Nadine Dorries has responded to Friday’s news that IPSA is to investigate her expenses with a fairly lengthy – and rambling – post at her own not-really-a-blog and true to her usual form her comments merely serve to demonstrate that she and the real world are, at best, only casual acquaintances.
On Sunday morning, I published an analysis of Dorries’ personal mileage allowance claims for the period from mid-April to the beginning of August 2012 from which it would appear that she made overnight use of her £1,600 per month taxpayer-funded Pimlico flat on just seven nights over a period of 109 days. In the same period she appears to made a daily commute from her Bedfordshire constituency home to London and back on 34 occasions at a cost to the taxpayer of £39.80 per round trip.
Whether or not this is within the letter of the rules governing the use of MPs’ London accommodation allowance is a matter for IPSA. Whether it is within the spirit of the MPs expenses system or smacks of profligacy and an unmerited sense of personal entitlement is, however, a matter on which the ‘Court of Public Opinion’ can fairly pass judgement and so I make no apologies whatsoever for digging around in Dorries’ published expenses claims in order to compile and present, metaphorically speaking, the case for protection.
In keeping with this judicial metaphor, we can reasonably regard Dorries’ blog post as setting out both the case for defence and a number of pleas in mitigation and so what follows is, by the same reckoning, the cross-examination, although this will also include the presentation of rebuttal evidence – or, colloquially, a damn good fisking.
So, to begin at the beginning…
A newly divorced MP recently attended court for a child custody hearing. An hour before the hearing his barrister gave him some advice: drop your request for custody. You live in three locations, Westminster, your constituency and the town where your children were born and are educated. Your working hours and commitments mean it is very unlikely the judge would agree unless you first agree to give up your job.
The barrister came to that conclusion without even knowing about IPSA.
Dorries may have three children, all daughters, but the youngest of these is, by now, 21 years old. So while I sympathise with this unidentified male MPs situation it is nevertheless of no particular relevance to that in which Dorries finds herself. Her own children are now adults and all have flown the parental nest at least as far as a university some considerable distance away from their family. Philippa, the eldest, went to Newcastle. The middle daughter, Jennifer, studied in Bournemouth and, from I can see, the youngest daughter, Cassandra, appears to have been studying at a university in her mother’s home town of Liverpool.
As blatant appeals for sympathy go this one is deeply unconvincing and of no relevance whatsoever to the matters at hand.
Last week, IPSA posted on its web site an announcement stating that it is going to investigate my expenses under two categories, but did not say why.
The full text of IPSA’s notice reads as follows:
This notice is published in accordance with Section 9 and 9A of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 (as amended) and Paragraph 48 of the Second Edition of the Procedures for Investigations of the Compliance Officer for IPSA.
The Compliance Officer for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has reason to believe that Ms Nadine Dorries MP may have been paid an amount under the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses that should not have been allowed.
An investigation will be conducted into claims submitted under the following areas of the Third and Fourth Editions of the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses:
– Accommodation Expenditure;
– Travel and Subsistence.
In accordance with the legislation and the procedures for investigation made thereunder, no further information shall be published until the investigation has been concluded.
You’ll notice (no pun intended) that the opening paragraph refers specifically to the relevant sections of the legislation and procedure under which the notice has been issued and that, a little further on, it states that the investigation relates to expenses claim that may have been paid, which ‘should not have been allowed’ and that identifies the types of expenses being investigated; Accommodation Expenditure and Travel and Subsistence.
The Compliance Officer that issued this notice has nothing other than follow the protocol set out in law and in IPSA’s own procedures and would not disclose any further information at this stage so as not to prejudice its own inquiries.
Dorries has no grounds for complaint here but nevertheless continues – predictably – with…
This resulted in a wave of hate email and threats which rained down on my head, including a threat to firebomb my home.
As anyone who has taken anything more than a passing interest in Dorries’ antics over the last 6-7 years will already know, her stock response to just about any kind of adverse publicity is to play the victim. She has, on a numerous occasions, claimed to be the recipient of abusive emails (and worse) but has never once, in all that time, published the text of such an email.
[UPDATE: I’ve just been advised that the ‘threat to firebomb my home’ was in fact a tweet (since deleted) so, as usual, we’re in ‘someone posted something stupid on the Internet’ country here]
The only independently verified incident in which Dorries was the subject of a ‘threat’ stemmed from stupidly hyperbolic post on an online forum by a former journalist who ‘fantasised’ i.e. wrote about having a ‘happy vision’ of Dorries being killed by a car bomb, as described by Dorries to the Daily Mail:
Only yesterday, I received an email from a former journalist who wrote of his fantasy of watching me burn as a bomb explodes under my car.
‘I have a vision, people, a happy vision,’ it declared, in which ‘explosives detonate, sending a jet of energy and flame upwards. The interior of the car lights up, a brilliant, iridescent orange and Dorries falls forward, still alive but burning in the grim embrace of a melting seatbelt.’
Needless to say, this macabre contribution has also been reported to the police. It is the sort of abuse I face constantly.
A credible threat? No, not at all, not least for the fact that, contrary to what Dorries said to the Daily Mail, the email she received was not sent by the former journalist who wrote so vividly about her but rather by a third party who saw those comments on the forum to which they had actually been posted and then emailed Dorries to alert her to their existence.
What Dorries actually received by email was not a threat but a ‘someone wrote something stupid on the Internet’ message from a third party which resulted in the author removing their vivid prose and making a full apology.
IPSA was established in 2009 to administer MP’s expenses. Before I bore anyone with the facts of my investigation I would just like to ask the question, does anyone know of any company or organisation which has a budget of almost eight million pounds per year to process the expenses of six hundred and fifty employees?
No, I don’t either, but that’s what IPSA charge the taxpayer. It is infinitely more than was ever mis-claimed by any MP each year. After a few years of operation, with set up costs, IPSA must have cost us all circa 20 – 30 million pounds and counting.
Rather than revisit the events that led to the creation of IPSA, I decided to look into its actual operating costs and discovered that it’s operational budget for 2011-12 was set at £6.36 million. This was, however, to enable it to administer a budget of a little over £165.7 million which consisted of £49.2 million in MPs’ salaries, 74.75 million in MPs’ staff salaries, and £ 41.8 million in relates MPs’ expenses, plus a £4.4 million contingency fund and £1.57 million to cover payments made up front to MPs to cover property rental costs – remember landlords don’t, as a rule, accept payments in arrears.
So, there’s a lot more to IPSA than mileage allowances and stationary bills and while it’s unlikely that any business would spend £6.36 million on administering the expenses of just 650 employees, if one could find a business with 650 subcontractors, each of which had anything from 2-4 employees, that was willing to take on the payroll and expenses administration for the whole shebang then just over £6 million costs on a £165 million annual spend is likely to be anything but unreasonable. We are, after all, looking at a 3.7% admin spend from a total budget of £172 million, which is pretty lean for an operational structure – and I mean Parliament as a whole, not just IPSA – that most businesses would regard as bordering on the perverse.
What kind of business has 650 separate departments, each with 3-5 employees, all performing more or less the same function, where the junior and middle managers can, in theory, join together and sack the CEO?
One has to ask, isn’t there a better way than this? How many A+E departments would that money have saved? How much of that thirty million could have gone into a social care budget? I am not of course advocating a return to the old system because MPs like myself need to be protected from accusations of wrongdoing (oh, the irony), however this is an obscene waste of money highlighted by the fact that IPSA are now resorting to desperate measures to protect its own jobs for the boys status.
Again, objection! Relevancy.
IPSA does not exist to protect MPs from allegations of wrongdoing. It exists to deal with the administration of payments to MPs and their employees and to ensure that MPs comply with the rules that deal with the payment of expenses.
Payroll and audit, that’s IPSA’s job in a nutshell. Show me a business of any significant size without those basic functions and I show you a business that will be bankrupt in the not too distant future.
Could the system operate more efficiently? Of course it could.
We could, for example, treat MPs as independent subcontractors and hand them a grant at the start of financial year to cover their own salary, expenses and the costs of running their parliamentary and constituency offices, and let them manage their own payroll, etc. Treat them as, in effect, small not-for-profit businesses subject to the same accounting rules as registered charities with the same reporting requirements, i.e. annual report and audited accounts plus repayment of any unspent monies from their annual grant.
That would certainly reduce administration costs considerably but it would, of course, mean an increased workload for MPs and their staff, who’d have to manage their own budgets, payroll and expenses, etc and pay their own audit fees, so I’d expect that it not a system that most MPs would welcome.
And, of course, it’s probably not a system that would inspire public trust. Not so soon after the last MPs’ expenses scandal.
The system that does exist may be imperfect and it may well be expensive, although the figures for admin costs as a percentage of the total budget are actually very modest by public sector standards, but that had no bearing whatsoever on the question of whether or not Dorries has claimed expenses to which she’s not entitled under the rules nor is she the only MP currently under investigation.
The current inquiries section of the Parliamentary Commission for Standards currently lists five open inquiries:
– Mr Stephen Hammond MP – Registration
– Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP – Declaration, registration and lobbying
– Rt Hon Maria Miller MP – Members’ Allowances (ACA/PAAE)
– Mr Richard Graham MP – Use of House facilities
– Mr Philip Davies MP – Declaration
And I would assume that IPSA is directly involved in the inquiry into the use of Members’ Allowances by Maria Miller.
That, then, is Dorries’ prefatory whinge dealt with in full, so we can at last get to the meat of Dorries’ defence.
IPSA have decided in my case that because my Westminster electricity usage was up in May, June, July 2012 (the bill was circa £70) I must have sublet my flat.
I dealt in some detail with Dorries’ expenses claims in Sunday’s article and irrespective of any suggestion of subletting; the fact is that Dorries ran up a £67 electricity bill at her London flat while seemingly spending only seven nights at the property over a 109 day period.
During that same period, she appears to have commuted to Westminster from her constituency home and back to her constituency home at the end of the day on 34 separate occasions at cost to the taxpayer, on top of the £1,607 per month rent on her flat, of a penny or two shy of £39 per round trip. That’s £1.328 and a few pence on top of £6,400 in rent, a £600+ Council Tax Bill and the electricity bill, all paid for by the taxpayer.
What I suspect has prompted IPSA to question whether Dorries might have been subletting her London flat is the contrast between that electricity and the bills for which she claimed for the two previous quarters, which came in at just over £73 for her winter bill, which is always the most expensive of the year due to the costs of heating a property in cold weather, but just £36.37 for the last three months of 2011, when average temperatures in London were not dissimilar to those in April-June 2012.
Since Sunday, I’ve gone back and analysed Dorries’ expense claims for the three months from 22 September -22 December 2011 and, again, used her mileage claims for that period to try and verify exactly how many occasions she used her London flat overnight while attending the House of Common. AS with Sunday’s article, I’ve pulled my findings into a easy-to-follow infographic:
So, this time around we have nine verified sleepovers in London and 23 daily commutes plus, inevitably given the state of Dorries’ record keeping, four days that cannot be accounted for from either her mileage claims or House of Commons voting records, which could in theory bring the number of overnight stays in London up to twelve, which would be rather better than the seven she managed six months later.
That, of course, means another £900 in travel expenses for commuting to go with £4,800 in rent for her London flat and all, of course, at the taxpayer’s expense.
That take us up to £11,235 for a verified 16 nights usage of a London flat over near enough seven months (i.e. just over £700 per night) when, had she stayed in a hotel, she could have claimed a maximum of just £2080 and an electricity bill in July 2012 that’s 86% higher than her last bill of 2011 despite her making less use of the flat between April and the beginning of August 2012 than she did between September and the end of December 2011.
Now you can see why IPSA have raised a query about the electricity bill, even if they’re almost certainly wrong to suspect that Dorries has been subletting the flat.
Yes, that is exactly what they have said, in writing. Actually in May my daughter, who is in full time education, broke up for the summer and was transported with me to Westminster until I switched to working in the constituency at the end of July.
As mentioned earlier, Dorries has three daughters, two of whom have, at different times, been employed to work in her Parliamentary office at, of course, the taxpayers’ expense. When the Daily Mail reported the split between Dorries and her husband/partner/whatever* in January 2007 her children’s ages were given as 21, 19 and 15, putting the age of her youngest daughter, Cassandra, at either 20 or possibly even 21 by May 2012, depending on where in the year her birthday falls.
* Your guess is as good as mine.
Full time education would, therefore, mean ‘at University’ and unless she took a gap year before taking up her university place, it would also mean that she’d have just the finished her second year in May 2012 which, for most students at the same stage of higher education, will have meant living off campus in a privately rented student flat or house.
Exactly why Dorries would feel the need to be transporting one of her adult daughters around with her when she goes to work in London is anyone’s guess but its very noticeable that by omitting that little detail – her youngest daughter’s age – anyone who is unaware of the ages of her children could very easily be left with the impression that she is referring to a teenager who just finished school/6th form and not an adult who’s probably spent at least one university year living away from the family home.
Dorries appear, in the words of the late Alan Clark, to be rather economical with the actualité here.
Any MP who lived through the 2009 expenses crisis and then decided to sublet their Westminster room (it is a studio flat) would need certifying. It is a very strong allegation that is totally untrue.
That’s the first honest statement for a while, and possibly the only 100% honest statement in Dories entire article but its also one that is of little relevance to the prosecution case that’s being presented here, where the charge is profligacy and a over-inflated sense of entitlement rather than fraud.
The next allegation was entitled ‘duplicate claim’ under travel and subsistence. I rarely claim the subsistence allowance, I pay for my own food, so this sent my office into a frenzy. There was complete astonishment when the ‘duplicate claim’ was identified. In March 2012, the ‘26th’ button in a drop down bar on a computer screen was clicked twice, by accident, when submitting a travel claim. This meant it was submitted twice. I thought IPSA had been paid 20- 30 million pounds to pick things like that up? Why was the person who double paid that receipt asleep on the job? Didn’t he or she think ‘oh, hang on, same claim submitted twice on same day, surely some mistake? Better make a phone call and just check?’
Apparently not. Worth mentioning here is the fact that, despite the vast amount of tax payers revenue paid to IPSA, they have a policy not to answer their phones until 1pm. That’s right, they spend their millions on so few staff that they have no one to answer their phones in the morning.
This, in simple terms, is bullshit.
Although there is a duplicate claim for the 26th March 2012 for – inevitably – another round trip from Dorries constituency home to London and back and this duplicate claim does appear to be no more than a clerical error, the data relating to this claim in IPSA’s published records indicates that it cannot have occurred as a result of clicking a button or drop down box twice by accident.
For the 26th March 2012, there are six transactions in the data set, three on each of two separate dockets. Each of the two dockets has a six digit numerical serial/index number which, one would assume, is automatically assigned by central expenses system in ascending order when the completed docket is submitted for processing.
That is just how databases work and the MPs expenses system is, in essence, nothing more than a database.
The serial number on the two dockets differ by 11622, and even allowing for 650 MPs entering expenses claims on the system and processing of those claims for payment, which uses a second serial number, it seems unlikely that a minimum of 5,500 dockets were submitted by other MPs in the time it took a member of Dorries’ staff to push a button twice by accident.
Four of the transactions – two on each docket – relate to Dorries’ commute to London and back on 26 March – one a legitimate claim, the other an accidental duplicate. The other two transactions relate to a claim for travel between two locations in Dorries’ own constituency by a member of staff, one of each docket, and these are not duplicates. One docket contains the mileage claim for the outward journey, the other the corresponding claim for the return journey.
This, coupled with the difference in serial numbers between the two dockets, tells a very different story from the ‘oops, pushed the button twice’ yarn that Dorries is spinning although, to be fair, it does appear that she’s only repeating the yarn that been spun to her by her own staff. That story is simply one of human error. Someone in her office put in a duplicate claim for Dorries’ own round trip to London on 26 March while putting in the second half of staff claim for travel within Dorries constituency, not realising that that round trip had already been included on the first docket; a simple PBCAK* or ‘ID-Ten-T’** error.
* PBCAK: ‘Problem Between Chair And Keyboard’
* ID-Ten-T: Take out the hyphens and replace the word ‘Ten’ with Arabic numerals – you’ll get the idea quickly enough.
There is also a third complaint, that I do not use my Westminster studio on a routine basis. Really? Here is the Oxford definition of ‘routine’:
“A sequence of actions regularly followed; performed as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason”
As in ‘Nadine Dorries routinely claims thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money for the rental of a London flat that she rarely uses’.
I stay in my Westminster studio when Parliament sits late and the nights are evenly spaced out over the term. I think I meet the definition of routine. I have never made any claim that I stay there other than when it is difficult to get home, that is the purpose of the accommodation. For a little while I haven’t been able to stay there every single night Parliament sits and that is down to this little lady here:
If not one minds too much, I’ll pass on the dog photos. If you’ve haven’t clicked the link to visit Dorries’s not-quite-a-blog, it’s a Labrador and the photos add nothing to the story.
She has now reached the ripe old age of thirteen. I would stay in London, except she isn’t allowed in the studio with me. I would much prefer that we didn’t have to drive four, sometimes five hours a day, but having suffered the indignity of being told by a security officer ‘you can’t bring that dog in here’ when we arrived at the studio very late one night (how dare he speak to her like that!) I often have to drive home and can only stay overnight when I can leave her somewhere and with someone.
There is only so much putting on friends and neighbours one can do. Who knew such a beauty would live this long?! I didn’t. If I had known we were going to be this lucky, maybe I would have planned things a little differently, however, regardless, I was still very keen to ensure no IPSA dictat was broken.
The AA reckons 70 minutes from Dorries’ constituency home to her Westminster flat but, to be fair, that may depend on the time of day.
As for the rest, Dorries explanation for claiming £11,200 in seven months for a flat used overnight on just 16 occasions is, in essence, ‘The dog ate my travel expenses’ and, of course, we’re to completely ignore the fact that by using a hotel for those occasional overnight stays in London, rather than renting a property and commuting to feed the dog, Dorries could have spared the taxpayer a bill for the3 two period of analysed of £9,100 over and above the amount she could have claimed to cover hotel bills.
I am quite sure the IPSA solution to my being a single mum and lone carer of a family and a dog would be to have the dog put down and my child adopted, but I’d rather not. The barrister who told the MP to drop his case may never have taken it on in the first place if he had known about IPSA.
A single mum with three adult daughters who insisted on transporting one of the those daughters with her, to and from work (supposedly) between May and July 2012, when anyone else in this situation would have probably asked the daughter to stay at home and do the dog-sitting, if the dog is really that important.
We are beyond satire here. Not once in her ‘poor me, I’m a single mom with a dog to feed’ act has Dorries bothered to mention that all her daughters are now adults.
When IPSA has finished its fruitless and costly investigation I want an apology for the upset and humiliation it has caused my family by an online announcement which it chose to post on a Friday afternoon, in true Machiavellian, spin doctor style, straight from the school of Mandleson – Campbell, hoping to cause maximum personal distress and make the most of journalists looking for stories to fill the weekend papers.
When IPSA has finished its fruitless and costly investigation, I want a letter of apology, posting on the IPSA web site at exactly the same time on a Friday afternoon so that I can gain the same benefit of maximum impact.
How about apologising, instead, for yet again trying to insult everyone’s intelligence and spin your way out of tight corner?
Or even for claiming in excess of £11,000 in rent on a London flat that you only very rarely use when you could have used a hotel and saved the taxpayer over £9,000 in just the seven month period that I’ve looked at in detail.
In any case, Dorries got lucky with the timing of IPSA’s announcement as the press were altogether more preoccupied with the death of Reeva Steenkamp at the hands of Oscar Pistorius.
And, actually, while we’re on the subject of the flat, which Dorries has been at great pains to describe as being just a studio flat…
When I wrote up Sunday’s article I had no idea at all of the actual location of the flat but, based on the amounts claimed and what’s currently being advertised on property websites, I noted that the figures were in the right ballpark for a rental property in Pimlico.
Since then a general location has been suggested to me, one that if true would add a bit of interesting additional context to Dorries’ efforts to downplay the nature of her taxpayer funded London property.
I won’t, for obvious reasons, name the location that’s been suggested to me but what I will say is that its anything but a tower block in Hackney and the location, itself, boasts some rather nice amenities for its residents including a Moroccan-style spa, Bar and Grill and a sports and fitness club (with discounted membership for residents) that has its own stylish pool, sauna and steam rooms, skilled personal trainers, squash courts, a riverside tennis court and – joy above all joys – its own croquet lawn.
Whether or not the bar and grill serves ostrich cloaca or kangaroo anus has yet to be ascertained.
In addition to an apology, I want an explanation. I would like to know why, when there had been no justified complaint about my travel expenses or use of my flat, IPSA chose to go on a fishing expedition through my expenses after I came out of the jungle? Was it because they haven’t had an investigation since 2011 and knew it would be a matter of time before someone asked, “hang on, why have we paid this organisation so much money exactly?” Was it because someone thought that following the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ publicity that I must be so unpopular that the public would praise IPSA for launching an investigation into the expenses of a high profile MP who had none of the protection afforded by a Ministerial position or a cabinet office? If IPSA did, they got it very wrong.
It’s called an ‘audit’ and if you look it up in your Oxford dictionary you’ll find that it’s defined as:
(n) an official inspection of an organization’s accounts, typically by an independent body
In business it something that happens quite a lot.
As for ‘high profile’, I looked that up as well but sadly the current definition doesn’t appear to cover going on a TV reality show and eating a kangaroo’s arse.
Did they think there would be a public clamour that would place a veil over the validity of the investigation whilst they embedded a reputation of shrewd gatekeepers in the public psyche and I was publicly shredded?
No, they appear to want you to explain why your electricity bill went up 86% when you were commuting to and from work most of the time and not, therefore, not make very much use of the £1,600 London flat you’ve been claiming rent for.
Wrong again. IPSA have seriously underestimated the public ability to smell a rat. They also appear to have forgotten that actually, as a result of IAC, the public now know me and some of the support we have received over the weekend, including offers of legal help, has been amazing.
Sounds rather a lot like ‘Don’t you know whom I am?’ She’ll be calling them ‘plebs’ next – just you wait and see.
I also want answers. How much has it cost the tax payer for IPSA to make these incorrect allegations? How much will this unnecessary investigation cost? It is time the spotlight turned onto an organisation whose employees appear to have so little to do, they are focusing all their efforts on justifying their own existence and, whilst other public sector workers lose their jobs and pensions, use duplicitous methods to ensure they keep theirs.
Don’t look at me and the large sums of money I’ve been claiming from the taxpayer for a property I hardly use while also claiming travel expense for commuting to and from London on a daily basis. Look over there instead.
Doesn’t wash, I’m afraid.
Because a woman died under the hooves of a horse in the quest of female emancipation and because IPSA impact upon every single parent who is or wants to be an MP and because I refuse to allow a money hungry quango to compromise my right to work, be a mother and a pet owner, I am not allowing IPSA to get away with this.
Call me picky if you will but when the suffragettes were chaining themselves to the railing outside Parliament, getting carted off to prison and being force-fed by the prison authorities in particularly brutal manner while on hunger strike I doubt very much that what that had in mind, by way of female emancipation, was the right to claim £1600 a week on expenses for a flat in a very nice part of Pimlico and £2,300 in travel expenses for commuting to and from the House of Commons, just so you can get home to feed the dog.
The WPSU’s official slogan was, as I recall, ‘Deeds not Words’ and not ‘Dogs not Auditors’.