MPs' claims for expenses soar to more than £80m

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Indy Politics

Cabinet members, including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Blunkett, claimed large allowances for maintaining second homes, despite living in free accommodation paid for by the state.

Figures published for the second time yesterday revealed which MPs and cabinet members claimed the most in expenses and allowances last year. MPs claimed a total of £80.8m in expenses and staff costs - an average of £122,677.49 each - a rise of more than £23m in three years.

More than half of the money, £57m, went on MPs' staff and office costs. However, MPs racked up a total bill of £2.5m for postage and more than £7m for travel.

Of the cabinet ministers' claims, Mr Blunkett received £20,608 in housing allowances, despite living in a £2m Belgravia home, that he was controversially allowed to retain even after he resigned as Home Secretary in December.

Mr Blair claimed £16,417 in additional costs allowance for his Sedgefield home, despite having free accommodation in Downing Street and at Chequers.

Mr Brown, John Prescott, Jack Straw, Geoff Hoon and Margaret Beckett also claimed the allowance, which can be claimed for a second home, household bills and even furniture and appliances, despite enjoying Government "grace and favour" residences in central London. These claims are permitted under Commons rules.

But Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, called for a ban on ministers receiving state subsidies for second homes when they enjoyed free accommodation. He said: "I'm not surprised at the shortage of homes in the South East given the number that ministers occupy. It's unacceptable that Cabinet ministers already on large salaries should be raking in allowances which are not justified.

"They are exploiting the system. It should be forbidden for those getting second homes from the Government to claim for any others."

The highest-spending MP was Geraint Davies, former Labour MP for Croydon Central, who lost his seat at the last election, who claimed £176,026 in expenses and staff costs.

Nick Harvey, spokesman for the Members' Estimates Committee, the group of senior MPs that regulates expenses, said the public "receive excellent value for money". He said: "Constit-uents demand that their MP can be contacted wherever and whenever necessary, and that she or he should be in touch with all important issues locally and nationally. That requires efficient staff, modern equipment, travel and good financial management."

Sinn Fein MPs claimed allowances despite refusing to take their seats at Westminster. The party's four MPs claimed a total of £472,485 in 2004-2005. They have offices at Westminster, but refuse to swear the oath of allegiance.

Allowances and expenses are paid on top of MPs' basic salary of £57,485 during the last financial year.

The most controversial is the "additional cost allowance of up to £20,902 for MPs whose constituencies are outside inner London. It pays for accommodation either in London or their constituency and can cover rent, mortgage payments, gas and electricity bills, cleaners, food and items such as furnishings, fridges, washing machines and even a televisionlicence.

MPs who live in inner London instead can claim a £1,618 supplement. .

MPs can claim unlimited travel expenses, covering both travel to and from Westminster and travel within their constituency, including first or second class rail travel.

Last year drivers could claim 57.7p per mile up to 20,000 miles and 26.6p after that. The mileage rate has since been cut to 40p a mile for the first 10,000 miles and 25 pence for the rest.

In benefit

Tony Blair: Uses the family flat above 11 Downing Street, and the country house, Chequers. The £3.6m mansion in central London is rented. He also has a small house in his Sedgefield constituency.

Margaret Beckett, Environment Secretary: Free flat in Admiralty House, market rent £8,500 a month. She got £19,088 for a cottage in her Derby constituency and £91,136 staff costs.

David Blunkett, Pensions Minister: Quit as home secretary, but stayed in its £2m Belgravia house. He rents out his house in Southfields and gets £20,608 for a house in his Sheffield constituency.

Geraint Davies, former Labour MP for Croydon Central: The most expensive MP, claiming £176,026 in expenses and costs, and sent £38,750 worth of mail, 130,000 first-class stamps.

Oona King, former Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow: Ran up a postage bill of £37,147 and claimed £153,977 in staff, travel and office costs, emerging as the 13th most expensive MP.

Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover: The left-wing "Beast of Bolsover" claimed £75,487, with £770 in postage and £9,983 for travel. He racked up a bill of just £2,888 for staff costs.

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