John Barrett’s Allowances
MP allowances cover much more than expenses. Because MPs run offices and employ staff, like any small business there are the running costs of a small office which must be paid.
Most costs are paid from the fees office in Parliament directly either to staff as salaries, to landlords for rent or to the travel office at Westminster to cover travel between Edinburgh and Westminster. Important changes come in to force from April 2009 and they are detailed in a House of Commons publication entitled The Green Book.
Travelling between Edinburgh and London on a weekly basis while Parliament is sitting is a costly but necessary part of representing the constituents of West Edinburgh in Parliament and attending events and meeting constituents in Edinburgh.
John normally flies down to London on a Monday and returns to Edinburgh on the Thursday. These flights are on flexible business tickets; these are not cheap, but allow for last minute changes to flights without losing the cost of an unused ticket. Given the flexible nature of working as an MP, last minute changes to travel arrangements are inevitable and happen regularly. Business tickets also mean that facilities are provided at the airport for working while waiting for flights.
There is a mileage allowance for using a private car on Parliamentary business within the constituency, but John does not normally claim this.
John Barrett’s home is in Edinburgh, where he has lived for many years with his family. No costs in relation to his home, mortgage, utilities, or anything else, are paid for, or claimed in any way, from Parliament. Although he has an office at home, where he can link up with the House of Commons computer system, to deal with emails and correspondence, no charge has ever been made for this, or for phone calls relating to Parliamentary work from home.
John rents a flat in central London where he stays during the week. This flat was unfurnished and costs were higher in 2001-02 as this included furnishing the flat. One item of furniture, a settee, was purchased in 2007 on the allowances. Most other furnishings were purchased in 2001-02. Payment of the rent to the landlord and council tax are reimbursed to him, after he has paid out these amounts. Receipts for these are supplied and a copy of the lease is held by Parliament. The rental level was at the market rate when the lease was agreed. He has no links to the landlord either by family or through a business relationship.
The market rate for renting a one bedroom flat in Westminster is approximately £400 per week. The closest hotel to Westminster costs £155 per night. Either would work out to be a similar total cost, but John decided against staying in a hotel room for the last eight years. The other costs paid for by the accommodation allowance include, insurance, utilities, TV licence and council tax in London. All costs which are included in hotel costs.
London flat floorplan
Office costs include rent of the constituency office at Drum Brae Avenue, rates, heat, light, insurance, telephones, etc. John is supplied with office space at Westminster. As mentioned under the accommodation section, he also has an office in my home in the constituency. He does not claim for any costs for that office or for related telephone or other costs.
The constituency office is rented from a landlord and again he has no other family or business links to the landlord. The office has other tenants, who each pay their rent directly to the landlord. Council tax is also paid by each tenant directly to the council. Utilities are paid by John and a percentage of the total cost is then reimbursed by the other tenants to him. This is because the utility suppliers only have one meter each and cannot invoice separately. The percentage due to be paid by each tenant was calculated by an independent surveyor, who has allocated a percentage of the total costs to each tenant. Other costs, such as telephone charges, are each paid separately by each tenant.
In 2008-09, the staff working in his Westminster and constituency offices are:
Euan Robinson - Researcher and Parliamentary Assistant
Ewan Irvine - Senior Caseworker
Liz O’Malley - Assistant Caseworker (Part time)
Sarah Atsa - Constituency Assistant (Part time)
Beverley Hope - Constituency Assistant and Organiser (Part time)
All staff are employed on contracts with the Department of Finance and Administration of the House of Commons and earn salaries within the recommended guidelines, based on their skills and experience. The staff salaries figure below includes tax and national insurance, which is sent direct to the Inland Revenue. John is related to one member of staff and this has been declared and is published on the register of members’ interests. Their post is part time and was advertised to open competition.
IT and stationery
Some IT and stationery is purchased centrally and then charged to MPs. Computers are not purchased but supplied and maintained centrally. This equipment is the property of the Parliament.
|London living costs||£18,009||£16,537||£17,082||£18,433||£16,821||£22,110||£22,663|
|Central IT provision||£1,502||£1,811||£1,811||£1,811||£309||£1,008||£1,211|
1. This figure includes the cost of postage for the first time. The 2001/2002 and 2002/2003 figures do not take the cost of postage into account.
What do each of these categories mean?
London living costs: This is paid to reimburse MPs for necessary costs incurred when staying overnight away from their main home for the purpose of performing parliamentary duties. Until April 2009 this was called Additional Costs Allowance and is now known as Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure (PAAE). These amounts are first paid for by the MP to the landlord, etc, and then repaid to the MP. A breakdown of the figures shown in the table above is also available.
Office costs: This is paid to meet the costs of accommodation for office or surgery use; equipment and supplies for office or surgery; work commissioned or other services; and certain travel and communications. From 1st April 2009 this will be known as Administrative and Office Expenditure (AOE). Most of these costs are paid directly to the office landlord or other suppliers and although included as MP’s expenses are not normally amounts reclaimed by the MP.
Staff salaries: This is paid to enable MPs to employ staff. All staff are employed under standard House of Commons staff contracts. All payments are made directly to staff by the department of finance. Although this amount is included as an “expense” no amounts in this section are paid to or reimbursed to the MP. The salary of support staff in most jobs is not normally considered to be an "expense" of the employer, however, as this is the largest single sum included in the allowances for MPs, it is the reason that “expenses” often appear to be very high.
Travel: This is paid to meet the costs of MP travel to and from their constituency and Westminster. This covers weekly travel from Edinburgh to Westminster. All travel tickets are charged to the MP and paid for by the House of Commons travel office. Although this amount is included as the MP’s expense, normally no amounts under this heading are paid by, or reimbursed to, the MP.
Staff travel: This is paid to meet the costs of MP’s staff travel to and from the constituency and Westminster for training and similar purposes. Payment for this is, as in the travel section, is paid for directly by the travel office. No reimbursement is paid to the MP, although this is also added to the MP’s total of amounts claimed.
Centrally Purchased Stationary: This includes stationery with pre-paid postage for use in direct connection with a Member’s parliamentary duties; the House of Commons is charged separately for the associated postage costs. The figures given for the MP for 2001-02 and 2002-03 do not include any postage costs. The figures for 2003-04 includes the postage costs for the MP. These amounts are paid directly by Parliament to all suppliers and are therefore not reimbursed to the MP.
Central IT provision: This is paid to cover the cost of equipment supplied on loan to each Member, such as computers and printers. No costs are made or reclaimed by the MP under this heading. This figure is calculated by the House of Commons.
Communications allowance: The Communications Allowance, introduced in 2007, provides funds to allow Members of Parliament to communicate proactively with their constituents and inform them about their Parliamentary duties. This includes the cost of reports and their distribution as well as a number of other bought in services, which are usually paid directly to the supplier and therefore not reclaimed by the MP. No party political literature or anything not directly connected with the work of the MP can be paid for using this allowance. This amount equates to approximately 10p, each year, for each person living in Edinburgh West.
Expenses can be viewed in full on the parliament website.
John is happy to sit down with constituents who would like to go over the above figures or would like a more detailed explanation of what they cover.