Labour officials reacted furiously last night after eight Cabinet ministers came under attack for using accountants at public expense to ensure that tax forms on which they declared their office costs were properly filled out.
They included the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, who rented out his London flat when he moved into 11 Downing Street in 2007. The man in charge of the nation’s tax system took professional advice on “the treatment of rental expenses against income” to make sure that there were no discrepancies on his returns. Altogether, he added claims of more than £1,400 for accountancy advice in two years to the office costs which he claimed back from the Fees Office.
The other Cabinet ministers who claimed for accountants’ bills were the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, the Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, the Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband, the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, the Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell and the International development Secretary Douglas Alexander. The claims totalled more than £11,000.
The latest revelations are published inThe DailyTelegraph today, along with the names of ministers who claimed for the services of media trainers, or bought digital cameras or camcorders and reclaimed the cost from the Fees Office. One of the more bizarre revelations was that a member of staff in the parliamentary office of the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, claimed for two Remembrance Day wreaths. The claim was rejected.
A spokesman said last night that Mr Balls did not know the claim had been put in on his behalf until it had been “rightly” rejected. “Anyone who knows Ed Balls knows that he is neither mean, nor stupid, and you would be both to put in that claim,” he said.
A senior official also angrily denied that the Cabinet ministers who claimed for accountants’ fees had been cheating the public.
“Over the past few days, the Telegraph has been showing up lots of examples where there has been some pretty shoddy account keeping, which in some cases have resulted in money being paid back,” he said. “The Fees Office Green Book specifically states that professional advice is an allowable expense. This is so that MPs do not return inaccurate tax forms.
“This is not for their personal or family finances. It’s specifically for their offce costs, which have to go on their self assessment forms. This is actually about Cabinet minister behaving responsibly and making sure they are honouring their tax liabilities as they should.”
Mr Darling said yesterday: “Like many MPs, I employed an accountant to prepare tax returns for each of the years in question to ensure that the correct amount of tax was paid.”
Three members of the Cabinet claimed for a media trainer to advise them. Harriet Harman, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, charged more than £10,000 for advice from Scarlett McGwire, an adviser with long standing links to the Labour Party.
Eight ministers, including Yvette Cooper, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Miss Blears, bought digital cameras or camcorders using their office expenses. Jacqui Smith bought a £240 Apple iPhone for her husband on expenses. He works as her assistant.