If our members of parliament think that the British public can be bought off with the introduction of a new “independent” auditing body to oversee the ‘Fees Office’, then they are sadly mistaken. It is clear, that whatever the legality of the rules governing MP’s allowances and expenses, there has been a consistent and blatant attempt by many to exploit hard-earned taxpayers money. Some ‘Honourable’ Members have even admitted that there was a culture of MP’s being encouraged to fleece the system for as much as they can, others have confirmed that the allowances were considered a right, a method by which they could supplement what they considered to be unreasonably low salaries.
In other words, many of these honourable members have been nothing of the sort, instead they have been leeches on the public purse. Many MP’s have been contemptuous and dismissive of the very people that elected them into parliament. Another fudge will not restore the trust and confidence in our MP’s or, for that matter, the parliamentary system that allowed it to happen. We can never ever again automatically, consider MP’s honourable, honest or filled with integrity. And, the bottom line, is they have no-one else to blame other than themselves, because the vast majority of them have been filling their boots with our money.
I am angered by the members of parliament that arrogantly insist that they are underpaid. On what measure if you please? The vast majority of MP’s came from a background that consisted of politics, journalism, teaching or unions. Few, if any of them, had any business experience, that is of course, one of the principal reasons that their business initiatives always fail! MP’s are not measured on the same basis as ‘normal’ people, politics is full of cronyism, as a consequence, MP’s are promoted on loyalty, not merit. They keep their jobs even when they fail and they retain their salaries even if they have done something you and I would have been dismissed for. They have other perks that the ordinary man or woman in the street could only dream of and I am NOT including their lavish expenses, allowances and pensions. The vast majority of these snivelling, egotistical leeches would not have survived in the real world, which is probably why they tried politics in the first place. If they think they are worth more, then go, good riddance, we will not miss you, that is a firm promise.
Trust and confidence in our MP’s has been destroyed, not by us, but by them. Even the few that were not dipping into our pockets, stood idly by whilst the rest did…..they said and they did nothing. In my book, that makes them no better that the leeches that have helped themselves to our money. Since 1997, the overall tax intake increased cumulatively by £1.2trillion. The only people, it would appear, not to have felt the impact, were the lawmakers that introduced or supported these despicable and unjustifiable raids on our pay packets. The pimps that insisted that our money was theirs to take, squander and plunder. If they (our MP’s) think they will be easily of quickly forgiven, they truly are very sadly mistaken. The decent thing to do would be to resign and let a new batch of MP’s come in, ordinary folk, that have a track record of success or experience outside politics, who can offer real value and life experience. Only then will we have an opportunity to get rid of the stench of self-gratification and suspicion of a corrupt system.
The public is entitled to expect and demand a fully independent audit of MP’s expenses, but this must be completed by an audit firm that is not linked to the public sector in any way, in other words, they must not have previously had a contract with the public sector and must undertake not to accept one in the future. There must be no way that the independent auditors can be influenced by the people they will be auditing. Further, an eminent barrister must be appointed to provide a definitive interpretation of the rules contained in the ‘Green Book’. The auditors must then compare claims that have been paid against this interpretation and every single claim that does not fall within the terms must be immediately repaid by the MP’s concerned. No exceptions. This audit should cover, at the very least, the last 10 years. Furthermore, an assessment must be completed, whereby a panel of 3 judges determine whether, in their opinion, any criminal offences have been committed by any MP, such as attempting to gain a pecuniary advantage, deception, fraud etc. Those that are considered to have a case to answer, must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If anyone in the ‘Fees Office’ has been complicit in the criminal process, then they too must be prosecuted, they were paid to do a job and if they failed, then they must accept the price. We want no exceptions, no whitewash and no excuses. The decision of whether or not a prosecution can take place must be left to the judges, not the CPS.
In addition, HMRC must conduct their own independent investigation without fear or favour. It is clear, from the admissions of our own MP’s, that some have profited from the sale of second homes. It is not difficult to determine whether or not this can be classed as a capital gain. HMRC must look at the records held at the ‘Fees Office’ and use this to determine which property was classed by the minister as their primary residence, i.e. the property where no second home allowance was paid. Any property that was clearly not the primary residence must, therefore, be subject to capital gains tax. Where MP’s have played the game by transferring the allowances between several properties, the HMRC must make an assessment and then issue a tax demand. The same as they would for anyone else. Remember, it was Gordon Brown and this government that tightened the laws relating to unpaid taxes, whereas, for the most part, it is up to the ‘innocent’ tax payer to prove that they have not profited, rather than the revenue services to prove that they have. So let them become the ‘victims’ of their own laws. Anything less would be unacceptable and unjust.
A friend of mine recently discovered that his business had been incorrectly accounting for VAT to which the VAT office was not entitled. This had happened over a period of 6 years. When he entered his claim, he was told he could only go back for a maximum of 3 years and when they eventually reimbursed him, he was even “fined” 5% of the value of the reclaim, because the VAT office determined that he had gained through “enrichment”. That is correct, he made a legitimate mistake in favour of HMRC and as a consequence, has had his reclaim reduced by 5%! These are the rules brought in by Gordon Brown and his government, they must be judged by exactly the same rules. That is to say, if they have been enriched through their failure to declare the fact that a ‘capital gain’ was due on the sale of a property, then they must been fined, made to pay interest, as well as repaying the tax.
Much has been made by MP’s about the fact that they were encouraged to milk the system of allowances by ‘house elders’. That is no excuse and I will supply a personal example. In 1979, I was provided with a company car with my job and, on the first day, I went around to the local garage to fill it up with petrol. As I recall, I put about £4 worth of petrol in the car and was handed a receipt for twice the amount. I queried this and was told that it was “standard practice” for everyone that worked for the company. I insisted on being given a new receipt for the correct amount. I then raised this with my manager, who said that “we are so poorly paid, this is considered a perk of the job, everyone does it and even senior management accept the practice, don’t worry“. I refused to be corrupted, I knew this was dishonest and I can honestly say, that from that day to this, I have never fiddled, taken advantage of, or ‘worked’ my expenses or allowances. In other words, it is for the individual to determine whether or not they will succumb to or support a corrupt system, in my view, each and every MP was given the same choice I was and the vast majority chose to ‘work the system’. So much for honesty, judgement and integrity.
Now, it will not have passed anyone’s notice that MP’s, brave souls that they are, have openly blamed the officials at the ‘Fees Office’ stating that expenses were approved by them, so it was okay. They should be reminded, that the Fees Office rules clearly state that ‘Your signature effectively certifies that the amount claimed has been spent on the additional costs necessarily incurred’. Quite right! In the private sector, the primary responsibility for an expense claim falls to the person that is submitting the claim. The individual that authorises the claim is obliged to determine the voracity of the claim at face value, but they will not, in most cases, be able to (nor expected to) investigate each claim or receipt. Nonetheless, if a dishonest claim has been entered, it is the claimant that can and will be held responsible. Over the years I have had responsibility for authorising expenses, I have always been diligent and never knowingly signed off on a dishonest claim. However, I have, on more that one occasion, disciplined or dismissed people that have deliberately entered a dishonest claim, such as false petrol receipts, exaggerated mileage claims and/or false overnight claims. MP’s must abide by the very same rules as the private sector. I can confidently state, that the experience I have had in business, in relation to expenses, are commonplace, in other words, most employers will not accept any level of dishonesty from their employees because they know it is a slippery slope.
- For all those MP’s that have claimed that their claims were within the rules, let me remind them what some of those rules are (extracts), then perhaps they would like to reflect.
- Additional Costs Allowance claims must be “above reproach” and MPs “must avoid any arrangement which may give rise to an accusation that you or someone close to you is benefiting from public funds”
- MP’s expenses and allowances can only be claimed “for the purpose of performing their parliamentary duties.”
- “You must ensure that arrangements for your ACA claims are above reproach and that there can be no grounds for a suggestion of misuse of public money.”
Here is something else MP’s are obliged to consider: MP’s are allowed to claim for maintenance, cleaning and “necessary repairs“, as well as furnishings and white goods. Therefore, among the questions MPs are urged to ask themselves before making claims is, “How comfortable do I feel with the knowledge that my claim will be available to the public under Freedom of Information.”
Former chairman of the committee for standards in public life, Sir Alistair Graham, said the expenses system had to be decided in the public and taxpayers’ interest, by an independent outside body. He said, “It is depressing to keep hearing [MPs] saying ‘well, it’s the system that was wrong and we are changing the system’. “The question you have to ask is who devised the system? MPs devised the system under their self-regulating arrangements and that’s what must change for the future.”
Lets hear from Harriet Harman; Asked about claims MPs have been claiming one property is their “second home” under the allowance, but not for the purposes of council tax or capital gains tax, she refused to give a “gut instinct judgement” on whether it was a breach of the rules. However, she said: “Normally it would be the same for council tax, for tax if there was a sale of the property… normally there would be a consistency on that.” – Lets have this point put to the test, we don’t need any MP’s ‘gut instincts’, if they are subject to the same rules as the rest of us, then we already know the answer, so it is time for HMRC to act…and NOW!
I will sum up by reproducing two statements attributed to Harriett Harman. The reader can draw their own conclusions from what she says, or rather, what her statements imply.
“We do not have the level of corruption that remains in many other countries”. “We have recognised that the system needs sorting out”. “We need a new system“.
“MPs believe in the cause of public service and that’s why they’re in public service and I believe our House of Commons is not scarred by corruption on the scale of other political systems.”
Game, set and match!
Footnote: I believe it is time that parliament was modernised to reflect the modern day. A good start would to remove the automatic address of ‘the honourable’ or the ‘right honourable’ when referring to MP’s. It is blatantly obvious to any bystander, that this title cannot be automatically conveyed on MP’s, but must be earned.
It is worthwhile checking out this article on MP’s Expense Claims!