Saturday, April 04, 2009

Labour MP Spending Taxpayers' Money on Coffee Mornings

A couple of years ago, MPs voted themselved a £10,000 pa Communications Allowance. However, what is not widely knows is that if they fail to spend the entirety of their other budgets, they can transfer the balance over and use it for "communications". Very handy, if you happen, like Labour MP David Borrow to have a highly marginal seat, which is under threat from a hyper active Tory candidate like Lorraine Fulbrook. Astonishingly, he admits he uses the money to pay for coffee mornings where he holds cosy little chats with wavering voters - at the taxpayer's expense.

Mr Borrow, however, has been found out and fingered for this outrageous use of taxpayers' money in his local newspaper, the Lancashire Evening Post.

A Lancashire MP defended spending more than £19,000 on leaflets and letters to communicate with his constituents. David Borrow, the Labour MP for South Ribble, said the Communications Allowance allowed him to invite constituents to coffee mornings and update them on his life in Parliament.

Mr Borrow, who has only a 2,184 majority, claimed £19,006 from the Communications Allowance in 2007/08 – the fifth highest claim out of Westminster's 645 MPs. The Communications Allowance can be used to reclaim money for constituency newsletters, surveys, petitions, direct mailing and personal websites.

The limit is £10,000, but MPs can transfer unused funds from other allowances, such as staffing or office allowances. Mr Borrow said he spent his allowance on inviting constituents to coffee mornings and public meetings. He also posts a newsletter entitled The Parliamentary Report to every constituent once a year and has had business cards printed.

Mr Borrow has held 10 coffee mornings since Christmas. He posts invites to between 1,500 and 2,000 people for each of the events. He also used the allowance to invite constituents to two public meetings held in New Longton and Banks to discuss flooding.

He said: "Since the Cost Allowance has come in I have been able to write to these constituents and invite them in for a chat to raise any issues with me." He said he was able to top up his Communications Allowance because he had under-spent on staffing.

Mr Borrow is also currently using the allowance to launch a website.

Yet another example of how the expenses rules stink to high heaven. If this isn't a flagrant abuse of the spirit of the law I don't know what is. And believe me, I'd be saying exactly the same if it was a Tory MP doing it.

39 comments:

Oldrightie said...

A nice little campaign fillip. They really are beyond the pale. Have you caught up with The Save The Children Appeal, this morning, Iain? For Britain!

Robert said...

What about a full condemnation of Spellman's nanny fiddle then.

Don't think that the Tories are whiter than white on this issue.

Geoffrey G Brooking said...

Another nose in the trough me smells.

dheigham said...

Treating?

DespairingLiberal said...

What's wrong with an MP inviting constituents to coffee mornings? Perhaps he is campaigning, but you've no evidence to that effect. This is all just innuendo and insinuation.

Paul Halsall said...

I don't really see any big abuse here. I suppose it does help and incumbent, but there seems to be no graft or simple abuse.

I DO think Smith's, McNulty's, and (to a lesser degree) Pickles' actions were massively worse.

Tom Hagen said...

James Purnell has done this in the past.

talwin said...

So Borrow wants to invite constituents to coffee mornings so he "can update them on his life in Parliament". His low profile and few notable achievements suggest his coffee mornings will be brief affairs.

fetler said...

You're talking utter rubbish Dale. Almost every MP invites constituents to coffee mornings, and you, nor the LEP, have any proof whatsoever that "cosy little chats" went on with wavering voters. Have you ever been to one of these coffee mornings Mr Borrow holds for his constituents? Thought not. Then how can you say he held "cosy little chats"?

Oh and take whatever the insidious LEP writes with a pinch of salt, they've been known to write utter tripe when it comes to politics. Actually, they tend to write utter tripe in general. One of a number of reasons I stopped buying it years ago.

Crikey, talk about scraping the barrel, Iain!

Iain Dale said...

Fetler, I have genuinely never heard of an MP holding a coffee morning at the taxpayer's expense. Normally their local party would pay for something like this.

David Boothroyd said...

Sorry Iain but this is absolute rubbish. Locally we have coffee mornings where voters are invited to meet their local MP and they are in effect open surgeries, where people bring up problems they would like their MP to fix. Some people have no great idea of what MPs can do and would never go to a formal surgery, but in an informal chat over tea and biscuits they are willing to talk.

I have no idea if the meagre cost of the hire of the room and the tea, coffee and biscuits are charged to the Communications Allowance. I do know that it's part of the MP communicating with their constituents. There is no party political campaigning going on; if there was no-one would come.

Can you not see that this objection to all MP expenses is becoming self-defeating?

Iain Dale said...

David, as you will know from previous posts, I believe MPs do need expenses to do their job. But it is things like this that bring the whole system into disrepute. Fine, I am all for politicians holding coffee mornings, but not at the taxpayer's expense.

The Communications Allowance is all about enabling Labour MPs in marginal seats to benefit from incumbency.

I hope a Cameron government will abolish it. If I were ever to be an MP I would refuse to use it on principle. And you can make a note of that for future reference. Maybe :)

tiredoflondon said...

How is that misuse if his constituents are benefitting and coming to the coffee mornings? Surely the examples of misuse we should be focussing on are ones where mps are using allowances to enrich themselves. Here he is using it to the benefit of his constituents, who can come to the meetings and question him etc.

Colin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam Ellis said...

Iain, Do you believe MPs should be able be allowed to use taxpayers money to hold surgeries? If so, I can not see a different between that and Coffee Mornings. As David says, they are an opportunity to reach out to people who might not go to a formal surgery. I'd encourage all MPs to hold coffee mornings using the money, should they be Labour, Conservative Liberal Democrats or any other.

Bucket of Tongues said...

MP meets constituents shocker.

Kinda remind of when the "back to basics" sleaze stories broke in 1992ish. To keep the bandwagon rolling, some newspaper had a "MP Works Part-Time As A Dentist Shock!" report.

As John Major would say, "Oh dear".

fetler said...

Iain, your post seems to me to be nothing more than an attack on a Labour MP with a marginal seat. Did Mark put you up to it to give Lorraine that little bit more support? If so then shame on you. It might have helped if you'd actually posted with solid evidence of breaking rules (or going against the spirit of rules), but all you've posted about this is utter tripe.

As Tom Harris said in his blog, would you have objected or even blogged about it if Mr Borrow had a 10,000+ majority?

Sue said...

Unfortunately, because of the recent outcry at how MP's are abusing their expense accounts, we have become unable to differentiate between what is acceptable and unacceptable use.

Coffee mornings at the taxpayers expense may be acceptable to some people but there has to be a limit.

What is to stop an MP throwing lavish parties to bribe the electorate into voting their way if constraints and limits are not put on these allowances?

If an initial limit of 10K was put on "communications", then that is what it should be with fully receipted accountability.

yellowbelly said...

Nothing wrong with an MP communicating with their constituents as such, whether it is a formal surgery or a coffee morning.

The worst bit, that no -one else has picked up on is this:

"He said he was able to top up his Communications Allowance because he had under-spent on staffing."

I didn't realise that the allowances were a target to aim at and aspire to, I thought they were supposed t be a ceiling. Just like a 70mph limit on a motorway doesn't mean everybody HAS to drive at 70.

What about value for money and keeping costs to a minimum, not spending more on item 2 if you didn't max out on item 1.

wv = flaws. Really! How appropriate.

Iain Dale said...

Fetler, I didn't say he had broken the actual rules. I said it's an example of why the rules need to be changed.

Letterman said...

There is an element of campaigning here as with all MPs communications but nothing extraordinary. Surely holding coffee mornings is a good way to engage with voters who otherwise wouldn't have a clue what their MP is up to? It's less formal than a surgery and will attract a different set of voters to engage with what their MP is doing for them.

I'm no fan of MPs' allowance abuses but this seems fine to me - if only more MPs were as happy to engage with us plebs more often.

Tom said...

We've always known the Communications Allowance was just a £4m annual bung for the Labour party...

Simon Gardner said...

Sue said... “What is to stop an MP throwing lavish parties to bribe the electorate into voting their way...”

It’s illegal?

DespairingLiberal said...

I've checked and our local Tory MP runs coffee mornings - I am writing to them to find out how these are funded. If the answer is from expenses, I will publish it here.

This posting sums up the whole problem with Iain Dale, which is now (I am relieved to see) being widely discussed and acknowledged - namely, that his "independent blogger" credentials are brutally undermined at obvious moments by what is completely obviously mere petty politicking and the worst sort of shabby name calling and hypocritical semi-slanderous innuendo.

Anyone else who's Tory MP throws coffee mornings for constituents and claims for them? Post details here.

Unsworth said...

@ Despairing Liberal

Do grow up, please. Where has Iain claimed 'independence'? Why do you have to lie all the time?

Now, sue me!

Kev P said...

:oO MP spends money to communicate with constituents?! Heavens forbid!

What complete and utter nonsense - I know the constituency and it is a very difficult one to represent - with small villages spread out all over the place with very limited access. What on EARTH is wrong with an MP actually bothering to take the time and spending some money on visiting the people he is supposed to represent in these remote places and find out what their issues are?

This is an absurd article and an utter misrepresentation of the situation. Shame on the paper for printing it and shame on you for trying to make it sleazy.

DespairingLiberal said...

Kev - it's all just business as usual for Mr I Dale.

If I was this MP, I would sue...

Thatsnews said...

Iain, I am proud of you. You allow Draperists to continue posting their comments.

I salute your indefatigable stance on this matter. (Heh!)

Unsworth said...

@ Kev P

Just as long he's not spending my cash that's just fine. Why the hell should my cash be spent by this MP on his constituency? There is far too much of this very 'selective spending' in Labour constituencies - at all levels.

Jimmy said...

Perhaps in the interests of fairness we should just ban MPs from communicating with constituents as it gives them an unfair advantage over their opponents.

DespairingLiberal said...

Unsworth/Iain, are you completely certain that no Tory MP does this?

Iain Dale said...

Of course I can't be certain. But you clearly didn't read the final sentence of my blogpost.

Mark Reckons said...

I am absolutely sick of hearing about this sort of thing now along with today's revelations about Buff Hoon. We need complete reform of the rules right now. I have listed my suggestions here.

And if I hear any politician use the phrase “It was within the rules” one more time…

David Boothroyd said...

Mark: What on earth are MPs supposed to do when they have costs to claim for? They have to read a very complicated system of rules, and work out whether it's allowed. Then they can contact the Fees Office, explain everything about it, and get advice.

If both of those say the claim is OK, are they then supposed to invent some new unwritten rule disallowing any claim that can be twisted to look bad by a desperate and ignorant newspaper with half the important facts omitted?

Chalcedon said...

I thought using taxpayers cash for party political ends was illegal? Am I wrong?

Unsworth said...

@ Despairing Liberal

"Unsworth/Iain, are you completely certain that no Tory MP does this?"

Iain can speak for himself.

Until it's shown otherwise I'm prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, and would say the same of any MP of any persuasion. However, what has been shown is that a Labour MP is doing this. And that adds to the list of Labour MPs bending the 'rules'.

And your point is what, exactly? We should all shut up because others might be doing this?

Censorship?

Jimmy said...

There's something faintly absurd about the party which changed local taxation in order to discourage the poor from registering to vote and manipulated council house sales for electoral advantage screaming "bribery" because a voter may have been offered a cup of Nescafe.

Get a grip.

Unsworth said...

@ Jimmy

a) two wrongs etc..

b) "screaming "bribery" because a voter may have been offered a cup of Nescafe." ????
Just as long as I'm not having to pick up the tab that's OK.

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