How Brown (and his Cabinet) cleaned up
From employing a cleaner and installing mock tudor beams to buying a 38p yoghurt, Chris Green picks through the dossier to discover the ministerial spending details
Saturday 09 May 2009
Gordon Brown Prime Minister
Courtesy of the taxpayer, Mr Brown paid a cleaner £10.50 per hour to keep his Scottish constituency home in Fife neat and tidy. He also spent £265 on a vacuum cleaner from John Lewis.
Mr Brown switched his designated second home from a flat in Westminster to his property in North Queensferry, Fife, 10 days after Tony Blair announced his resignation, in what could be interpreted as an attempt to maximise his expenses claims. As well as using taxpayers' money to ensure his house was spotless, he spent £1,500 a year on a gardener and paid for significant repairs and redecoration work. In 2007, plumbers were called to fix a blocked toilet, charging £88.13.
While the Westminster flat was his official second home, he also employed his brother Andrew to share "cleaning services" at a cost of £241.30 a month. The total bill came to £6,577.
In defence "The system doesn't work," Mr Brown said yesterday. "We voted for change and that change has got to come quickly."
Job: Prime Minister
Second home in Westminster: 1 January 2006 - 31 March 2006
Ground rent: £37
Other: £108 (Sky TV)
Other: £1,396 (decoration)
Alistair Darling, Chancellor
The chancellor has changed the location of his "main home" four times in as many years, allowing him to claim thousands of pounds towards the costs of his family house in Edinburgh and pay for a flat in London.
In September 2005, Mr Darling spent £226,000 on a flat near the Oval cricket ground and made it his official second home. Taxpayers paid close to £10,000 in furnishings, stamp duty and legal fees.
In the first month of his tenancy, Mr Darling also spent £2,074 on furniture. A trip to Ikea cost the public £765, while a bed from Marks & Spencer came to £768. He also spent £2,339 carpeting the flat.
Since moving into 11 Downing Street as Chancellor, Mr Darling has claimed about £1,200 a month in council tax and mortgage for his second home in Edinburgh.
In defence "The claims were made within House of Commons rules which were designed to reflect the fact that MPs have to meet the cost of living in two places," he said yesterday.
Sample expenses for second home in Lambeth: 1 September – 30 September 2005
Mortgage interest: £808.39
Other: £1,238.41 (legal fees for buying property)
Other: £3,074.48 (furniture/household items)
David Miliband, Foreign secretary
Over five years, Mr Miliband spent almost £30,000 on repairs, decoration and furnishings for his £120,000 constituency home in South Shields.
The Foreign Secretary spent sums of up to £180 every three months on his garden, prompting his gardener to question whether the work was necessary.
In April 2008, on the bottom of a receipt for £132.96, the gardener scribbled: "Please let me know if you would like pots making up at front and back this year, given the relatively short time you'll be here and their labour-intensive nature." During the five years covered by the receipts, Mr Miliband put a £412 hand-crafted chair, a goose-down duvet and a chenille throw from Marks & Spencer on expenses, as well as a £450 John Lewis sofa, a washing-machine and a tumble-dryer. Some of the items were ordered in his wife's name.
In defence "David Miliband followed the rules and procedures as laid out by the parliamentary authorities," a spokeswoman said.
Job: Foreign Secretary
Second home in South Shields: 1 November – 1 December 2006
Other: £145.96 (gardening)
Other: £237.85 (tiles)
Other: £135 (tiling work)
Keeping his counsel
Jack Straw, Justice secretary
Two months after learning that MPs' expenses were to be made public, Mr Straw sent a handwritten note to the fees office, confessing he had made an error in claiming back council tax he owed on his second home.
In the note, sent on 20 July last year, the Justice Secretary admitted he had been filing expenses claims for council tax at his constituency house in Blackburn at the full rate since 2004, at the same time as claiming a 50 per cent council tax discount from his local authority.
In the letter, in which he enclosed a cheque refunding the money, Mr Straw wrote: "I have been checking my claims ... and I have realised that my claims for council tax have been incorrect." A month later, he realised he had miscalculated, and wrote another letter which said: "Accountancy does not appear to be my strongest suit."
In defence "All claims made for Jack Straw's Blackburn home have been made in accordance with the rules," said a spokesman.
Job: Secretary of State for Justice
Sample expenses for second home in Blackburn: April 2007 - March 2008
Repairs/insurance/ security: £2,350
Other: £399 (television)
Geoff Hoon, Transport secretary
A series of hefty expense claims on at least two properties has allowed Mr Hoon to build a property empire worth £1.7m.
While he was Defence Secretary and Leader of the House, he claimed costs for his home in Derbyshire despite living in a grace-and-favour apartment in Whitehall.
Between 2004 and 2006, he spent thousands of pounds renovating his house in Derbyshire. The property was bought for about £135,000 but is now thought to be worth more than £600,000.
After moving out of Whitehall in 2006, Mr Hoon bought another house in London which he promptly claimed as his second home, enabling him to fund it under the expenses system. Two years later, he had spent more than £500 on flooring and £800 on carpet and curtain cleaning.
In defence "I lived at Admiralty House from 2002 until 2006 on advice from Special Branch on security grounds as Defence Secretary," Mr Hoon said.
Job: Secretary of State for Transport
Sample expenses for second home: June 2007 - July 2008
Telephone and communications: £200
Service/maintenance: £413 (curtain cleaning)
Hazel Blears, Communities secretary
Miss Blears spent hundreds of pounds of taxpayers' money on a stay in one of London's most fashionable hotels when she was between houses.
After selling her flat in south London in 2004, she spent two nights at the Zetter hotel in Clerkenwell, where rooms cost £211 a night.
After buying another London flat, she put its monthly mortgage of more than £1,000 on expenses and claimed the maximum of £400 a month for groceries.
Over the next four months, she racked up a £4,874 bill on furniture, spent £899 on a new bed and £913 on a new TV, the second funded by the taxpayer in less than a year. The claims continued in 2006, when she spent a further £668 on bed-linen and curtains, £439 on crockery and kitchen equipment and more than £200 on bath towels.
In defence "She has to have accommodation in London," a spokesperson said. "This includes a bed with a mattress, blankets and pillows, and a television."
Job: Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Sample expenses for second home in London: January – March 2005
Mortgage payments: £2,160
Lord Mandelson Prime Minister
Less than a week after he announced his decision to stand down as an MP, Lord Mandelson billed the taxpayer £3,000 for work on his constituency home in Hartlepool.
The Business Secretary renovated the terrace house in 2004, before selling it and making a profit of £136,000.
On 25 July, his decorator sent him an invoice for £1,350 for "work done decorating [the] interior and exterior". Two days before, he had accepted the position of European Commissioner.
His gardener then billed him £1,500 to cover extensive work including "crown topping of overgrown trees" and "pruning of leggy shrubs". Like several other MPs, Lord Mandelson seems to have used his allowances to have work done on his second home before giving up his seat and selling it off.
In defence "The work done was necessary maintenance," he said. "All claims made were reasonable and submitted consistent with Parliamentary rules."
Job: Business Secretary
Sample expenses for Hartlepool constituency home: July 2004
Heating and lighting: £27
TV licence: £10.49
House repairs: £1,350
Grounds for divorce
Andy Burnham, Culture secretary
It was only when he informed the fees office that he "might be in line for divorce" if they rejected it that the Culture Secretary finally won a bitter eight-month battle over a single £16,500 expenses claim for the renovation of his London flat.
The office had rejected the claim on three occasions when, in December 2005, it received a letter from Mr Burnham pointing out that his family's financial situation was difficult and both he and his wife were desperate to be reimbursed.
"I would be very grateful," he wrote, "if [the expenses] could be paid in the last round of the year on Friday. Otherwise, I might be in line for divorce!"
In July 2007, Mr Burnham put a £19.99 bath robe from Ikea on expenses, which was also rejected. He has since described the claim as a "genuine oversight".
In defence "I resent any suggestion that I have knowingly misused public funds," Mr Burnham said.
Job: Culture, Media and Sport Secretary
Sample expenses for second home in Lambeth: 1-30 August 2007
Mortgage interest payments: £765
Council tax/rates: £83
Other: £119.48 (items from IKEA, cut to £99.49 after claim for £19.99 bathrobe was rejected)
Shaun Woodward, Northern Ireland secretary
Being the wealthiest member of the Cabinet did not prevent Shaun Woodward claiming almost £100,000 to help pay the mortgage interest on a £1.35m flat, one of at least seven properties he owns.
The Northern Ireland Secretary claimed the maximum second home allowance of £23,083 in 2007-08, spending the money on mortgage interest and council tax payments for his flat in London.
His expenses receipts, between January 2004 and June 2008, show he claimed £98,079 for mortgage interest payments, £1,806 for utility bills, £3,814 for council tax and £409 for phone bills.
Mr Woodward's incidental expenses, which cover the cost of running his parliamentary and constituency offices also contained bizarre claims: one assistant claimed 38p for a yogurt and £1.06 for a pizza from an Asda at St Helens.
In defence "Mr Woodward's allowance claims are published every year and they are within the rules and guidelines," a spokesman said.
Job: Northern Ireland Secretary
Salary: £63,291 (does not draw full salary)
Sample expenses for second home in London: 1 January - 31 March 2007
Mortgage interest payments: £3,328.77
Council tax/rates: £997.54
Telephone and communications: £141.52
Stamp it out
Caroline Flint, Minister for Europe
Ms Flint made good use of her parliamentary expenses, using them to pay for solicitors' fees and stamp duty when she bought a new flat in Victoria, central London.
The former housing minister, who is currently Minister for Europe, left taxpayers to pick up the £14,553 bill for her apartment, which was accepted without question by the fees office.
Previously she had registered her house in Sprotbrough, near her constituency of Don Valley in South Yorkshire as her second home.
In 2005 she sold her "main home" in Twickenham and declared Sprotbrough her principal residence. For the next eight months she spent around three nights a week in a variety of central London hotels, costing the taxpayer between £75 and £120 a night. She also claimed the £177-a-month cost of putting her furniture in storage.
In defence "At each stage I sought advice from the House of Commons, and never sought to make personal gains from public funds."
Job: Europe Minister
Expenses for second home in London: April 2007 - March 2008
Other: £162.16 (boiler)
Other: £123.97 (washing- machine repair)
Up in smoke
Douglas Alexander, International development
The taxpayer funded a £30,000 renovation of Mr Alexander's 120-year-old constituency home in Renfrewshire, which was then damaged by fire.
That was in 2007, while the International Development Secretary was at his London home with his wife Jacqueline and their children. He insisted he had been "under-insured" and gained permission from the fees office to stay in a new house for six months while his home was being repaired at the public's expense.
The fees office told him he could "continue to claim interest payments" on his second home at the same time as "claiming other expenses, excluding rent, for temporary accommodation".
He eventually repaid almost £2,000 for the items he had claimed, which included bedding, a television, DVD player and an oven roasting-tin.
In defence "Following the fire which rendered my home uninhabitable and destroyed contents ... I sought the advice of the House of Commons fees office to obtain their guidance."
Job: Secretary of State for International Development
Sample expenses for second home: April 2007 - March 2008
Telephone and communications: £365
Other: £550 (bedding); £928 (chimney relined)
Margaret Beckett, Housing and planning Minister
A failed claim for £600 to deck out her constituency home in Derby with hanging baskets and potted plants formed part of Mrs Beckett's expenses claims, which ran into tens of thousands.
At the time, the Housing and Planning Minister was living rent-free in an apartment in Admiralty House in Whitehall, but asked the fees office to cover £711 spent on "labour and materials for painting of summer house, shed and pergola". She claimed £15,211 for work on her house.
An official sent her a letter explaining that expenses claims had to be "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred to enable you to stay overnight away from your main home". The official said: "I find it difficult to conclude that it meets the requirements set out in the Green Book."
In defence "Grace and favour homes are not rent-free, we are taxed on them." On gardening claims: "Sometimes things are done in a rush, at the last minute, when you're busy."
Job: Minister of State for Housing and Planning
Sample expenses for second home in Derby: 9 May 2005 - 31 Jan 2006
Telephone and communications: £191
Service and maintenance: £1,920 (£600 disallowed for hanging baskets and tubs)
In hot water
Paul Murphy Welsh secretary
A new plumbing system was installed in Mr Murphy's Westminster home at taxpayers' expense because his water was "too hot".
The work was funded using his second home allowance, but MPs are not supposed to make claims for repairs other than to make up for normal wear and tear.
In August 2007, Mr Murphy wrote a letter to the fees office in which he said: "The hot water was far too hot, and was causing problems of scalding and overheating of the flat."
He had used the same allowance to purchase the freehold of the flat, which is a short walk from the House of Commons, for £2,336. He also made numerous claims for decoration costs and furniture, including £35 for a lavatory roll holder, £537 for an oven and £1,674 for a carpet.
In defence "The old boiler in his flat was declared unsafe and had to be replaced," a spokesman said. "The freehold purchase of the flat was in accordance with the Green Book."
Job: Secretary of State for Wales
Expenses for second home in London: April 2007 - March 2008
Telephone and communications: £179.45
Others: £139.93 (microwave); £29.99 (DVD player); £32.98 (digibox); £6 (tin-opener)
John Prescott Prime Minister
HIis nicknames include "Two Jags" and "Two jabs", but now a more appropriate moniker for the former deputy Prime Minister is "Two lavs" after it emerged he has had his toilet seat repaired at the taxpayers' expense on two occasions.
The lavatory repairs were carried out in 2004 and 2006 but more serious costs were incurred by the installation of mock Tudor beams, which he attached to the front of his eight-bedroom constituency house in Hull for £312.
In total, he claimed £6,772 for repair work to the house, including the replacement of sash windows. Repainting the exterior of the property cost the taxpayer £1,187. Mr Prescott also claimed £4,800 a year for food, the maximum amount possible, and spent £609 on white goods, including a new LG washing machine.
In defence "Every expense was entirely consistent within the rules and practices of the House of Commons on claiming expenses at the time."
Job: MP for Kingston upon Hull East and ex-deputy Prime Minster
Salary: £64,766 (£134,000, 1997 - 2007)
Sample expenses for second home in Hull: 1 April 2006-31 March 2007
Food: £4,800 (maximum)
Council tax: £1,727.29
Other: £1,004.16 (contents insurance)
... and the good guys
Alan Johnson, Health Secretary
His much talked-up prospects of being the next Labour leader are not harmed by his expenses. All the claims the Health Secretary has made in four years have been for a modest second home in his Hull West constituency, including some for food and furniture. This will be a relief but not a surprise to his supporters. Mr Johnson, who was a postman in Slough for 21 years, never looked like someone who expected to get rich. Yesterday, he brushed off the expenses row as "noises off-stage, a temporary diversion".
Ed Miliband, Energy and Climate secretary
One of the Miliband brothers has come through the day's revelations with his reputation intact. Ed Miliband, the Energy Secretary, claimed only £6,300 for a modest home in Doncaster North, plus utility and council tax bills. Unlike his older and better-known brother, he gets on well with Gordon Brown. Brownites have usually looked to Ed Balls to take over the party leadership, but perhaps when everything is known about every MP's expenses, they will look to Ed Miliband for the cleanest hands.
Hilary Benn, Environment Secretary
His political career took a knock when he came a disappointing fifth in the contest for Labour's deputy leadership two years ago. Since then, he has quietly got on with his job as Environment Secretary. There is nothing in his expenses to embarrass him, just £147.78 claimed for food. Mr Benn is perhaps not quite as ambitious as his father, Tony Benn, once was but he would not say "no" if offered the job of foreign secretary. His chances of that have taken a turn for the better.
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