Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Legg Report

There's much excitement and outrage about the Legg Report today, and mostly rightly so. However I get the feeling that some MPs are being unfairly targeted to the detriment of actually cleaning up the system. For example compared to some, my MP - Ed Vaizey - has been rather boring (or to put it another way slightly more honest than most):
Mr Vaizey was paid £790 for a dining table in March 2007, which exceeded the guideline price of £660 by £130.
He was overpaid by £197.42 for mortgage interest in 2008-09.
He was also overpaid by £136.00 for council tax in 2008-09.
Total repayment recommended: £463.42
Total repayments received since 1 April 2009: £2,449.45
Balance recommended to be repaid: £0.00
Although good that he has paid it back, the intention and the sums involved hardly compares to others who have been milking the system so effectively that they can establish a property portfolio at the taxpayer's expense.

Guido is of course loving this, however I think it slightly unfair to report in a blog titled 'porkbusters', that Ed Vaizey has:

appealed to Legg over £30.

The insinuation is clear and it makes me slightly uncomfortable because here are the facts from Ed Vaizey's blog:

As the Sunday Telegraph reports, I have appealed my Legg findings. It's much less of a big deal than it might seem. In May I repaid the cost of my furniture, plus my council tax, because I had inadvertantly claimed for an additional month. Legg found that I should have repaid my council tax, (£136) - I agree. He asked for a small sum towards the furniture (£130) - much less than I had voluntarily repaid. And he identified £197 as a sum I had overclaimed on my mortgage. When I went over the figures, I saw that I had overclaimed, but in my view by only £162. The only way to clarfiy the difference in these figures for the final report is to "appeal", but as I have already voluntarily paid back a far larger amount, I will not be asked to make any additional payments. So I am not appealing as such, merely asking for the figures to be checked so that a final sum can be agreed. To sum up, I have been asked to repay £463, but I have actualy voluntarily repaid £2449.

Minor indiscretions are being lumped in with 'everyone's at it' which has the net effect of ultimately negating the worse cases where some MPs should be in jail. The concentration, rather than a scatter gun approach, should be on those that knowingly exploited the system, like Buff-Hoon who 'only' has to pay £1,151.42 (£1298.03 less than Vaizey) despite being a serial property 'flipper'.

I appreciate my view will be unpopular; I'm no Vaizey fan though and I'll be unlikely to vote for him at the next election so I have no partisan loyalty to express, but I agree with Anne Widdecombe (an expenses saint):

Ms Widdecombe was among those who had contested a demand to repay some money. She says while she has agreed to pay back a small sum of £230, she has been cleared of any abuse of the system.

As part of his inquiry into MPs' claims, Sir Thomas applied retrospective limits under certain categories. Ms Widdecombe said she had been told there was no evidence of abuse because there had been no limit on gardening expenditure at the time she made the claim.

The MP said: "Honour has been satisfied and I have sent a cheque off. However, I do think the Legg inquiry has been lazy, incompetent and unreasonable. Why put retrospective limits on some allowances but not on others? He has never answered that argument."

She warned the Legg report - which has audited all expenses claims made by MPs between 2004 and 2008 - was unlikely to put an end to controversy over allowances and a better option would be to end the expenses and pay MPs more.

She added: "It [the Legg report] will draw a line under what has gone on up until now but what we have ended up with is the worst of all worlds. I can see problems developing in the first five minutes [of the new system]. They should have scrapped the allowances and raised salaries."

Bashing MPs is a popular pastime, but given the 'shrug of the shoulders' attitude of British taxpayers towards the ultimate gravy train - where MEPs can become millionaires within 6 months - my view is that a sense of proportion is non-existent and genuine outrage at politician's expenses only goes so far.

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