Today’s the day MPs’ expenses were finally revealed – well, as much as the House of Commons was prepared to let us see, with so many lumps of ██████ that a normal person might suspect they haven’t quite learned their ████████ lesson and that they’re still a bunch of secretive ██████.
Looking locally, Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford’s expenses seem unremarkable enough until you discover that he’s being charged £2,000 each quarter by Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party for the use of its HQ in Woolwich Road, Greenwich for “surgery and office facilities”. He has – and by extension we have – been charged this since at least January 2004.
But the premises are actually owned by the Labour Party itself – Land Registry documents show the building has owned outright since 1986 by Labour Party Nominees Limited, which the party’s constitution says holds “party assets, either outright or on trust for the benefit of the party”.
Community site greenwich.co.uk covered this earlier today, saying: “Whilst the rent doesn’t seem excessive, other landlords around London are having to deal with a slump in rents and one wonders where’s the incentive for Nick to push for an even better deal on rent when its his own party that benefits from the income?”
Quite. Mr Raynsford’s office said the rent was based on a “based on a valuation carried out by a professional valuer”.
I checked my two nearest neighbouring MPs to see what their arrangements were – Lewisham East’s Bridget Prentice did not, in the most recent financial year, charge anything to her local party (although we can glean that she’s very late in paying her bills). But Eltham’s Clive Efford also submitted a bill from the Eltham Labour Party for use of its premises in Westmount Road of £8,328/year, together with a covering letter breaking down the charges. The Land Registry says the property has been owned since 1978 by “trustees of Woolwich and Eltham Labour Party”.
So what to make of this? At first sight, it does look like the taxpayer is helping to fund the existence of the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party. But would Nick Raynsford get a better deal elsewhere? Or is he saving us money by doing this? It isn’t clear. It’s certainly handy for an MP to have his office in the party’s office, but when cash starts to change hands we need to tread carefully.
(You might want to see a spirited defence of this sort of arrangement from the BBC’s Daily Politics earlier this month – from former Conservative leader Michael Howard.)
Perhaps this is something that needs considering in the myriad of reforms that’ll no doubt be called for – although what we really need is an outright revolution; a new voting system, and a redefinition of what we expect of our MPs. Maybe MPs offices should be selected centrally, rented from local government or other organisations. But whatever, we should be confident we’re getting value for money from our MPs, not giving local political parties a ██████ nice little earner.