MPs expenses: £2million cost of Havering MPs to taxpayer - what do they spend and why?

MPs Dame Angela Watkinson (left), Jon Cruddas (top right) and Andrew Rosindell (bottom right)

MPs Dame Angela Watkinson (left), Jon Cruddas (top right) and Andrew Rosindell (bottom right) - Credit: None

A probe into MPs expenses has revealed Havering’s three MPs cost the taxpayer £2million in payments for staff, office costs and travel over the past five years.

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Our investigation, looking at thousands of claims over the last Parliament, has shown local MPs Jon Cruddas and Andrew Rosindell were among London’s big spenders – ranking 13th and 15th of the capital’s 72 MPs for costs carrying out parliamentary work.

Dame Angela Watkinson, Conservative MP for Hornchurch and Upminster, was mid-table in 37th place.

Mr Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham, said a bulging caseload due to constituency boundary changes had sent his workload soaring – but he insisted “every penny is spent on serving constituents”.

Mr Rosindell, Conservative MP for Romford, said he was “one of the hardest working MPs” and revealed he pays many expenses from his own pocket because of strict rules governing when receipts can be sent in.

Other key findings include:

* All three MPs had total expense bills higher than the London average from 2010 to 2015. Mr Cruddas claimed £699,358, Mr Rosindell £691,408, and Dame Angela £631,990.

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* Mr Cruddas spent 30 per cent more on office costs than average for London’s MPs.

* Mr Rosindell’s travel expenses from 2010 to 2015 were 246 per cent higher than average capital-wide.

Our investigation found no evidence among local MPs of the sorts of claims that caused the expenses scandal in 2009. In fact all three have a good record of transparency, with expenses logged and simple for the casual observer to understand.

Trends in our data, compiled using tens of thousands of records from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), revealed Labour MP Mr Cruddas had the highest expenses bill, claiming 12 per cent more than the London average from 2010 to 2015.

‘Boundary changes sent caseload soaring’

He said boundary changes in 2010, when his constituency was expanded to include 30,000 residents in Havering as well as 40,000 in Dagenham, had sent his workload soaring.

“This means dealing with two housing departments, education departments, two councils, which puts greater demands on our caseworkers and the overall operation of the office, because a lot of work is duplicated,” he said.

The MP says he deals with 1,500 cases a month and rising.

‘Enquiries are becoming increasingly complex’

Despite her lower overall expenses bill, Dame Angela’s claims have risen faster than the two neighbouring MPs since 2011, by 32 per cent. This outstripped the London average of 18 per cent.

She said: “Over the past five years the number of constituents contacting me has risen continuously. Enquiries are becoming increasingly complex and involve contact with multiple agencies relating to benefits, pensions, housing, finance, health, visa and social services amongst many others.”

‘Budget is there to be used for constituents benefit’

Claims by Conservative MP for Romford Mr Rosindell actually fell by three per cent year-on-year in 2014-15, in contrast to a rise London-wide.

The MP said: “I am one of the hardest working MPs. I do use my budget, I think it’s there to be used for constituents’ benefit.

“If there’s money left in the budget it means you could be making use of this to do more to serve your constituents.”

Far from “trying to get every penny out of the system”, the MP said he is often too busy to submit claims within IPSA’s 90-day time limit, meaning he foots the bill, including recently for a new laptop.

“The claim was sent in one or two days over the deadline so I had to pay out of my own pocket,” he said.

“I think it’s wholly unfair to MPs who are working hard if they’ve spent money on office equipment and aren’t repaid.

“The average MP is not super rich and we can’t afford to subsidise running two offices out of our own pocket.”

The three Havering MPs spent broadly similar amounts on staffing and payroll, which was by far the largest chunk of expenses claimed by all London MPs.

‘Every penny is spent serving struggling local people’

Office costs were the second highest area of spending. In this category Mr Cruddas billed 30 per cent more than average for London, which he said “reflected the cost of running a full time office”.

“Every penny spent is spent on serving our constituents, many, many of whom are really struggling,” he said.

None of the MPs spent significant amounts on travel, but Mr Rosindell’s claims, at £10,383 from 2010 to 2015, were 246 per cent above the London average of £2,999.

“If I work until 2am or 3am in the morning, as I regularly do, I claim for a taxi back to my flat,” he said. “The reason why travel costs for many MPs are so low is because lots of them don’t bother claiming.”

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.

Expenses scandal of 2009

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.”