Friday, 27 November 2009

MP uses "self-promotion" expenses fund

MERIDEN MP Caroline Spelman took £840 expenses from a “self-promotion” fund that an official review recommended be abolished.

In a voluntary declaration of latest spending, Mrs Spelman said she spent £829.85 on distribution of constituency newsletters and £11.50 for official photographs from a Commons debate.

Mrs Spelman made the withdrawal from the communications allowance despite this month’s official probe over the Parliamentary abuse of expenses recommending it be abolished.

In his report, which has been backed by all parties, Sir Christopher Kelly wrote: “There is little evidence that the communications allowance is succeeding in promoting more effective political engagement, and much evidence of it being used for self-promotion.

“MPs who wish to communicate proactively with their constituents should be encouraged to
continue to do so.

“But they should have to pay for it out of their administrative and office budget, where the cost would have to compete with other demands rather than being seen as a free good.”

Members can claim up to £10,400 a year from the fund. The administrative and office budget is £22,393. The other funds are for accommodation and staffing.

A focus group member who gave evidence to the probe said: “Of course I want to know what my MP is up to, but I get a regular newsletter that tells me little and actually looks more like a bit of free publicity.

“I’d rather see the money used to allow MPs to employ a welfare/advocacy worker in the constituency.”

Abolishing it would have saved £5.1m in 2007/08, Sir Christopher’s report said.

Conservative front bench members have been told to disclose their expenses on the party’s website. Mrs Spelman is shadow secretary of state for communities and local government.

Mrs Spelman was told in March to repay £9,600 by a Commons watchdog over claims her secretary looked after her children. She spoke about the issue this week.

The publication of her new expenses comes as Mrs Spelman criticises councils for publishing "newspapers" with taxpayers' money. The party pledged "tougher rules on town hall publicity spending". Read more here.