Thursday, 4 February 2010

Fiddling the Expences?

Many years ago I had a job in the retail trade that involved travelling to different outlets each day.

I was told that as well as my wages I would receive so much a mile petrol allowance. I can't remember the exact amount now so lets say it was 20p a mile. I didn't have a car but rode a small motorbike and 20p a mile represented a fairly large profit compared to a car owner. I pointed this out to the boss as I didn't want him coming back to me months later and saying I owed the company a huge amount of petrol money because my bike was using less petrol than a car. He told me that there was one worker who cycled everywhere and he still got the petrol allowance. It was built into the pay structure. After I had been working for a few weeks I was told by a fellow worker to always add a few miles a day onto my claim. There were about 12 people doing a similar job to me, travelling and claiming petrol money and the company didn't check the exact mileage travelled.

Now I felt I was already getting far more petrol money than I was actually spending and didn't feel the need to fiddle the claim to get more. But, and it was a small but; a moral dilemma. Should I be a whistle blower and tell the boss some of his workers were fiddling the accounts. I didn't due to the fact I didn't want to be that unpopular with my fellow workers, the amount really wasn't that big, not likely to break the company bank and if the boss was too lazy to check the mileage then that was his problem.

The reason I tell this story is because today a report has been released concerning the MP expenses. Just over half the honourable members have to pay back some of the expenses they have claimed. Some of these claims or so outrageous as to be almost unbelievable. To mention but 3,Barbara Follett (Lab) Stevenage £42,458, was the largest amount to be repaid, the smallest amount was for £104.48 while our very own local MP Adrian Sanders has paid back £691.

The average amount the 300 or so MPs have to pay back comes to over £3500 so Adrian could hardly be said to be on a gravy train. [In fact the money he had to pay back dated from 4 years ago and it wasn't his fault he had incorrectly claimed it. See comment below]. Now there have been many comments about the MPs who have made exaggerated claims but very few if any have asked the question I asked myself, briefly, when I heard that some of my fellow workers were fiddling. Did any of those MPs who haven't got to repay anything and were therefore not fiddling the taxpayer stand up in Parliament and Blow the Whistle? If not, why not? And the other question that seems to be ignored is why wasn't there tighter controls on all these expenses by the department responsible for actually paying them. Those people, civil servants I assume, did they just say as they rubber stamped the claim forms, "Oh, it's taxpayers money. Why should we care?" If they did why are they still in a job?


Central User said...

According to a couple of news sources, the smallest repayment has been 40p - Mike Gapes, Labour MP for Ilford South.

What I find most frustrating is that the review cost £1.16m - more than the total of £1.12m eventually demanded for repayment.

Anonymous said...

Well I assent to but I dream the list inform should prepare more info then it has.

Dave said...

I'm with you David. My Dad used to always say "Honesty is the best policy." - Dave

Lord Hutton said...

I have had to travel to Torquay and back to comment on this. That'll be £5.12

Adrian Sanders MP said...

It's wrong to describe an over payment as a fiddled expense. I don't think that was your intention, but that's how it could be read given your headline. The sum I was asked to pay was the amount the administration dept should have deducted from rental claims after the 2005 election. Neither they nor I could have deducted it before because neither they nor I knew the precise dates for the dissolution of Parliament in advance of the election. In any event I didn't know I had to repay the rent for the 21 days of dissolution because the Admin Dept hadn't told me. They hadn't told me because they automatically make the deductions and explain afterwards, but in my and one other MPs case, they failed to make the deductions. It's an illogical rule because I wouldn't have had a London flat on which to pay rent had I not been an MP, and there are other second home costs that you don’t have to repay, but I digress. Parliament's annual audit should have spotted the admin dept's error at the end of the financial year but didn't, the Telegraph missed it because they were looking for MP's mistakes - not the House administration's, and the Herald - who had access to all the papers - didn't notice it either. Only Sir Thomas Legg and his proper independent audit found it four years later, and as soon as he informed me I repaid it without prevarication. The lesson is that we should have an independent audit every year. Adrian