Devon and Cornwall's MPs run up bill of nearly £3m for taxpayers
Devon and Cornwall's MPs cost taxpayers close to £3 million last year, official figures have revealed.
The sum paid out to the 18 MPs in the two counties by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) is for personal costs and running offices in 2012-13.
The total – £2,807,826 – included claims ranging from £194,107 by Stephen Gilbert, Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay, to £114,406 by Labour MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw.
The lion's share of the expense claims are from paying employees, such as researchers, case workers and office secretaries. The total for staffing costs was just over £2 million. MPs receive hundreds of letters and e-mails a week, which is why they require support staff, they argue.
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Mr Gilbert said: "I don't think anyone would want a situation where only those with private wealth were able to stand for Parliament.
"These figures represent the cost of travelling between Cornwall and Westminster, staying in London during the week, maintaining an office in St Austell and for the salaries of the staff who support me.
"Since becoming an MP, I have always sought to balance the priorities of doing my job effectively, while also providing value for money for the tax payer. I have recently reviewed my accommodation arrangements and staff structure to save further costs."
Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon, claimed back £185,769 – the second highest amount in the two counties.
He said: "Case work is enormous and increasing. We have to have a staff to deal with it. People expect a professional job from their MPs. We need staff to deal with casework and the endless lobbying and be fit for the 21st century."
Sheryll Murray, Conservative MP for South East Cornwall, racked up £152,606 in costs. She said: "Whatever I claim I can 100% justify. I don't think I've had one claim refused.
She said she did not claim for electricity or television in her London flat. "I don't feel it's right for the taxpayer to pay," she Mrs Murray added.
The total bill for all 650 MPs' expenses rose by more than 7% last year to £98 million.
Spending is now higher than in the run-up to the scandal that rocked Westminster in 2009.
Personal expenses – which totalled £750,000 among MPs in the two counties – include accommodation, travel and office start-up costs.
The publication comes after the watchdog proposed lifting MPs' pay from £66,000 now to £74,000 after the 2015 general election – despite protests from David Cameron that the cost of politics must not be allowed to rise.
The TaxPayers' Alliance said costs must be kept under control.
Members defend family employees
Seven MPs in Devon and Cornwall continue to employ spouses and other family members, figures from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority have revealed.
Hugo Swire, Conservative MP for East Devon, employs his wife, Sasha, on a salary of from £30,000 to £34,999 a year as a parliamentary assistant.
Torbay Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders’ wife, Alison, earns £25,000-£29,999 as his office manager.
Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, employs his wife Susan. Her salary as a junior secretary is between £15,000 and £19,999.
St Austell and Newquay Lib Dem Stephen Gilbert employs his mother, Jacqueline Bull, as a senior caseworker on between £10,000 and £14,999.
Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon, has his wife Janet on staff. Her salary is between £10,000 and £14,999 for a parliamentary assistant role.
Andrew George, Lib Dem MP for St Ives, has recruited his wife, Jill, as a junior secretary. Her salary band is between £1 and £4,999.
Liberal Democrat MP for North Cornwall Dan Rogerson employs his wife Heidi Rogerson on a £5,000 to £9,999 salary as diary secretary.
MPs defended their recruitment. Mr Gilbert said: “Jackie is more than qualified for the job she does and was appointed through an independent interview process.”
Mr Streeter said he would never see his wife otherwise. “She works part-time, and the work she does are at irregular times,” he said.