MPs keeping it in the family to the tune of £3m


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The Independent Online

MPs are still paying nearly £3m of public money to family members, despite attempts by the new expenses watchdog to tighten up the system, research for i has found.

Analysis of MPs' staffing claims by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for the last financial year reveals that nearly one-in-five MPs still employs members of their family, at a cost to the taxpayer, despite condemnation of the practice during the expenses scandal. More than 40 family members of MPs were paid £30,000 or more and six received between £40,000 and £44,999. Twenty-seven of the MPs who employed those close to them were newly elected in 2010. One MP employed both his estranged wife and his new partner at a combined cost of at least £55,000.

Overall, 136 MPs are employing "connected parties" in roles including office manager, secretary and parliamentary assistant, according to figures collected by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) for the financial year 2010-2011.

Last night Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, called for Ipsa to look again at allowing the practice.

"In our report, the committee recommended that MPs should no longer be able to employ family members at taxpayers' expense," he said.

"Although we heard plenty of evidence during our inquiry that spouses and family members offered value for money, the purpose of our recommendation was to put the new system beyond any suspicion of abuse. We continue to be concerned about the potential for abuse – perceived or otherwise – which this creates and we hope that Ipsa will keep this under review."

Graham Brady MP, who employs his wife, Victoria Lowther, as senior parliamentary assistant, said: "All my staff are employed on the appropriate pay scales reflecting their experience, qualifications and responsibilities." Sally Hammond, who earns from £40,000 to £44,999 as senior parliamentary assistant to her husband, Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon, said: "Our arrangements conform to all Ipsa requirements."