Average (UK) MP's expenses cost taxpayer £118,000
The average MP cost taxpayers £118,000 in allowances and expenses last year, it was revealed yesterday when the House of Commons opened its books in an attempt to counter accusations of fiddling and sleaze.
MPs are paid £57,485, but figures published for the first time show that the additional total allowances have climbed to £78m, an increase of more than £20m within two years.
Amounts paid out for housing, constituency offices, staff, travel, computers and other items, released as part of the move towards freedom of information, varied widely between neighbouring MPs in the same political parties, the figures show.
The Commons figures were made public as a report by the senior salaries review board recommended a particularly harsh deal for MPs and ministers, pegging salary rises next year to a below inflation 2% and increasing by 1% contributions to an admittedly generous pension scheme.
Peers, however, are in line for a boost of up to 20% under proposals to raise daily atten dance allowances by £11 to £75, overnight expenses from £128 to £150, and daily office awards from £53.50 to £65.
MPs have enjoyed a number of sizeable pay rises and holding down next April's award will avoid a possible controversy before an expected general election in May.
Sir Archy Kirkwood, the Liberal Democrat MP who speaks for the Commons commission which published the expenses figures, said: "This is a significant step towards openness and accountability and I welcome it. The taxpayers can really see how their money is being spent."
Sir Archy, MP for rural Roxburgh and Berwickshire, may have been relieved to discover he claimed several thousands of pounds less than the average in 2003-4.
MPs are meant to produce receipts for bills of more than £250 and publication of detailed figures follows a series of disputes over expenses claims, culminating in £90,000 repaid by Michael Trend, Conservative MP for Windsor, for a London home he did not possess. Mr Trend is to stand down at the election.
The bulk of claims cover staff costs, although MPs from the Speaker, Michael Martin, down have been criticised in the media for employing relatives.
An out-of-town allowance up to a maximum £20,033 open to all MPs except those representing inner London constituencies has also proved to be controversial, with some parliamentarians buying flats from which they keep any capital gains when they retire or lose their seats.
The £80,836 claimed by Tony Blair put him in the bottom 10 MPs. But the prime minister, who has accommodation in Downing Street and Chequers provided by the state, was still able to claim to run his Sedgefield constituency home, which doubles as an office, as were other cabinet ministers with grace-and-favour apartments, including John Prescott, Margaret Beckett and David Blunkett.
The Tory leader, Michael Howard, claimed £126,658 and the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, £121,630 in 2003-04.
The highest sum claimed was £168,889, by Claire Curtis-Thomas, Labour MP for Crosby, and the least, £56,657, by Mr Trend since his fall from grace.
Top of the travel claims was a Scottish MP, East Lothian's Anne Picking, with £39,744, while Siobhain McDonagh, of Mitcham and Mordern, spent more than £40,000 on paper and postage to write to her constituents.
Stephen Pound, Ealing North MP, who claimed £111,000 in 2003-04, said it was the equivalent of 3p each year for each of his electors.
"This is not about filling our boots," he said. "This is not about trousering a lot of money. This is about the money it takes to do the job."
The senior salaries review board recommended that judges' salaries go up by 2.5% and senior military officers' by 2.8%, with senior civil servants receiving up to 9%.
Both peers and MPs are to lose their generous 57p mileage allowance for their first 20,000 miles of motoring. It will be cut to 40p a mile for the first 10,000 miles and 25p a mile thereafter.
MPs' staff allowance goes up from £66,458 a year to £72,000 and to more than £80,000 for London MPs.