The watchdog in charge of policing MPs' expenses spent almost £300,000 of taxpayers' money furnishing its new London offices, it emerged yesterday.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority bought seven chairs for £538 each, 25 cabinets at £2,295 each and 14 "relaxer" loungers at £465 each. The furniture bill, revealed in a Freedom of Information response to the website PoliticsHome, revealed that Ipsa also bought 71 seats for visitors at £242 each, six stools at £265 each and a table for £837.
MPs seized on the revelations with undisguised relish – having been the victims of Ipsa's tough line on their own expenses since the organisation started operating in May. "You could drain quite a lot of moats for that amount of money," said the Conservative MP Roger Gale. "It shows just how out of touch they really are."
Last night it emerged that Ipsa will see its own spending scrutinised by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee by the end of the year.
A source said they expected the National Audit Office to conduct a review "before the recess" into whether Ipsa provided value for money, which would then be passed to MPs on the committee to comment on. "There is an appetite on the committee for us to take a look at Ipsa and it's likely to happen sooner rather than later," a source said.
Overall, Ipsa spent £293,000 furnishing the office space in its Portland House headquarters at an estimated cost of £4,300 per member of staff. So far, its start-up costs have been estimated at more than £6m although the organisation insists this will fall over time.
But MPs claim it will still be more expensive to run than the old regime – and that its systems are bureaucratic and unnecessary.
The Conservative MP for Witham, Priti Patel, said Ipsa must apply the same standards to its own spending as it would to Westminster politicians. "I think in this age of austerity, Ipsa has to realise that this is hard-pressed taxpayers' money it is spending," she said.
"You have to question whether they are applying the 'value for money' test that we, local authorities and all public bodies must meet. They have to furnish an office but if they have bought some items some may consider luxurious then they really should have bought items that were more modest."
Last month, Ipsa was forced to apologise after the Conservative MP Jesse Norman had a £1,504 claim for office furniture unfairly rejected. It admitted this was an administrative error.
Ipsa bosses have defended the furniture costs and claim its set-up costs were in fact below industry averages for an organisation of its size.
"Ipsa is not part of the parliamentary estate. Last year we walked into a shell of an office and needed to equip it – there is a cost associated in doing so," a spokesman said. "We followed the proper procedures – we held a competition through the Office of Government Commerce, where the Government has approved suppliers and rates.
"We negotiated even better terms than those pre-agreed rates. The costs represent 22 per cent of our accommodation project costs – better than the industry standard of 25-35 per cent. Ipsa has committed publicly to get cheaper year on year and we will."
What they spent it on
£57,375 on 25 cabinets
£17,182 on 71 seats for visitors
£339 on one red 'Boss' office chair
£1,256 on four designer monitor arms and clamps