Hackney MPs’ £1.2million expense bill: What do they spend and why?
PUBLISHED: 08:00 26 October 2015
A probe into expenses has revealed the two MPs representing Hackney have cost the taxpayer £1.2million in payments for staff, office costs and travel over the past five years.
Our investigation, looking at thousands of claims over the last Parliament, has shown MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, Meg Hillier, was the bigger spender of the two, billing £646,429 for costs carrying out her parliamentary work.
Fellow Labour MP Diane Abbott, who represents Hackney North and Stoke Newington, claimed £600,091 from 2010 to 2015.
Other key findings include:
Diane Abbott, Labour MP Hackney North and Stoke Newington
“I am very conscious that funds used to resource our work are appropriately spent and transparency is essential to the process. It is our constituents’ right to hold us to account over all of our activities, including the funds we spend while in their service.”
Meg Hillier, Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch
“I have always provided receipts for every penny of taxpayers’ money that has been reimbursed. I always say that I would not claim anything that I would not be happy to see on the front page of the Hackney Gazette, so I welcome the public scrutiny.”
* Both MPs ranked mid-table for total claims compared to London’s 72 MPs. Meg Hillier was 31st and Diane Abbott, 44th.
* Combined spending by both MPs has risen by 22 per cent since 2011, this outstripped the London average of 18 per cent.
* Both MPs spent considerably less than the London average on office costs as neither has a constituency office.
* Ms Abbott’s travel costs were low as she uses her Freedom Pass to travel around the borough.
Our investigation found no evidence among local MPs of the sorts of claims that caused the expenses scandal in 2009.
In fact both have a good record of transparency, with expenses fully logged and simple for the casual observer to understand.
Trends in our data, compiled using tens of thousands of records from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), revealed Hackney’s MPs spent slightly above average on staffing and payroll costs, which was by far the largest chunk of expenses claimed by all London MPs.
Ms Hillier claimed £567,961, nine per cent above average for a London MP, and Ms Abbott £524,916, one per cent above. Both said this was due to busy caseloads in their inner London constituencies.
Ms Hillier, whose advice surgeries are often attended by up to 40 people, said: “As an inner London MP I have one of the busiest caseloads in Parliament and work hard to ensure my constituents receive a good and timely service.
“Dealing with these costs money, but most constituents appreciate the contact. Casework is increasing but I am working to manage the volume while maintaining standards and response times, within budget.”
Veteran Labour MP Ms Abbott said: “The work we carry out on behalf of the people of Hackney North and Stoke Newington is extremely important and as such it should be properly resourced.
“The various cuts to public services, such as legal aid, the changes to the welfare system and the London housing crisis have almost doubled the amount of correspondence and cases my office handles daily.”
Surgeries at community venues
The two Hackney MPs spent almost identical amounts on office costs, including postage and stationary, and were 25 per cent below the London average.
Ms Hillier claimed £74,849 and Ms Abbott £73,928. Both choose not to run a constituency office instead hosting regular surgeries at community venues.
Ms Abbott said: “As my constituency is so close to central London a decision was taken some time ago not to have an office. We do, however, carry out regular activities in Hackney and have weekly advice surgeries in the town hall.”
Ms Hillier said: “I hold open access surgeries twice a month and roving surgeries once or twice a month. Most constituents can meet me face to face within two weeks of contact.”
Travel costs were not a major expense for London MPs, with the average claim across the capital £2,999 for the five years from 2010 to 2015.
In this category Ms Hillier’s costs were slightly above average, at £3,618, while Ms Abbott’s were 60 per cent below at £1,246.
The Hackney North MP said: “As I am over 60 I have a Freedom Pass, which certainly reduces claims I make for travel as I rely quite heavily on public transport. However I will take taxis where necessary.”
Ms Hillier said: “I have relatively few personal expenses which are reimbursed – the occasional taxi after late sittings at the House of Commons, if trains aren’t running, or when there is no other option, and some travel around the constituency.”
MPs’ expenses scandal
All MPs are entitled to claim expenses to aid their parliamentary work in addition to a basic salary, which was set at £67,000 but recently rose to £74,000 per year.
However the expenses scheme was brought into disrepute in 2009 following revelations that a minority had been claiming for items such as decorative ornaments, entertainment equipment and – perhaps most notably – a duck house.
Action was taken to clean up politics and IPSA was set up to monitor expense spending.
IPSA chief executive Marcial Boo said: “As the regulator of the public funds that go to MPs, IPSA ensures that taxpayers’ money is used transparently, and that MPs are appropriately resourced to carry out their parliamentary functions.”
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