Taxi! MPs' expenses watchdog took taxpayers for a £16,000 ride

Sir Ian Kennedy earned £170,000 a year, but that wasn't enough. He needed a cab to get to and from work
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Indy Politics

The man put in charge of policing MPs' expenses took hundreds of door-to-door taxi journeys between home and work when he was boss of a health watchdog – and left taxpayers to pick up the bill.

Sir Ian Kennedy claimed almost £16,000 on private-hire vehicles to transport him around London during less than five years as the £170,000-a-year chairman of the Healthcare Commission (HC), unpublished documents obtained by The Independent on Sunday have revealed.

Itemised accounts obtained by the IoS show Sir Ian also claimed more than £4,000 for train fares and several lunches and dinners, including three with Paul Corrigan, special adviser to former secretary of state for health Alan Milburn, and partner of the former cabinet minister Hilary Armstrong.

The details come as the expenses "auditor" Sir Thomas Legg prepares to deliver ferocious criticism of MPs over their extravagant claims from the taxpayer over recent years. His 30-page report, to be published on Thursday, is also expected to condemn the expenses system and the Fees Office, which administered it.

Although many of Sir Ian's taxi journeys were to meetings and other official engagements, the vast majority – more than 200 every year – were trips between his home in North London and the commission's HQ in the City. The fares ranged from around £17 for ordinary private-hire cabs, to £35 for "VIP" bookings on account with a premium cab service. The journey would take less than 40 minutes on the Underground – and even now costs only £2.30 with a pre-paid Oyster card.

Sir Ian's salary was calculated to match that of a High Court judge. In 2008-09, the year the commission was wound up, he received at least £170,000.

Sir Ian, a respected academic, legal expert and former TV presenter, was chosen last year to chair the new watchdog – the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) – following the furore over the abuse of the expenses and allowances system by dozens of MPs.

He said using so many taxis had allowed him to do at least half an hour's extra work every day – including taking more telephone calls. Sir Ian also insisted that he ran up his taxi bill following an "agreement" with the now-defunct commission, and gave up his entitlement to employer's pension contributions as part of the agreement.

But MPs last night condemned the deal and demanded a full explanation from the man who has been charged with establishing a system governing how they spend taxpayers' money.

Ian Liddell-Grainger, Tory MP for Bridgwater, said: "He needs to recognise that being an MP is rather like his [job] at the Healthcare Commission: it is not nine-to-five, it is not easy and it does not have a beginning and an end. It is all very well him saying there should be restrictions on things like the amount MPs can spend on travel, when he was earning three times an MP's salary and charging the taxpayer up to £70 a day for his personal travel arrangements."

One former minister said: "I am surprised to hear that any public servant could get his taxi fares paid on such a regular basis, when everyone else has to make do with public transport."

It is not the first time Sir Ian has provoked unrest among backbench MPs since his appointment was announced last November. The revelation that he would be paid a £100,000 salary for a three-day working week sparked loud jeers in the House of Commons.

Last month, Sir Ian was forced to deny that he had watered down proposals to clean up the MPs' allowances system with tighter rules on second homes, capital gains tax and the employment of family members. His own expenses details reveal that he claimed £25,377 between 2004 and March last year – and £15,813 of it was for taxi fares; accounts itemise more than a thousand taxi journeys in that time. Scores were through the commission's account with Addison Lee, which describes itself as "London's largest minicab service with over 2,200 premium minicabs".

A spokesman for the Care Quality Commission, which superseded the Healthcare Commission, said the agreement to pay travel to and from work instead of contributions to a pension for Sir Ian saved the commission £5,000-£8,000 annually.

Sir Ian told the IoS: "Taking cabs would allow me to work when going to and from work. I regarded it as enabling me to work that much more efficiently. It was also often the most efficient way of getting to meetings. The arrangement was entirely transparent and was published in the annual report."

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said all non-departmental public bodies were subject to independent audit "to ensure the fit and proper use of public money". She added: "All public bodies must show value for money for the taxpayer at all times."