The Sketch: Parliamentary subsistence system is just bad and mad

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The Independent Online

Where are you on MPs' expenses? Moat cleaning? Jacqui Smith's husband's porn film? The pack of villains looting the public purse to put gold flakes on their porridge? It's moved on.

"So that was £20," the MP said. He'd paid for a round of coffees and muffins for a group of people who gather round MPs. "Happens ALL the time. Yesterday seven constituents were in Westminster to get an award for one of them – well done him – and it's me having them for lunch.

"They think it's on expenses so I end up paying £300. I must be paying £10,000 a year out of my own salary on these sorts of expenses." And if the research is accurate, he's one of 10 per cent of MPs who do so.

When I repeat this story to a female MP she says: "And they look at you as you pay with contempt, because they're thinking it's their money you're paying with."

While being on guard against the gold flake tendency, it is perfectly possible to believe our MPs have suffered enough under a vindictive, cumbersome, expensive, all-powerful system that can only have been devised by a vengeful god. Oh yes, it was Gordon Brown's parting gift to Parliament.

Adam Afriyie's debate on MPs' expenses threw up all sorts of research results. Apparently, 38 per cent of MPs' claims cost more to process than the cost of the claim. The office has lost the paperwork of 62 per cent of MPs. The staff can't offer elementary back-office services such as direct debits or payments by BACS. And while they pay out £19m, they cost the taxpayer £6.4m. That's a third. Amazing.

"They say that 99 times out of a 100 they answer the phone within 30 seconds," Peter Bottomley said. "I was ringing them continually between 9am and midday with no answer." And they didn't know it was Peter Bottomley.

Not only that, the bureaucrats now determine how many times a month MPs can visit their constituency. And if that isn't exactly the case, MPs can't find out what the case is because it takes three weeks to get a reply to an email. Capping it all, MPs spend 10 hours a week doing their expenses. There must surely be a better way.

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