Monday, 21 December 2009

Levitt - already breaking the new rules

Released alongside the expenses details for the year 2008-2009 were details for the first quarter of 2009-2010, under the renamed Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure allowance (PAAE).

This PDF contains the claim forms for April, May and June 2009, which were submitted on 23rd June 2009. In his weekly column two weeks earlier* (entitled 'Humility', without a trace of irony), Levitt had spoken of MPs "indulgences in an anarchic system of spending rules (sic)". Yet the PDF shows that Levitt had not grasped the now simplified expenses rules at all. The PAAE files contain a letter from the Fees Office reminding Levitt of said rules:

Effective from 20 May Members may now only use PAAE to claim rent, including ground rent, hotel accommodation, overnight subsistence, mortgage interest ... council tax, service charges, utility bills ..., insurance.

Therefore, we can no longer reimburse you for Broadband, garage rental and cleaning charges. Your claims have been reduced accordingly.

Levitt had overclaimed by £335. We'll remind Tom of his words in his column of 1st June** (entitled 'restoring trust in politics') - "Let me repeat that where the law has been broken or rules disobeyed then appropriate punishment should follow". In his column of 18th May 2009*** (entitled 'Statement on MPs' Expenses'), Tom made the following statement:

MPs generally are neither criminals nor fools; but we are all human and therefore fallible. Parliament has lost people’s trust and we need to win it back.
Levitt clearly felt so strongly about winning that trust back that just over a month later, he was submitting illegitimate claims. It must be his fallibility - after all, he's only human.

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab
**when this link no longer works, try this screen grab
***when this link no longer works, try this screen grab

'Hungry' Tom Levitt and the MPs trough

One of the more interesting aspects of the Additional Cost Allowance claim documents released the other week is some of the correspondence between Tom Levitt and the Fees office.

On page 27 of the PDF, Levitt asks for guidance from the Fees Office in relation to his claims for food. Levitt states that for the year 2006-2007, he used a formula he has devised himself of claiming £18 for each day the House of Commons was in session. However, Levitt has convinced himself that this is insufficient, and raised in to £25 per 'sitting day' from April of 2008. Noting that £30 per day has been 'mentioned', he is arguably keen to find out if he can claim even more.

In any case, Levitt claimed £3750 for food in the year 2008-2009. This equates to £72 per week over 52 weeks of the year, or £10 each day (never mind 'sitting days').

But what makes Levitt's figures even more scandalous is the fact that the Houses of Parliament has numerous cafes, bars and restaurants that are already subsidised by the taxpayer. In February 2008, the Daily Mail reported that MPs "can enjoy three-course meals plus coffee for as little as £10.55", with this subsidy amounting to £13,041 each day. Yes, you read that right: MPs can claim expenses to pay for their meals which are already subsidised by us in order to keep the cost down.

Pigs with their snouts in the trough indeed...

Levitt - Ready, Steady, Crook!

We thought we'd walk you through a pictorial selection of Tom Levitt's Additional Cost Allowance claims, specifically those relating to his kitchen. So here we go.

First up is a claim for a cooker hob, specifically a Neff T1323X0 Ceramic Hob in Black. Teresa bought this in June 2008, a bargain at £449, but such a costly item clearly needs a warranty, and Mrs Levitt decided to take out 5 year cover for this item at the cost of £49.

6 days later in July, Teresa ordered a sink, this time a Blanco Classic 6S. This item costs £350, and unlike the one in the picture it had a left hand sink.

No modern kitchen is complete without a microwave, and Teresa's conscience clearly dictated she economise with a Panasonic NNE255, a snip at £59.

The last items on this little spree were a Microplane Fine Grater (£18) and John Lewis' own Soft Grip General Purpose Scissors (£13.50).

In March this year, the Levitt's completely refurbished their kitchen. They spent £189 on a Baumatic BT6-3GL cooker hood.

Strangely, there are no claims for a cooker itself, but the list of items claimed to re-style their kitchen is very long (it can be found on page 86 on the PDF) and they charged the taxpayer £5820.

When you're considering all this, keep in mind that the Fees office considered that all of these items were costs "wholly and exclusively incurred for the purpose of performing Parliamentary duties", as Tom is always keen to point out.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Tom Levitt's Barclays Premier account

One interesting thing that's worth noting from the PDF containing Tom Levitt's expense claims are the copies of bank statements. Whilst most of the details have been redacted, it's not these that interest us anyway. The statements make it clear that Tom and his wife Teresa have a 'Premier' account with Barclays.

If you pop along to the Barclays website for this account, you have to meet one of the following criteria to obtain this type of account:

1. Have an income of £100,000+, or
2. Have an income of £60,000+ if you are less than 35 years old or hold a business relationship with Barclays, or
3. Have £50,000+ to save and invest

Number 2 is clearly ruled out on grounds of Levitt's age. We think that number 3 is the most likely criteria that Levitt has used to get this account - but who knows, perhaps he has other (undisclosed) interests which mean he earns more than £100,000 each year?

Levitt's claims: 2008-2009 ACA claims

We've now updated our spreadsheet of Tom Levitt's expenses claims to take into account the latest figures released for his 2008-2009 claims. The spreadsheet can be found online at this link.

Under the general headings, the official total claimed by Levitt for this period was £20,522.58. However, we have carefully gone through the PDF that contains the details of his claims and can only seem to reconcile the figure of £20,526.18, which is £3.60 more than the official total.

Therefore, using our figures, these are the amounts claimed by Levitt for the financial year 2008-2009 under the Additional Costs Allowance:

Mortgage - £5,952.22
Food - £3,750.00
Utilities - £847.63
Council Tax - £1,093.64
Telephone & Comms - £250.00
Cleaning - £703.00
Service/maintenance - £1,136.67
Repairs/Insurance/Security - £286.96

Below is a selection of 'other' items claimed during the same period:

Bedding - £82.08
Ceramic Hob, Sink Kit, Microwave - £938.50
TV Licence - £139.50
Kitchen utensils - £178.00
Garage rental - £414.00
Valance - £15.99
Low energy light bulbs - £23.97
Cooker hood - £189.00
Kitchen refurbishment - £5,820.00
Hair clippers - £24.99

Friday, 18 December 2009

The Buxton Advertiser slams Levitt over latest expenses revelations

The Buxton Advertiser were this week the only local newspaper to take up the issue of the latest revelations about Tom Levitt's 2008/2009 expenses claims. You may remember that the revelations last week came too late for the newspapers.

Journalist Michael Broomhead - who previously seemed to be letting Levitt off lightly regarding the Capital Gains Tax issue - has now laid into him, choosing to highlight his smaller claims for hair clippers (£24.99) and a wine glass (£21.50), and contrasting this with the hardship being suffered by many at this time of year.

Now just over a week ago, we did promise a fuller analysis. Suffice to say we're working on it, and will be back shortly...

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Levitt- shop 'til you drop

It's that time of year again - yes, more revelations about expenses claims is breaking news today. And Tom Levitt has really done himself proud.

A fuller analysis of the revelations today will have to wait, but in the meantime, here are a few tidbits:
  • Levitt claimed £938.50 for a ceramic hob, sink kit and other items from John Lewis in June 2008.
  • Levitt claimed £24.99 for 'hair clippers' in July 2008, but his claim was refused by the fees office, as it was felt it was a "personal item and not a cost wholly and exclusively incurred for the purpose of performing your Parliamentary duties"
  • Levitt claimed £5820.00 in March 2009 to refurbish the Kitchen in his London flat. In a letter to the fees office, he explained the existing kitchen consisted of "1970s Kitchen storage units which need replacing. The goods have been obtained at a substantial discount", thank god...
You can view the claims and associated documents in this PDF. There'll be more news and analysis as we get it

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Poetry corner - in memoriam, Tom Levitt MP*

So. Farewell
Then Tom Levitt.

So I think
You made
Right decision.

You were
That if Mr Kelly's proposals were implemented
You would not get a good

So indeed
Probably time to get out!

E Jarvis Thribb (age 17 ½)

*we're very pleased that an avid reader of this blog sent in a pastiche of the well known Poetry Corner poems that regularly appear in Private Eye.

How much is Levitt's 'Golden Parachute'?

We thought we'd do some research about how much Tom Levitt is likely to cash in when he stands down at the next election.

Aside from a final salary pension scheme and lump sum payment (about which we have no details at present), there's the controversial so-called "golden parachute" payment (aka Resettlement Grant), which is officially paid to "assist with the costs of adjusting to non-parliamentary life".

It is calculated on the basis of the MP's age and length of service. So, by the time Levitt stands down next May, he will be 56, and will have served as an MP for 13 years. Using the ready-reckoner on this page (Table A), we can see that means he will qualify for a lump sum payment of 84% of his annual salary - based on the current MPs salary this will be £54,403. The first £30,000 of this is tax-free.

But that's not all. MPs are also entitled to a "winding up" allowance, which is supposed to pay for office costs and staff redundancy. Of course, this means that Tom will be able to make payments to the family members he has employed. This allowance can be up to £42,068. It is an aptly named allowance, but it is not a wind-up.

Don't believe Levitt's crocodile tears about this whole episode. The weakness of the local Labour Party in not moving to deselect him as an MP sooner means that he is laughing all the way to the bank. For the local newspapers that have chosen to regurgitate Levitt's press release for their 'exclusive story', this is the bit they are missing, deliberately in our view. The gravy train continues to roll on to the final destination.

Breaking news: Levitt to stand down at the next election

The Glossop Advertiser and Buxton Advertiser are reporting the news that Tom Levitt has issued a statement informing the world that he plans to stand down as an MP at the next General Election. The statement from his website* is below:
“I have informed the Labour Party that I shall not be a candidate at the next general election. After the current Parliament I would like to spend more time with my wife, our children and grandchildren. I would also like to do something different in the work environment. Between now and the election I will work as hard as ever, both to support my constituents and help secure a fourth term for Labour in government.

“The last six months have been torrid. Rightly, MPs have suffered collective as well as individual criticism for the scandalous mess of parliamentary allowances. Steps are now being taken to stop MPs deciding on our own expenses, pay and conditions ever again. This is the right thing to do. We need to demonstrate that a line has been drawn. New levels of transparency, compliance and enforcement can restore confidence in Parliament and the democratic system.

“I am proud to serve the people of High Peak in Parliament and I have done my best to be diligent on behalf of constituents. I have also been committed to legislation which, I believe, has improved life for ordinary people in High Peak and elsewhere. There is still much which needs to be done and I will continue to work for the people of High Peak until this Parliament is dissolved.

“I thank so many people in communities across High Peak for their support, indulgence and friendship over 20 years. This group extends beyond my natural political allies. My proudest memories will be the acquisition of the Devonshire Royal site for the University of Derby and the central role of High Peak in the pursuit of the historic right to roam.”
No doubt that because local Labour Party members were so miffed at being unable to deselect Levitt at the last meeting 2 weeks ago, that more and more pressure was piled upon him to step down. Without wanting to sound too boastful, the work of this blog has contributed to that, whereas the role of the local press in High Peak has been to give Levitt an easy time.

What is less than surprising is that Levitt has chosen to stay on in his well-paid and well-upholstered job for another few months rather than resign now, forcing a by-election. One can imagine that the local Labour Party want time to select and campaign for a new candidate, which is not surprising. But it also means that Levitt gets a very generous 'golden handshake', once more at our expense. We may be back with details of what that is likely to be in due course.

In the meantime, we're running a new poll - should Levitt stay until the election, or just go now?

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Gunpowder, treason and plot

We feel it's highly appropriate to mark the end of a further burst of activity for this blog with a hat-tip to its inspiration: V for Vendetta. Whilst the graphic novel is far superior in political terms to the recent film adaptation, the finale is a timely reminder to all politicians how hated and despised they are, and how fragile is the membrane of consent that exists which allows them to do what they do to the rest of us.

With Tom Levitt seemingly safe until the next election, and with much of the Kelly Report's recommendations no doubt destined for fudge, we may well pop back with more news at some point over the next few months. Until then, enjoy the fireworks!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Kelly's Report is no surprise - and Levitt survives (for now)

Today was the official launch of the report by Sir Christopher Kelly into MPs' expenses. After the leaks last week, there are few surprises from what we already knew.

What has been clarified is that the changes will be phased in over the next five years. So they will only affect Tom (& Teresa) Levitt if Tom manages to retain his seat at the next election - something which we imagine not even he will be banking on (if you pardon the pun).

In addition, there is some clarity regarding capital gains tax. In future, any gains have to be refunded to the exchequer - so Levitt at last learns about that which he had sought clarification back in May in Parliament. Whatever profit Levitt has made through his 'legal tax dodge', he gets to keep.

Back in his constituency, we understand Levitt faced more anger and discontent at last Friday's Constituency Labour Party meeting. Despite the rising discontent, we understand that Labour Party rules do not allow the local Party to deselect Levitt as the candidate in the next election due to the proximity of the General Election.

Whether or not anyone in the local Party will campaign for him next year is another matter.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Sir Christopher Kelly takes the wheels off Levitt's gravy train

Details of the much awaited report into MPs expenses by Sir Christopher Kelly have started to emerge before it is published next week. And the revelations should give Tom Levitt cause for concern (that is if he seriously thinks he stands a chance of being re-elected). The recommendations so far revealed would affect Levitt as follows:

Second homes can only be rented in future, and not have the mortgage interest costs covered: as we know, Levitt has always claimed for his second home in Lambeth. Under the new proposals, if he remained an MP he'd have to sell that home within 4 years.

A ban on MPs employing family members: Levitt employs his wife, Teresa, as his 'Parliamentary Assistant' and also his stepdaughter, Victoria Fletcher, as a part-time junior secretary. If Mrs Levitt is as good at her job as Tom insists*, we wish her luck in her search for employment with another MP when Tom is dumped by voters in the High Peak next year.

One thing that won't change, according to the Telegraph, is the limited scope of the ongoing Legg inquiry in failing to examine the capital gains tax dodge that Levitt has taken advantage of. This is supposedly the doing of the new Speaker, John Bercow, who took advantage of the tax-dodge himself. Whether the Kelly report closes that loophole is another matter that should concern Levitt, as we pointed out last week.

In the meantime, there is a meeting of the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) this Friday (30th October), and we've no doubt that the capital gains tax issue will be on the agenda. Councillor Anthony McKeown, the secretary of the CLP and previously a Levitt loyalist, has already openly criticised Levitt over his behaviour regarding the Legg letter, which is presumably a bad omen for Levitt if not a move towards a Putsch. Will the CLP have the bottle to consider deselecting Levitt, as we have called for them to consider before, or do they wish to share his fate come the election next year? We'll see.

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Levitt Caption competition

Just a little reminder about our caption competition. We didn't set a deadline, but to keep things fresh, let's just say we'll close it a week from now. Keep those captions coming in!

We think it's time we had a little competition here on this website. So given the recent revival of the MPs' expenses scandal (and the inversely proportional decline in Tom Levitt's fortunes), we think it's time the public took the piss out of Tom for a change.

Have a look at the photo opposite, and come up with a caption and/or a quote (in the style of Private Eye). The prize? Just that smug, warm feeling that you're an amusing smart-arse. To enter, you can either email us, or leave a comment on this post.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Levitt confesses to Capital Gains Tax-dodge

Tom Levitt has now publicly confessed to his 'legal' avoidance of capital gains tax:
When asked about the claims ... he confirmed that no tax was paid on the sale
Two local newspapers have decided to take up the exclusive story about Tom Levitt's tax affairs that was broken on this website last Sunday and continued on Monday. There are significant - and contradictory - differences between each story.

So let's start with the contradictions. In the Buxton Advertiser, Levitt is apparently quoted as saying that our allegation that he was able to avoid capital gains tax "is not true" whilst the article in the Glossop Advertiser reveals the quote to actually be a press release which lazy journalists in the Buxton paper - seemingly with a political axe to grind - have decided to 'cut and paste' to suit their story. Here's the same phrase appearing in the (much better) Advertiser story (emphasis added):
The innuendo and implication in the poisonous stories currently circulating is that I was involved in something underhand. This is not true and I resent this...
See how the meaning has been changed?

The Buxton Advertiser is also badly off-target with the main thrust of our blog articles. It mentions that Legg had given Levitt a clean bill of health regarding 'flipping' - but we never accused Levitt of that in the first place. We're not sure the journalist knows what he's talking about.

Ultimately, Levitt is in denial about the main issue before not only him, but his party. That is that he chose to conceal the "legal" capital gains tax-dodge despite concerns raised by those in his party when the expenses scandal broke. This issue is tackled by neither newspaper, and the main focus is on the 'Legg refund'..

What is worse for High Peak Labour Party is that, so far, they have failed to bring this issue to the attention of the public in an open way. Although Councillor Anthony McKeown has criticised Levitt's openness regarding the Legg letter, we know that he knew about the capital gains tax-dodge, but did not speak out about it. And clearly, the atmosphere in the local Labour Party is poor, or we would not have people contacting us with the information. This 'invisible' show of public unity with Levitt by local Councillors may be 'party discipline', but it also means that are busy lashing themselves to the mast of Levitt's sinking ship.

No doubt there'll be more to say about these issues in due course.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Levitt was worried about capital gains tax in May 2009

Our research has discovered that Tom Levitt asked questions about MPs' expenses and capital gains tax in the House of Commons in May of this year, just as the whole expenses issue was breaking out into the open.

You may remember this debate as being the one where the Speaker at the time, Michael Martin, was later heavily criticised for his behaviour, especially the way he dealt with Kaye Hoey MP and David Winnick MP. Earlier in the debate, the MP for Bassetlaw, John Mann, had sought to clarify whether an amendment he had proposed in an earlier session regarding MPs expenses and capital gains tax declarations would be valid (emphasis added):
On 3 July 2008, amendment (f), which I proposed, was agreed unanimously and without dissent by the House. It removed the ability of Members of the House to designate separate homes as main homes for capital gains tax purposes as opposed to main homes for expenses.
Later in the same session, Tom Levitt made his only contribution to the debate with the following (see the video above):
Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), Mr. Speaker. Whatever the outcome of the discussions he has with the House of Commons Commission, is it your belief that any such change on the question of the nomination of homes could not be retrospective and therefore would not apply to any of the information currently in the public domain?
Now we wondered at the time exactly what the point of all this was. But because information has been given to us revealing that Levitt avoided capital gains tax, it all starts to add up. Levitt is clearly concerned that any changes in the rules which were retrospective would land him with a large bill, not to mention the embarrassment it would cause. What other reason would Levitt have for intervening in the debate in such a manner?

Legg latest: Levitt spills the beans?

In a complete volte-face from his position only 7 days ago, Tom Levitt has sought to dampen down the flames of discontent surrounding his decision to keep the contents of his 'Legg letter' secret by revealing it was a bill after all. He issued this statement today:
Tom Levitt has agreed to repay to the House of Commons £389 as requested by Sir Thomas Legg. This is in respect of a sofa bed purchased in 2004 which Sir Thomas has deemed ‘extravagant’ even though the Fees Office approved it at the time. He said “Had I been asked to pay this balance at the time I would readily have agreed to do so
Remember that Levitt had said to the Independent that he'd rather resign than repay his expenses. He's clearly a man who likes to make decisions - and then completely change his mind. A true politician.

However, Levitt's critic of this morning, Councillor Anthony McKeown, throws a little hint that this may not be the end of the matter:
Whilst I don't know if this is the full details or not (of the letter)...
Indeed, we have to take Tom's word that this is all there was to the letter. After all, why get so steamed up about repaying £389? We await the local press later in the week with much interest.

But in the meantime, it's worth reflecting on all of this sofa bed business. Looking at the details of Levitt's Additional Cost Allowance claim for the year 2004-2005, you find that the total cost of the sofa bed was £1,599. Clearly, Legg considers that a reasonable price for a sofa bed is £1210 (!). The issue of why the public should subsidise Levitt's furniture is a point completely lost on a twerp like Legg, hardly surprising since he was appointed by Gordon Brown in the first place.

If Tom Levitt thinks this has now resolved the whole matter, and that we can now all get back to things as normal, he must think we were born yesterday. Apart from anything else, there's still the not insignificant issue of the capital gains tax.

Levitt criticised by Labour Councillor for stance on Legg letter

The first sign of anyone breaking previously loyal ranks has come this morning, with Councillor Anthony McKeown criticising Tom Levitt for his stance on the Legg letter:
the earlier openness on the expenses issues should be replicated now or does the earlier comments from Tom on those MP’s who will not be forgiven from bringing their role into disrepute no longer apply
...which is pretty much what we said last week. It'll be interesting to see how many other Councillors join with Councillor McKeown, or alternatively, how Levitt responds to this criticism.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Exclusive: Tom Levitt the tax dodger

Some of you may have noticed stories in the press in the past few days referring to the fact that Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) are investigating the tax affairs of 27 MPs.

You may also remember that other MPs - in particular James Purnell - have faced criticism for not paying capital gains tax (CGT) on the sale of properties purchased with expenses. The way this scam works is that an MP describes one home as their main residence to the HMRC in order to avoid paying CGT when it is sold, whilst at the same time describing it as their second home to the Parliamentary fees office in order to be able to claim on expenses for the mortgage payments prior to sale. All of this is entirely legal, but as we've pointed out before, that does not make it right.

Tonight, we can exclusively reveal that Tom Levitt has taken full advantage of the law in order to profit from a home he has bought and sold with taxpayers money. Sources have revealed to us that when Levitt sold his first London flat as an MP, he told the Revenue it was his main residence whilst telling the fees office it was his second home.

When the expenses scandal broke in May of this year, you may recall how adamant Levitt was* that he had never 'flipped' the designation of his first and second home, unlike MPs such as Hazel Blears and others who subsequently faced a storm of criticism in the press. He may have been telling the truth, but if our sources are right then this was merely a smokescreen to conceal the capital gains tax scam from the press and public.

Levitt's words on these matters are returning to haunt him. You may remember that when the Telegraph originally turned the spotlight on him in May, he said that "as a former member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, my conscience is clear". He may want to think again now he has been caught concealing the truth for months.

You would have thought that things couldn't look much worse for Levitt, but this revelation proves what slippery snake this individual really is. The truth must out, and he has a lot more explaining to do than he did this time last week.

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Levitt: 'I'd rather quit than repay expenses'

The Buxton Advertiser has today picked up a nugget from a story in yesterday's Independent. At a meeting of Labour MPs in Parliament on Monday in which Gordon Brown told MPs to comply with the Legg audit findings, Tom Levitt stated that we would sooner quit than repay any expenses:
Another MP, Tom Levitt, told Mr Brown that he would "consider his position at the next election" rather than return expenses he believes he claimed fully in accordance with the rules.
However, talking to the Buxton Advertiser, Levitt appeared to be backtracking somewhat:
"I was describing emotions, not intentions. And I was speaking before anyone had received the letters – a classic example of Chinese whispers, as no journalist heard what I said at a private meeting."
But then the Buxton Advertiser is keen to point out that they have spoken to the political editor of the Independent, Andrew Grice, who said the Indie had spoken directly to Levitt. Someone is telling lies.

Another newspaper, the Derby Telegraph, is keen to point out that, along with Margaret Beckett, Levitt is the only other Derbyshire MP to have refused to reveal the details of their Legg letter.

Tom Levitt now finds himself well and truly in a hole. If some reports that many MPs simply can't financially afford to repay what have been asked are true, then Levitt must be amongst them. After all, if this was a matter of a few hundred pounds (perhaps even a couple of thousand), surely Levitt would bite the bullet and pay it back, and tell everyone he'd done so, just to keep the matter further away from people's minds come the election?

But despite this news, it's still no clearer what Levitt's Legg letter has said. At first glance, his comments to Gordon Brown seem to indicate he's had a bill, and doesn't want to pay it. But remember that Levitt's second home doesn't have a Garden and his cleaning bills are below the limits set retrospectively by Legg. So what else is it?

Perhaps it's Levitt's mortgage that has attracted attention? Legg has apparently requested mortgage statements rather than bank statements as evidence to look into mortgage claims. Remember that the Telegraph revealed he had over-claimed by £6,000, with Levitt saying he had paid it back when he realised a 'mistake' had been made.

There are perhaps many more questions that can be asked, and we hope that the Buxton Advertiser continues to "go the extra mile", rather than be content to simply regurgitate Levitt's press releases, like the Glossop Advertiser et al (a print article so small that it doesn't even make it onto their website).

We're sure we're not alone in our thoughts about Levitt's latest comments - if repaying money you have ripped off from us is such a big deal, why wait until the next election - for god's sake GO NOW.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Levitt's not 'Leggless' - but his lips are sealed

Tom Levitt has issued the briefest of press releases today regarding his 'Legg letter':
Tom Levitt MP has made the following statement in the light of press interest in the latest developments of the Legg enquiry on MPs' expenses:

"Like every other MP I have received a letter from Sir Thomas Legg. It is a letter which invites discussion on certain issues, it is not a bill to be paid as some parts of the press would have us believe. I will be replying to this private correspondence in due course."
So there we are then. It's a 'private matter', and none of our business. One thing is clear - he's not exonerated, otherwise he'd be telling the world he's got a clean bill of health. So either he has been asked to repay something, or been asked for more information - tell us what you think it will be in our new poll, top right of the blog.

Back in a June Column for local newspaper*s, Levitt commented about his contituent's concerns thus:
...people want to be kept informed of developments in the issues that interest them. They have a right to be told.
He also said this in another column in the same month**:
those MPs who have done most to bring our role into disrepute will not be forgiven easily
Does this mean that Tom Levitt thinks it is reputable to seek forgiveness by publishing his expenses details online in June, but now to withhold further information? Is that not completely disreputable?

Either way, he hasn't escaped unscathed. Will the local press make an issue of it? Or will they give him an easy ride, as they did during the summer? Watch this space.

*when this link no longer works, you can try this screen grab
**when this link no longer works, you can try this screen grab

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

What's in Levitt's 'Legg Letter'?

Several months have gone by since this website ran a story about Tom Levitt's expenses. To a certain extent, the website reflected wider coverage in the media, and as Parliament wound up for the Summer, the debate moved elsewhere. In truth, the local press avoided putting difficult questions to Levitt, and Levitt himself did the least amount possible to hold himself up to scrutiny, as you'd expect of any politician.

But as you may have by now noticed, the issue has now come onto the agenda again with the audit of MPs' expenses by Sir Thomas Legg. All MPs received a letter yesterday concerning their Additional Cost Allowance claims for the past 5 years - some were exonerated, some asked to repay monies which Legg adjudged to have breached new limits he had applied retrospectively (which seems to be causing a lot of ire amongst MPs), and other have been asked for more information to aid further investigation. In addition, MPs will have also received emails about their mortgage claims.

But so far, there's silence from Levitt. Readers may remember how hasty he was to explain himself back in May when the Telegraph tuned the spotlight on his expenses. If he gets a clean bill of health from Legg, you'd expect him to shout it from the rooftops shortly. Either way, the last thing Levitt needs at the moment is further attention on his expenses in the run up to the General Election next year.

In the meantime, it's worth watching this page on the Times website which will update with information about all MPs' interactions with Legg as and when the information is obtained by them.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Local media picks up the Council Tax story and a new, national story

All the local papers have picked up our "Council Tax over-claim" story today: you can read the Buxton Advertiser version here, and the Glossop Advertiser version here. The Glossop Chronicle's version - the only publication that gives credit to this website for breaking the story - is not yet online.

Levitt's explanation for the over-claim? That is was (another) 'mistake' - albeit one that he didn't make before 2006/2007 - and the money has now been 'repaid'. Standard fayre for any chiseling MP in our opinion.

Also hinted at in the Buxton Advertiser is a story from the Times about Levitt's use of his Communications Allowance which will return to summarise ourselves in due course.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Levitt over-claimed for his Council Tax

Yesterday, the Telegraph looked at how some MPs have claimed more for Council Tax on their expenses claims than the Council Tax actually costs. Today, we can reveal that Tom Levitt can be counted amongst those MPs.

In the original Telegraph article on Levitt, he tells us he bought his current 'second home' in Lambeth in early 2005. Looking at Levitt's claims for Council Tax from the April 2005 tax year and also the spreadsheet of his claims we placed online, we can compare them with the Council Tax rates in Lambeth which can be found in a PDF on this page:
  • 2006/2007 - claimed £1200.00, actual Council Tax £1004.40 (an over-claim of £195.60)
  • 2007/2008 - claimed £1267.32, actual Council Tax £1055.32 (an over-claim of £212.00)
When one looks at Levitt's claims for these years, it's immediately clear that something is wrong: Council Tax is payable over 10 months (or 40 weeks) from April of each year through to January of the following year, yet Levitt has claimed for 12 months. Looking at the 2007/2008, the first 10 months of his claim add up to £1055.32, which is the same as Band C Council Tax in Lambeth.

We've no doubt that Levitt will put this down as a 'mistake', yet we all know that a Council Tax Bill make it perfectly clear the amount that is due each month for 10 months, with payment schedules being clearly printed.

When the Telegraph publish full details of all MPs' expenses on their website this coming Tuesday, we'll see whether or not Levitt has continued this practice for the last financial year.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Redaction & 'privacy'

Excuse us for going on a short break, but a certain amount has happened since we last blogged!

If you've been anywhere near a newspaper, TV or radio, you'll have noticed the hoo-har over the past few days about the mass 'redaction' of the MPs expenses documentation published by the House of Commons yesterday. We're told that the explanation for the redaction of, for example, an MP's address is for security reasons.

But do people know that this info is public anyway? Well yes it is - when candidates are nominated for a General Election, their addresses are published. For example, this page on the High Peak Borough Council website has the nomination details for the 2005 General Election, and this file (PDF) has all the candidates names and addresses.

This is how we learn Tom Levitt lives at Flat 2, 3 The Square, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 6AZ. It can be found here on Google Maps and is embedded at the foot of this blog post.

View Larger Map

Thursday, 4 June 2009

This one's on us Tom - put this on your expenses

This is possibly the one thing we wouldn't begrudge Tom Levitt putting on his expenses claim. More details here.

Levitt - taking the piss out of the public

Less than a week after we rumbled Teresa Levitt joking about her husband's expenses claims, Tom Levitt has now joined in.

His facebook status reader on his homepage shows he's joking about using the hairdryer he used £19.99 of our money to buy to treat Athlete's Foot (see below or go to Tom's website).

Our advice to Tom is don't make a bad situation worse - you deserve to cop a loud of outrage at your 'public' meeting tomorrow night (details here).

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Meeting about expenses with Tom Levitt - Friday 5th June in Chapel-en-le-Frith

Some of our readers have been in touch to inform us that Tom Levitt has been emailing constituents inviting them to attend a meeting he has called regarding his expenses. You can read the email by following this link, or look at the text below:
Interest in MPs’ expenses continues and I remain anxious to be completely open about this issue.

Following a successful meeting last week, I am organising a second opportunity for people to question me on:

Friday 5 June - 7pm

The Old Packhorse, Market Street
Chapel-en-le-Frith SK23 0NT

I will give a presentation on the expenses system as well as my own record and then answer any questions. Please let me know if you wish to attend.
We're not sure why Tom isn't publicising this meeting on his website, since it has been sent to some of his constituents that have been in touch with him. But as the meeting is clearly aimed at his constituents, then we thought we'd do our bit to help him publicise it. 

We'll be there. But we'd like to hear your reports about what the meeting brings, so get in touch. 

Levitt's public meeting & poll results

Labour Councillor Anthony McKeown is reporting on his blog that Tom Levitt last week held a meeting in Hayfield for constituents that had contacted him about his expenses. All told, 20 people attended, which perhaps suggests that Levitt has been rather selective in his invitations. Councillor McKeown goes some way to confirming suspicions we have when he says that this included Labour Party members. 

Since Councillor McKeown's account is the only one that we have, we can only take his word for it that those present were 'supportive of his actions', whatever that means. But it's strange that these are seemingly invite-only meetings - this meeting has not been highlighted in the press, nor on Levitt's website, or anywhere else. 

Councillor McKeown also continues to tell us that Tom met his Constituency Party last Friday, and we detect a little dig at our previous blog calling for the CLP to deselect Levitt:

One thing however that the discussion didn't look for was for Tom to stand down or for the constituency party to start the process to deselect him

But our poll (see top right of the side column) shows that 86% of respondents want the CLP to deselect Levitt. Whilst we don't pretend that this indicates any kind of earth-shattering rejection of Levitt, it's clear that holding invite-only meetings is no way to show you are accountable to the electorate.

And whilst the CLP may make the decision about who the official Labour candidate is in elections for the Member of Parliament, they will have plenty of time to reflect on their choices when Levitt loses his seat at the next election. It will be too late then to choose someone who has not used taxpayer's money to spend on such frivolous items as hairdryers and electric toothbrushes. 

One only has to look at the comments that Levitt's website is attracting to see that people in the High Peak are very angry indeed about the issue. Now that the CLP have lashed themselves to the mast of the sinking ship of Tom Levitt's career, they'll have no room at all to criticise those who vote for anyone but this crook next time around. 

Friday, 29 May 2009

Mrs Levitt jokes about expenses claims

The keen observer will notice that Tom Levitt is making a big public effort to face up to his critics and is frantically spinning as fast as he can: on his website, in the press, even on High Peak Radio.

But whilst there's plenty to comment about in all of this, we thought you'd like to see what Mrs Teresa Levitt - Tom's wife and PA (i.e. we pay her wages) - is saying about the whole thing. 

She's making light of it, and in public too - see below.
The above image is a grab of Tom's facebook page, and shows an exchange of views about his claim revelations. Note how Teresa Levitt sees the funny side of of it all - she'd hate to polish Gold. Perhaps they should take a leaf out of The Tory MP John Butterfill's book and employ a servant to do all that cleaning?

Note: since we posted this blog, Tom's facebook page has had comments removed from public view.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Poll & online spreadsheet of Tom Levitt's ACA claims

Having now read the documents published by Tom Levitt yesterday regarding his expenses, we have now collectively produced a spreadsheet with full details of the Additional Costs Allowance ('second home') claims made between 2004-2008, and this is now online and can be read by following this link.

Please note that the miscellaneous claims, and any other significant information, is annotated on the spreadsheet. 

We have also detailed the claims in individual posts for each financial year as follows:

Also note that we have recorded details of all claims made, and not necessarily monies paid out, or corrected later. We feel it's important that people know what Levitt asked for, rather than what he was given. In any event, the amount of money he has claimed, and what he has claimed for, will astound most people.

In the meantime, we have set up a poll, which you can view at the top of the sidebar. Our initial poll asks whether or not you think Tom Levitt's Constituency Labour Party should have him deselected over the issue of his expenses.

Levitt's claims: 2007-2008 ACA claims

Please read our general post about Tom Levitt's Additional Costs Allowance claims between 2004-2008. The totals are the amounts claimed, but not necessarily paid out.

Under the general headings, these are the amounts claimed by Levitt for the financial year 2007-2008 under the Additional Costs Allowance:

Mortgage - £6,424.34  
Food - £Bold2,916.00
Utilities - £780.00  
Council Tax - £1,267.32  
Telephone & Comms £420.00  
Cleaning - £568.53
Service/maintenance - £1,287.64  
Repairs/Insurance/Security - £455.98

Below is a selection of 'other' items claimed during the same period:

Table - £60.00
Cleaning materials - £20.00
TV Licence  - £136.48
Garage rental - £229.14
Clock/Radio/CD - £99.99
Vacuum Cleaner - £79.99
Cleaning materials - £10.00
Furniture - £ 59.99
Furniture - £ 16.99
Furniture - £ 76.98
External cleaning materials, DIY - £ 20.00
Kitchen equipment - £29.99
Deposit, bathroom furniture replacement - £675.00
Bathroom furniture - £1,577.76
Sideboard - £795.00
Batteries - £10.45
Kitchen tap - £229.83

Levitt's Claims: 2006-2007 ACA claims

Please read our general post about Tom Levitt's Additional Costs Allowance claims between 2004-2008. The totals are the amounts claimed, but not necessarily paid out.

Under the general headings, these are the amounts claimed by Levitt for the financial year 2006-2007 under the Additional Costs Allowance:

Hotel Stays - £683.48
Mortgage - £9,474.77  
Food - £Bold2,368.00
Utilities - £600.00  
Council Tax - £1,200.00  
Telephone & Comms £360.00  
Cleaning - £444.50
Service/maintenance - £1,287.64  
Repairs/Insurance/Security - £187.97

Below is a selection of 'other' items claimed during the same period:

Tiling - £84.69
Radio Alarm - £42.00
Towels - £44.00
Home Broadband - £119.94
Iron - £29.90
TV Licence - £98.61
Electric toothbrush - £49.99
Hair drier (?) - £19.99
Clippers - £24.99
Freezer replacement - £179.99
Residents parking - £85.00
Replacement of carpets in two rooms and corridor with Wood laminate flooring - £930.00
Flooring - £1,441.00
Labour - £1,510.00
Toilet system - £272.00
Builder/decorator - £1,750.00
Furniture/armchair - £89.00
Furniture: armchair, hall cupboard - £60.00
'Sundries' - £197.22

Levitt's Claims: 2005-2006 ACA claims

Please read our general post about Tom Levitt's Additional Costs Allowance claims between 2004-2008. The totals are the amounts claimed, but not necessarily paid out.

Under the general headings, these are the amounts claimed by Levitt for the financial year 2005-2006 under the Additional Costs Allowance:

Mortgage - £14,429.55
Food - £1,936.00
Utilities - £576.00
Council Tax - £982.00
Telephone & Comms - £360.00
Cleaning - £390.00
Service/maintenaBoldnce - £814.00
Repairs/Insurance/Security - £405.54

Below is a selection of 'other' items claimed during the same period:

TV Licence - £95.50
Bedding - £60.00
Residents annual parking - £85.00
Sky TV - £83.94
Home broadband - £119.94
Duvet cover - £24.00
Bedding - £58.98
Paint - £59.99

Levitt's claims: 2004-2005 ACA claims

Please read our general post about Tom Levitt's Additional Costs Allowance claims between 2004-2008. The totals are the amounts claimed, but not necessarily paid out.

Under the general headings, these are the amounts claimed by Levitt for the financial year 2004-2005 under the Additional Costs Allowance:

Mortgage - £11,287.37  
Food - £2,592.00Bold
Utilities - £576.00  
Council Tax - £1,015.79  
Telephone & Comms £360.00  
Cleaning - £390.00
Service/maintenance - £716.78  
Repairs/Insurance/Security - £496.26 

Below is a selection of 'other' items claimed during the same period:

Sofa Bed - £1,599.00
TV Licence - £121.00       
Gas/electric safety check - £176.25 
Keys - £15.00 
DIY equipment - £80.00 
Hot water tank lagging - £11.60 
Oven (?) shelving etc - £164.19 
Kitchen table - £199.00 
Telephone & extension - £99.00 
Hoover - £89.99 
Shelving - £37.75 
Double bed (second hand) - £200.00 
Bedroom furniture (second hand) - £150.00 
Emergency plumber - £65.00

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

UPDATE: Levitt publishes expenses details on his website

True to his word (for once), Tom Levitt has today published details of his expenses claims on his website*.

It's too early for us to comment without having read and digested the details, but we will be back to comment as soon as we have.

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab

Oh to be a fly on the wall

On his website, the High Peak Borough Councillor Anthony McKeown has today hinted at what will be discussed at the next Constituency Labour Party (CLP) meeting:
Friday sees this month's constituency Labour Party Meeting which as well as considering issue's (sic) around the forthcoming local elections, will no doubt feature some discussion on MP's expenses
Now whilst we do have our sources in the local Labour Party feeding us info, needless to say, we'd love to be a fly on the wall at this meeting. 

What position the CLP take on Levitt's greed would seem to us to be crucial to their credibility in the area. The right thing to do is to do all that they can to disassociate themselves from Levitt and his actions, all the more so because his puny majority of 735 mean that the future didn't look good for any Labour candidate prior to the expenses scandal breaking.

That the local Labour Party contains people of integrity and values is a fact we will not contest. Although it has to be said that they have had enough reasons to be thoroughly disillusioned with their right-wing MP for the past 12 years, this expenses issue is surely the straw that will break the proverbial camel's back?

If the CLP have any backbone and honour, they will make their feelings known and do what they can to dump Levitt before he drags them down with him.

Press reaction to Levitt's column

We await to see what the reaction of the local press will be to the new revelations from the Sunday Telegraph, but if their reaction to the press release put out by Levitt a week earlier is anything to go by, they will do their best to mount a damage limitation exercise for him.

The Buxton Advertiser have penned the most journalistic piece about Levitt - a balance between his own press release and some context, hinting at a 'tide of anger. They also carried this reader's letter on their website.

The Glossop Chronicle has pretty much regurgitated Levitt's press release line for line.

Meanwhile, the Glossop Advertiser has - regurgitated Levitt's press release line for line!

Of the two Glossop publications, the Advertiser is arguably more pro-Levitt, although there's not much to separate them, especially given that the Chronicle carries Levitt's weekly column in their pages.

The letters page in the respective papers are usually more interesting, though some of our readers tell us that the Advertiser have a habit of editing reader's letters to excise criticism of Levitt. However, with the tide of anger bound to increase, it will be a difficult job to do so from now on.

Monday, 25 May 2009

The Telegraph turns the spotlight on Levitt...

Yesterday saw the publication of the first revelations about Tom Levitt by the Daily Telegraph.

Here are the salient points in their findings:
  • He claimed £16.50 for laying a wreath at Remembrance commemorations in 2006 (although the claim was rejected)
  • He claimed £5,281 for renovation work to a £275,000 maisonette he purchased in 2007 (which was at first queried by the fees office, but then paid in full)
  • He claimed £8013.77 to have a new bathroom suite fitted in January 2008 - although the fees office only allowed £6,335 to be paid to him
  • He over-claimed £6,000 in mortgage costs (which he has since repaid)
This is a political bombshell for the High Peak which we'll return to examine further as time goes by. But it seems our suspicions about Levitt have proved to be true. And it raises more questions than provides answers.

In the meantime, what disgusts us most is that Levitt has blamed the claiming of the wreath on a member of staff. And at the end of the article, his quote to the Telegraph is:
"As a former member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, my conscience is clear”
Levitt seems to have raised the Telegraph's ire because in his political column 2 weeks ago he accused them of “conniving with criminals in gutter journalism”. Serves him right...

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Welcome aboard - Tom Levitt

Yes, it seems that Tom Levitt is very interested in what's being said about him. So much so that he's subscribed to the blog's email subscription!

Mr Levitt should consider that he has full right of reply on anything we publish, but we can't see him taking up the offer somehow.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Levitt's expenses totals - year by year

We've produced an online spreadsheet of Levitt's previous expenses claim totals, from the data which is available from the Houses of Parliament website. It makes interesting reading and can be found below.

Looking at the postage and stationary totals for the last published year, you might think Levitt has made significant savings, but then you'll also notice a new category "communications allowance". This was a controversial addition to allowances in 2007, allowing £10,000 per annum to be spent "to assist in the work of communication with the public on parliamentary business". You'll see that Levitt has overspent somewhat, although the rules permit transferring funds from Incidental Expenses (office costs) to this category.

We've also added a column at the end of the sheet to illustrate the increase on the last year for selected items.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

There's none more blind...

Classic quote from Levitt's 'facebook status reader' on his homepage:

the party leaders' plans for dealing with expenses are having a welcome and calming effect.

Who is he kidding? Has he even seen the comments on his own website, or is he currently residing in his flat in Lambeth (paid for by us) and reflecting on the ambience there?

High Peak people are *very* angry

The media has been reporting such epithets all week long, but a taster for the anger can be sampled in the comments left underneath Tom Levitt's confessional* on his website:

I am now at the point where i dont ever want to vote again as it doesnt matter want you say or offer you are in it for you and you alone.

you make the whole expenses thing sound like your all amateurs and dont know what your doing with your own papaerwork so how can you run a country

why hasn't your voting record been strongly in favour of transparency? See:

I find your aatempts to defend the indefensible quite breathtaking. this is the first time I have been driven to comment but I feel as if I have been taken for a ride by MPs who appear at best to have been content to let the status quo prevail

I understand that you employ your wife as your Parliamentary Assistant.Is she the best person you could have got for the job or is this nepotism?

Oh dear, there is no other piece on Levitt's website which has received such a response. Indeed, by comparison, it's hard to find so many comments on local newspaper websites on any topic you choose to mention. If this is a sample of the ire being aimed at Tom, he may need protecting at his next 'surgery'.

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Levitt's in trouble...

At least according to Gordon Brown he should be.

Whilst I have been diligent I have not been perfect. A few years ago I claimed more on my mortgage than I was entitled to.

This being the case, Levitt must never be able to stand as a Labour candidate again, and if he's to do the decent thing, he must resign as soon as possible.

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab

Monday, 18 May 2009

What the papers said

We thought we'd prepare a little digest of local press attention regarding Levitt's expenses in the recent past. So here goes:

The Glossop Advertiser took a look at Tom's expenses for the year 2005/2006 back in November 2006, when it was revealed he had claimed nearly £140,000. Of that, £16,977 was claimed for his second home, £74,262 for staff salaries (one full-time and 3 part-time assistants), £21,650 for office costs, £12,044 for postage and £4,417 for stationary, as well as £9,031 for travel expenses. The headline? 'MPs expenses are 85% below cap' - the calm before the storm?.

12 months later in 2007 the Glossop Advertiser returns again placing him in the Top 10 (actually, he was 8th). For 2006/2007, the total was now £168,660, and in hindsight, the article makes an interesting and no doubt worrying comparison for Levitt by pointing out the top claimant was the Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik. However, the article does not go into detail beyond the fact that he claimed a combined £31,615 for mail and stationary, doubling the total for the previous year.

Also focusing on Tom this month was the Buxton Advertiser, pointing out that the increase on last year's total bill for the taxpayer was £29,103. Again, the mail bill is the main focus, with Levitt pointing out it's high because he likes to communicate with his constituents. The provided the following details about all of the expenses claimed:

London Accommodation - 20,310
Office running costs - 23,403
Staff - 80,085
Members travel - 11,842
Staff travel - 475
Stationery - 7,915
Postage - 23,700
Computer Equip - 930
Total - 168,660

Finally, the Buxton Advertiser compares Levitt with three other local MPs - Charlotte Atkins, Patrick McLoughlin and Nicholas Winterton - and finds that he comes top of the list.

The Glossop Advertiser was back on Tom's case in January 2008 to point out that Levitt was reported to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards about the latter bill. Though Levitt was quick to trumpet that he had been cleared, current events must mean that he's worried it will be looked at again. However, the paper wasn't done with Tom yet, and in February 2008 it looked at the issue of his wife's wages. The article also revealed Levitt claimed £80,085 in staff costs and £7,725 for travel.

Much more recently, in April this year, The Derbyshire Times referred to Levitt as 'the most expensive Derbyshire MP', ranking at 48th in the country for his claims for the year 2007/2008. Levitt's breakdown is given as the following - £164,620 in total, costs of £22,450 for his second home, £14,287 for travel expenses, of which £2,955 was claimed against the costs of 22 journeys taken by his wife.

No doubt there'll be much more press attention in the coming weeks, especially given Levitt's admission yesterday* that he claimed more than he was entitled for mortgage costs.

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Levitt gets his response in first...

Before we an even start work on the blog, Levitt has decided to do some confessing early, and has already posted some details about his expenses on his website*, provisionally dated tomorrow.

We'd like to think this was in response to our initiative in starting this site, but it may be more to do with the fact that something else is going on. That remains to be seen, but it may be enlightening to start with Levitt's comments only 1 week ago** on the whole MP's expenses affair, which you can read below:
It seems everyone is talking about MPs’ expenses again. Those who gave more details or explanations to the authorities than they needed to, up to 5 years ago, are being pilloried. Claims which were never even paid are being held up as examples of bad practice. And the once proud Daily Telegraph has connived with criminals at the lowest levels of cheque book gutter journalism.

Changes in the rules are needed, everyone agrees. Some have been made and more are in the pipeline. The stories doing the rounds are in no way typical. But if the press does not want to talk about our policies, we must be getting them right. That is what really matters at this challenging time for the economy.
Aggressive and dismissive are two words that spring to mind upon reading Tom's column from last week. But as someone once said, a week is a long time in politics, and below you can read the rather fuller and detailed confessional statement Levitt has published only 1 week later:
I wanted to celebrate ten years of the minimum wage this week but events have clearly overtaken me. The MP expenses row raises three questions: are the rules adequate? Were they properly enforced? Did MPs abide by those rules?

The answer to all three is clearly ‘no.’

The rules have been tightened twice since the years to which current revelations refer. They are already being reviewed again by the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life.

The enforcement of the rules has clearly been pathetic. And adherence to them was in some cases poor. As a former member of the Standards committee, I know that we punished MPs for less than some of the offences that have been described. In other cases there is more smoke than fire.

Let me set out my own situation.

I have not received a penny of expenses in respect of my Buxton home. My salary is £64,766, about the same as a deputy head teacher in a medium sized comprehensive school. I have a 40-year old flat in Lambeth on which the rules entitle me to claim legitimate and necessary second home expenses. This includes the interest paid on my mortgage (but not capital repayments). My current mortgage interest claim has fallen to under £400 per month due to the falling interest rates. My other expenditure has been proportionate and legitimate: I have no moat, chandelier, garden or sauna. Some of my furniture is second hand and I have never ‘flipped’ the designation of my first and second homes.

Whilst I have been diligent I have not been perfect. A few years ago I claimed more on my mortgage than I was entitled to. This was because I had calculated that more of my mortgage payment was made up of interest than it was. I immediately made arrangements to pay back the excess over six months and this was done.

You may have seen a Sunday Times graphic on 17 May featuring the ‘20 most expensive MPs over the last four years’. I appear on this list at 8, though several of the colleagues listed below me differ from my total by less than 1%. There is no suggestion in the paper that this spending is illegitimate and it is all within the budget theoretically allowed. Had I not had a member of staff take maternity leave in 2008 I might not have appeared on the list at all, as maternity cover is paid over and above my staffing budget. You can see a breakdown of these expenses at

I want to see full disclosure of our detailed expenses and Parliament will do this in June. But that is not good enough. I will be posting details of the claims I made in the period covered by the recent disclosures, month by month, on my web site This will happen in the next ten days.

MPs generally are neither criminals nor fools; but we are all human and therefore fallible. Parliament has lost people’s trust and we need to win it back. We must not return to only having rich people willing to serve in politics. My job is to try to make the lives of ordinary people better and that’s all. I am proud to be working over 60 hours each week to serve the needs of my High Peak constituents.
Now there's a lot of info in there, which no doubt is already being digested by a lot of people - perhaps even Telegraph journalists. He's even told us he has claimed more on his mortgage than he was entitled to.

Even if the Telegraph doesn't run with it at some point, we will be back to this info later, along with some context that can be gleamed from the Internet. 

Is it me or is it getting hot in here?

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab
**when this link no longer works, try this screen grab