Friday, 29 May 2009

Our MP Gerald Howarth on expenses

Response to the Aldershot News - Gerald Howarth MP

I hope you will allow me to respond to the recent article in the Aldershot News regarding MPs’ expenses. If any of your readers have felt that I have been arrogant in my reaction, I greatly regret that, as nothing could be further from my intentions.

First, I am deeply conscious of the public concern and anger over this issue. Secondly, I am - and want to be - accountable to my constituents, which is why on official forms asking for details of my employer I always write ‘The electors of Aldershot’.

Like my constituents, I pay a full set of council tax, mortgage costs, repairs etc on my principal home. The Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) enables me to be reimbursed for such extra costs incurred on my Farnborough home, but I have not claimed reimbursement for ‘home improvements’; the extension we had built was paid for by me, as has been the new garden wall. I have been reimbursed for the cost of a small number of household items, including for the cost of a sofa which I bought at the Bentalls clearance sale at their warehouse in Farnborough.

It is clear that the system has been abused and reform is imperative, which is why Sir Christopher Kelly has been appointed to conduct a thorough investigation on which he intends to report in the autumn. In the meantime, David Cameron has taken a lead by requiring all Conservative MPs to submit their claims to an assessment team for review, a process which is still underway. The details of my claims will be published as soon as possible thereafter.

Some constituents have questioned why I do not commute from Farnborough to Westminster. As you correctly reported, I tend to work late at the House of Commons and seldom leave before 10.30 pm, so being less than 15 minutes from the House is a real benefit. Being an MP is not a 9 to 5 job, nor should it be; it’s a way of life but one which has not been forced on me or my colleagues.

Perhaps you will permit me to point out that in addition to serving my constituents I am also Shadow Minister for Defence Procurement in which role I am responsible for monitoring a Government spending programme of some £6,000 million. Unlike the ministers I shadow, I receive no extra income, have no army of civil servants to advise me, have no access to so-called ‘Short’ money paid from public funds to the Official Opposition, and have to rely on my ordinary Parliamentary allowances for office costs and travel to fund those duties. I make no complaint about any of that, but my observation may explain why the annual publication of the expenses incurred by me and my Shadow Cabinet neighbours is higher than others.

I entered public life as a conviction politician committed to helping restore my country’s economic fortunes through free enterprise, and to restoring its status as a strong, sovereign nation and to creating a society based on family values. I did not enter politics to make money.

27th May 09

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