Boost for the Hospitality Trade – isn’t this what Simon Jupp has been asking for? Anyone had an invite from him yet? – Owl
Rishi Sunak has warned MPs that they will have to justify to their constituents any expenses they claim to cover the cost of staff Christmas parties.
New guidance from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has informed MPs that, for the first time, bills for food, drink and festive decorations can all be claimed,
Adam Forrest www.independent.co.uk
But the move – which allows MPs to claim potentially thousands of pounds in party costs – sparked a backlash among MPs, who described it as “bonkers” and “irresponsible”.
Ipsa issued the new guidance in response to frequently asked questions about how MPs and their staff can celebrate during the festive season.
The watchdog confirmed that “MPs can claim the costs of food and refreshments for an office festive” in their offices – but warned “no claims are allowed for alcohol”.
MPs were told that any claims “should represent value for money, especially in the current economic climate”, as millions feel the strain of a cost of living crisis.
But the prime minister’s official spokesperson said Mr Sunak would not be making any such claim, and suggested MPs should bear the probable reaction of voters before doing so.
The spokesperson told a Westminster media briefing: “Questions on these sorts of arrangements are for Ipsa, they’re independent of both parliament and government, they set the allowances.
“But the prime minister certainly doesn’t intend to use this and his view is that MPs will want to justify all spending to their constituents.”
MPs will be allowed to charge the costs from a festive gathering in their constituency, but were told it must be “within a parliamentary context” rather than “purely a social event”.
They can even claim the cost of celebratory Christmas cards – but were warned “they should not be sent to large groups or all constituents as there is a risk this may not represent value for money and could be considered self-promotional”.
There is no cap on the Christmas party spending, but the budget for annual office costs is limited to £31,620 for MPs in London seats and £28,570 for those outside the capital.
Among the MPs attacking the rules, former Tory minister David Davis said the expenses watchdog had “missed the mood of the age” by allowing politicians to charge for Christmas parties.
“I’m quite surprised. But I think it’s bonkers, frankly,” he told Talk TV. “It has missed the mood of the age if that’s what they’re saying.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips – in a post on Twitter retweeted by Tory foreign secretary James Cleverly – said Ipsa had been “irresponsible”.
“Just want to say no one asked for this, no one I know will use it,” she said. “The guidance wasn’t made by MPs and yet we will be pilloried for it. I think it’s really irresponsible to issue this guidance.”
Labour MP Charlotte Nichols added: “Sometimes I think Ipsa comes out with stuff like this because they don’t think MPs get enough abuse, so they just throw some petrol on the fire for the craic.”
Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds suggested the expenses watchdog had been a “little bit naive” putting out such guidance. “Ipsa need to be a bit more savvy in terms of how they present what they’re doing on this,” he told Times Radio.
Campaigners also reacted with alarm at the rules. “MPs already get a plum deal without taxpayer-funded office jollies,” John O’Connell of the TaxPayers’ Alliance told the Daily Mail.
Ipsa revealed that the total bill for MPs’ costs increased to £138.6m in 2020-21, up from £132.4m from the previous year.
The biggest rise in the past two years has come from staffing costs, with a rise in casework during the Covid period.
Ipsa chief executive Ian Todd said: “We know that it has been a challenging year for MPs and they have seen another rise in casework.”
Recent analysis by The Independent found that MPs charged taxpayers almost £200,000 for energy bills and other utilities at their second homes over the past year.
In the past three years, MPs have claimed just over £692,000 to cover these utility costs – with £538,000 alone going on heating bills.