Two Stoke-on-Trent MPs say the ‘record must be set straight’ after a new £10,000 homeworking allowance sparked controversy.
They claimed the national headlines portrayed the funding as an extra £10,000 in pay for Members of Parliament.
And they have revealed that the temporary allowance is for homeworking equipment to assist staff as their constituency offices and Westminster hubs have been shut down in the wake of the pandemic.
Stoke-on-Trent North MP Jonathan Gullis is currently working from his partner’s home ‘just north of Birmingham’ while waiting for a house purchase in Talke to go through. He was due to move down to his London property this week but it’s ‘all a bit up in the air now’ says the new MP.
He has spent just under £2,200 of the Government’s home-working allowance, on ‘printers, head sets and a conference calling device’.
He added: “I’ve bought those through Lifecycle, which is done through the Digital Services Team in Parliament. So it’s cost a bit more than I would have liked to have paid but with it you get insurance and maintenance, so if anything does go wrong we don’t have to pay for anything brand new. I take spending taxpayers’ money extremely seriously.
“Coronavirus has completely changed the way my office is run. Both of my offices in Stoke-on-Trent North and Westminster are currently closed with my team of staff now working from home.
“They are working using IT which I purchased upon hiring them, out of my usual office costs budget. The only additional money from the budget (£2,200) I have used is for printers, headsets and a voice conference device for phone calls when I speak with multiple agencies. Every penny has been accounted for. If the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) feel money hasn’t been used properly and I’m liable for it then I will definitely pay it.”
Jonathan Gullis statement on MP’s new allowance in full:
Unfortunately, there was a highly misleading headline in the Times yesterday that seemed to imply that MPs are getting an extra £10,000 in pay due to coronavirus. I will be honest with my constituents. This is completely untrue, damaging and the record needs to be set straight.
What has happened is that IPSA (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority – set up after the expenses scandal with no control or oversight by MPs) decided on 19 March to extend the budget for MPs office costs by £10,000 for the year ahead.
The vast majority of MPs, if not all, are working hard to try to serve those who they represent to the best of their ability at this time. This is, in short, a contingency fund to help cover any additional costs that may arise from that work.
This is not money that would go into an MPs pocket, or their staff. If used, this additional budget would go on things like computer equipment to facilitate home working. Any claim on the budget would have to come with receipts and IPSA would be well within their right to turn a claim down if they thought it was unnecessary, unreasonable or inappropriate. All expenses claims by MPs are published, so that the public can see what their money is being spent on.
It should be borne in mind that the past few weeks has seen a huge increase in people contacting their MPs for help and advice, especially key workers, struggling businesses and those stuck overseas trying to get home, whilst MPs have also had to manage the disruption of changing the way we do our work.
In my case, coronavirus has completely changed the way my office is run. Both of my offices in Stoke-on-Trent North and Westminster are currently closed with my team of staff now working from home. They are working using IT which I purchased upon hiring them out of my usual office costs budget. The only additional money from the budget (£2,200) I have used is for printers, headsets and a voice conference device for phone calls when I speak with multiple agencies.
The money can also be used to provide local Covid-19 information to the public via things like paid for media advertising and/or leaflets. So far I feel I have been able to do this at no cost via social media but will keep options under review as the situation develops.
It is disappointing the Times have chosen to misrepresent this in a way that has left many with the entirely false impression that MPs have given themselves a pay increase whilst so many are suffering, when this could not be further from the truth.
Fellow newly elected Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, Jo Gideon is currently working from home alone in her ‘very, very small flat’ in Basford.
She explained she’s only needed to spend a small amount of the new allowance.
She added: “A lot of MPs haven’t spent any of it. I went to Currys on the last day before shut down and there was very little left. I got the cheapest printer I could get that had scanning and photocopying facilities, I think it was a couple of hundred pounds.
“I’m on a shared wifi in my block of flats and I have found it a challenging time for all sorts of reasons. It’s difficult for people isolating in crowded places and difficult for people isolating on their own.”
Newcastle MP Aaron Bell and Stoke-on-Trent South MP Jack Brereton will club together with their fellow MPs in the centre and north of the city to use some of their £10,000 allowance to put an advert in The Sentinel to advise residents and ‘disseminate new information’ along with their contact information during the pandemic.
The use of the new allowance was deemed a better value for money approach that sending letters and leaflets out from the local MPs.