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More Information on Dawn's Allowance Claims

In a recent interview with the Evening Post Dawn was glad to be given the opportunity to explain her allowances claims, and assure that the residents of Bristol South that not only were her claims within the rules, but within the spirit of the rules also.

Dawn was one of the first MPs to publish all the details and receipts for her Additional Cost Allowance (ACA) claims in mid-May, a full month before the official Commons publication. Two weeks later, at the end of May, she published the full receipts and details - running to over 1,000 pages - for her office running costs. These documents are available for anyone to view in the MP Allowances section of this website, accessible in the menubar to the left.

Produced below, with the kind permission of the Bristol Evening Post and the author Ian Onions, is the article from Tuesday's Evening Post where Dawn explained her claim and her philosophy on expenses.

Any Bristol South residents with queries relating to any aspect of Dawn's expenses claim are welcome to get in contact with her and she will do her best to answer them.

Bristol MP stunned by expenses relevations

Bristol South MP Dawn Primarolo said she was "stunned" when the revelations about MPs' expenses first emerged.

The newly-promoted minister for children, young people and families said: "I know other MPs talked about their allowances to each other but I never talked about mine to anyone.

"I just assumed that we all did more or less the same thing."

Ms Primarolo, 55, has not claimed any food allowance for the two years 2007/08 and 2006/07.

She claimed £150 for the year 2005/06.

MPs are entitled to claim up to £400 a month – a possible £14,400.

In the year 2004/05 she claimed £1,400.

"I just didn't feel comfortable with claiming my food allowance," she said.

"I had it in mind that if I was standing on the doorstep of one of my constituents, how would I be able to explain it.

"I ended up just not wanting to do it.

"Some MPs claim their food allowance and they are perfectly entitled to do so but I choose not to."

She is angry that all MPs have been tarred with the same brush over expenses despite the fact that many of them have tried to stick within the spirit of the rules.

"What has become clear is that, for some MPs, it was presented to them as an entitlement, rather than an allowance."

She said this culture stemmed back to the Thatcher years when there was a national controversy over MPs' pay being linked to the same pay scales as senior civil servants.

The pay increase was never implemented but a deal was struck to introduce allowances.

"That's how it grew up – it was perceived as part of your terms and conditions," said Ms Primarolo, who has been Labour MP for Bristol South since 1987.

"I have got an anger that we have all been tarred with the same brush.

"I don't know how some MPs decide what they are claiming. I can't explain it – it is something they must explain for themselves."

As far as Ms Primarolo is concerned, her main home is in Bristol.

But due to Parliamentary regulations, she was forced to change her main home to her flat in London during her early years as a Treasury minister.

It means that the costs in mortgage interest during the first part of her 2004/05 claim are far lower than when she claims for her London home, but running costs are greater.

When the regulations changed, Ms Primarolo changed her main home back to Bristol.

She hopes that the Kelly review on expenses during the summer will recognise that MPs do need financial help to discharge their duties in their constituencies and the House of Commons.

"We can't go to a situation where the only people who are MPs are those that are wealthy enough to cover their costs," she said.

She added that it wasn't reasonable to expect MPs to live out of a suitcase in a hotel for three or four days a week.

On the other hand, it was wrong to have a system which could be abused.

"It needs to be specified what is justified to claim and everything else is excluded," she said.

Ms Primarolo said the level of censorship of MPs' expenses when they were officially published nearly two weeks ago was "ridiculous".

She said MPs had to be protected against identity fraud and the confidentiality of staff also had to be honoured.

But beyond these "basics", she saw no reason to blank out large amounts of MPs' expense documents.

Ms Primarolo showed her uncensored office claims to the Evening Post – she had done the same with her personal expenses before both sets were officially published on a Parliamentary internet list.

They revealed some extraordinary examples of censorship in the extreme by the Fees Office at the House of Commons.

Some of the examples include a claim for a £3.50 bus ticket, the back of a Staples receipt for a £149.99 fax machine and the back of a Tesco receipt for a £14.92 curved keyboard.

Some receipts which were submitted for office copies of national newspapers from a newsagents in East Street, Bedminster show some blanked out sections. These were because a member of staff bought other items at the same time which were not claimed. One example was a lip balm for £1.69.

Ms Primarolo said many people didn't realise that office running costs were taken out of the hands of MPs so that all the bills – apart from a few exceptions such as TV licence and Data Protection Act payments – are sent to the Fees Office for payment.

Sometimes, members of Ms Primarolo's staff might buy an item for the office on their own credit card which then has to be claimed back from the Fees Office. An example of this was the £149.99 fax machine which staff wanted to see for themselves before buying.

In her office expenses, there are two entries for £250 for petty cash which is used to buy sundry items and which are logged in a cash book in the office, together with receipts.

Ms Primarolo employs five staff – three full-time and two part-time – at her Bedminster office who deal with constituency work.

They are employed by Ms Primarolo but paid by the Fees Office, according to laid down pay scales.

She does not employ anyone in London.

The office is rented from the Labour Party for £5,000 a year, which includes gas, electric, business rates and water rates.

The office expense documents show an estate agents' valuation for the property last year of £325 – a task which has to be carried out every year in order to make sure the rental for the office is the going rate.

Last year, staff dealt with 3,707 cases. These fall into two main categories – people with problems that need help to get sorted out and those with queries on Government policy or how Ms Primarolo stands on a given issue.

The nature of the constituency with its 77,000 voters south of the river and west of the Wells Road means that the vast bulk of problems relate to anti-social behaviour and housing.

Even if a constituent contacts her by email, Ms Primarolo insists that everyone gets a signed letter from her.

"As soon as someone makes contact with us, we start to try to sort it out," she said.

Ms Primarolo spends most Fridays based in her Bristol office, signing letters and holding surgeries either by phone, personal appointment or visiting streets where voters have been leafleted and encouraged to leave a sign in their window if they want to see their MP.

Ms Primarolo, who has held ministerial posts since 1997, even does cold calling on Saturday and Sunday mornings to find out what issues people face and how they think the Government is dealing with what matters to them.

"It's important to me that I concentrate on the things that they want me to in order to make a difference to the quality of their lives," she said.

Ms Primarolo has voted against and refused to accept the two last pay rises for MPs.

It means she receives £56,937 (gross) as an MP and a top up of £38,000 (gross) for being a minister. After stoppages, she receives a total of £64,318 (net).

Mortgage interest payments: £15,817
Food: nothing clamed
Utlilities: £407
Council tax: £1,780
TV licence: £112.35

Mortgage interest payments: £14,435
Food: nothing claimed
Utilities: £333
Council tax: £1,578
TV licence: £80.73

Mortgage interest payments: £15,388
Food: £150
Utilities: £365
Council tax: £1,804
TV licence: £80.97

Mortgage interest payments: £10,475
Food: £1,400
Utilities: £650.50
Council tax: £1,494
TV licence and satellite rental: £348.16

[Article by: Bristol Evening Post/ - Tuesday 30th June, 2009]


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