When news happens send us your pictures, video and views. Text BE to 80360 or contact us by email
MPs' expenses: Figures reveal the true price of our democracy
NEW figures reveal how much MPs have been costing the taxpayer in expenses over the past year.
The money claimed for expenses, employing staff and running offices varies between £87,000 and £151,000 for MPs in the Daily Echo’s area.
That figure is on top of the £65,738 salary drawn by all MPs.
A number are claiming less than they did in 2008-09, when the scandal over MPs’ expenses broke.
Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, claimed the most in the Daily Echo’s area at £151,441, including £99,292 on payroll costs.
He said: “If you want to provide a good service in dealing with constituents’ issues, then you need the staff to be able to act on those. That’s what we’re there for, to represent constituents efficiently.”
He said it was difficult to compare MPs’ different circumstances and that members should be judged on how well constituents’ concerns were answered and how an MP performed in Westminster.
“If I did no work, answered no calls, didn’t turn up for any debates, I could cut costs down to zero. Would that be good value?” he said.
The lowest claimer in the Echo’s area was Desmond Swayne , Conservative for New Forest West, who claimed £86,894, of which £75,444 was on payroll.
He said MPs were no longer discussing the issue much.
“I would imagine that having had our fingers so badly burned, surely everyone’s being extremely sensitive and modest,” he said.
MPs now have to declare when they are employing a “connected party” such as their spouse.
Christchurch MP Christopher Chope claimed between £45,000 and £49,999 for employing his wife Christine as a secretary.
Mr Swayne declared that he paid between £5,000 to £9,999 to his wife Moira as office manager. He told the Echo the actual figure was £7,500 and said she did a lot more than she was paid for.
“There’s no one else who can brief me at 10 o’clock at night when we’ve got time because they take all the phone calls,” he said.
“There’s no one else who can take me aside on a Sunday afternoon and say ‘You’ve got to do this, this and this because there are five phone calls a week about X’.”
South Dorset MP Richard Drax , elected for the Tories in 2010, said: “MPs shouldn’t have to be watched. We’re all called honourable members and people who behave honourably do not fiddle expenses.
“Having said that, in the past there’s been a lapse in that trus.
“There’s a very huge awareness amongst MPs that they’ve got to be very careful what they spend on behalf of their constituents.”
Conor Burns of Bournemouth West, another Conservative of the 2010 intake, said: “There are those who were in parliament before the last election who still feel aggrieved at the change of regime and there are those of us who watched the expenses scandal in the last parliament as taxpayers and members of the public and have gone to Westminster with that view.
“The view I take on it is ‘Does this pass the doorstep test? Can I look a constituent on the doorstep in the eye and justify why I’ve claimed a particular sum of money for a particular thing?’ – which is why I don’t employ any members of my family and why I don’t claim for food, which is an allowable expense.
“I don’t see why the taxpayer should pay for me to eat when MPs are sitting.”
Three Dorset MPs earned extra payments for parliamentary duties. Robert Syms of Poole was paid £14,582 as a committee chair and Chris Chope the same amount for sitting on the panel of chairs, while Annette Brooke of Mid-Dorset and North Poole earned £6,911 on the panel of chairs.
We'll have fully interactive charts showing exactly who claimed what online later this week.