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.