North East MPs defend their expenses claims

MPs who charged the taxpayer for everything from spoons to redecorating bedrooms last night defended their lavish lifestyles.

MPs who charged the taxpayer for everything from spoons to redecorating bedrooms last night defended their lavish lifestyles.

Across the North East elected members from all parties have made expenses claims for the kind of daily living costs their constituents have to fund themselves.

Bills were handed in every month for TV licences, newspapers, light bulbs, taxis and food costs. And while the receipts published by Parliament yesterday reveal the vast scale of seemingly inexpensive everyday items MPs are not prepared to pay for themselves, they also show the large housing costs they passed on to the taxpayer.

Many of the region’s Labour MPs, who defend large majorities in some of the UK’s safest seats, have refused to pay for fridge freezers, DVD players, and the cost of redecorating bedrooms.

Many have claimed for bedroom furniture, including draws, closets, bed covers, bed pillows and even the beds themselves. Tyne Bridge MP David Clelland even claimed £470 for an oriental rug.

Few appear to do any cleaning, with lots of North MPs hiring a cleaner at the cost of up to £220 a month.

With the truth behind their lifestyles finally out, attention last night turned to the changes needed to bring trust back to politics.

Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods, who invited The Journal to view her unedited expense claims before they were published by Parliament, said she wanted to see changes introduced soon.

“I have always said we should be more transparent about what we are claiming, that is why my expenses are on my website. But we have to realise there will be cost involved when we send people to London as a representative.”

Sir Alan Beith, the Berwick MP who wants to clear up British politics as the new Commons Speaker has charged taxpayers thousands of pounds for cleaning his second home, and for laundry.

Last night Sir Alan said: “What I don’t do is carry laundry back and forward between London and Northumberland so I get laundry done.

He said he regarded the claims as “appropriate and necessary costs” of running a second home in London.

Blaydon MP Dave Anderson said no MP could overlook the level of public anger their expenses had provoked, adding: “I think it is quite clear that the system needs to change.” Among those who made repeated claims for furniture was Sharon Hodgson. The Gateshead East and Washington West MP has already shown her claims to reporters, and insists she has nothing to hide.

Ms Hodgson made repeated claims for taxis throughout the last three years, including individual bills for more than £70. Easington MP John Cummings, who claims the maximum £400 a month for food and has a £220 a month cleaner, said it was time for MPs to admit their mistakes. He said: “My claims are reasonable given that I provide a good service to my constituents through a fully staffed office in my constituency in Easington.

“In my view it is a time for contrition from MPs who have allowed this situation to develop. Labour will however have many new and younger candidates at the General Election who are not tainted by these allegations.”

Page 3 - MPs repay almost £500,000 >>

MPs repay almost £500,000

MPS have repaid nearly £500,000 amid public fury over abuses of the Westminster expenses system, it was revealed last night.

They have returned a total of £478,615.07 to the taxpayer since April 1, according to figures released by Parliament.

Many MPs have handed over cash after admitting claiming too much, but others have done it as a gesture to try and allay constituents’ anger.

Among the North East MPs to repay money are David Miliband, who represents South Shields and repaid £434.24. Roberta Blackman Woods, the City of Durham MP, repaid £240.42, while Hilary Armstrong, North West Durham’s representative, repaid £5,500. Kevan Mr Jones, whose sits for North Durham, repaid £172.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has made four separate repayments, totalling just over £800.

His spokesman said all the sums had been made either to rectify "inadvertent errors or for the avoidance of doubt".

The biggest was a £466.85 cleaning bill which was "inadvertently assigned to two quarters".

Mr Brown also paid back £86.88 worth of service charges claimed on a London flat because they covered a 12-day period after it ceased to be his second home, £95 claimed for a utility bill for similar reasons and a £153.13 plumbing bill that was submitted twice. International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander has paid back £4,200, the figures showed.

A spokesman said: "Mr Alexander approached the Fees Office in April 2009 to discuss the written advice he had previously been given by them regarding the rental of a building adjacent to his property between 2001 and 2005.

"The Fees Office did not resile from the advice they had previously given Mr Alexander. Nonetheless, notwithstanding that advice, Mr Alexander decided, for the avoidance of doubt, to make payments to reduce his overall level of claim."

Among the biggest sums on the list were from Labour ex-ministers Paddy Tipping (£14,320) and Keith Vaz (£11,306), shadow solicitor-general Jonathan Djanogly (£25,000), Tory deputy speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst (£14,574.82) and junior culture minister Barbara Follett (£32,976.17).

The biggest sum to be handed back so far is the £42,674 promised by Health Minister Phil Hope and the smallest the £1 returned by Labour’s Madeleine Moon.

Page 4 - Editing costs £2m >>

Editing costs £2m

THE process of scanning and editing all the receipts from 2004-8 has cost £2m and taken 13 months to complete. An internal probe is still ongoing as to how a "raw" version of the material fell into the hands of a national newspaper, sparking panic among MPs as more and more faced allegations of impropriety. But police have already confirmed they will not take any further action over the leak because those involved had a public interest defence.


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