Mansfield MP Alan Meale’s rant over expenses accountability

Alan Meale MP  Who has been awarded a knighthood
Alan Meale MP Who has been awarded a knighthood

Long-serving Mansfield MP Sir Alan Meale has dismissed as ‘b******s’ (rubbish) Chad’s efforts to contact him for comment on his latest parliamentary expenses claim of £162,547 to the year ending April 2013.

We contacted all five of the MPs that represent the constituencies covered by the Mansfield and Ashfield Chad and sister paper the Hucknall Dispatch in light of the national concern that the amount claimed by the country’s 650 MPs has risen to £23 million.

All but Meale were happy to respond to the Independent Paliamentary Standards Authorty (IPSA) figures, with the labour member suggesting the issue was irrelevant to his constituents.

“Haven’t you got anything more worthwhile to report on in your newspaper?” said Meale. “This is a load of ‘b******s’ and I haven’t got anything to say to you on it.”

The personal claim of Mr Meale for £16,904 in travelling and accommodation costs was actually down from £17,183 in the 2011-12 period, although his spending on staff and their expenses, general administration and constituency office rental rose from £122,159 to more than £145,642.

That included a first-time claim for a wage of between £15,000 and £19,999 for Meale’s wife Diana Gilhespy, who acts as his senior paliamentary assistant.

Mansfield’s MP since 1987, Meale came under fire when the expenses scandal of 2009 first hit the national headlines. He repaid more than £11,000 he claimed for gardening, cleaning furniture and a carpet relating to a second home following an investigation and report by Sir Thomas Legg.

Ashfield’s Labour MP Gloria De Piero’s personal claim came in at £22,974, more than any other MP in the Chad area, with a slight rise on the £22,323 claimed in 2011-12, but her overall costs, including staff, were down from £143,299 to £139,342.

She said: “I’m very pleased to be one of the lowest spending MPs overall in the whole of Nottinghamshire and when it comes to the total cost of all MPs in the country, I’m in the lowest third.

“That certainly doesn’t mean I’ll become complacent and nor should I - it’s the public’s hard earned public money that we are talking about and that is always at the front of my mind when it comes to accounting for every penny that is spent in fulfilling my duties to represent people in Ashfield.

“With this in mind we have had to make cut backs in my office like anyone else. I have rented the same one bedroom flat in London since becoming an MP. That has seen a small rise in cost which reflects the rising costs of renting in the capital.

“Like every other MP, I have to go to parliament in order to shout up for the people I represent. I certainly do not claim the maximum accommodation allowance and I’ve never claimed for meals or taxis after late night votes because I’ve always taken the view that if I worked in a pub, or was a nurse on a late shift, I would have to feed myself and get myself home and it should be no different for MPs.

“Obviously the house I own in Ashfield is my home and I pay for that entirely out of my own pocket.”

Labour’s Dennis Skinner, who serves Bolsover, was one of the more frugal of the 650 MPs, claiming a personal total of £12,253, split between accommodation and travel, and £67,230 in all - up from £10,038 and £58,732 in 2012.

His biggest outlay was the salary of between £30,000 and £34,999 he paid to his secretary Lois Blasenheim.

“I never comment on other people’s decisions, but I’m responsible for the fact that I bought my own flat in London and didn’t ask the tax payer for help with my mortgage and I did the same thing back in Derbyshire,” he said.

“I suppose that’s the main reason why I have always figured near the bottom of the (expenses) figures. I don’t go on foreign visits paid for by the tax payer or by foreign governments.

“The secretary that works for me at parliament has worked for several other people in a similiar role and has vast experience to call on.”

Sherwood MP Mark Spencer, whose constituency takes in Rainworth and Hucknall, personally put in for £14,852 in 2013, up from £12,151 the previous year, and just under £129,430 overall, increasing from £121,519.

Even so, his claim was the second lowest of all Notts MPs behind only the Conservative parliamentary representative for Rushcliffe, Ken Clarke.

“I think what’s happened nationally previously does keep this in the spotlight and it’s down to individual MPs to justify their own expenses and I’m more than happy to do that with any constituents that want to challenge it,” said Mr Spencer.

“I have always said that people should be allowed to examine every single thing claimed and then you can be judged on it. I’m in a fortunate position with family support and business interests that I don’t claim expenses for travelling around my constiuency.”

MP for Nottingham North, Graham Allen, which covers Bulwell, saw his personal claim drop from £18,657 to 17,120 year on year, but his overall figures during the same period were up from £137,931 to £156,830.

He said: “As an MP my job is to represent the constituents of Nottingham North in the best way possible. To be able to serve my constituents in the most effective way, I have to incur some expenses. I’m pleased to see that my personal claim has gone down this year. I aim to do the best for my constituents, and am always mindful to keep costs low.

“My staffing expenses slightly rose this year after taking on a part-time member of staff to help with the rise in constituency case-work and correspondence.”

All MPs received a basic yearly salary of £65,738 but are paid an additional figure for other parliamentary positions they hold.