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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Further Information on My Parliamentary Expenses for Constituents

Thursday, June 4, 2009

On the 20th May I published on my website details about my parliamentary expenses for the years 2004/05 to 2007/08. Some media reports stated that I blacked out details on these, in particular my husband’s name. This is not true. All the items on my website that are blacked out were done by the House of Commons according to criteria they devised to keep secure any bank details, personal addresses, confidential information about staff etc. In my husband’s case they blacked out his name for one year (I assume in error) but not for the other three years. Indeed the Yorkshire Post asked me about his invoices on Thursday 21st May and I provided a full explanation.

 

On the 22nd May I published on my website a short statement outlining my thoughts on the MP expenses saga. Today I set out the full background to pay and allowances, my office arrangements and my parliamentary claims so that constituents may understand the basis on which I have made my arrangements.

 

Pay

MPs currently receive 64,766, which is certainly higher than the majority of the population. Up to now the level of MPs’ pay has been decided by MPs, usually following advice from an independent research organisation on so called ‘comparative’ levels of pay across other jobs. This should change. In my view it would make sense to link the level of MPs’ pay to appropriate civil service grades and remove any decision-making from the House of Commons.

 

Second Incomes

MPs are currently entitled to earn money for work they do other than being a Member of Parliament. Any such paid work has to be reported to the House of Commons authorities and publicly recorded in the Register of Members’ Interests available for scrutiny on the internet. Former Government ministers have to seek permission to take on other paid work to ensure there is no conflict of interest between their previous ministerial job and the new work.

 

I do not have a second income.

 

Additional Costs Allowance

This allowance is the one that has caused most controversy. It is often referred to as the second homes allowance. It is intended to recompense MPs for the additional costs of having to spend substantial time away from their main home in order to attend Parliament in London.  

 

Having MPs elected from, and accountable to, specific constituencies is a strength in my opinion. It means that MPs have roots in local communities outside of the London metropolitan experience that dominates the national TV and newspapers, civil service leadership etc. This does mean that MPs have to live in two places as part of their working week, which means extra costs. Every MP will have different personal circumstances, and therefore make different decisions.

 

My home is in South Yorkshire, where I live with my husband, and was bought 16 years ago long before I became an MP. I have to spend time in London on parliamentary business; my usual pattern is to spend four days a week there. When elected in 2001 I chose to buy a flat near to the House of Commons. Parliament regularly finishes after 10pm and I wanted to be able to get to and from the Commons easily every night and morning. I put down a deposit of over 10% of the cost from personal savings in order to meet my requirements.

 

In 2006 I moved to a different flat also in Westminster, but in a quieter location. I paid Capital Gains Tax on the sale of the first flat at the 40% rate; the relevant tax rate at that time. The remainder of the funds from the sale of the first flat was used as the deposit on this new flat, along with further of my savings.

 

As you can see from my parliamentary expenses claims, most of them relate to the cost of maintaining the flat mortgage interest, council tax, utility bills and service charges. In one year I made a claim for some domestic items.

 

At all times my home in Yorkshire has been designated as my main home, both for parliamentary and for tax purposes. The London flat has been the property on which I have claimed allowances. I have never “flipped” this designation.

 

Travel

Travel between the constituency and London is paid out of parliamentary allowances. I usually travel to and from London by train, and whenever possible I pre-book my ticket on the internet, obtaining significant savings.

 

House of Commons rules allow a certain number of journeys a year for my husband and for members of my staff.

 

I usually drive around the constituency or am driven by a member of staff. I can claim mileage allowance when I drive or reimburse the costs of the member of staff, based on the actual mileage driven.

 

Office Costs Allowance

This covers the costs of running an office in the constituency and supplying stationary and office equipment to my office in Westminster. This allowance is either paid by the House of Commons authorities directly to suppliers on submission of their invoice, or to me when I am claim reimbursement for funds I have spent. The types of items included are office rent, telephone, computers, office furniture, stationary supplies etc. The sum is taxable and all receipts and expenditure are subject to review by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

 

Communication Allowance

This allowance was introduced two years ago to pay for improved communication with constituents. I use it to fund newsletters and for my website. It cannot be used for any party political purpose, and the House of Commons authorities have strict checks to ensure that this is the case.

 

Staffing

The House of Commons provides a budget for employing staff. At times the media present this as going directly to MPs to parcel out. This is not so.

 

All my staff are paid directly by the House of Commons on the PAYE system; they are employed on standard contracts provided by the House of Commons and to trade union agreed salary scales. Their individual salary levels reflect their role, qualifications and experience.

 

I currently employ four staff - two full time and two part time. Two of them are also relatives and I declared this in the publicly available register established by the House of Commons.

 

Deborah Stenton, my sister in law, worked for a short period in another MP’s office then came to work full time for me, primarily to undertake casework. She also manages the day to day running of the office. She has worked for me since I was elected and is extremely experienced.

 

Mike Harrison works full time. He manages my diary, arranges my constituency visits, produces the majority of my press releases and items for constituency newsletters and liaises with the media.

 

Dennis Bates, my husband, currently works 25 hours a week; he has always worked part time for me. He maintains my website, undertakes research, supports my working in parliament, writes and edits speeches, articles and newsletters.

 

John Robson works for me for 8 hours a week focusing on community organisations and roving surgeries. John is an elected Labour local councillor. His work for me is not party political. He brings his wide experience of community organisations and their needs to the role.

 

Income Tax Returns

All MPs have to complete an Income Tax Return relating specifically to their work as a Member of Parliament. This is because they receive allowances which are taxable. Many MPs choose to employ an accountant or tax advisor to ensure that they pay the correct amount of tax. Few MPs are experts in tax law and the rules on allowances change. This cost can be charged to the Office Costs Allowance.

 

I have employed my husband to do this specific work. My husband has 12 years experience of working for the Inland Revenue on business accounts and capital allowance computations, all required in completing MPs’ Income Tax Returns in relation to parliamentary duties.

 

Some other MPs also employ Dennis. He charges all MPs the same and undertakes the work when he is not working for me. The invoices provided by my husband state “for professional services in connection with your personal taxation affairs.” Some newspapers have taken this to mean that it is not within the parliamentary rules. This is not the case. The work undertaken was in relation to tax responsibilities as a Member of Parliament.

 

Conclusion

As I have said previously I have been amazed by some of the claims that have come to light. The anger that people feel is entirely understandable. Some claims are unreasonable and inexplicable, some may even be fraudulent. Other legitimate claims are being reported out of context and are being portrayed in a way that leads people to be suspicious.

 

I therefore support the process that is being undertaken to re-examine all claims and determine whether they were legitimate or not. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards will also look at those claims of a serious nature and it is also open to the police to investigate any that may be fraudulent or illegal.

 

Sir Christopher Kelly, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life has been asked to chair a review into the whole issue of MPs’ expenses. It is right that these should be determined independently and then rigorously enforced.

 

Should constituents have further questions please write or e-mail me and I will do my best to answer them fully.


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