From pizzas to pests, the latest expenses revelations
Monday 11 May 2009
Hot property: Tony Blair. Former prime minister
Tony Blair's penchant for property is hardly a state secret, but the documents give an insight into how the former prime minister amassed his glittering portfolio.
Months before buying his town house in London for £3.65m, Mr Blair remortgaged his constituency home in Co Durham, for £296,000 – almost 10 times its original price. He was able to claim for most of the interest repayments amounting to almost a third of the new mortgage. That was enough for a deposit on the London house in Connaught Square, one of five properties he now owns worth a combined sum £10m.
In his last term as prime minister, Mr Blair's claim forms showed £15 for a window cleaner and an annual newspaper tab of £1,167.48.
In defence: Technically, Mr Blair did not break rules and MPs have used similar strategies to amass property. A spokesman for Mr Blair said: "The facts are as we said at the time, there was no cost to the taxpayer in this decision."
Job: Former prime minister
Salary: Prime minister pension of £64,000
Expenses for second homes: 2004-05: £16,417; 2005-06: £8,399; 2006-07: £10,917; 2007-08: £5,772
Utility bills: £2,874.47
Council tax: £1,399.22
Television licence: £131.50
Sleaze rating: *
Take your partner: Stephen Byers. former cabinet minister
One of the apostles of New Labour, Stephen Byers is the second MP found by the Telegraph investigation to have used the system to benefit their partner. Indeed, the former cabinet minister claimed £126,648 in second-home expenses while living rent-free in the Camden flat owned by a lawyer, Jan Cookson.
Ms Cookson does not have a mortgage, so Mr Byers could not claim interest charges on loan repayments. Yet in 2007, the former transport secretary still charged the entire £27,033 sum for renovations made to the exterior of the building which comprises four flats. Receipts also showed he regularly spent the maximum £400 a month on groceries, even when Parliament was in recess, and nearly £500 of redecorating costs, including £240.50 on replacement of bathroom tiles.
In defence: Mr Byers said he does not pay rent to Ms Cookson and that "all of the expenses I have received are within the rules and have been approved by the Commons authorities".
Job: MP for North Tyneside
Expenses for second homes:
2004-05: £17,638; 2005-06: £14,208; 2006-07: £21,481; 2007-08: £18,091
Food: £400 monthly
House repairs: £12,033
Sleaze rating: b***
Helping the homeless: Iain Wright, junior minister
The former accountant claimed thousands of pounds on furnishings for a second home, even before he had one. In a letter to the Commons authorities, he said it seemed "stupid" not to use up his annual additional costs allowance.
In 2004, the MP for Hartlepool also claimed on overnight stays in London hotels. In April the following year, two days after a general election was called, his letter to the fees office said he had claimed £1,811 for "things I've bought like bedding, kitchen equipment etc" and that he was in the early stages of buying a house. "It's still OK to claim, isn't it?" he asked.
The Commons official allegedly deemed the request "reasonable", but suggested he waited until the general election. Mr Wright later bought a Westminster property with another MP.
In defence "As a new MP, I purchased furniture and electrical equipment once I was in the process of purchasing a half-share of a small two-bedroom flat in London," he said.
Job: Parliamentary Under-secretary of state in the Department for Communities
Expenses for second homes:
2004-05: £7,116; 2005-06: £20,493; 2006-07: £18,780; 2007-08: £17,882
Food: £375 a month
Legal expenses: £1,431.46
Sleaze rating: ***
Pizza the action: Tom Watson, junior minister
Last month, he found himself in the line of fire over the Damian McBride email saga, and was forced to deny any involvement in the plot to smear Tories.
This weekend, the denial came in the form of a Marks & Spencer's "pizza wheel" which, Mr Watson pointed out, appeared on a receipt he submitted, as part of a free gift for spending over £150 at the store. Indeed, he allegedly spent £4,800 on food in one year and exceeded monthly limits at least once. In 2006, he had his expenses cut by £210 after buying a set of dining-room chairs beyond the Fees Office limits.
After buying a Westminster property with Iain Wright, they are said to have submitted thousands of pounds on set-up costs.
In defence: "All claims were made under the rules set out by the House of Commons authorities. I fully understand why the public expects the system to be reformed. I voted for this last week and only hope that reforms can go even further as quickly as possible."
Job: Minister for Digital Engagement and Civil Service Issues
Expenses for second homes:2004-05: £13,995; 2005-06: £19,029; 2006-07: £19,740; 2007-08: £16,059
Food: Exceeded the £400 monthly limit at least once
Sleaze rating: ***
Community support: Kevin Brennan, junior minister
He had a £450 widescreen television delivered to his family home in Wales and then claimed it on his allowance for his second home in London. But Mr Brennan, parliamentary under-secretary in the Cabinet Office, told The Telegraph that the items on his additional costs allowance – such as Ikea furnishings and a crockery set – were not for his family home and were bought to "support local businesses" despite one purchase being online.
Claims included Ikea bunk beds for his daughters' visits, despite other MPs – including David Miliband – having similar requests rejected. When Mr Brennan moved out of his north London home in 2007 and bought a flat 10 minutes from Westminster, he put the £10,200 stamp duty on his allowance, and claimed mortgage interest payments of £1,531.59 a month.
In defence "Expenditure and bills were shared with agreement of the Fees Office to ensure this arrangement conformed to the spirit and letter of parliamentary rules," he says.
Job: Parliament Under- secretary in the Cabinet Office
Expenses for second homes:2004-05: £12,991; 2005-06: £12,017; 2006-07: £13,703; 2007-08: £23,083
Linda Barker Monkey Tail Cutlery set: £49.94
Sleaze rating: **
I'll get that mole: John Gummer, Tory former minister
In one of the more bizarre and cryptically framed expense claims, the former Tory cabinet minister claimed £9,000 a year for gardening, treating insect "infestations" and removing moles and jackdaw nests from his Suffolk home, and for an annual "rodent service".
The Suffolk Central MP has claimed close to the maximum allowance of more than £20,000 annually during most years amid concerns by the Fees Office he was not producing receipts to justify many claims. He produced several almost identical annual statements from cleaners, gardeners and other suppliers that were submitted as receipts. One read: "This is to acknowledge the receipt of sums in excess of £9,090.00 from the Rt Hon John Gummer for outside maintenance, wood-chopping and gardening."
In defence "I have only ever claimed the relevant proportion of the costs of necessary maintenance and repairs of an old rural property (and the claims for 'gardening' relate in significant part to maintenance and repairs too)," he said.
Job: MP for Suffolk Coastal
Expenses for second homes: 2004-05: £20,292; 2005-06: £21,634; 2006-07: £22,110; 2007-08: £23,076
Roof repairs: £5,000
Sleaze rating: ****
Window dressing: Kitty Ussher, Junior Minister
An audacious junior minister set out a two-page wishlist of improvements to her house in Brixton, instructing parliamentary officials to "pay as much as you are able!"
Within 12 months of being elected in 2005, the Burnley MP fired off the plans for the south London property, where she had already lived for five years. They included a renovation of the bathroom and a replacement of her "rotten" and "draughty" sash window frames. She also requested for a "damp patch in the kitchen" to be "sorted out", a "grimy" stair carpet replaced and the walls repainted. In the next 12 months, Ms Ussher received the maximum £22,110. In 2005-06 – the year she became an MP – she claimed £17,903 in additional costs allowance.
In defence A spokesman for Ms Ussher said: "Kitty has always made clear that the public needs to have confidence in the democratic process. All her claims were in line with the relevant House of Commons rules and guidance and have been approved by the Fees Office."
Job: Work and Pensions junior minister
Expenses for second home:2004-05: N/A; 2005-06: £17,903; 2006-07: £22,110; 2007-08: £22,767
Food: £200 a month
Sleaze rating: ****
Toilet humour: John Reid, Former cabinet minister
Like John Prescott, whose expense revelations included two toilet seats, Mr Reid has shown a predilection for a variety of the furnishing: a £29.99 "black glitter" toilet seat from Homebase.
It doesn't stop there. Last August, he went on a spree at Marks & Spencer and submitted a £486.50 receipt for everything from slotted spoons to an ironing board. In 2008 Mr Reid moved into a flat in Glasgow and soon began kitting it out with soft furnishings like a £199 pouffe. He also submitted receipts for two sponges costing 75p, 20 coat hangers at £1.68, and a bucket for 99p after moving house three times in 2007-08. Previously he refurbished a house in Motherwell with the help of £8,890 of taxpayers' money, including £2,387 for a bathroom suite. When he sold the house in March 2007 he refunded the cost of the bathroom, sending a cheque for £1,886 to the parliamentary fees office.
In defence He was unavailable for comment.
Job: MP for Airdrie and Shotts
Expenses for second home: 2004-05: £16,757; 2005-06: £13,026; 2006-07: £20,596; 2007-08: £23,083
Pest control: £685
Sleaze rating: **
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