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MP's £1,000 bill in expenses probe


The Tory MP faces having to pay back more than £1,000

The Tory MP faces having to pay back more than £1,000

The Tory MP faces having to pay back more than £1,000

Tory backbencher Bob Blackman faces repaying more than £1,000 after an expenses probe found he claimed mileage for up to five times the real distance.

The Harrow East MP made more than 700 claims for travel around his constituency that were either "inaccurate" or not allowed under the rules.

He could now be hit with an even bigger bill - as the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority's (Ipsa) watchdog is threatening to revisit older records.

The provisional report from compliance officer Peter Davis reveals that Mr Blackman - who is refusing to accept the findings - was first warned about his claims in October 2011.

Ipsa officials wrote to him voicing concern that he was putting in for "around twice the average for constituency mileage across the UK and some six times higher than other suburban London area constituencies where mileage is claimed".

The watchdog triggered an initial investigation by its compliance officer in December 2012, with Mr Blackman being told: "A comparison of your claims against the distances quoted by Google Maps would suggest a pattern of over-claiming. On average, your claims are almost twice the distance shown on Google Maps and in some cases significantly more."

A two-mile journey from his home to Harrow Weald had been claimed as 10 miles, while a five-mile return trip to Stanmore was filed as 15 miles.

After a discussion with Mr Blackman, Mr Davis declined to launch a full-blown investigation, instead deciding the issue could be dealt with through "support and advice from Ipsa to ensure the MP improved his record-keeping".

However, an audit in 2013-14 found that Mr Blackman had again racked up the highest mileage of any MP. He claimed more than 400 miles per square mile of his constituency, almost double the average for the next 10 highest-claiming MPs.

The compliance officer this time launched a formal probe - but only looked at claims made after his meeting with the MP in January 2013.

He found that Mr Blackman had merely reduced standard claims for regular journeys by a single mile - for example, saying he drove 14 miles to Stanmore rather than 15.

During the investigation, Mr Blackman attempted to justify standard claims for journeys to areas of his constituency by arguing that he was using "average" distances. But Mr Davis said that "conflicted with other statements that journeys were dependent on the traffic conditions pertaining at the time of travel".

He also rejected a suggestion from Mr Blackman that he was using local knowledge to avoid traffic and find the quickest rather than shortest routes - "if this were the case then journeys would show distinct variations".

Mr Davis examined Mr Blackman's diaries and used Google Maps to establish the actual distances. In 165 out of 169, the claim was greater than that given by the mapping tool.

"The MP made a claim for a 54-mile return journey to the new Tottenham Hotspur training ground in Enfield, which Google Maps stated should have been 33 miles," the report said. The MP has now admitted the figure was a "clear mistake", and should have been 39 miles.

Mr Blackman's wife, who is employed as his constituency office manager, apparently told Mr Davis at a meeting on October 22 last year that her husband "does not make timely records of the distance travelled on each occasion".

In December the MP assured the compliance officer that he had created a spreadsheet after their discussion in January 2013 to ensure his claims were recorded properly.

But when Mr Davis was given access to Mr Blackman's laptop he "was able to see that the spreadsheet had in fact been created in July 2010".

In a last-ditch bid to persuade the compliance officer that his claims were valid, the MP produced further detailed maps and spreadsheets later that month.

But Mr Davis dismissed the evidence as "contrived", saying " maps of journeys prepared months and, in many instances, more than a year after the journeys took place cannot include recollections of historic traffic conditions and roadworks".

The report added that "a small number of journeys" were not supported by entries in either the MP's Outlook or paper diary, "making it impossible to submit an accurate claim".

Mr Davis stated that there would be "justification in disallowing all the claims within the period subject of the investigation".

Ruling out all of the MP's mileage claims between January 2013 and July 2014, when the investigation was requested by Ipsa, could have meant a bill of £3,725.10.

But Mr Davis said "in pursuit of proportionality" he had instead calculated average distances for frequently visited locations, and used those to assess how much money should be returned.

Invalid claims for home to office travel totalled £56.70, canvassing, campaigning and political fundraising trips came to £167.85, and partial repayments for 687 inaccurately claimed journeys totalled £781.65.

The compliance officer also made clear that he could now revisit Mr Blackman's claims prior to January 2013 - potentially opening him up to further demands to repay money.

In representations last month, the MP branded the conclusions "draconian" and insisted he should only be handing back £103.05 for journeys from home and to carry out party political activities.

He added that his claims were "provably compliant with the scheme", and he was willing to "swear under oath" to that effect.

"Therefore I suggest you should withdraw your unwarranted allegations at this juncture," he wrote.

In a statement on his website, Mr Blackman accused Mr Davis of enforcing "rules that he believes should exist" rather than the actual rules.

"There was a single incorrect claim, where the amount entered was wrong, which was an isolated error. The fact that Ipsa did not raise it at the time with me two years ago is concerning in itself," he said.

"There are arbitrary mileage adjustments, with an accumulated total of £781.86. It states in the Ipsa guidelines that the most cost-effective route should be taken. The Compliance Officer believes that the most direct route was not taken.

"I supplied detailed maps for the routes that I routinely took which the Compliance Officer ignored."

He went on: "Subsequently, since my trip computer continues to record the exact same mileage as previously claimed, I am concerned that the Compliance Officer is not interpreting rules that exist but rules that he believes should exist.

"On that basis, I do not accept the provisional findings. As such, I have invited him to publish a revision of the rules containing this or to apply the same level of scrutiny to all 650 MPs' mileage claims."

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