Politicians' expenses revealed

MPs were today bracing themselves for the brunt of a massive public reaction to revelations that they claimed £78million in expenses last year.For the first time the extent of MPs expense claims have been released and the figures have shown that, on average, MPs claim £118,437 on top of the basic salary of £57,485 and generous pension they receive.

MPs were today bracing themselves for the brunt of a massive public reaction to revelations that they claimed £78million in expenses last year.

For the first time the extent of MPs expense claims have been released and the figures have shown that, on average, MPs claim £118,437 on top of the basic salary of £57,485 and generous pension they receive.

Local figures showed MPs in Suffolk claimed a total of £844,712 in expenses – which includes housing allowances, secretarial and computer costs, travel and postage.

Tim Yeo, the Conservative member for Suffolk South, claimed £128,889 while David Ruffley, the Conservative member for Bury St Edmunds claimed £121,521


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Chris Mole, the Labour member for Ipswich, claimed £121,184, Sir Michael Lord, the Conservative member for Suffolk Central and Ipswich North, claimed £117,212, John Gummer, the Conservative member for Suffolk Coastal, claimed £108,938 and Richard Spring, the Conservative member for Suffolk West, claimed £124,032.

The figures mean the average backbencher receives £175,922 a year, compared to the national average wage of just over £20,000 and full-time workers on the minimum wage who can take home as little as £10,000 a year.

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Union leaders called on the politicians to tighten their belts.

A spokeswoman for Britain's biggest union, Unison, said: "We don't want to go back to the days when MPs were tempted to have second jobs.

"But some of these expenses do seem excessive, particularly when we have other public sector workers who are on very low wages and don't get much help with housing. They deserve to be properly treated as well."

Publication of the allowances coincided with a report from the Senior Salaries Review Body, which has recommended there should be no increase in salaries in the current year beyond a 2% increase already awarded.

However, MPs' staffing allowances will be increased to give a range of £72,000-£80,460 depending on the number of full time staff based in London.

Details of MPs allowances were released before provisions under the Freedom of Information Act come into effect in January. The figures show that in 2001-2002, MPs claimed a total of £57.49 million in allowances. In 2002-2003 that figure went up to £73.4 million, rising to £78.05 million for 2003-2004.

David Ruffley welcomed the publication of the figures.

"This is taxpayers' money and it should be publicly accounted.

"What members of the public may not realise is that we have to employ and pay our own secretaries and research staff, plus their National Insurance costs.

"We have to provide the computers and laptops that they and MPs use and our own mobile phones.

"We are billed for postage, photocopying, fax machines and even pencils. Money is not handed out without receipt – every item has to be accounted for to the House of Commons Fees Office."

Former Tatton MP and journalist Martin Bell, who has famously fought sleaze in public life, said publication of MPs expenses was long overdue.

Mr Bell, who stood in the Essex constituency of Brentwood and Ongar as an Independent candidate in 2001 and unsuccessfully tried to become a Euro MP for the East of England earlier this year, claimed: "At the time I was an MP I was invited to sign a cheque to myself every month right up to the limit."

He said publication was "public scrutiny at its best."

The MPs making the highest expenses claims last year were Claire Curtis-Thomas, the Labour member for Crosby, who claimed £168,889, and Keith Vaz, Labour, Leicester East who claimed £164,265.

The total bill for MPs staffing costs – secretaries and researchers – was £43.92m. The individual figure is capped at £71,773 and among the MPs who claimed the maximum were John Gummer (Con, Suffolk Coastal), Sir Michael Lord (Con, Suffolk Central and Ipswich North), and Tim Yeo (Con, Suffolk South).

On top of the standard backbench salary a junior minister gets £22,688. A Cabinet minister gets another £72,862, and the Prime Minister Tony Blair gets an extra £121,437.

Mr Blair claimed £15,490 in expenses for the cost of staying away from home on parliamentary business last year. The figure made up part of a total expenses bill of £80,836 for 2003-04 from Mr Blair, on top of his £178,922-a-year salary.

The so-called Additional Costs Allowance paid to MPs to cover the cost of staying away from home is normally used by members from constituencies outside central London to pay for somewhere to stay in the capital while attending Parliament.

But until February this year, ministers were deemed to have their main homes in London and were given the allowance to cover the cost of visiting their constituencies. Mr Blair's £15,490 allowance went towards the cost of keeping a home in his Sedgefield seat in County Durham.

Michael Howard (MP for Folkestone and Hythe), who has been leader of the opposition since November last year, claimed a total of £126,658 in the financial year 2003-04. He is paid £124,277 for his official duties.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy's total claim was £121,630 – and although he is leader of the third party, Mr Kennedy receives only a standard MP's salary.

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