A newly divorced MP recently attended court for a child custody hearing. An hour before the hearing his barrister gave him some advice: drop your request for custody. You live in three locations, Westminster, your constituency and the town where your children were born and are educated. Your working hours and commitments mean it is very unlikely the judge would agree unless you first agree to give up your job.
The barrister came to that conclusion without even knowing about IPSA.
Last week, IPSA posted on its web site an announcement stating that it is going to investigate my expenses under two categories, but did not say why.
This resulted in a wave of hate email and threats which rained down on my head, including a threat to firebomb my home.
IPSA was established in 2009 to administer MP’s expenses. Before I bore anyone with the facts of my investigation I would just like to ask the question, does anyone know of any company or organisation which has a budget of almost eight million pounds per year to process the expenses of six hundred and fifty employees?
No, I don’t either, but that’s what IPSA charge the taxpayer. It is infinitely more than was ever mis-claimed by any MP each year. After a few years of operation, with set up costs, IPSA must have cost us all circa 20 - 30 million pounds and counting.
One has to ask, isn’t there a better way than this? How many A+E departments would that money have saved? How much of that thirty million could have gone into a social care budget? I am not of course advocating a return to the old system because MPs like myself need to be protected from accusations of wrongdoing (oh, the irony), however this is an obscene waste of money highlighted by the fact that IPSA are now resorting to desperate measures to protect its own jobs for the boys status.
IPSA have decided in my case that because my Westminster electricity usage was up in May, June, July 2012 (the bill was circa £70) I must have sublet my flat.
Yes, that is exactly what they have said, in writing. Actually in May my daughter, who is in full time education, broke up for the summer and was transported with me to Westminster until I switched to working in the constituency at the end of July.
Any MP who lived through the 2009 expenses crisis and then decided to sublet their Westminster room (it is a studio flat) would need certifying. It is a very strong allegation that is totally untrue.
The next allegation was entitled ‘duplicate claim’ under travel and subsistence. I rarely claim the subsistence allowance, I pay for my own food, so this sent my office into a frenzy. There was complete astonishment when the ‘duplicate claim’ was identified. In March 2012, the ‘26th’ button in a drop down bar on a computer screen was clicked twice, by accident, when submitting a travel claim. This meant it was submitted twice. I thought IPSA had been paid 20- 30 million pounds to pick things like that up? Why was the person who double paid that receipt asleep on the job? Didn’t he or she think ‘oh, hang on, same claim submitted twice on same day, surely some mistake? Better make a phone call and just check?’
Apparently not. Worth mentioning here is the fact that, despite the vast amount of tax payers revenue paid to IPSA, they have a policy not to answer their phones until 1pm. That’s right, they spend their millions on so few staff that they have no one to answer their phones in the morning.
There is also a third complaint, that I do not use my Westminster studio on a routine basis. Really? Here is the Oxford definition of ‘routine’:
“A sequence of actions regularly followed; performed as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason”
I stay in my Westminster studio when Parliament sits late and the nights are evenly spaced out over the term. I think I meet the definition of routine. I have never made any claim that I stay there other than when it is difficult to get home, that is the purpose of the accommodation. For a little while I haven’t been able to stay there every single night Parliament sits and that is down to this little lady here:
She has now reached the ripe old age of thirteen. I would stay in London, except she isn’t allowed in the studio with me. I would much prefer that we didn’t have to drive four, sometimes five hours a day, but having suffered the indignity of being told by a security officer ‘you can’t bring that dog in here’ when we arrived at the studio very late one night (how dare he speak to her like that!) I often have to drive home and can only stay overnight when I can leave her somewhere and with someone.
There is only so much putting on friends and neighbours one can do. Who knew such a beauty would live this long?! I didn’t. If I had known we were going to be this lucky, maybe I would have planned things a little differently, however, regardless, I was still very keen to ensure no IPSA dictat was broken.
I am quite sure the IPSA solution to my being a single mum and lone carer of a family and a dog would be to have the dog put down and my child adopted, but I’d rather not. The barrister who told the MP to drop his case may never have taken it on in the first place if he had known about IPSA.
When IPSA has finished its fruitless and costly investigation I want an apology for the upset and humiliation it has caused my family by an online announcement which it chose to post on a Friday afternoon, in true Machiavellian, spin doctor style, straight from the school of Mandleson - Campbell, hoping to cause maximum personal distress and make the most of journalists looking for stories to fill the weekend papers.
When IPSA has finished its fruitless and costly investigation, I want a letter of apology, posting on the IPSA web site at exactly the same time on a Friday afternoon so that I can gain the same benefit of maximum impact.
In addition to an apology, I want an explanation. I would like to know why, when there had been no justified complaint about my travel expenses or use of my flat, IPSA chose to go on a fishing expedition through my expenses after I came out of the jungle? Was it because they haven’t had an investigation since 2011 and knew it would be a matter of time before someone asked, “hang on, why have we paid this organisation so much money exactly?” Was it because someone thought that following the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ publicity that I must be so unpopular that the public would praise IPSA for launching an investigation into the expenses of a high profile MP who had none of the protection afforded by a Ministerial position or a cabinet office? If IPSA did, they got it very wrong.
Did they think there would be a public clamour that would place a veil over the validity of the investigation whilst they embedded a reputation of shrewd gatekeepers in the public psyche and I was publicly shredded?
Wrong again. IPSA have seriously underestimated the public ability to smell a rat. They also appear to have forgotten that actually, as a result of IAC, the public now know me and some of the support we have received over the weekend, including offers of legal help, has been amazing.
I also want answers. How much has it cost the tax payer for IPSA to make these incorrect allegations? How much will this unnecessary investigation cost? It is time the spotlight turned onto an organisation whose employees appear to have so little to do, they are focusing all their efforts on justifying their own existence and, whilst other public sector workers lose their jobs and pensions, use duplicitous methods to ensure they keep theirs.
Because a woman died under the hooves of a horse in the quest of female emancipation and because IPSA impact upon every single parent who is or wants to be an MP and because I refuse to allow a money hungry quango to compromise my right to work, be a mother and a pet owner, I am not allowing IPSA to get away with this.