The Expenses Saga – What Have We Learned? How Trust Can Be Restored!

The long running expenses scandal has provided clues that illuminate the murky depths in much the same way, you can see more below the surface of a smooth pond, if you throw a few stones in!

Even the role played by other central players, some still on the green benches, was illuminated in an excellent Play broadcast on the BBC last year. The role of Speaker Martin and his closest allies in encouraging a climate of laxity and excess when it came to claiming expenses was crucial!

The cases of Jim Devine, David Chaytor, Eric Illsley and Lord Taylor plus the investigation of Denis MacShane, have taught us much about the attitudes and methods employed in claiming expenses beyond expenditure! Otherwise known as fraud to you and me!

Investigative journalism, assisted by a rather important leak to the Telegraph, has also contributed an enormous amount of detail, unlocking the inside secrets that would never have reached public attention were it not for them.

Members of Parliament, never shrinking violets at the best of times, made the erroneous assumption that they were important and were underpaid! The incoming Labour Government in 1997 were anxious to maintain peace on their benches and it became the practise to expand the interpretation of the ‘Green Book’ to allow significantly larger claims. Eventually all relationship with the original intention of the rules broke down and by all accounts there was a free for all!

Those MPs given to greed, were practically give the green light to fiddle their expenses. Labour members were advised to ‘fill your boots’ and as we now know they most certainly did! Speaker Martin and his crew bear a heavy responsibility too, the Fees Office were so undermined that any objection from them fell on deaf ears, they stopped checking claims properly, which only compounded the problem. Many MPs made ‘arrangements’ with the Fees Office to pay invoices, believing this would ‘cover them’ if questions were to be later asked?

As we know, with claims for Duck Houses and moat cleaning, the free for all had become so absurd it was surreal! As this story has unfolded it became clear that there was more than evidence of greed to be exposed but, amongst a group of MPs, actual fraud by means of deception! Not having the required receipts did not stop them either, they used the ‘friendly printer’ route or even made their own up, often in the most amateurish way. Propelled by an overwhelming sense of entitlement amongst this group of MPs they ceased to realise the significance of what they were doing. Equipment purchase, office rentals, computers, laptops, printers, council tax, mortgage payments, food, dry-cleaning and many other third party services such as printing became fair game in the rush to supplement their salaries.

There is an important difference between making up a claim with a false invoice and the greed involved in moat cleaning! The moat cleaning actually happened and the invoice paid, Devine’s printing did not! Moat cleaning is an example of outrageous greed, not dishonesty.

The fact that fictitious invoices can be checked through bank account records of transactions many years old simply did not occur to this group of greedy MPs. This is the problem with this crude deception, it is so easily verified!

At the time of the General Election in May 2010 Eric Illsley and Denis MacShane survived scrutiny because we didn’t know they were even under any investigation. Disgracefully there was a conspiracy of silence before the elections last May to keep this knowledge from the voter. How many more of these greedy and dishonest MPs, still enjoying an entirely undeserved reputation, are there remaining? An important question, that will be answered eventually, no doubt!

Rotherham Politics Opinion:

All public representatives are required to practise the Seven Principles of Public life.* It is time for MPs to live up to these principles and to demonstrate their leadership, openness and honesty in practical ways to restore trust in politics and politicians.

Members of Parliament serving through this period of excess, who are still MPs, should now voluntarily submit themselves to investigation by means of a proper audit of their expenses and undertake to publish the audit report along with all relevant information on their websites! We deserve nothing less than this rather modest attempt at transparency.

Perhaps in this spirit, Kevin Barron, no less than, the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, a Privy Councillor, member of the General Medical Council and long serving member for Rother Valley, a true pillar of society, should now show his leadership by volunteering to be the first to clear the air, in this open and transparent way?

Notes:

*THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF PUBLIC LIFE
SELFLESSNESS
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.  They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
INTEGRITY
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
OBJECTIVITY
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
ACCOUNTABILITY
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
OPENNESS
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take.  They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
HONESTY
Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
LEADERSHIP
Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

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