How They Fiddle a Political Conference on the Taxpayer

Today’s conference has nothing at all to do with tomorrow’s conference. Total coincidence that there is a private conference on today and another one tomorrow. This is to keep within Civil Service rules about civil servants doing political work. Tomorrow’s thing is being organised by the Civil Service (paid for by you), whereas today’s is by the Policy Network, with funding that isn’t clear (except there’s a big shout-out to David Sainsbury in the program). That would be David Sainsbury who just shuffled some of his assets around last week to save himself £28 million in Capital Gains Taxes since Alistair hiked the rate 80%.

So these conferences are completely separate, got that? Different organisers, different logos, the whole lot. You even had to accredit twice, with different people. By an uncanny coincidence, of the sort that one sees all the time in real life, they feature the same people, meeting in the same place, under the same title (Progressive Governance). But they’re totally different things.

Just like when Gordon’s Smith Institute invited U.S. pollster Bob Shrum to outline an attack strategy against David Cameron to an invited audience of Polly Toynbee, Ed Balls, Dougie Alexander and the rest of the Brownies fan club in the media. That invite wasn’t from the independent non-partisan charity the Smith Institute. It was from the private limited company called the Smith Institute, 100% owned by the Trustees of the charity, from the same office, with the same people. But a totally different thing.

All the SpAds and ministers and security are at the conference on the public payroll. Guido would be surprised if other subsidies hadn’t slipped through. The same applies to all the foreign attendees as well. The Euro-gravy train has come, at their respective taxpayer’s expense, via the channel tunnel bringing the social democratic elite to wine and dine. They really know how to trough on the continent. The British taxpayer is picking up the tab for the European socialist’s weekend break in London courtesy of Gordon Brown. Bet you are happy about that…

Councillor Watson Claims £3,723 Per Meeting

Joanne Watson, a member of the Watson Family Clan, is a councillor in Sandwell. In the 2006-2007 municipal year she has managed to claim £14,894.20 in allowances for attending a total of 4 meetings.
That is an incredible average of £3,723 per meeting.

According to official attendance records obtained by Guido, she has as Vice-Chair of the “Policy and Performance Scrutiny Panel” managed to attend in this municipal year 1 meeting out of the 4 held by that panel. She attended none of the six meetings of the Health and Older People Scrutiny Panel of which she is a member. She attended 1 meeting out of the 5 held by the West Bromwich Town Committee, 2 out of the 7 full Council meetings and none of the meetings of the Education Staffing Committee. A grand total of 4 recorded meetings attended last year.

She also works for Pat McFadden MP and Michael Cashman MEP, so the taxpayer chips in a bit more there in addition to the payments she gets from the Labour Party and Amicus.

Is she the most overpaid local council fat cat? Are all the Watsons getting fat off the backs of struggling taxpayers?

UPDATE : Some suggestion in the comments that a massive 7 meetings were attended in the relevant year which would make it a mere £2127.74 per meeting. McKinsey charge less than that…

Halls of Residence for MPs?

Well if coppers, fireman and nurses can do it, why not MPs? What makes them so bloody special? They are just another public sector profession with housing problems. Plenty of cheap property over the river in South London, even Peckham isn’t too far…

TaxPayer’s Alliance forces Sleaze InvestigationInto Speaker’s Expenses

Click to enlarge.

The TaxPayer’s Alliance has struck a blow against the Speaker putting his snout deeply in the trough. Excellent news. If he is found to have abused the system he will have to go. He has no authority to oversee a system supposedly based on “honour”.

LibDemVoice has a copy of a press release from Nick Clegg about the speaker blocking the full publication of MP’s expenses in full.
“There are legitimate grounds for appealing the decision to publish private addresses. However, there is no earthly reason why the rest of the information should not be published immediately.

“Any delay will only add to the British public’s distrust in their politicians.”

So Guido called Nick Clegg’s office.
GF : I see from Nick’s press release that he thinks MPs should publish their full expenses immediately. When is he going to publish his expenses?
Tim : I don’t know. Can I get his press officer Hannah to call you?

So Guido called Lynne Featherstone, who is very strong on the issue

GF : When is Lynne going to publish her expenses in full?
Ian : Err, don’t know. I’ll ask her.
GF : Great, get back to me.

Guido called Ed Davey’s Office.

GF : When is Ed going to publish his expenses in full?
Kerry : He will as soon as he can. We have had staffing problems and he has been very busy with the Lisbon Treaty.

So Ed Davey is going to publish his expenses in full. Just as well because his leader says any delay will “will only add to the British public’s distrust in their politicians.” The LibDems are talking the talk, can they walk the walk? Don’t delay…

UPDATE 16.15 : Clegg’s office has just called to say he will be publishing his expenses in full the week after next. They were not clear if all LibDem MPs will be doing the same.

F o I Me? No Hypocrisy Says Robinson

Nick Robinson has acknowledged Guido’s FoI request for his expenses on his own blog. He doesn’t get drawn on the whys and wherefores of the issue instead he just gives a politician’s answer referring readers to the BBC’s official reason for refusing. He doesn’t say why he thinks he shouldn’t tell his paymasters his expenses yet MPs should.

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”

Well that argument seems flawed on two counts. Firstly the cost of a bottle of wine ordered by Nick at the telly taxpayer’s expense is not information held for the purposes of journalism. It is information held, by law, for the purposes of accounting. Guido has not FoI’d Nick’s notes of the lunch, he simply wants to know how many pound notes a bottle of wine poured down the throat of a politician costs the licence payers. Guido has not requested the names of his dining partners either. There is therefore no journalistic reason to keep the cost of a bottle of wine secret is there? It is public money after all.

Secondly the BBC has given dozens of FoI responses to requests about expense claim requests in the past. So why is this one different? There is a clear public interest in the voters and licence payers discovering how lavish are the contents of the trough that the politico-media nexus dines at – the public pays for the “trebles all round”. Guido revealed a few weeks ago that the Lobby’s journalists have their own bar subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of £1,000 every working day. Is it any wonder that for so long they have gone easy on MPs when they are guilty of sharing the same trough?

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



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



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



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



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