Commons reeling in new €16m MPs expenses furore
Published 16/12/2010 | 05:00
DESPITE it being a year which exposed a massive expenses scandal in the Commons, MPs were still allowed to claim millions of pounds in expenses last year without providing proof, it emerged last night.
On another hugely embarrassing day for the House of Commons, the Auditor General refused to sign off its accounts in full because of concerns about the "regularity" of payments to MPs.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said he could not confirm the validity of £13.9m (€16m) of claims as he was unable to inspect supporting documentation.
The cash was claimed for and paid out mainly in the period between the eruption of the expenses scandal in May 2009 and this year's general election.
The Commons Members' Estimate Committee, which oversees House finances, admitted that "checks and balances were not adequate". Campaigners said the disclosures were further proof that MPs remained out of touch with the electorate.
The Commons is now trying to claw back more than £33,000 from a number of unidentified MPs who were either paid expenses by mistake or could provide no evidence at all that transactions were even made.
About half of the sums being chased by Mr Morse may have to be written off because the MPs have since quit parliament.
The Auditor General's initial discoveries of missing documentation prompted an 11-month "remedial" project to try to retrospectively obtain evidence for claims.
But £830,000 remained entirely unsupported at the end of that process in October. Of that, £460,000 related to MPs' staffing budgets and £370,000 to second homes and offices.
Support could not be provided for another £1.8m of claims because MPs concerned were under police investigation.
In addition, the House could not prove another £11.3m of expenditure had been incurred on parliamentary business. That included £4.7m of travel costs, £3.8m of communications costs and £2.8m of "other" costs including overnight subsistence and telephone calls.
Mr Morse's report said £13.9m of payments to MPs were "either unsupported" or "entitlement could not be fully demonstrated".
He added: "I have not obtained all the information and explanations that I consider necessary for the purpose of my audit, and proper accounting records have not been maintained."
Matthew Sinclair, the director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "The Auditor General's refusal to sign off the Commons accounts shows how far the system got out of control.
"Too many politicians are still so out of touch that they think of themselves as the victims in the MPs' expenses scandal.
"But in reality it was ordinary families who were being ripped off.
"Taxpayers' money has clearly been abused on a huge scale as millions of pounds paid in expenses went to MPs who have ripped off the public, and millions more was not properly justified, Mr Sinclair added.