Expenses, second jobs and ‘absent’ MPs: time to tighten up parliament rules and give taxpayers value for money
Despite the expenses and Paterson scandals, there are still so many ways - well within the rules - that politicians give taxpayers bad value for money.
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Yoga classes, nail polish and £4,182 five-star stay at Gleneagles Hotel are just some of the astonishing expenses Nicola Sturgeon’s government billed the Scottish taxpayer for.
Data from Scottish Labour shows that Sturgeon’s administration spent £14 million in three years on procurement cards, which every government department - across Westminster and the devolved nations - uses to pay quickly for goods and services.
In total, there were 58,751 individual spending entries between September 2019 and August 2022. A Holyrood spokesperson said that the “Scottish government is committed to delivering the best value for money for taxpayers”, however voters will be asking whether it really needed to buy 21 copies of How To Run A Government So That Citizens Benefit And Taxpayers Don't Go Crazy. Surely some things are obvious …
And this kind of excess does not only happen in Scotland. When Liz Truss was Foreign Secretary, the Guardian reported there was a major jump in spending on procurement cards - which included high-end restaurants, alcohol and Heathrow’s VIP suite.
Procurement cards are just one example of how - despite a certain amount of oversight - taxpayers appear to be getting poor value for money. Backbench MPs are still allowed to have as many ‘second jobs’ as they want, provided they do not offer Parliamentary advice (a rule change that has only come in recently).
NationalWorld previously revealed that, during the pandemic, sitting MPs spent more than 7,000 working days on second jobs, and former Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis recently revealed a fifth ‘second job’ - which will take his pay outside Parliament to over £210,000.
According to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, Lewis will spend at least three and a half days a month working on these second jobs instead of as an MP. With an annual salary of £86,584, should constituents have to put up with MPs devoting their time to other work?
Outspoken Red Wall MP Lee Anderson - who recently said asylum seekers who don’t want to stay on the Bibby Stockholm - should “f*** off back to France - will rake in £100,000-a-year for eight hours work every week on his GB News show.
Anderson previously wrote: “There is no place in politics for MPs to make financial gain from private companies in return for lobbying. We are paid handsomely for the job we do and if you need an extra £100,000 a year on top then you should really be looking for another job”. (When Politico put this to Anderson this week he said "I never said that", and claimed he was only talking about lobbying).
For once I agree with Lee - maybe he should heed his own advice. And it’s not just with second jobs where taxpayers may have questions - sometimes the primary job of representing constituents isn’t up to scratch.
I reported recently from Nadine Dorries' constituency of Mid Bedfordshire, where voters described her as “absent” and said it was “an illusion” they had an MP. The Talk TV presenter no longer has a constituency office, according to Parliament’s website, and hasn’t spoken in the House of Commons for more than a year.
The former Culture Secretary also employs her daughter as her Parliamentary assistant on a salary of between £45,000 and £49,999, according to expenses regulator Ipsa. Is the service she is providing as an MP good enough? Her constituents and Rishi Sunak certainly think not - and voters are desperate for her to resign.
One MP, who is being investigated by police, hasn’t attended the House of Commons in over 12 months, while disgraced ex-Labour and Independent MP Jared O’Mara only made three spoken contributions in his two-and-a-half years as MP.
However there is no process for constituents to recall an MP for what they consider poor representation - unless they are convicted of a crime and imprisoned, suspended from the House for at least 10 sitting days or convicted of specific Parliamentary offences.
And on top of this, all Prime Ministers - even Liz Truss - are entitled to claim £115,000 per year in perpetuity from the controversial Public Duties Cost Allowance (PDCA). And don’t even get me started on Boris Johnson’s infamous gold wallpaper.
Despite the expenses scandal in 2010 and the Paterson scandal in 2021, there are still so many examples - all within the rules - where taxpayers can argue politicians are not giving them value for money. As well as better standards in public life, we need more robust regulation of those that represent us.
Lee Anderson, for once, was right - MPs are paid handsomely and should not take other employment. Especially during the cost of living crisis, voters deserve value for money from government and elected officials.