MPs' expenses: Hebrew lessons and printer cartridges but claims are far less eventful these days

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 21 Mar 2016

WHEN the Daily Telegraph exposed the full extent of the 'claim culture' in Westminster back in 2009, the public was in uproar.

It was revealed that taxpayers had been billed for duck houses, moat cleaning and that some MPs had made money out of mortgage claims.

The leaked figures resulted in four Parliamentarians being jailed for fraudulent accounting while thousands of pounds was paid back to the public purse by MPs.

Voters were rightly angry at the actions of the few, and trust in politicians fell to an all-time low.

But Westminster, it must be stressed, is a different beast these days.

Post-expenses scandal reforms led to the creation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).

As a response to the furore, IPSA decided that MPs' salaries should rise by 10 per cent last year, from £67,000 to £74,000.

Salaries had stood still for years, leading to expenses – pre-2009 – being supposedly encouraged as a way of counterbalancing the lack of a pay-rise.

Grimsby MP Melanie Onn claimed 54p for a 1.2-mile journey and Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers for a £450 mobile phone bill abroad.

But Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy claimed the most out of the Northern Lincolnshire representatives in October and November, filing for £9,249 during the two months.

Mr Percy claimed £135 for Hebrew lessons.

The ex-Hull councillor said that top-of-the-table position was "not a fair assessment" overall, with claims amongst MPs often levelling out over the course of the year.

He said part of the reason his running costs were higher was due to operating two constituency offices, along with paying a number of bills in advance.

He has an office in both Brigg and Goole to make it as convenient as possible for constituents to book appointments to see him.

"You have to remember that I run two constituency offices because I represent two counties. I have twice the office costs," Mr Percy said.

"But this all comes out of the same year's budget. I don't make anything out of this. It all comes out of my pocket and I claim it back."

The Conservative recently incurred additional costs of £1,000 due to moving his Brigg office to Old Courts Road.

He paid £355 in removal costs and £645 to paint and repair the old office door.

"The door had come off its hinges and, according to the lease, we had to paint the door every three years and repair any damage," the Eurosceptic explained.

"We have moved to a smaller property and we are saving money for the tax payers as it is half the rental of my former office."

A member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, the former teacher is currently learning Hebrew and pays for the some of the lessons himself whilst claiming for others as part of his professional development.

He regularly goes to Israel to meet with ministers and also makes media appearances while in the Middle East.

He said he found it "embarrassing" that he relied on his political colleagues speaking English or on translators and so took up lessons to be able to converse in their native tongue.

Louth MP Victoria Atkins claimed for £3,678 overall in October and November, while Sir Edward Leigh, who represents Gainsborough, claimed the least, submitting receipts worth £2,206.

Ms Atkins spent £768 on a temporary assistant and also splashed out £726 on printer ink cartridges.

She was unavailable for comment when approached by the Grimsby Telegraph.

Veteran MP Sir Edward, elected in 1983, kept his claims low thanks to a cheap rental agreement on his constituency office, which is situated in Union Street in Market Rasen.

He pays only £154 a month.

Sir Edward did not want to comment on how he had stumbled upon such a reasonable deal and was modest when asked how he kept his bills down.

He said: "Most of it is down to good management on the part of my staff, but of course some bills are quarterly or annual so expenses will vary from month to month."

The odd surprise bill or office touch-up aside, it is fair to say MPs expenses are far less eventful these days, thanks to a more transparent system.

And while it must be uncomfortable for our representatives to have to "bare all" when it comes to their finances, it can only be a good thing for gaining the public's trust once again.

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