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4 |

July 1 - 7, 2009

News

MPS’ EXPENSES

936

The Telegraph

Saints and sinners Full MPs’ expenses database now online telegraph.co.uk/mpsexpenses T

By Holly Watt

A SENIOR Conservative MP employed his current and former wives at the same time at the taxpayer’s expense, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Robert Syms, the MP for Poole, employed Nicola Guy, whom he divorced in 2000, and Fiona Mellersh on his staff. They were each paid up to £30,000 a year.

The disclosure will add to

Robert Syms: claimed he was not required under MPs rules to declare Nicola Guy as his ex-wife

concern about MPs who pay their relatives from their £100,205-a-year staff allowance. Harriet Harman,

the Leader of the House of Commons, has already said it was “too difficult to sustain public confidence” in the current system.

Miss Guy, who was divorced from Mr Syms in 1999, is believed to live in Westonsuper-Mare, 70 miles from his constituency in Dorset.

Mr Syms married Miss Mellersh in 2000 and they had two children before separating in 2006. The

couple reunited three months ago.

“Nicola Guy is my full-time PA and constituency caseworker, working from London, constituency and home and has been for the last 12 years,” said Mr Syms. He added that he no longer employed Miss Mellersh.

Last year, Mr Syms claimed £81,739 to pay Miss Mellersh, Miss Guy and a part-time secretary. Although they were

separated at the time, Mr Syms said that Miss Mellersh was “a member of the family” and added that her salary for the part-time secretarial role was between £20,000 and £30,000 a year.

He said Miss Guy, who was listed as “N Guy”, was not a member of the family and so he did not reveal how much she was paid.

As a full-time caseworker and secretary, she would be

REUTERS/JOHN ROBERTSON

paid up to £30,000 a year, according to parliamentary pay scales.

Mr Syms said: “As we divorced over 10 years ago, I checked with the Register of Members Interests last year whether I should declare Nicola as my ex-wife and was informed that registration was only required for the first three years after a divorce.

“Therefore, there is no requirement to register.”

By Robert Winnett Deputy Political Editor

SOME OF the most questionable expense claims made by Conservative MPs were absent from the scrutiny panel’s published findings.

Several MPs who have refused to repay money will be investigated by other bodies, while those who did not pay capital gains tax on the sale of second homes do not appear to have had their affairs fully examined.

The apparent failure of the scrutiny committee to discipline some claims may undermine its authority. Although dozens of MPs have repaid money for gardening and household costs, some of the more serious alleged abuses have not been investigated in detail.

David Cameron, the

By James Kirkup Political Correspondent

GORDON BROWN has been forced to abandon a plan to increase taxpayers’ contributions to MPs’ gold

Conservative leader, admitted last week that it had not been a “perfect process”.

The panel has not considered the claims made by Andrew Mackay, Mr Cameron’s former parliamentary aide.

Mr Mackay was forced to announce that he would resign at the next election after questions were raised over his expenses. He is married to Julie Kirkbride, another Conservative MP. He claimed second home expenses for a property in London that Miss Kirkbride had declared as the family’s main residence.

However, the Conservatives have not ordered Mr Mackay to repay any money, and instead will leave the scrutiny of his affairs to the House of Commons. He is understood to be prepared to make a sizeable repayment.

Several Tories may face further questioning, including Andrew Mackay and Nadine Dorries

Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP for midBedfordshire, was one of the most vocal critics of The Daily Telegraph’s expenses investigation. She claimed she was the victim of a witchhunt after being questioned over her unorthodox arrangements.

Miss Dorries admitted that she only spent spare

weekends and holidays away from her designated “second home”, a flat in her constituency on which she has claimed £18,000 in rent.

Greg Barker, the shadow climate change minister, made a £320,000 profit on a flat in one of London’s most exclusive streets in just over two years.

However, Mr Barker did not

pay capital gains tax, even though he designated the flat as his second home to parliamentary authorities. He said it was his main home for tax purposes.

Last month, he said he would repay a “five-figure sum”, but last week a spokesman for Mr Barker was unable to say how much tax he would repay.

plated pensions by almost £1million a year.

The Government had intended to introduce a Commons motion increasing the public’s annual contribution to the pension scheme by more than 7 per cent. But, after announcing the plan, Downing Street scrapped it when the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Frank Field, the Labour backbencher, signalled their opposition because of public anger about MPs’ pay and expenses.

Taxpayers had already been told they faced having to pay more into the

parliamentary pension system because, like many private sector funds, its liabilities have grown as people live longer.

The Government Actuary said in March that there was a £50.9million shortfall in the parliamentary scheme, and recommended that taxpayers pay more into it over the next 15 years. Research done for The Daily Telegraph by actuaries at Hargreaves Lansdown suggested that could cost the taxpayer more than £200million.

The Government had promised that the taxpayer’s

contribution would be capped at 20 per cent of the £46.1million Commons wage bill. But, to cover the shortfall, the Exchequer is paying significantly more than that.

The motion would have increased the taxpayer contribution from 26.8 per cent of the payroll to 28.7 per cent or from £12.35million a year to £13.23million, a rise of £880,000.

However, the Government said it would accept an Opposition amendment blocking the rise in taxpayers’ contributions. A plan for MPs to pay an extra

£60 a month towards their pensions will go ahead.

Abandoning the plan may mean that MPs ultimately have to pay more into the scheme, something that some backbenchers will oppose. MPs voted in 2002 to increase their pension accrual rate to one fortieth of salary for every year worked. After just 15 years, an MP can retire with an annual pension of £24,000. A worker in the private sector with a definedcontribution pension must amass a pension pot of almost £700,000 to enjoy an equivalent annual pension.

By Gordon Rayner Chief Reporter

SOME OF the Conservative party’s wealthiest MPs are to pay back tens of thousands of pounds of expenses, despite several of them protesting that they did nothing wrong when their claims were first exposed by The Daily Telegraph.

They include Anthony Steen, the man who said the public outcry over MPs’ expenses was the result of nothing more than “jealousy”, and Sir Peter Viggers, who famously tried to claim £1,600 for a floating duck house.

One of the largest repayments is by John Gummer, the former environment secretary, and MP for Suffolk Coastal, who has repaid £11,538 for gardening and household bills and has also paid £11,500 to the East Anglian Air Ambulance charity.

Sir Peter Viggers, the MP for Gosport, whose claim for a duck house came to define the excesses of the expenses system, has paid back £10,000 for gardening bills, repairs and maintenance.

Sir Peter received more than £30,000 of taxpayers’ money to cover gardening bills over three years, including nearly £500 for 28 tons of manure. He did not receive any money for the £1,645 duck house, after the fees office struck it off his claim.

Anthony Steen, who claimed £459 for a forestry expert to inspect 500 trees on his estate in Devon, is paying back £1,537.

Sir Michael Spicer, the most senior Conservative backbencher, is paying back £4,700 for gardening, repairs and maintenance.

James Arbuthnot, another wealthy MP, is paying back £9,338 for gardening and household bills at his then second home in Hampshire. telegraph.co.uk/expat

936

T

Bernard Madoff Full reports on the sentencing telegraph.co.uk/madoff

July 1 - 7, 2009

| 5

News

ATLAS PHOTOGRAPHY

By Andrew Pierce and Anita Singh

MARK THOMPSON, the director-general of the BBC, faced calls last week to cut salaries and expenses of the corporation’s senior executives.

The broadcaster’s 50 highest-paid executives earned up to £13.6million last year, with over half paid considerably more than the Prime Minister. The BBC had

hoped that by publishing the salaries in the aftermath of the disclosures over MPs’ expenses, it would demonstrate it was being cautious with licence-payers’ money.

However, the disclosure that 47 of the leading 50 are in salary brackets that range from £190,000 to more than £600,000 triggered an angry reaction from MPs and trade unions. Gordon Brown earns

£194,250. The broadcasting unions, who have agreed to more than 2,000 redundancies at the BBC in the past two years, were enraged by the pay figures.

Although the corporation agreed to publish executives’ salaries, it again refused to disclose the multi-millionpound deals of the biggest stars, such as Jonathan Ross.

John Whittingdale, the Tory chairman of the Commons

culture committee, led the criticism. He said the BBC could no longer justify the sums it paid to executives.

“One of the reasons why it was important that this information about salaries was made public is that there is increasing concern that the BBC is not paying market rates,” he said.

“They are far in excess of what any commercial broadcaster could afford.”

Making a meal of it: BBC chiefs hosted a dinner at the Bellagio

By Martin Beckford

BBC EXECUTIVES spent more than £2,000 of public money at the Las Vegas hotel featured in the film Ocean’s Eleven as part of the corporation’s £45million

annual bill for travel and accommodation.

Expenses files published by the state broadcaster show that 29 members of staff enjoyed a £1,430.88 dinner, courtesy of the licence fee-payer at the Bellagio, which boasts of

having the “most luxurious accommodation” in the resort.

The BBC’s former director of future media and technology, Ashley Highfield, put through the claim on a single invoice in April 2008, along with £102.87 on a room

and breakfast. In 2006, Mr Highfield spent £1,470.57 at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, which has its own canal and gondola rides, while attending the Consumer Electronics Show.

Earlier this year his

successor, Erik Huggers, claimed £722.06 for two nights’ stay at the Bellagio, which is famous for its fountain displays. During his trip to Las Vegas, Mr Huggers claimed £1,624.48 for two days’ hire of a driver and car.

Separate documents released by the BBC last week following Freedom of Information requests show that its staff spent a total of £12.9million on hotels in nine months between April and December 2007.

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They just don’t get it

A PLOT to oust Gordon Brown ended in failure as the Prime Minister’s allies were accused of using scare tactics and smears to terrorise Labour MPs and quell the rebellion.

Despite Labour’s worst showing in an election for almost 100 years, Mr Brown was able to face down his critics at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) – with the rebels having failed to get the 50 signatories they wanted for a letter calling on him to quit.

A series of MPs, including former ministers, confronted the Prime Minister and told him to stand aside, but Mr Brown insisted again he would not be “walking away” and the meeting ended with him having won a stay of execution.

However, those Labour MPs opposed to Mr Brown’s leadership accused Downing Street of using smears, anonymous briefings,

intimidation and threats to put down the coup.

Some MPs in marginal seats said they had been threatened with a withdrawal of support for their election campaigns if they spoke out against Mr Brown. Some said they were told that ministerial visits and other PR opportunities could be withheld.

With only 15 per cent of voters having backed Labour in the European elections, the party’s MPs were told by the Prime Minister’s allies that there would be an immediate general election – with potentially catastrophic results – if they replaced him as leader.

However, Mr Brown’s opponents claim that allowing him to limp on will mean electoral oblivion if the European results are reproduced at the next general election.

Frank Field, the former Labour minister, suggested Mr Brown’s aides had tried to

Continued on Page 2

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