MP Bob Seely said: “When MPs’ expenses are published they are rightly scrutinised. However, there is a media report circulating that I "spent nearly £200,000 in expenses." This headline gives, I believe, an entirely misleading impression. The facts are these:
“The ‘expenses’ referred to are the running costs for my office. The overwhelming majority of expenditure by an MP is in staffing. My Parliamentary team consists of six members of staff. MPs’ staff have their wages set in part by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA). Once someone’s pay is agreed, it is paid by IPSA. It is automatic. It is independent. Any impression that I claim this as ‘expense’ is inaccurate.
“Other costs include the costs of running an office in Cowes, including paying for utilities, staff training, rent, and constituency surgery costs. These are dealt with by my office manager. She does an excellent job, as do all my team.
"These are not personal expenses. I am not in any way ‘reimbursed' for these. They are the costs of running a team of people. The so-called expenses are overwhelmingly office costs.
“As soon as I became MP, I wanted to make sure that my office allowance was spent well, and spent on the Island.
“First, I based my office in Northwood House in Cowes. Northwood is run by a charitable trust and by using my office allowance to rent rooms at Northwood, I can support the important work the Trust does in restoring this unique Island building for the public good.
“Second, I deliberately chose to book my surgeries – places and times when Islanders come and talk to me – in small village and town halls, community hubs and libraries across the Island, not only because it is more convenient for Islanders for me to come to them, but because that enables me to spread funds around the Island.
“In both cases, I have no doubt it is the right thing to do.
“When it comes to staff, I insist on most of my staff being based on the Island because I want to give jobs to Islanders.
“I support my team in undertaking approved courses because it helps retain my team and it helps ensure that, as a team, we offer a better service to Islanders. These courses are necessary for my team to do their jobs well, especially considering the pressures on them are more than the average constituency.
“We are aware of the need to use taxpayers’ money wisely, and we have taken steps to reduce office costs over the last year, as I will explain below.
“First, this year the travel budget will be much lower. I have travelled less, but my staff have also travelled less. This is largely related to Covid, but not entirely. Some savings may be permanent.
“Second, my constituency surgeries have become phone-based and while I look forward to being able to resume in-person meetings, this has reduced costs. ‘Zoom calls’ have allowed me to speak with more Islanders more often. They will continue to be a feature of life after Covid.
“Third, we have also taken steps to ensure that no postage or stationery costs are incurred without good reason. Almost all responses are now sent by email at near-zero costs to both the taxpayer but also the environment.
“Fourth, I have ensured that we have reduced petty expenses.
“Fifth, I have not, nor will not, personally claim for additional bills for Covid, despite this being on offer.
“Due to the Covid rises, we have hired additional staff to manage the caseload and have paid staff overtime where they were working long hours on the Island’s behalf.
“Overall, due to careful management, 31 per cent of my staffing budget, 40 per cent of my office costs budget and 80 per cent of the additional budget allocated to cover the costs of Covid remain unused.
“If there is a ‘scandal’, it is that the Island is the largest constituency in the UK by many, many thousands and yet we receive no additional support or staff allowance, so we have a larger caseload without the additional support.
“I assure Islanders I would much rather be spending my time dealing with important issues, rather than having to make statements about “expenses” based on misleading headlines.
“These are the facts. I am sure Islanders will make up their own minds.”