North East MPs claim thousands to rent offices from their own parties

MPs have defended themselves after it emerged they were claiming expenses to rent offices from their own parties

Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell
Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell

MPs have defended themselves after it emerged many were claiming thousands of pounds from the taxpayer to rent offices from their own parties.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has published details of landlords for politicians’ office space for the first time. And it announced plans for a public consultation on whether the practice should be banned.

They include Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell who paid £9,000 in 2012-13 to Blyth Valley Constituency Labour Party for his constituency office.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman paid £5,442.29 to Hexham Constituency Conservative Association. Mr Opperman said the office was rented by the party from a private landlord to act as a local headquarters, and space was sub-let to him, meaning all his rent went to the landlord.

IPSA’s figures also show also show that Newcastle East MP Nick Brown rents premises from GMB Northern Region and paid £7,045.49. The union made donations of £600 and £750.00 to Newcastle East constituency Labour party in 2009.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman
Hexham MP Guy Opperman
 

MPs are entitled to claim financial support to pay the costs of providing an office in their constituency, and there are no rules preventing them from renting from their own party.

If they do rent from a party then they are obliged to have the property independently valued to ensure they are paying the market rate.

Pressure group the Taxpayers’ Alliance has claimed the arrangement amounts to “a back-door subsidy to political parties”, and IPSA has now launched a review into whether to end the practice. But MPs said the deals provided good value to taxpayers as they would pay the same, or more, to any other landlord. And they criticised the Commons spending watchdog for telling them there was nothing wrong with the arrangements - only to criticise them for it later.

Mr Brown said: “The GMB Northern Region have their own offices and part of the building is rented out to other commercial activities and a small part is rented out to me.

“I have an independent valuation which the union and I obtained which shows the rent is not to high, not too low, it is a commercial rent at the same rate the other occupiers of the building are paying.”

Mr Opperman said: “The premises are owned by a business landlord based in Yorkshire who is nothing to do with Hexham Conservatives or myself.

“There is absolutely no benefit, financially or otherwise, to Hexham Conservative Association or myself.”

Jonathan Isaby, political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s one thing if a local political party offers their MP and staff free use of a desk or an office, but quite another for it to be sending taxpayers an annual invoice for thousands of pounds.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer