Speaker’s expenses: pictures, parties and piano-tuning

Graphic: Graeme Bandeira
Graphic: Graeme Bandeira
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CAMPAIGNERS have called for the Commons Speaker’s expenses to face the same rules as MPs’ after the extent of his spending on hospitality, piano tuning and even pictures of himself was revealed.

It also emerged that records of spending from as recently as 2012 have already been destroyed by the parliamentary authorities.

The Speaker’s office insisted he has cut expenditure in his six years in office.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that hundreds of pounds have been spent on postcards to be sent to people who request pictures of Speaker John Bercow.

In an echo of the MPs’ expenses scandal when it emerged that then Gosport MP Sir Peter Viggers had attempted to claim for a duck house, the Speaker’s expenses include claims for piano-tuning.

The public has also paid for photographers to capture images of the Speaker at events and £2,000 on beeswax candles.

Most of the eye-catching sums come from the Speaker’s entertaining of foreign dignitaries, counterparts from other parliaments and fellow MPs.

Public money has regularly been used to help fund dinners for the Panel of Chairs - a group of around 40 MPs appointed by Mr Bercow and paid up to £15,000 a year to assist him with parliamentary duties. The bill for one event in 2010 came to more than £2,200.

Around £30,000 has been spent on “refreshments” for lectures delivered by politicians at parliament.

Up to £7,400 a time has been spent on receptions laid on by Mr Bercow for MPs following the State Opening of parliament.

Dawn Primarolo, a Labour MP who served as deputy speaker, got her own dedicated send-off at a “standing down” dinner in April last year, which cost £2,057.

The former minister, who received £36,000 on top of her salary for the role, was made a peer months after retiring from the Commons.

The rules around MPs’ spending have been significantly tightened since the expenses scandal with the public able to see the claims made and the sums paid out.

Regular MPs are banned by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) from claiming meals or alcohol on expenses but Mr Bercow’s official spending is not subject to the same rules.

Dia Chakravarty, political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “No one will begrudge footing the bill for the official functions which the Commons Speaker would reasonably be expected to host, but these costs must be kept under constant review and savings found where possible.

“While it is reassuring that the current Speaker has evidently cut expenditure by his office, how he and his staff spend taxpayers’ money should be published as a matter of course so that it can be subject to proper scrutiny.

“The fact that records prior to 2012 have already been destroyed - coupled with the need to use Freedom of Information laws to get this data in the first place - will not instil confidence in the public that the Speaker’s Office is run with a culture of transparency and openness.”

The Speaker’s spokeswoman said: “These costs relate to nearly four years of expenditure including, amongst other things, staff pay, office supplies, telephone calls and rental, as well as the official entertainment of foreign dignitaries and parliamentarians traditionally provided by the Speaker’s Office.

“The Speaker is committed to cutting costs wherever possible, and the overall expenditure of the Speaker’s Office has fallen during his tenure from £626,029 in 2009-10 to £504,737 in 2014-15, representing a reduction of 19.4 per cent since he was elected to the role.”