MPs’ allowances

Today – finally – the House of Commons gets round to publishing MPs’ receipts; weeks overdue in my humble opinion.

Yesterday, I briefed the Birmingham Post on my personal experience with the House of Commons Fees Office – the department responsible for MPs’ allowances – and its failures.

Four years ago, I tried to cut my accommodation costs by buying a flat with my brother, who could put up a deposit and help me move fast to save money.

After telling me – twice – that I could go ahead, when I asked for agreement in writing, the House of Commons Fees Office wrote to me flagging for the first time a new concern. I cancelled the purchase immediately – I didn’t even want the appearance of something odd or untoward.

By now I’d incurred the normal costs associated with buying a property – solicitors’ fees, mortgage fees etc. So I asked who should pick up the tab – was it me? The Fees Office said they should pay – against a rent deposit I had returned.

Four years later, we learned that it wasn’t just me getting duff advice – it was many MPs.

Well, as an MP, I’m collectively responsible for the Fees Office. And quite frankly I do not think taxpayers should pick up the tab for bad advice from a Fees Office that didn’t work.

So, I sent a cheque for £1,757.88 – the full amount of costs incurred – to the Fees Office a month ago.

I do not own a second home. I rent a small one bedroom flat a mile away from Parliament, above a restaurant.

Just 15 per cent of my allowances relate to supporting my work in London. 85 per cent is spent in Hodge Hill – serving the people of Hodge Hill.

We face some big challenges in our constituency. We’ve some of the highest unemployment in Britain. 75 per cent of our children live in low-income families. 40 per cent of children live in workless families. 36 per cent of children are in families which receive working family tax credit

But our community is full of people who want to build a community they are proud of. That’s why I launched Hodge Hill 2020 to bring people together, to deliver new homes for local families, to rebuild schools and nurseries, to create hundreds of new school places, to equip our police and to put new health centres where they are needed. But I need to work with constituents to drive these campaigns. Here are some examples of the things I do;

· I’ve invited over 50,000 people to residents’ meetings on Friday nights

· I do a school gate surgery every week in term time, visit different schools and meeting parents afterwards on the school gates. Plus most weeks I’m out on the doorstep for 1-2 hours taking down local problems

· I hold six advice bureaux a month all over Hodge Hill for a total of 9 hours – plus countless hours of follow-up

· As a result, Hodge Hill has one of the largest caseloads of any constituency in the country. I estimate that last year me and my team served over 4,000 people personally, with thousands more benefiting from our campaigns

· I’ve held countless meetings with head teachers, police officers, district directors, youth groups, community groups, voluntary groups and local charities.

So I’m clear that every single penny I spend on serving the people of Hodge Hill is money they deserve. But here’s the breakdown of costs;

Staff costs

2005/6 2006/7 2007/8
£81,081 £88,219 £91,461

Of the £91,461 spent in the 2007/08, the overwhelming majority – 71.8% – was spent on staff working in Hodge Hill. Since November 2008, all of my five staff members – representing 100% of my staff costs – have been based in Hodge Hill.

Incidental Expenses Provision – Office costs

I rent a constituency office in Hodge Hill for £500 a month, with the rest of the costs going on phone bills, utility bills, photocopying, stationery, postage and costs associated with holding meetings and surgeries around the constituency.

2005/6 2006/7 2007/8
£21,100 £19,406 £20,273

If anyone wants to ask me questions about the claims, I’ll be happy to respond. It’s your money, and you have a right to know where it’s being spent.

I think today’s news is going to prove – again – that Gordon Brown was dead right to break the deadlock on expenses reform, and to demand change to the ‘Gentleman’s Club’ of Westminster. Some attacked him for not going ahead by consensus; but the truth is the House of Commons failed to sort out the mess itself. So leadership was needed.

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