Latest East Grinstead MPs' expenses revealed
THOUSANDS of pounds of taxpayers' money has been spent funding local MPs' expenses, with claims including five-star hotels, first-class rail fares and signed photographs.
Each of the four politicians representing the East Grinstead area in the House of Commons claimed more public funds last year than in the previous 12 months.
Overall, our MPs claimed a total of £507,701.28 in the 2011/12 financial year, compared to £396,673.95 the previous year – a 28 per cent increase.
Wealden MP Charles Hendry, whose claims rose from £93,213 to £111,392, defended his decision to spend £14,099 on 94 nights at the luxury Corinthia hotel in London's West End.
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He said: "The main difference is the previous year I didn't claim for accommodation in London. The House of Commons often sits until 10.30pm and then it's more convenient, rather than travelling back late in the evening.
"MPs are entitled to claim up to £125 plus VAT per night on accommodation, regardless of where you stay. If I want to pay more to stay in a more expensive hotel then it comes out of my own pocket. You simply cannot readily commute for some of these journeys."
The 53-year-old also spent £567 on rail fares, including 14 first-class journeys, in addition to £1,305 driving between his Sussex home and Parliament.
"If I'm commuting for an hour-and-a-half I tend to use the privacy of first-class to work," he added. "There's many things I don't claim for to which I am entitled, such as food, and I don't claim for travel around my constituency."
The figures for 2011/12 were released by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) this month and were paid on top of their basic MPs' salary of £65,738.
While the combined cost might appear high, the majority of the spend was associated with the running of the MPs' constituency offices.
Mid Sussex MP Nicholas Soames claimed a total of £117, 461 in 2011/12 – an increase of 26.7 per cent – which included £2,061 in mileage claims and £73.95 in rail fares. He said: "My expenses will have gone up because I have hired another half a secretary."
The biggest hike in costs was made by Horsham MP Francis Maude, whose expenses rocketed 39.4 per cent from £109,247 to £152,317.
Among the items he claimed was £206 of cards, which included contact cards and printed photo cards.
His constituency manager Claire Morrison said: "Most of that was spent on cards which feature his photo with space for him to sign, because we have a lot of constituents who ask for his autograph. These were all approved by the IPSA.
"The total did go up and there's two reasons for it. I was on maternity leave, so I had someone cover for me.
"The second reason is because the IPSA came into being after the 2010 election, the expenses system didn't really get started until June that year. So essentially it was a sixth shorter than 2011/12."
East Surrey MP Sam Gyimah, who was elected in 2010, the year after the expenses scandal, claimed £126,530 last year, compared to £101,445.03 in the previous 12 months.
He said: "I had an intern around for a while and that might be why my expenses have gone up. There is an upper limit of what we can spend on staff and I am within that limit.
"The new regime seems to work well, because all our receipts are vetted."
The IPSA was created in 2009 by the Parliamentary Standards Act. It is tasked with independently monitoring and controlling MPs' expenses, pay and pensions. It established new rules "to make a clean break with the past".
The IPSA claims to be transparent and regularly publishes details of MPs' expense claims.