Tory MP ‘submitted 700 false mileage claims’

Bob Blackman MP
Bob Blackman MP
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TORY backbencher Bob Blackman faces repaying more than £1,000 in wrongly-claimed mileage expenses.

An investigation by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has found that the Harrow East MP submitted more than 700 “inaccurate” claims.

The Ipsa inquiry’s provisional findings state: “The Compliance Officer has concluded that mileage claims submitted by Mr Blackman are, in almost every instance, not accurate and greater than the distance travelled. This is disputed by Mr Blackman.”

Compliance Officer Peter Davis found that Mr Blackman - who now has 15 days to appeal - wrongly submitted claims for travelling from his constituency home to his office, and for going to party political events and canvassing sessions.

The report also revealed that Ipsa has been warning him about high mileage claims since 2011. In October that year officials wrote to him voicing concern that he was putting in for “around twice the average for constituency mileage across the UK and some six times higher than other suburban London area constituencies where mileage is claimed”.

Ipsa bosses requested an initial investigation by the compliance officer in December 2012, saying he appeared to be hugely over-estimating distances and rounding them to the nearest five miles.

“A comparison of your claims against the distances quoted by Google Maps would suggest a pattern of over-claiming. On average, your claims are almost twice the distance shown on Google Maps and in some cases significantly more,” he was told at the time.

A two-mile journey to Harrow Weald had been claimed as 10 miles.

However, after a discussion with Mr Blackman, Mr Davis declined to open a formal investigation, instead deciding the issue could be dealt with through “support and advice from Ipsa to ensure the MP improved his record-keeping”.

But an audit in 2013-14 found that Mr Blackman had again racked up the highest mileage of any MP. He claimed more than 400 miles per square mile of his constituency, almost double that put in for by the next 10 highest-claiming MPs.

The compliance officer this time launched a formal probe - but only looked at claims made after his meeting with the MP in January 2013.

He found that Mr Blackman had merely reduced his standard claims for regular journey by a single mile - for example, saying he drove 14 miles to Stanmore rather than 15.

The compliance officer has made clear that he could now revisit Mr Blackman’s claims prior to January 2013 - potentially opening him up to further demands to repay money.

An Ipsa statement said: “Following the results of the provisional findings, and subject to representations received, the compliance officer is considering whether there is a need to review Mr Blackman’s mileage claims from before January 2013, the start point for the current investigation.”

During the latest investigation, Mr Blackman attempted to justify claiming standard distances for journeys to areas of his constituency by arguing that he was using “average” distances. But Mr Davis said that “conflicted with other statements made that journeys are dependent on the traffic conditions pertaining at the time of travel”.

He also rejected a suggestion from Mr Blackman that he was using local knowledge to find the quickest rather than shortest routes - “if this were the case then journeys would show distinct variations”.

The report said Mr Davis examined Mr Blackman’s diaries and used an online mapping tool to establish the distances in each claim. In 165 out of 169, the distance was greater than that given by the mapping tool.

“The MP made a claim for a 54-mile return journey to the new Tottenham Hotspur training ground in Enfield, which Google Maps stated should have been 33 miles,” the report said.

In December last year the MP produced maps and spreadsheets of his travel in a bid to persuade the compliance officer that his claims were valid.

But Mr Davis dismissed the evidence as “contrived”.

“The compliance officer has concluded that maps of journeys prepared months and, in many instances, more than a year after the journeys took place cannot include recollections of historic traffic conditions and roadworks. The compliance officer considers them to be contrived and an attempt to justify a pattern of standard claims,” the report said.

The report added that “a small number of journeys” were not supported by entries in either the MP’s Outlook or paper diary, “making it impossible to submit an accurate claim”.

Mr Davis stated that he had considered ordering Mr Blackman to repay his entire mileage claims since January 2013.

“In light of the strength of evidence that Mr Blackman submits standard inaccurate claims for frequently made journeys within his constituency, there is justification in disallowing all the claims within the period subject of the investigation,” the report said.

But Mr Davis said “in pursuit of proportionality” he had calculated average distances for frequently visited locations, and used those to assess how much money should be returned.

Invalid claims for home to office travel totalled £56.70, canvassing, campaigning and political fundraising trips came to £167.85, and partial repayments for 687 inaccurately claimed journeys totalled £781.65.

If the compliance officer had ruled out all of Mr Blackman’s mileage claims from January 2013 until July 2014, when the investigation was requested by Ipsa, he would be facing a repayment of £3,725.10.

But in representations last month, the MP insisted he should only be handing back £103.05 for journeys from home and to carry out party political activities.

“On claims using standard mileage, you appear to have completely ignored my detailed submission of journeys that I undertake and the routes chosen,” he wrote.

“You have confined your assessment of the journeys based on a visit you made to my constituency and using journeys from my home to unspecified locations in my constituency.

“You have not supplied me with the location visited, the route chosen, the day of the week or the time of day travelled so that I can point out why such routes are not viable.

“On the basis of this you have then chosen to reduce all the journeys I have taken by an arbitrary percentage over a 20-month period. This is draconian and, more importantly has no basis in the requirement on you to ensure that claims are in line with the Ipsa scheme.”

Mr Blackman added that his claims were “provably compliant with the scheme”, and said he would be willing to “swear under oath” to that effect.

“Therefore I suggest you should withdraw your unwarranted allegations at this juncture,” Mr Blackman wrote.

“I continue to use these routes and claim the mileage for the journeys undertaken in line with the maps provided and would be more than happy to swear under oath that these are the journeys that I have undertaken and claimed, no question.”

Mr Blackman said the mileage claimed on the Tottenham Hotspur trip was “clearly a mistake” and should have been 39 miles.