Minister regrets £42,000 expenses row

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Indy Politics

Local government minister Barbara Follett described the expenses scandal as a "sad and sorry episode" today after being ordered to repay more than £40,000.

The Labour politician has paid back the full £42,458 demanded by Sir Thomas Legg - more than any other MP after appeals are taken into account.

Mrs Follett, wife of best-selling author Ken, was found to have made invalid claims for security, telephone lines and insurance for artworks.

She said: "I have repaid the total amount in full and am pleased that this matter has now been resolved. I claimed these amounts in good faith in accordance with the rules at the time.

"But as an independent review has now shown these to be vague and deeply flawed, I feel it is only right to repay them.

"This has been a sad and sorry episode in Britain's political life which I deeply regret."

Born in Jamaica, Mrs Follett lived in Essex, Ethiopia and South Africa before moving to Farnham in Surrey in 1978 and joining the Labour Party.

The 67-year-old, who now serves on the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, was chosen as the candidate in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, in 1995, winning the seat in 1997.

She was elected as Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) Women's Committee in June 2005 and has also been Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Women, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister for the East of England and Parliamentary Secretary for Equality.

The mother-of-three, who lists her personal interests as Scrabble, photography and Star Trek, served as Minister for Culture, Creative Industries & Tourism between October 2008 and September 2009.

Currently a junior Minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, she came under fire in May for her expenses.

Receipts leaked to the Daily Telegraph showed she had claimed more than £25,000 for security patrols outside her London home between 2004 and 2008.

She was today ordered to repay £34,776.30 for mobile security patrols at her second home, as well as £4,454.18, representing half the cost of an "excessive" six telephone lines at the property.

She was overpaid £2,812.95 for a non-allowable insurance premium for fine art, and was paid £221 twice for boiler insurance, as well as £193.78 for pest control at an address which was not her second home, Sir Thomas Legg said in his House of Commons expenses review.

In May, Kate Hoey, a former Labour minister, said taxpayers would want to know "how on earth" MPs were able to put certain claims on expenses.

Referring to Mrs Follett's expenditure on security, she said: "I just cannot understand that one at all.

"I would need to have someone really convince me that an MP can claim that amount of money for personal security, when I know that in my constituency I have women who walk home late at night who would love to have somebody paying for them to have personal security.

"The public will not understand why she has been able to do that and therefore her own constituents will have to judge her on that."

In June Mrs Follett announced her intention to repay the sums she claimed towards the security costs and also for the repair and cleaning of a child's rug which, she said, was claimed in error. She has already repaid £32,976.17, leaving £9,482.04 outstanding.

In October, four months after her announcement, the MP confirmed she would be standing down at the next general election to spend more time with her family.

Mrs Follett, who has six grand-children, said it was "with great sadness" that she told the Prime Minister and local Labour Party leaders she would not be contesting the seat again.

While in office, she has tried to reform the working hours at Westminster to make them less anti-social and more family-friendly.

She was closely associated with efforts to sharpen up the Labour Party's image for a TV and fashion conscious age - something which was later termed "Folletting".