Friday, 16 October 2009

Expenses. Now even the MP's are angry

I said previously on this blog that the row over MP's expenses would not go away simply by them electing a new speaker, and this weeks latest revelation following Sir Thomas Legg's audit of MP's past and present is proof positive of the story having legs well beyond the stride of the Daily Telegraph.

I am also pleased to inform readers that Sir Thomas Legg's letter to me this week (his review extended to the previous parliament when I was a member) included the words every MP past and present wanted to see on the page, namely that:

"In your case, having examined the records in the light of my interpretation of the rules and standards in force at the time, I have not identified any payments made to you under the ACA during the review period which I consider call for any repayment or further supporting evidence to be provided by you. Accordingly, my conclusion is that no further action is required from you in this matter"

That's ok then I guess, but as I published all my expenses, every year I was in office in my annual reports I didn't expect anything different, but other MP's were not so relieved. And what is angering most is that whilst expenditure on gardening and cleaning bills have been retrospectively challenged against newly applied limits, expenditure on "flipped" second homes and house/flat rentals seem to have been ignored. As a result some who thought they were in the clear were having to explain to their local press why they now had a bill to pay, and others including my old friendly Nemesis in Northampton South Brian Binley were able to breath more easily.

But hang on whats this sentence at the end?

"I should add that my findings do not deal with any payments which to my knowledge are under separate investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, by the Police or by HM Revenue and Customs"

and in his accompanying notes he tells us that

"Where an MP used the ACA to enter into a conflicted transaction, for example by buying or renting a second home from a close relative, a company in which he or she had shares, or a close associate such as an employee, the transaction will be regarded as tainted, and the whole payment accordingly invalid. This will be so even if the MP can show that it was effected at arms length or that the public purse has not suffered"

So that's all about as clear as mud then!

And therein lies the problem, was Legg's review thorough enough? did he make errors? was it fair to change the rules retrospectively? and in all the confusion how can any of us know any more who did what? claimed for what? and at what cost to the tax payer? or to their own reputation?

To the rescue however comes the"MP's expenses data visualisation tool" brought to you kindly by the Daily Telegraph and found here

Here how to work it. First of all find your MP's dot on the screen. The using the sliding rule against Mortgage/Rent slide (side column) slide it to the right until your MP's dot disappears and then slide left slightly until it appears again. This gives you an indication of how much of your money they are spending to live in their second or flipped home. It should also tell you now (bottom right in blue) how expensive your MP is so far out of the 646 members in parliament.

Now whilst leaving the Mortgage/Rent slide where it is repeat the process for Cleaning/Laundry, Food, Gardening and total expenses each time leaving the slides at the last point at which your MP's dot disappears and then reappears by sliding slightly back.

Sometimes you will find your MP claims nothing under one heading but shedloads under another! Once completed your MP will either be surrounded by his/her fellow members dots (meaning they are an average spender) or isolated and lonely (meaning they are creaming it in!)

And at last, there you have it again in the bottom right hand corner your MP's very own ranking in the 2010 MP's "snout in the trough stakes" out of the 646 runners and riders

The final slide is a bit misleading as the salary will be dependent on government posts (ministers) or special allowances (opposition) and the tool is also useful because it excludes travel which often distorts the figures (MP's from Scotland for example have much higher travel expenses)

So how did your MP fare? let me know in the comments box if you like.

I have looked at the results for Northamptonshire and they do not make happy reading for some.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The lights are on but nobody's home

Tory leader of NCC, Jim Harker's crazy new plan to save money for an ailing Conservative administration at County Hall by switching off every third street light on all main roads in the Shire is as unpalatable as it is unsafe. But furthermore it is proof positive that the Tory's as an administration have not got the first idea as to what their own policies are, let alone how to enact them.

Just last year the then Tory Portfolio holder for Highways Cllr Bob Seery announced to the press under a spotlight of publicity that hard work by the administration and officers had secured an

"£89 million cash injection from the government to revitalise street lighting throughout the county"

This money in the form of a PFI (private finance initiative) will eventually have to be paid back by you and me through our Council Tax But the benefit to us all of taking the loan out then for something we didn't know we needed, was according to Council to:

"reduce potential road accidents, improve community safety and reduce night time sky pollution. The PFI credits also mean that the county’s street lights, illuminated signs and bollards will also be properly maintained"

So excited was Bob that he told us that:

“It will enable all street lighting, which is the responsibility of the county council, to be improved in an expedited manner. If these financial resources Hadn’t been obtained it would have taken a great many years to carry out this work.

“In addition to providing modern, improved and safe street lighting the opportunity will be taken to address related environmental issues as well as contributing to improving safety and communities as a result of which everybody in the county should benefit.”

So after just 12 months what benefits have we seen from our £89m loan? and if we have addressed the environmental issues then why does Jim Harker propose now that we now turn off one in three street lights?

Are they for improving road safety or making our roads more dangerous? and do they really care for the environment or clueless as to how to really make green savings?

I am told that for a fraction of that total amount of £89m that all the County's street lights could be upgraded from the current ancient unreliable timer switches (which come on and off when they please it seems) to a computer based centrally controlled system which manages street lights on and off when they are needed on a hourly basis according to light levels.

This would save a small fortune, year on year and improve safety and reduce our carbon footprint, but it's all too much like common sense for our Tory Shirocracy to consider it, after all they have only just grasped the concept of the on/off switch.

I am also told by a proffesional driver that the distance between street lights is determined by the speed limit for the road, with them being closer together on roads with 30mph and further apart at 40mph or 50mph and so on. So by turning off every third light drivers at night will be tricked by the eye into thinking they are driving on a faster road than they are on.

So will Jim pay the fines of those caught out by his crazy and dangerous plan? or mores the point will he accept the responsibility for any pedestrian casualties if caused by badly lit roads?

And how we we tell which lamps need replacing and which don't, when a third of them are off and others just needing a bulb?

I will of course be asking the County Council just what they have done with the borrowed £89m which we are all still paying for and why it hasn't been used to make the very savings Jim needs without the last Tory to leave County Hall at night having to switch off the lights



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