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Maintain strict controls, MPs' expenses monitor urged

Published 12/04/2016

MPs have told the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority they would like to put refreshments on their official credit cards
MPs have told the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority they would like to put refreshments on their official credit cards

The expenses watchdog has been urged to keep "strict controls" in place after MPs and their staff called for looser rules on using their official credit cards.

More than half - 51% - quizzed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) wanted to be able to spend more using direct payment and charge cards.

Some of the 84 who responded wanted to pay for refreshments using the Ipsa cards, an expense which is no longer allowable under the rules.

Others wanted to link up PayPal accounts or use the cards to tap in and out on the Tube system.

Ipsa issues MPs with credit cards to pay for a variety of items such as travel, accommodation and stationery.

The politicians then have to prove the spending was allowable within a month, or they build up debts to the watchdog.

MPs called for the changes in Ipsa's 2015 annual survey of politicians and their staff.

It found that 34% of the 27 who responded to questions about not submitting some claims said they chose not to because they were " concerned about the claim being published".

Of the MPs who responded, 46% rated Ipsa's service as very good or good, up from 36% the previous year.

But the proportion who were unhappy also went up, with 32% rating Ipsa as poor or very poor compared 21% in 2014.

One person responding on behalf of an MP said: "I think the system is very poor and would benefit from an overhaul."

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "These credit cards are a convenient way of tracking how MPs are spending their taxpayer-funded allowances, but strict controls must remain in place to ensure they are only used for appropriate purchases. We need as transparent a system of MPs' expenses as possible so that taxpayers can account for how every penny is spent.

"But how much did Ipsa see fit to spend on a survey whose results they are using to give themselves a pat on the back? This bureaucratic monster of a quango has a less than exemplary record at delivering value for taxpayers' money and needs to rein in its own unnecessary spending."

Last month it emerged that the official credit cards of more than a dozen MPs had been blocked after they accumulated expenses debts of up to £27,000.

Five SNP politicians - including Westminster leader Angus Robertson and deputy Stewart Hosie - were among those subject to the temporary action by Ipsa.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Ian Paisley was £27,766 in the red when his card was stopped last November, details released under Freedom of Information revealed.

A number of the MPs named blamed errors by Ipsa for the problems.

Overall, Ipsa received 312 responses to its annual survey, of which 44 were MPs, 113 were MP proxies - nominated to act on behalf of an MP - and 155 members of staff.

The report states: "There are some clear signs that MPs, their proxies, and their staff think that there have been many improvements in the support and services that we offer, but, of course, there remains more for us to do."

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