IPSA, the Parliamentary organisation created in the wake of the Parliamentary Expenses scandal has decided that it is too expensive to provide the public with details of receipts for claims made by MPs for reimbursed expenses.
In a High Court decision of 2008, in favour of the Daily Telegraph newspaper and other plaintiffs, the Court ruled that voters should be able to see how MPs were spending their money, including the receipts for whatever they purchased. The parliamentary authorities had fought against this decision tooth and nail; after it, they attempted to “redact” the information so as to render it as anodyne as possible.
As a result of the parliamentary expenses scandal, the public was promised change. A rigorous regime would be introduced to make such profligacy impossible.
Yet despite this, MPs have prevailed upon the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), the body set up to oversee the new system, to reverse the High Court’s ruling. IPSA has decided that receipts will not, in future, be available to the public. That is deeply disappointing, for it increases the likelihood that the habits of the past will return. IPSA insists that this won’t happen, because the cost of each claim will be posted on Parliament’s website. But without the receipts, it will be impossible to know exactly what has been purchased: a duck island or moat cleaning, for example, could be disguised as “garden furniture” or “maintenance”.
Had such a system been in place last year, the public would not have been outraged and the old regime might have continued.
It is essential that MPs spend OUR money responsibly, they must know – and worry – that their voters are watching.
IPSA says that it costs £1 million a year to put the receipts online: too much, it argues, to be justified in austere times. I disagree: First, preventing MPs from making wasteful claims will save money in the long run. More importantly, voters are entitled to know how their money is being spent.
IPSA must think again, and reverse this desperately disappointing decision.