the Mabinogogiblog is not as tickled and angered as the rest of the world.

But it is not just a story about venal, possibly fraudulent individuals. The system that the MPs evolved for themselves is a royal mess, just like so any other systems that Parliament produces, including the useless First Past the Post electoral system that puts them there.

The Commons fees office (Director: Andrew Walker) not only failed to quality check the MPs claims, they actively encouraged a house "flip" (changing and charging on first and second homes).

This from the Guardian:

"Yesterday the Conservative MP Steve Crabb said he had been encouraged to maximise his claims by a fees office employee who suggested the MP "switch" his properties. Crabb said "an official in the fees office" told him: "Steve, I'm looking at your allowances and you've spent hardly anything." Crabb then described the official as saying: "You'd get more for your allowances if you switched [the second home he claimed on]."

Crabb "flipped" the home he described as his second home and then claimed £9,300 in stamp duty on the new residence and £1,325 a month in interest on his mortgage. He was able to switch after renting a room from MP Daniel Kawczynski. In all, he has claimed £67,633 in second home expenses since 2005".

So there we have it. The Civil Service must shoulder some of the blame.

Expenses claim systems are a way of begging for innaccuracies, dodgy practice and fraud. They are paperwork heavy, need loads of receipts, book-keeping, accountancy and checking. Like the FPTP voting system, the MP expenses scheme is not fit for purpose.

It has got to be abolished, and a better way to cover the need of MPs to live in London must be put in place. A hostel/hall of residence is suggested, but this has not been thought through option. Clearly, it would quickly degenerate into chaos, with MPs hitting each other with wet towels, arranging dangerous booby-traps, and b*ggering each other. It is a is a punitive remedy, but not really sustainable, because the quality of candidate would fall even further, and let's face it, the office of MP is vital for democracy, and they deserve to go back to a homely place at the end of the day.

So the obvious clear and simple answer is to give them a flat rate London Living Allowance, sufficient to rent a decent flat or house in London. Eliminate the time-wasting farce of expenses claims altogether.


Glenn Vowles said...

We need legislation to enable petitioning for the recall of MPs and other elected reps under a proper set of rules, between elections Richard. I've asked my local MP Kerry McCarthy if she favours this and await the reply with some interest!!

DocRichard said...

I agree, Glenn. That and radical electoral reform, reform of the Westminster (beginning with abolition of the pantomime gear), banning of corporate donations to political parties, a proper Constitution, etc etc. This will happen when masses of people get out into the streets outside Government buildings and refuse to go home at 5pm.

Dorothea said...

"banning of corporate donations to political parties"

Completely agree. Essential. I'd only add that this could also benefit by including a ban on receiving any donations over, say £1,000 per year or some such ball park. If these parties can't keep going on individual donations from ordinary people then these parties deserve to die, as they obviously do not represent the people.

What's been keeping NuLabour going over the last decade? Global oligarchs ... in their own interests - hence the mess.

"This will happen when masses of people get out into the streets outside Government buildings and refuse to go home at 5pm."

Good idea; Ukraine stylee.

BUT do tens of thousands of everyday Brits (ie not just the self-proclaimed vanguardists) have the will and stamina for this sort of sustained non-violent action?????

There's ideas going round.

But talk to the woman on the local omnibus and you'll generally find that she's not interested in any demonstration ... possibly, in part, because WorstBus have cancelled and she can't even get on it to pay the overinflated unfare, but also because she can't be bothered.