UK Liberty

Exasperating lack of accountability

Posted in accountability by ukliberty on November 13, 2007

Two stories about lack of accountability.

The Times on “Amex card probe at Yard”:

…following the arrest of two officers from the counter-terrorism squad last week in connection with the allegations Scotland Yard admitted its professional standards watchdog had launched a review of spending by all staff issued with American Express cards.

According to one former officer, suspicions of credit card abuse were raised by a Metropolitan Police Authority auditor in 2005.

Two years ago!

Some officers were said to be claiming expenses twice when it was found bills were being automatically paid by the force.

“Whatever balance was on it at the end of the month it was automatically paid off by the police, without checking whether it was for legitimate expenses,” he said. “When officers realised it was being automatically cleared they went ahead and made other purchases that were nothing to do with the police.”

Surely that was foreseeable?

You know, that some bad apples might take advantage of free money?

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Authority, which scrutinises the work of the force, said: “Auditors looking at use of corporate credit cards discovered there was loose processes or sloppy management in some areas. In some cases it did not appear there were proper controls over the way the cards were being used.”

These are the people responsible for upholding the law. They are taking us for a ride, spending our money – money that could otherwise be spent on health, education, law and order and so on.

Not just them though – here is the Times on “Peers help themselves to £300 a day tax-free“:

Rules agreed by Parliament allow members of the House of Lords to claim up to £308 a day to pay for meals, hotels, taxis and other travel expenses associated with their role.

But peers do not have to submit receipts and an analysis of their expenses shows that nearly two thirds automatically claim the maximum almost every time they visit the Lords.

Several Lords have told The Times that they see the expense payments as an allowance and that routinely claiming the maximum amount is common practice.

In that case, it’s fine, nothing to see here, let’s move on. After all, it’s common practice, pretty much everyone does it.

This discrepancy could lead to an investigation by HM Revenue & Customs. The payments are currently tax free because they are “reimbursement of actual expenses”, according to the Lords’ rule book, rather than a form of salary.

Lord Brabazon of Tara the head of the Privileges Committee, the watchdog in the Lords, has admitted that the rules are ambiguous.

Oh fine, let’s take the public for a ride then. After all, the “rules are ambiguous”.

One veteran Conservative peer said that there was an “element of hypocrisy” in the arrangement but it represented the best compromise possible after the 1999 reforms.

Indeed, if you were a Lord you might think £308 tax-free day would be the best compromise possible too! You wouldn’t even have to show up for work.

An analysis of peers’ expenses for The Times reveals:

— 359 of the 550 Lords who claimed “day subsistence” — a £78.50 payment for meals and taxis — claimed the maximum on 95 per cent of occasions or more.

— 272 of the 406 peers who live outside London and claim “overnight subsistence” for hotels — worth £159.50 — claimed the maximum on 95 per cent of occasions or more.

No suggestion that they might eat and sleep somewhere less expensive.

— 338 of 514 Lords who claim office expenses, worth £69 a day, claimed the maximum on 95 per cent of occasions or more. Unlike the House of Commons, secretarial costs are paid to the peer to distribute.

A number of Lords have claimed allowances regularly while voting infrequently. Lord Paul, a friend of Gordon Brown whose family is reportedly worth around £1.5 billion, claimed allowances for 137 days between April 2006 and March 2007. He voted 26 times on 21 different days over the same period, according to the Public Whip website [which says he’s attended 232 votes out of 937 in total, or 24.8% – ed]. He said: “Most votes are before 5pm. I usually go after that. After work.”

And do what, exactly?

However, Lord Paul and a number of other peers defended the amounts that they claimed, saying that their actual expenses were higher than the maximum that they could claim.

Again no suggestion of eating and sleeping anywhere less expensive.  I’m sure I could think of places to eat and sleep that were more expensive than £300 a day, too.  But sadly I’m not on the gravy train.

He said: “That’s far less than I deserve. If a lawyer can charge thousands of pounds, then I can charge that.

Um… no. A lawyer has to turn up for work.

I spend more money than that, so I put in for the amount I can. That’s what I’m allowed to do, and that’s what I do.”

Just in case you think these are trivial sums:

Peers’ expenses cost the taxpayer £17.7 million in the year to March [or 590 police officers – ed], representing 18 per cent of the running cost of the Lords.

The rule book on the House of Lords website says: “All amounts paid in settlement of claims represent reimbursement of actual expenses arising out of unpaid parliamentary duty, rather than income from employment. Consequently they are not subject to income tax, and need not be included on a tax return.” It adds: “A member’s signature effectively certifies that the amount claimed has been spent.” Claims are checked by the House of Lords finance department and audited by the National Audit Office.

Lord Brabazon [52 votes out of 937, or 5.5%! – ed] said: “Frankly most people claim the maximum. It’s up to individual peers to claim what they claim, within the limits. That’s the way the Lords works. You don’t have to prove how much you spent overnight.”

Asked if that could allow for abuses, he said: “I couldn’t possibly comment.”

Huh? Surely it’s pretty obvious that writing out blank cheques could allow for abuse. For god’s sake… no-one’s asking you to name names.

Hey, why bother even asking for their signature?  Just give them £300 a day!

Asked if there was conflicting guidance, he said: “I can see what you’re getting at. I would agree that it’s ambiguous and that’s the way it works.”

Maurice Fitzpatrick, senior tax manager for Grant Thornton, said: “The general rule in the private sector is that when Revenue & Customs conduct inspections that they expect expenses reimbursed to employees to be backed up by receipts.

Indeed!

Private sector companies don’t have access to free money, and they therefore have to watch where it goes.

I can’t see a general exemption for this allowance, and I can’t see anything that says this daily allowance is automatically free of tax.”

HM Revenue & Customs said: “Payment of expenses is a matter for House authorities. HMRC do not comment on individual cases.”

These are the people in charge of lawmaking. They are taking us for a ride, spending our money – money that could otherwise be spent on health, education, law and order and so on.

All part of the political gravy train.

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One Response

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  1. Watcching Them, Watching Us said, on November 13, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    “Lord Brabazon [52 votes out of 937, or 5.5%! – ed]”

    gives the wrong impression of how active a Peer, Lord Brabazon actually is.

    If you follow many legislative debates in the Lords, you will see that he usually fulfils a role similar to the Speaker or Deputy Speaker, by announcing which amendments are being considered, and which ones have been grouped together, and calling for the actual votes etc.

    e.g.

    Offender Management Bill (12 Jun 2007)
    Lord Brabazon of Tara: I advise the Committee that if Amendment No. 136 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 137 because of pre-emption.

    Offender Management Bill (12 Jun 2007)
    Lord Brabazon of Tara: The Question is that Clause 31 stand part of the Bill? As many as are of that opinion will say “Content”..

    It is unlikely that he is partisan enough to be seen to vote in such proceedings which he is effectively chairing.


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