Islington MP’s expense bill among highest in capital: ‘But I still pay staff from own pocket’
- Credit: Archant
New figures have revealed Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry had the sixth highest expenses bill in the capital over the last Parliament - in spite of paying for staff and stationary from her own pocket.
Our investigation, looking at thousands of MPs’ claims, has shown the senior Labour MP spent £717,673 from 2010 to 2015 for costs carrying out her parliamentary work - 15 per cent higher than the average for London’s 72 MPs.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North - hailed as the country’s lowest expense claimer in 2010 - ranked 46th. His total claims were £589,478, five per cent below the capital’s average.
Jeremy Corbyn was witness in court case
Other key findings include:
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? Combined claims for the two Islington MPs for staff, office costs and travel cost the taxpayer £1.3million from 2010 to 2015.
? Ms Thornberry employs five staff to handle the heavy caseload in her constituency, yet pays half a salary herself as budgets are capped at just over four employees.
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? Mr Corbyn’s claims reveal he was a witness in a court case.
Our data, compiled using tens of thousands of records from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), showed former shadow attorney general Ms Thornberry spent more than average on staffing, payroll and office costs when compared to other London MPs.
IPSA does not provide enough money’
She said her constituency is expensive to live in and has among the highest levels of child poverty in the country. This combination of “wealth and poverty” generated a huge amount of casework forcing her to cover some payroll costs herself, she revealed.
“I need to employ sufficient members of staff to assist me in my work,” said Ms Thornberry.
“I employ five people, but as IPSA only provides enough money in the staffing budget for just over four, I pay half a salary out of my own salary.
“And each year I also pay something towards stationary and equipment - last year my budget was overspent by about £1,000, so I also paid this myself out of my own salary.”
Office costs high
Her office costs, which include postage, stationary and rental of her constituency office in Barnsbury, were significantly higher than the London average by 60 per cent above.
The MP said this was because rents on the fringe of the City are high. Her office also receives hundreds of letters and emails every week.
“Some London MPs keep expenses down by running their work entirely from Westminster, where phones and office space are provided,” she said. “Because I choose to base most of my work in Islington, I need to claim expenses for rent and phones.”
‘I pay costs myself if I have to’
Travel expenses were only a tiny proportion of spending for London MPs. Even still the Islington South MP bucked the trend spending absolutely nothing on travel over the five years as she cycles or pays taxi fares with her own money.
“Of course I do my best to keep expenses down, but the key issue for me is to get the best possible value from the limited amount of public funds available, so that I can provide a responsive and effective service for the people of Islington South and Finsbury - even if it means paying some of the costs myself,” she said.
Veteran MP Mr Corbyn, a long-time backbencher before his surprise victory in the Labour leadership race in September, spent below the average for London MPs on staffing, payroll and office costs.
Yet his expense claims have risen by 23 per cent since 2011, outstripping the London average of 18 per cent.
“I have an extremely heavy caseload as an inner London MP and I do my best to employ an appropriate number of staff and not underpay them,” said Mr Corbyn.
“Both factors directly relate to the IPSA allowance.”
IPSA records also revealed Mr Corbyn claimed £51.10 for transport when he was a witness in a court case in 2012.
He would not comment further, other than to say it was a “private, constituency matter”.
Otherwise the Labour leader claimed hardly anything for travel with total expenses of only £530 over five years.
“Cycling is cheap,” he said.
Our investigation found no evidence among the Islington MPs of the sorts of claims that caused the expenses scandal in 2009.
In fact both have a good record of transparency, with expenses fully logged and simple for the casual observer to understand.
All MPs are entitled to claim expenses to aid their parliamentary work in addition to a basic salary, which was £67,000 but recently rose to £74,000 per year.
MPs expenses scandal
The expenses scheme has come under public scrutiny since it was brought into disrepute in 2009.
But 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 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.”
* Do you have a story for our investigations unit? Contact Emma Youle on email@example.com or 020 7433 0122.