Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Northern Ireland's MPs claim £1.8m in expenses

But figures show sharp drop in Westminster claims following scandal

Northern Ireland's Westminster MPs claimed more than £1.8m in Parliamentary expenses last year.

But across the United Kingdom there was a sharp drop in claims as tighter restrictions and fear of a public backlash after the 2009 expenses scandal took hold.

New figures released by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), set up in the wake of the scandal, show MPs' claims from after May's General Election up until March 31.

Sinn Fein MPs, who boycott the Westminster Parliament, claimed only for constituency office costs and staffing.

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson was reimbursed £141,758.30, the highest total for a Northern Ireland MP, while Northern Ireland and Scottish MPs accounted for most of the top travel bills.

Across the country, MPs claimed a total of £70.6m in parliamentary expenses over the financial year, down from £98m in 2009/10 when the system was still operated by the Commons Fees Office.

Prime Minister David Cameron received £106,056, almost all of which went on staffing, although he claimed £272 to cover travel and subsistence.

The records showed that Labour leader Ed Miliband, who claimed £74,357, was given a £4,000 advance on his expenses.

After criticism from MPs that payments were taking too long, Ipsa chairman Sir Ian Kennedy agreed last May to give some money upfront to cover office and travel costs.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg claimed a total of £110,878, including £13,411 to cover accommodation and £1,592 on travel and subsistence.

Ipsa, set up in the wake of the expenses scandal, said the release of annual totals for each MP was the "latest step in the new, transparent regime" which it believes will "help restore public confidence in Parliament".

Ipsa has updated information on MPs' claims every two months but yesterday published its first annual summary of expenditure.

It includes all staffing, accommodation and constituency office costs as well as general administration, travel and food costs for the 2010/11 financial year.

A former MP jailed for expenses fraud claimed the second highest amount of parliamentary allowances.

Eric Illsley, the former Barnsley Central Labour MP, received £151,245 in 2010/11.

In January he admitted fiddling £14,500 of expenses and was jailed for 12 months, but was released in May.

Mr Illsley provoked outrage by clinging on to his parliamentary seat for nearly a month after pleading guilty.

The figures show the claim included £38,690 in winding-up costs.

Emma Boon, campaign director at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "It's fantastic that MPs' expenses are now more transparent, but it's a kick in the teeth for taxpayers to see that convicted criminal Eric Illsley was one of the big claimers last year.

"Taxpayers will be rightly outraged at how much he has cost us all. Even without winding-up costs for his office, he left taxpayers with a staggering bill.

"All they got in return for their money was a crook, rather than the hard-working representative they deserved."

Labour's David Lammy (Tottenham) received the highest payment after his claims totalled £173,922.

Dan Jarvis, the man who succeeded disgraced Mr Illsley following a by-election in March, had the lowest total payment.

The Labour MP received just £520, which covered travel and food costs.

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) claimed the biggest accommodation bill at £23,768.

Former minister Phil Woolas, who was stripped of his Commons seat last year, received a total claim of £107,523 which included £37,572 winding-up costs.

He was removed as the Oldham East and Saddleworth MP in November after an election court declared the contest void because he made false statements about Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins.

The records show 250 MPs were given expenses advances of up to £4,000, which must be repaid by the end of the Parliament.

Details of family members employed by MPs are also laid out, including names and salary brackets.

The expenses database also shows 137 politicians employ "connected parties", with the lowest-paid receiving less than £4,999 while the top earners were awarded up to £44,999.

More than 20% of MPs hire spouses or family members.

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