Don’t Read All About It :
Robinson’s Boozing Expenses are a State Secret

Nick Robinson was on the Today show and has a blog up this morning about the progress of openness campaigners in finding out about MP’s expenses. Ironically Guido was just about to blog about his progress in trying to find out about Nick’s own expenses. The BBC reckons it would be unfair for us to know how much Nick Robinson spends on boozing with politicians. Guido thinks it unfair that British TV viewers have to pay for it against their will. Why pay the licence fee if they won’t tell you what they spend it on?

Mr Guido Fawkes
March 20, 2008

Dear Mr Fawkes

RFI20080192 – Freedom of Information request

Thank you for your email of 26 February 2008 requesting a full, itemised account of the expenses of the BBC’s Political Editor, Nick Robinson, and in particular any itemised receipts for Shepherds, Le Caprice and The Atrium restaurants. The reference number for your request is RFI20080192.

Your request falls outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act because the BBC and the other public service broadcasters are covered by the Act only in respect of information held for purposes “other than those of journalism, art or literature” (see Schedule I, Part VI of the Act). We are not therefore obliged to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

The BBC considers that this includes information about the costs involved in creating its output, including expenses incurred during this process. Information which is not subject to disclosure under the Act because of Schedule I might otherwise be exempt from disclosure because of the application of other provisions of the Act. The BBC notes the recent decision notice of the Information Commissioner (ref. FS50085710): in that case the Commissioner considered that payments (including expenses) made to talent did fall within the scope of the Act. However, the Commissioner decided that the information was exempt from disclosure under section 40(2) of the Act as he felt that the payment information constituted personal data and that its disclosure would breach the first data protection principle in the Data Protection Act, being ‘fair and lawful processing’. The Commissioner considered that the individuals in that case had a reasonable expectation that their personal data would not be disclosed and it would therefore be unfair to do so.

The BBC does not agree with the Commissioner’s decision on the scope of the Act and reserves its position on the matter; however, the BBC onsiders that in the event of a similar finding by the Commissioner in this case, the information you have requested would also be exempt under the Act under section 40(2) as the information constitutes personal data and disclosure would breach the First Principle (fair and lawful processing). The expenses claimed by this individual do not relate to the performance of a public function which involves spending public money or taking influential policy decisions. The individual involved would not expect the type of information requested to be disclosed to third parties, and therefore to do so would be unfair.

Yours sincerely,

Stephanie Harris
Head of Editorial
Compliance, BBC News

So just remember this evasion next time Nick gets on his high horse about expenses and public money. Of course Nick could voluntarily publish his expenses, exactly how much booze does it take to loosen Damian McBride’s tongue?
UPDATE : Guido’s further thoughts on this are here.

Analysis of MPs Expenses Shows Labour Most ExpensiveBrown and Cameron Fiddle Housing Allowance

There should of course be no reason why expense claims should vary in aggregate across party lines, yet they do. Guido reckons this says something significant about their attitude to the stewardship of taxpayer’s money. Of the 50 most expensive MPs 74% are Labour, 18% LibDem and one is a Conservative – David Mundell. The rest are SNP members who Guido will excuse on the clear grounds that they have, by definition, justifiably higher travel expenses.

The ten most expensive users of stationery are also Labour MPs, in category after category it is the same with Labour MPs always claiming the most. One stand out example of expense padding is from Janet Anderson, the Labour MP for Rossendale & Darwen. She has the most amazingly expensive car habit judging by her mileage allowance.* With a claim of £13,851 – which equates to a claim for over 50,000 miles – assuming she drives at an average of say 40 mph – that is 1,200 hours of solid driving, or 50 days and nights non-stop. Enter her for Le Mans!

The only honourable exception to Labour prolificacy is Dennis Skinner. Party leaders have no shame either:-

  • Why does Dave claim £20,563 for staying away from home? We all know he lives in Notting Hill, the kids go to school locally, it is his primary residence isn’t it. Is he claiming the Witney constituency home is his primary residence? The same fiddle that the Yvette and Ed Balls pull?

  • Why does Gordon claim £17,017 for the same when he already has his 10 Downing Street residence paid for by the taxpayer?

Out of 646 MPs only 54 don’t take the mortgage subsidy. Further digging would reveal how many are fiddling. You need to check your MP’s addresses online in the Land Registry records (costs a few quid) to see if the property is mortgaged. If it isn’t and they are claiming, they are fiddling. The expense breakdown in full is here.

Sir Michael White and the rest of the apologists for our political class like to claim that our politicians are largely uncorrupt. This is only because they have voted themselves transparent fiddles which may be legal, but are not right. In the private sector the same practises would lead to fraud charges or at the very least questions from the taxman. Our politicians have voted for themselves to be above the laws that they apply to the voters…

*She still manages to claim for rail travel more than hundreds of other MPs.

Credit : Via original number crunching from Letters from a Tory based on 2006/7 data.

UPDATE : The excusing of the SNP was poorly phrased and has been deleted from the above, for the purposes of this article Guido is excusing their high spending. As pointed out by many in the comments, David Mundell also holds a (or rather the) Scottish seat for the Tories, so he should be excused on the same grounds as the SNP. Guido did not research the location of all 646 seats because he has important cocktails to deal with. No doubt some of the other high spending LibDems and Labour MPs are Scottish. The general point is still good. Most of the highest spenders (ex-transport) are not from Scotland in any event.

MPs £5,000 Food Allowance Should be Taxed in the Budget

Guido first drew attention to the £400 food allowance given to MPs in 2005. Strictly speaking the allowance is £20 per diem. In reality this tax free allowance is worth some £33 to 40% tax rate payers. There is no real justification for it, it is equivalent an extra £5,000* or so a year on MP’s income.

There is no reason why this should not be abolished and a more honest and transparent picture of the compensation package of MPs given to the public. At the very least Alistair Darling should announce today that it will be taxed in the normal way as a benefit. Guido does not see why MPs should be treated differently from other self-employed business people who have to account for every penny to the revenue commissioners.

Some MPs claim to have been totally unaware of the allowance. Perhaps that is true. Guido would still like to know the details of who is claiming it.

*Guido is guesstimating, we do not know the details of the payment system and the authorities are resisting FoI requests.

Lobby Lushes Get Blanko on The Taxpayer Too!

Is it any wonder that Guido’s four year campaign against politicians with their snouts in the trough got until recently so little traction in the media? Because the Lobby itself is full of expense fiddling drunks who rarely pay for their own drinks. The Billy Blanko parody of a Lobby hack is based on a composite of a few well known hacks. Guido has remarked on the drunken laziness of the Lobby many times but it is really a private affair between them and their Big Media shareholders. The BBC is different since law abiding television owners have no choice and are forced to pay for their output on pain of jailing. So Guido is keen to FoI what Nick Robinson drinks at the telly taxpayers expense…

Here is the news you won’t read in the papers or hear from broadcast by our fearless Lobby lushes:-

The total subsidy paid by the taxpayer to the press gallery bar and restaurant last year was £201,100. They drink at the taxpayers expense to the tune of a £1,000 every working day. They really are taking the piss getting pissed at the public’s expense.

Welsh Pork Up 8.3%

The government’s preferred inflation measure (CPI) is up 2.2%. Surprise, surprise Welsh Assembly members have voted themselves an inflation smashing 8.3% pay rise. Plenty of pork for them. Other public sector workers such as nurses and policeman have been held to rate of inflation increases.

Unlike politicians they aren’t able to vote themselves a pay rise…

MP’s Wine Cellar Refit Cost £7 Million

Guido’s man close to the sommelier tells him that the state-of-the-art refit of the cellars where the MP’s wine is kept cost the taxpayers £7 million. What have the parliamentary pigs got for themselves? Gold plated troughs?

They say that parliament is the best club in London. Of course it is, the “honourable members” don’t have to pay for their membership. We pay them whatever they vote themselves. Yet we don’t even get to see what they spend it on. The best thing to put in the cellars is gunpowder…

Sunday Sleaze Special : Tom Watson

Guido wondered why Labour’s attack-puppy, Tom Watson MP, was uncharacteristically silent on the scandal of Tory MP Derek Conway employing three family members at public expense. Tom has been strangely silent on sleaze altogether, Watson never usually misses a chance to attack, so why the reticence?

Could it be because the Watson family is paid some £300,000-a-year by the taxpayer? A new all-time record for snouts-in-the-trough.

Last year Watson pocketed his £60,000 salary and his parliamentary expenses amounted to £150,000-plus – bringing his total package to £211,000 – making him the 73rd highest claiming MP out of 646 MPs. Quite an achievement for an MP not claiming for travel to and from Scotland. He of course employs his wife Siobhan at the public’s expense, his brother, Dan, is constituency director to Euro MP Michael Cashman, Dan Watson’s wife, Joanna, has no fewer than three jobs. Like her husband, she also works for Mr Cashman and for Wolverhampton Labour MP Pat McFadden, yet still finds time to be a Labour councillor in Sandwell. Amy Watson, cousin of Tom and Dan, works for Birmingham Northfield Labour MP Richard Burden. The West Midlands constituency Labour Party offices are packed with Watsons…

The total annual cost to the taxpayer of the Watson family’s five not-so-little piggies is in excess of £300,000. Far more than the disgraced Derek Conway fiddled…

BBC Finally Wakes Up to Snouts in the Trough

Nick Robinson, the BBC’s chief political correspondent, blogged yesterday that
The fact that MPs can claim expenses of £250 without a receipt has already been greeted with widespread incredulity. The fact we learnt today is likely to be greeted with even more. MPs can, apparently, also claim £400 a month for food without receipts.

Guido actually reported (MPs Get Fat on Your Taxes) the £20 per diem allowance back in October 2005. Do try to keep up Nick…

The above graphic from last December shows that MPs get £20 per day, no receipts required. That is 12 times as much as a fighting soldier has spent on him for food.

Can it be any clearer where their real priorities lie?

UPDATE : It is worth reading in full Sam Coates’ write-up of the Information Commissioner’s tribunal where the parliamentary resources director tries to justify not letting us know how MPs spend public money feathering their nests.

Tory Transparency Form Not Good Enough

Why not list every item? Businesses don’t put in VAT returns missing receipts for items under £250. There is a catch all “other” space on the new Tory “Right to Know” form. Guido wants to know which MPs

[…]

Speaker Chooses Three MPs to Investigate MP Expenses

It beggars belief that as popular disgust with MPs is now near universal they decide to appoint three of their own to investigate themselves. When you find out which three MPs the Speaker has chosen to do the investigating you

[…]

Suspicious Minds and Convicting Politicians

From Guido’s point of view the year has got off to a very good start. One Minister has fallen on his slush fund, a senior opposition MP has been exposed for pigging out in the public trough and his little

[…]

Poll : Should Conway Go?

Guido is running a poll until midnight in the right-hand-column. Should Conway lose the Tory whip?

[…]



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