MPs have been offered an extra £10,000 each to support them while they work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, the poor darlings. The reason, during a national crisis when so many are losing their livelihoods, jobs, or on furlough, defeats Owl. No wonder Neil Parish thought he ought “earn his keep” by saying something even if it was all platitudes.
Emanuele Midolo, Esther Webber www.thetimes.co.uk
The extra budget can be used to buy equipment such as laptops and printers for MPs and their staff, or to cover additional electricity, heating and phone bills. The money, which comes on top of the existing office budget of about £26,000 a year per MP, will be available until March.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), the expenses regulator, also relaxed rules on the evidence MPs must provide and suspended the 90-day window for claims.
The credit limit on MPs’ payment cards has been increased to £10,000, and they can now spend up to £5,000 in a single transaction.
One MP said he expected that the money would mostly be used to assist staff, as the majority of MPs would already have home offices.
However, there is nothing in the rules to prevent MPs claiming it for themselves.
Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, questioned the decision. “It seems to me a very crude approach [from Ipsa],” he said. “I think the public may be slightly puzzled as to why what looks like a generous payment of this nature has been made without first doing a bit more research into what the actual costs are.”
Several researchers contacted by The Times were unaware of the funding.
The guidance, published last month, reads: “This is an uncertain and challenging time. Ipsa is committed to supporting MPs and their staff to carry on with their work as far as possible.”
In a letter to MPs, Richard Lloyd, the interim chairman of Ipsa, wrote: “We have agreed a series of immediate measures that we hope will provide you with the resources and flexibility to concentrate on your parliamentary duties and support your staff.”
James Roberts, political director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which campaigns for lower public spending, said: “While it’s reasonable for MPs’ staff to have access to the equipment they need to work from home during this crisis, politicians should take care to use the cash properly and avoid it being seen as a personal equipment slush fund.”
The news follows the announcement last month of a £20 million increase in MPs’ staffing budgets. MPs received an extra £25,000 for their staff after a parliamentary review suggested that they were underpaid compared with workers in other sectors. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, said at the time that his staff were “struggling to cope”.
Ipsa was created in response to the parliamentary expenses scandal of 2009, after which several rules were introduced to limit MPs’ claims. These included a ban on the purchase of second homes and on claims for home refurbishments. Last year, however, a Sunday Times investigation revealed that MPs claimed 22 per cent more in expenses than they did in 2009. In 2017-18, the total claimed by MPs rose to a record £116 million.