Westminster North MP’s £720,000 expense bill among highest in capital
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
New figures have revealed Westminster North MP Karen Buck had the fifth highest expenses bill in the capital over the last five years, claiming almost £720,000 for costs carrying out her parliamentary work.
Our investigation, looking at thousands of MPs’ claims, showed the long-standing Labour MP spent 16 per cent more than average for London’s 72 MPs from 2010 to 2015.
She said the size of her constituency, the seventh largest in the country, and a particularly hefty bundle of case work explained the steep costs of running her office.
Other key findings include:
* Westminster’s two MPs claimed a combined total of just over £1.3million for expenses from 2010 to 2015.
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* Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster, Mark Field, was 47th in the table with total claims of £587,657.
* Both MPs spent more than average on travel despite representing constituencies closest to Parliament.
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Trends in our data, compiled using tens of thousands of records from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), showed Ms Buck claimed by far the largest chunk of money for staffing and payroll costs, in common with all London MPs.
Fifth largest constituency in London
The Labour MP, who receives several hundreds of emails and phone calls every day, said: “Westminster North is the fifth largest constituency in London and the seventh largest in the country by resident population.
“It has a very high level of deprivation, exceptional diversity and a high level of population churn, because of the very large private rented sector.
“This is undoubtedly reflected in the caseload, which is both very heavy and wide-ranging.
“I hope that I and my small staff team do a fair job of dealing with the thousands of requests for advice, help and comment, which come to my office over the course of each year.”
‘Rents are high’
Her office costs, including stationary, postage and rental for a constituency office in Maida Vale, were 50 per cent higher than average for London.
She said some MPs choose to run their offices from Parliament, where bills do not appear under expense claims, and rents in her inner London constituency are higher than in outer London.
“This almost certainly explains any variation in the overall office costs,” said Ms Buck.
‘I don’t claim for mileage’
None of London’s MPs spent a significant amount on travel, in fact many claimed nothing at all.
As a result Ms Buck’s travel expenses, at £5,860 from 2010 to 2015, were high compared to the London average of £2,999. This was a reflection of her busy diary, the MP said.
“I travel around a lot within the constituency and in London on Parliamentary business, meeting with constituents, local organisations, statutory agencies, and for speaking engagements,” she said. “I don’t claim for mileage when I use the car or, of course, for taxis.”
Critic of old expenses regime
Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster, Mr Field, claimed six per cent less than the capital-wide average from 2010 to 2015.
His payroll and staffing costs were broadly inline with other London MPs and his office costs almost 50 per cent below average. But claims for travel were relatively high at £6,831 - 127 per cent above average.
Mr Field said: “I was one of the most vocal critics of the old expenses regime, speaking out against my own colleagues at the time and continuing to campaign for transparency into the next parliament.
“We now have a system where constituents are able to look up an MP’s expense claims and make their own mind up.”
Our investigation found no evidence among the Westminster MPs of the sorts of claims that caused the expenses scandal in 2009.
In fact both have a good record of transparency, with expenses logged and simple for the casual observer to understand.
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.
MPs expenses scandal
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.”
NEXT WEEK: See next Thursday’s Ham&High to find out which of Camden’s MPs had the highest expense bill