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Our MPs expenses under spotlight

PUBLISHED: 10:34 31 May 2009 | UPDATED: 14:02 03 July 2010

IN the wake of public outcry following the announcement of MPs' expenses, PM Gordon Brown emphasised that the Commons could not continue to act “like a 19th-century gentlemen's club” and that self-regulation would have to be replaced by “independent, statutory regulation”.

IN the wake of public outcry following the announcement of MPs' expenses, PM Gordon Brown emphasised that the Commons could not continue to act “like a 19th-century gentlemen's club” and that self-regulation would have to be replaced by “independent, statutory regulation”.

He also announced that any Labour MP who had “defied” the existing rules would be barred from standing for the party in the general election.

Meanwhile, Tory leader David Cameron has appealed to ordinary voters to stand as prospective Tory MPs and help “clean up politics” in the aftermath of the expenses scandal.

This week, we highlight expenses claims of three MPs - Great Yarmouth, North Norfolk and Waveney.

IN addition to claims for annual rent payments ranging from £5,850 to £16,315 and utilities, Great Yarmouth MP Tony Wright's other regular expenses were linked to food, where he made 21 claims for the maximum £400 allowed over the four-year period, and laundry costs.

The claims show that in 2005 the MP claimed £522.97 for a new television and iron, and £79.99 for a new vacuum cleaner, and £29.95 for a kettle.

There is also a £90.00 claim for a trouser press and £45 for bathroom linen and towels.

In June 2007, there was a £225 claim for curtains and bed linen, while in September 2007 there was a £175 claim for decorating costs to pay for clearing up the damage from a water leak from an upstairs flat.

The forms also show where a claim had been reduced because Parliament was dissolved before a general election.

Mr Wright said the TV came from local firm Bennetts, while he was planning to donate the trouser press to a local charity because he now stays in a hotel to reduce his living cost claims and no longer uses it.

“I don't think anything was excessive,” he said. “Being in the flat for 12 years I purchased one bed.

“People may say, 'What do you need a trouser press for?', but I wanted it because it was something you could do overnight,” he added.

And he said that because he now stayed in hotels instead of renting, his claims for the current year looked set to fall.

WAVENEY MP Bob Blizzard opened his expenses claims to scrutiny and defended his record, insisting he had not made any “extravagant” claims for luxury items.

Mr Blizzard claimed an average of about £1,200-1,300 a month on the interest for his second home in London, but said he had not “flipped” this with his house in Lowestoft to increase the allowances he could claim.

Figures for the four years from 2004 to 2008 show Mr Blizzard claimed up to or near the maximum expenses allowed for MPs who stay away from their main homes - receiving £23,082 in 2007/08.

Items bought for Mr Blizzard's London flat during the past four years include a washing/drying machine for £363 and furniture totalling £458. This included bedside cabinets for £258 and a chest of drawers at £158.

He claimed £247 on repairs to his boiler and £220 on a long list of household goods, including light bulbs, bed linen, a kettle, mop and bucket, ironing board, door mat and shower curtain. A total of £144 was spent on redecorating the flat.

Referring to the single most expensive item - a washer/drier - Mr Blizzard explained this meant he could do all his laundry at home, rather than paying for clothes to be cleaned elsewhere. He said he bought the machine in Lowestoft and plumbed it in himself to save money.

Mr Blizzard admitted he inadvertently submitted a claim for a £286 insurance payment twice, but repaid the money once he discovered the error. He also revealed how he had missed out on about £2,500 in expenses by failing to claim for some of the service charges payable the block of flats where he lives.

NORTH Norfolk MP Norman Lamb published details of his additional cost allowance claims on his website with a personal statement setting out his hopes that the system can be cleaned up.

“There's no exaggeration, and it's an attempt to be honest about what I am claiming for,” he said. “There's no white goods, no hi-fi's no stereos.”

Figures show that among the claims over the four years Mr Lamb claimed monthly mortgage interest payments of between £1006.47 and £1056.22 depending on the interest rate and between £12 and £15 for food.

He also made claims to get a shower repaired, and a £1826 claim to refurbish his bathroom and retile it because of leak problems.

But the files show how he got the work carried out by a Norwich-based plumber to save money because firms in London were too expensive.

Mr Lamb said he had been stung by a piece in the national newspaper claiming he was one of the top 20 claimers in the country. He said the figures were misleading because they grouped office costs with his personal expenses.

And he said the row had made him question whether to continue as an MP.

“The reason I am in the top 20 is that I have two members of staff who both went on maternity leave - one of them twice. But if you look I am one of the lowest in Norfolk.”

He said he was also facing a £19,000 liability for his former constituency offices and was now agonising over whether to claim for it as he is entitled to do or add it to his mortgage because of the public anger over expenses.

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