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Devon and Cornwall's MPs run up bill of nearly £3m for taxpayers

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 14, 2013

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Devon and Cornwall's MPs cost taxpayers close to £3 million last year, official figures have revealed.

The sum paid out to the 18 MPs in the two counties by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) is for personal costs and running offices in 2012-13.

The total – £2,807,826 – included claims ranging from £194,107 by Stephen Gilbert, Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay, to £114,406 by Labour MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw.

The lion's share of the expense claims are from paying employees, such as researchers, case workers and office secretaries. The total for staffing costs was just over £2 million. MPs receive hundreds of letters and e-mails a week, which is why they require support staff, they argue.

Mr Gilbert said: "I don't think anyone would want a situation where only those with private wealth were able to stand for Parliament.

"These figures represent the cost of travelling between Cornwall and Westminster, staying in London during the week, maintaining an office in St Austell and for the salaries of the staff who support me.

"Since becoming an MP, I have always sought to balance the priorities of doing my job effectively, while also providing value for money for the tax payer. I have recently reviewed my accommodation arrangements and staff structure to save further costs."

Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon, claimed back £185,769 – the second highest amount in the two counties.

He said: "Case work is enormous and increasing. We have to have a staff to deal with it. People expect a professional job from their MPs. We need staff to deal with casework and the endless lobbying and be fit for the 21st century."

Sheryll Murray, Conservative MP for South East Cornwall, racked up £152,606 in costs. She said: "Whatever I claim I can 100% justify. I don't think I've had one claim refused.

She said she did not claim for electricity or television in her London flat. "I don't feel it's right for the taxpayer to pay," she Mrs Murray added.

The total bill for all 650 MPs' expenses rose by more than 7% last year to £98 million.

Spending is now higher than in the run-up to the scandal that rocked Westminster in 2009.

Personal expenses – which totalled £750,000 among MPs in the two counties – include accommodation, travel and office start-up costs.

The publication comes after the watchdog proposed lifting MPs' pay from £66,000 now to £74,000 after the 2015 general election – despite protests from David Cameron that the cost of politics must not be allowed to rise.

The TaxPayers' Alliance said costs must be kept under control.

Members defend family employees

Seven MPs in Devon and Cornwall continue to employ spouses and other family members, figures from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority have revealed.Hugo Swire, Conservative MP for East Devon, employs his wife, Sasha, on a salary of from £30,000 to £34,999 a year as a parliamentary assistant.Torbay Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders’ wife, Alison, earns £25,000-£29,999 as his office manager.Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, employs his wife Susan. Her salary as a junior secretary is between £15,000 and £19,999.St Austell and Newquay Lib Dem Stephen Gilbert employs his mother, Jacqueline Bull, as a senior caseworker on between £10,000 and £14,999.Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon, has his wife Janet on staff. Her salary is between £10,000 and £14,999 for a parliamentary assistant role.Andrew George, Lib Dem MP for St Ives, has recruited his wife, Jill, as a junior secretary. Her salary band is between £1 and £4,999.Liberal Democrat MP for North Cornwall Dan Rogerson employs his wife Heidi Rogerson on a £5,000 to £9,999 salary as diary secretary.MPs defended their recruitment. Mr Gilbert said: “Jackie is more than qualified for the job she does and was appointed through an independent interview process.”Mr Streeter said he would never see his wife otherwise. “She works part-time, and the work she does are at irregular times,” he said.

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  • nickthompson  |  September 18 2013, 1:45PM

    And whilst he is doing this job we can only hope he can find an hour or two a week to carry out his duties as an MP, for which you and I pay him an annual salary of £66,396 plus of course his full expenses.

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  • nickthompson  |  September 18 2013, 1:44PM

    Lets all shed a tear for Andrew who on the face of it is doing rather better than most. "Former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell, who quit the Cabinet after a media storm over his foul-mouthed row with police, has been hired to advise others on how to protect their reputation. The senior Conservative MP will be paid £3,000-A DAY, yes A DAY as a 'senior adviser' to Montrose Associates, which specialises in helping clients deal with 'political and reputational threats'.

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  • imogenwebb25  |  September 15 2013, 5:27PM

    The figures for MPs expenses are unbelievable. When they are already paid three times the average London wage already,they should not be able to claim expenses on top. Whenever Parliament is televised there are hardly any MPs present so where are they. They should pay their own expenses like many other public sector workers are expected to. If they need to employ staff they should not be relatives even if they are independently appointed.

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  • break  |  September 14 2013, 10:38PM

    MP's are full of hot air,so maybe they should travel by hot air balloon's?They make a laughing stock of us,next time you see them,point and laugh at them for a change.

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  • josdave  |  September 14 2013, 7:35PM

    As Stephen Gilbert voted in favour of us taking part in another illegal war in Syria he will not get my vote although I could never vote Tory or Lib Dem anyway. As regards all this time spent in Westminster at our expense why don't they put up a big dormitory for them when they're in the city? They are supposed to be there to work so the basics will do and then there's no need for us to fund a mortgage on a second home in London. All travel, as it's at our expense and we are having to suffer cutbacks, should be second class. Meals should be purchased out of their salaries like everyone else has to do and the expenses bill should be decimated.

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  • leolegrande  |  September 14 2013, 6:23PM

    Poor Mr Streeter "I would not see my wife otherwise" ? Welcome to the real world, Myself and my wife pass like ships in the night as one starts work and the other one finishes. How I wish some tax payer with bags of money would fund a change of lifestyle for my family.

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  • leolegrande  |  September 14 2013, 6:06PM

    Employee's and researchers ? Just an excuse to employ family members and spread the good old tax payers money around. Ask Councillor Bull if she still works for her son "Stephen Gilbert". Must be a wonderful feeling to be an MP and know that your standard wage of over £60,000+, is your free and clear because any costs of living are paid through expenses by the tax payer. Whilst out here in the real world, living costs and whatever you buy comes out of your income. Still, come 2015, there will be no hesitation by them to come and canvas for your vote so that they can keep their snouts in the trough and whilst we, that tax payer, afford them a very good living, they go back to Westminster and work hard to deprive us of our living.

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  • Dantwo  |  September 14 2013, 2:03PM

    Given that the really important decisions for the UK are now made in Europe, the question has to be asked: 'Why bother with MPs at all?' For example, the UK population will increase by another half a million in 2014 and there's nothing UK government can do about it and the inevitable strains on schools, services in general and particularly the NHS. These MPs will only be worth the money they claim once we are out of the EU.

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  • jimjams2011  |  September 14 2013, 1:01PM

    If as Mr Gilbert says that ""These figures represent the cost of travelling between Cornwall and Westminster, staying in London during the week" How come George Eustice in Camborne spends a lot less than him! I'm sure a season ticket on the train does not cost nearly 60K. He could afford a chauffer for that amount of money! This is clear wasting of public money. they should be ashamed.

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  • Free2opine  |  September 14 2013, 12:48PM

    It appears that many councils are being questioned. "why the need for these assistants" Party leaders defend political advisors Surrey Mirror By Michael Davies TAXPAYERS could be forking out as much as £100,000 a year to pay for "political assistants" for the three main parties on Surrey County Council. The role of the professional political advisor ranges from advising councillors on political issues to dealing with the media, preparing speeches and briefing notes and carrying out policy research. ​But the jobs, which are provided by Surrey County Council and therefore funded by the taxpayer, are considered controversial by some because they must also be sympathetic to the political views of the party workers represent. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have a full-time adviser while the Housing Association and Independent group has a role that amounts to 0.56 of a full-time role. Although the county council refused to disclose individual pay, the national cap on the salary for these roles is £34,986 a year, which means taxpayers could be paying anything from £89,564 to £104,958 a year. Leaders of two of the main parties on Surrey County Council defended their use of political assistants, saying they offered a valuable tool to help councillors do their jobs. Hazel Watson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "Political assistants provide useful support to councillors, such as admin and research, which frees up time for councillors to face local residents and I think they provide good value for money. "I think it's perfectly fair for them to be funded by the taxpayer. "There are political assistants across the country and Surrey County Council isn't unusual. " For the opposition, it's invaluable with trying to find out information." Councillor Nick Harrison, leader of the Housing Association and Independent Residents' Association Group, added: "We don't have a national organisation which could provide the sort of skills that other parties provide so political assistants do provide us with useful research skills, press releases and research for select committees and questions to cabinet members. Our political assistant is also only part-time." A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said it was for individual councils to decide whether or not to fund political assistant roles and there was no requirement to have them. "Councils should be able to justify all their staffing decisions in light of the need to make sensible saving," the spokesman added on the question of whether or not the council should continue to fund the roles. Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, questioned why taxpayers should continue to foot the bill for the political appointments at a time when councils are facing increasing pressure to reduce spending.

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