Shellshock

The one thing I can put into the public domain today, as I’ve been carrying them around in my handbag since Friday, are the figures for my expnses in the 2008-09 financial year, which aren’t part of the current revelations/ publication. I don’t have a detailed breakdown or any forms or receipts, just the summary.

The Incidental Expenses Provision (commonly known as the office costs allowance) and the Staffing Allowance are transferable, so, as has been my practice in previous years any money not spent under the IEP I will transfer to the staffing allowance – and if there’s a little bit of money left over at the end of the financial year, I will pay it to them as an end-of-year bonus, to compensate for working long hours, for not a great wage and for putting up with me. We’re talking hundreds, not thousands by the way. (Athough a bonus of up to 15% of salary is permissible under the rules). All this is by way of explaining that give or take a few pennies and a few bills left to settle I have spent my IEP and my staffing allowances for the 2008-9 year in full.

So – the figures are:

Office costs – £19,985
Staffing – £102,413
Communications – £9,056.68 (out of max. £10,400 allowance, i.e. 87%)
ACA (second home) – £16,961 (out of possible £24,000, i.e. 70.65%)

My ACA claim is relatively low for several reasons. One is because once you’ve bought the sofa and bed and TV and blinds/ curtains and a few bits and pieces, there’s no need to spend any more on such items. Second, I’ve claimed much less for food, for reasons I’ve explained in a previous post. And most significantly, interest rates have gone down. And this is an issue for everyone who says that MPs should not be allowed to buy their second home with taxpayer help, but should only be allowed to rent. It’s actually much cheaper for the taxpayer if an MP buys, at the moment.
At the moment on a £200k tracker mortgage someone would be paying c.£600 per month capital and £350 or so per month interest, MPs are not allowed to claim for the capital repayments, only the interest. Even a few years ago, the interest on such a mortgage would only be have been around the £1000-£1100 mark. If you try searching for a flat to let in SW1 or SE1, i.e. within a mile or so of Westminster, you’d be hard pushed to find even a studio for much less than £1000pm. So, perversely, allowing an MP to buy rather than rent is – unless interest rates go back to 1980s levels – cheaper for the taxpayer.
The next issue that raises its ugly head is whether MPs should be allowed to keep any profit made when they sell a flat which they’ve purchased with taxpayers’ assistance. Let’s leave aside for the moment the question of whether the taxpayer has paid for the sort of improvements and extensions and refurbuishments that would significantly add to a property’s value…. I don’t think that should be allowed and I don’t think it’s going to be allowed from now on. (For the record the only thing I’ve claimed on expenses that might perhaps fall into that category is an alarm system and better locks, but after being burgled twice in one month, and neighbouring flats being broken into while people were actually at home, I thought that was fairly reasonable).
Anyway, let’s assume for the sake of argument that there are no fripperies, no porticos being added, no moats being dug. The property still has Artex ceilings, a lawn full of moles and a chimney choked with wisteria. If someone is paying the capital element on a £200k mortgage over 20 years they’d be paying about £7000 a year out of their own salary. So when the property’s sold, should they have to, as some are suggesting, handing over all the profit to the Fees office? And then there’s the question of what happens if the property is sold at a loss… would the Fees office stump up for that too?
Anyway, that’s enough from me. Thought I should do my bit to keep the debate going. Have a listen if you have a moment to the last podcast from Tom Harris and Jamie Reed on Tom’s site. I think you can tell from their voices (and they’re usually both quite chirpy souls) just how shell-shocked some MPs are by all this. It’s been grim, relentlessly grim. And no doubt we have more joys to look forward to in tomorrow’s press…
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