MPs hit taxpayers' pockets with £209m expenses claim

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MPs have run up a £209m expenses bill since the last general election and have claimed taxpayers' cash to buy new fridges, sofas or even television licenses, it emerged yesterday.

MPs have run up a £209m expenses bill since the last general election and have claimed taxpayers' cash to buy new fridges, sofas or even television licenses, it emerged yesterday.

The astronomical cost of Britain's 659 MPs was revealed as their expenses claims were published for the first time. They showed that members are claiming an average of £118,000 a year in taxpayers' subsidies on top of their £57,485 salaries.

Tony Blair, who has official residences in Downing Street and Chequers, ran up a bill for £43,000 since the last election in subsidies for his constituency home in Sedgefield, which he bought for £30,000 in 1983.

Downing Street insisted that the cash was to pay the mortgage on the detached residence, called Myrobella, and crucial repairs to the property, which also serves as an office.

The Prime Minister is among a number of cabinet ministers, including Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, who receive grace-and-favour residences from the state but also claims tens of thousands of pounds to run another private home.

Outer London MPs claimed £500,000 in housing subsidies even though their constituencies are often only a few miles from Westminster. The bulk of those 49 MPs claimed the allowance, designed to help MPs with constituencies in far-flung parts of Britain. Tony Banks, MP for West Ham, claimed £20,000 for a housing allowance even though his constituency is a Tube ride away from Westminster.

The senior salaries review board (SSRB), which sets public service pay, recommended that some allowances be slashed. It also proposed that the controversial "additional costs allowance" for accommodation should only be updated in line with inflation. The SSRB recommended pay rises of 2 per cent for MPs and ministers. But it warned that MPs' pay lags far behind comparable jobs in the private sector.

MPs are allowed to claim expenses for staff, office costs, accommodation and travel to and from their constituencies. The subsidies come on top of MPs' salaries of £57,485 a year and a cabinet minister's salary of £72,862. The expenses show that as well as travel and accommodation, MPs claimed £11.49m last year in incidental expenses, £430,000 in staff travel, £720,000 for stationery, £2.2m in postage and £1.17m in IT provision.

The most expensive MPs last year were Claire Curtis-Thomas, Labour MP for Crosby, who claimed £168,889, and Keith Vaz, the former Europe minister, who claimed £164,265.

A spokesman for Unison, Britain's biggest union, said: "Some of these expenses seem excessive, particularly when we have other public sector workers who are on very low wages."

One of the top 10 big spenders branded the publication of expenses "a total nonsense". Peter Pike, the MP for Burnley, who claimed £153,989, insisted those with large expenses were among those who spent the most time working hard. He said the figures could be "quite misleading". "I genuinely believe you have got to look at what MPs do ... You cannot just look at them off the peg."

Mr Pike sits on three select committees in the Commons.

The Green Book, the pay guide for MPs, says they should claim only for "those additional costs wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred" while working away from their home.

THE GRACE-AND-FAVOUR MINISTERS

By Marie Woolf

Ministers with grace-and-favour homes are also claiming tens of thousands of pounds in housing allowance. They include:

Tony Blair has a smart family flat above 11 Downing Street and an elegant country residence at Chequers, Buckinghamshire. He also owns a spacious detached house in his Sedgefield constituency. Recently he purchased a £3.6m Georgian house in central London. Over the past three years he has claimed £43,029 in housing allowance payments, which Downing Street says he has used for the mortgage and repairs at Sedgefield.

Gordon Brown has a small official flat above 10 Downing Street, a flat in central London and a house. He has claimed £43,178 in three years.

John Prescott has a grace-and-favour flat at the top of Admiralty House in London, an official country residence in Dorney Wood, Buckinghamshire and a house in his Hull constituency. He has claimed £57,066.

David Blunkett, has an official residence at Government House in Pimlico. He also owns a one-bedroom house in Southfields, south-west London, which he rents out, and a house in his constituency. He has claimed £54,755 over three years.

Jack Straw has an official country residence in Chevening, Kent, and an official London residence in Carlton Gardens off Pall Mall. He also has a family home in Kennington and a house in his constituency. He has claimed £44,019 in housing expenses since 2001.

Margaret Beckett, Environment Secretary, has a grace-and-favour flat in Admiralty House in Westminster, a detached cottage in her Derby constituency and a flat she lets in Westminster, near the House of Commons.

She has claimed £50,176 over the past three years.

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, has a government flat in Admiralty House as well as a house in Kennington, south London from which he gains a rental income. He also has a home in his constituency.

Mr Hoon has claimed £54,217 in three years.

Michael Martin, the Speaker, has an apartment in Parliament. He also owns a flat in London and a house in his constituency. He claimed £42,501.

THE SINN FEIN MPS

The four Sinn Fein MPs claimed more than £430,000 between them last year in expenses and allowances, although they refuse to take up their Westminster seats.

Michelle Gildernew, MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, topped the Sinn Fein list, collecting £115,420 between April 2003 and March 2004. The sum included £18,400 towards the cost of living in London, and £67,738 for staff. Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness, MP for Mid Ulster, claimed £110,653; the party president Gerry Adams, MP for West Belfast, claimed £109,315; while Pat Doherty, the West Tyrone MP, claimed £104,064.

Sinn Fein MPs have office accommodation at Westminster. They have not sworn or affirmed the oath of allegiance to the Queen.

OUTER LONDON MPS

By Ben Russell, Political Correspondent

Outer London MPs claimed nearly £500,000 last year to cover mortgage payments, rent and hotel bills in Westminster even though their constituencies are only a few miles from the House of Commons.

Most MPs with seats in the commuter belt around London claim substantial amounts under the "additional costs allowance" which covers the cost of staying away from home while on parliamentary duties. The allowance can be used to cover hotel bills, mortgage interest payments, rent and even the cost of electricity, a TV licence or household appliances.

Many claim close to the top figure of £20,902 a year even though their constituents think nothing of the daily journey into the capital.

Forty-nine MPs whose constituencies are included in an official list of outer London seats are entitled to claim, or to choose a far lower £1,618 London allowance if they live at their main home. The 26 inner London MPs cannot claim the extra money and are automatically paid the £1,618 allowance.

The figures show that just 17 outer London MPs do not claim the additional costs allowance. Most of those who do, claim well in excess of £10,000.

Margaret Hodge, Minister for Children and MP for Barking; Vincent Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman and Twickenham MP; Paul Boateng, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Brent South MP; and Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton, are among those who choose not to claim the additional costs.

Of those who take advantage of the allowance:

* Tony Banks, Labour MP for West Ham, claimed £20,333 although his east London seat is only a 25-minute Tube ride away.

* Andrew Rosindell, Tory MP for Romford, whose Essex constituency is less than 20 miles from central London but who has a pied-à-terre there, claimed £20,333.

* Jenny Tonge, Lib Dem MP for Richmond Park, claimed £13,554 for her flat 10 minutes from the Commons, even though her main home is in Richmond, around 10 miles away.

* Derek Conway, Tory MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, on the south-eastern outskirts of London, claimed £20,333.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE MPS...

The MP who ran up the biggest bill for the taxpayers was Claire Curtis-Thomas, the loyal Blairite MP for Crosby, Merseyside, who collected £168,889 between April 2003 and March 2004.

Her expenses included the maximum £20,333 for staying away from her constituency, £19,780 for office premises and equipment, £71,773 for staff costs, £27,155 for travel, £19,038 on postage and £2,021 on computers.

The former minister Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East, claimed £164,265, including £18,893 for postage.

Mohammed Sarwar, MP for Glasgow Govan, received £157,262.

Peter Pike, who is retiring next year as Labour MP for Burnley after 21 years, picked up £153,989.

Eric Joyce collected £152,861. He ran up a travel bill of £39,116 - the second highest of any MP - travelling between London and his Falkirk West constituency.

... AND THE LEAST

The Tory MP Michael Trend was officially bottom of the list on £56,657, but only after he repaid £90,000 in accommodation allowances he should not have claimed. Mr Trend was suspended from the Commons for two weeks and will stand down at the next election following a newspaper exposé.

Sarah Teather claimed £68,689, but has only represented Brent East since her shock by-election win for the Liberal Democrats last September.

Stephen McCabe, the Labour MP for Birmingham Hall Green, came in cheapest for the full year at £70,519, after claiming just £12,970 for his London living expenses.

Dennis Skinner, the veteran left-wing MP for Bolsover, spent just £71,120 representing Bolsover. His London living expenses were £12,128.

Next cheapest was the Tory grandee, Sir John Stanley, whose Tonbridge and Malling seat is in Kent, on £73,849.

THE COUPLE

The husband and wife MPs Sir Nicholas and Ann Winterton jointly claim more than £188,000 in expenses and allowances. Sir Nicholas, the Tory MP for Macclesfield, claims £14,749 in additional costs allowance, which pays for MPs' living expenses away from home, while Mrs Winterton, the Conservative MP for Congleton, claims £18,602 for the same allowance.

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