Friday, 8 April 2011

Chancellor Snivelling Little Worm Shocker!!

Today's Mirror is running a story about George Osborne's expenses claims, in particular the fact he is claiming petrol expenses for driving in his constituency.

Now let's leave aside the feeling that as a millionaire he has little need of reimbursement for this (MPs are entitled to claim some expenses and to get rid of this entitlement will inevitably preclude all but the very wealthy from standing for parliament) and have a look at some the detail:

"Mr Osborne asked to be reimbursed for £32.80 in one bill - 40p per mile - for an 82 mile journey from "Macclesfield to Wilmslow"

82 miles? How in hell did he manage to clock up 82 miles?! Macclesfield to Knutsford is, according to Google maps, 12.8 miles each way, even if he'd just gone from point A to point B. Let's assume, though, that he had to visit a number of places around the consituency - we're in the heart of Cheshire, don't forget, where some of the drives are longer than my journey to the shops. I did a bit of fiddling around with additional destinations to see if I could bump it up a bit, and I managed to do so. 86.7 miles, to be precise, but then I did have to go via Stafford to get that!

Another issue here, of course, is the rigour with which the claims are scrutinised (proved wanting under the old system, so one would hope improved under IPSA). Did no-one sitting in London, think to question this? Or is it just that if it's outside the M25 it's bandit country where no reliable maps are available? In my years as a pen-pushing, back office, enemy-of-enterprise local government officer, I dealt with travel and expenses claims for peripatetic staff. Had anyone put in a single claim for 80+ miles within their normal working area, I would have undertaken some serious questioning before agreeing it, because it was public money I would be spending, and (as a taxpayer myself) I always took the expenditure I was responsible for extremely seriously.

Of course, the story is in the Mirror, so will inevitably be looking to portray Osborne in the worst light (not that he needs much help with that!). It's possible that the claim was, in fact, thrown out, but the story highlights two things:

That, despite his personal wealth, he sees nothing wrong with claiming substantial amounts from the taxpayer. Would it hurt him to absorb the costs, if only for the PR coup of being able to claim that "we're all in this together"? [Cue High School Musical dance routine]. (Sorry, this always springs to mind when they trot this cliche out).

That the administration of the expenses system is still far from robust. A little local knowledge goes a long way - my fear is that stuck in an office somewhere in Westminster (and probably underpaid and overworked), IPSA staff may not recognise when the wool is being pulled over their eyes. True I have a bit of local knowledge - Cheshire is the bit us Manchester proles are allowed to visit at the weekends if we want our kids to see a cow - but if it took me 30 seconds to Google it, it really isn't that hard to work out whether someone's working the system.

I'd have thought the name "George Osborne" on the claim form would give that away!

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