If you are a government minister you can avoid tax, double claim dubious expenses, have your council tax paid for you and do up your second home at public expense. It now has emerged that we have even paid for accountants to help MPs get the most out of the scams.
Chancellor Alistair Darling claimed for the cost of accountancy advice while misusing expenses – along with other New Labour ministers including Hazel Blears, Geoff Hoon and Jacqui Smith.
In total, more than £11,000 of our money was spent on accountants for ministers.
Despite being the man who decides how much tax people should pay, Darling still needed help figuring his own out.
A bill submitted by Darling in February 2008 included the cost of receiving tax advice for “the treatment of rental expenses against income”.
During 2007, Darling rented out his London flat after becoming chancellor and moving into a grace-and-favour (rent-free) apartment.
But Darling was not content with the salary, expenses and the free house, or the cash from renting out a flat we paid for. He also needed an accountant to help him minimise his tax bill.
Other ministers who claimed for personal tax advice include David Miliband, the foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, and Douglas Alexander, the international development secretary.
Geoff Hoon, the transport secretary, did not pay capital gains tax on the sale of his London flat as he built up his multi-million pound property empire at our expense.
He is the minister with the biggest claim for tax advice, submitting accountancy bills totalling almost £3,000.
Helpfully there was an accountant on hand to help out. Dennis Bates, who is married to the former foreign office minister Meg Munn MP, was paid to advise senior government
figures. Bates, who is Munn’s paid assistant, has been paid by us to advise his wife on her tax.
And while the MPs don’t pay tax on their expenses, perhaps the case of Andy Burnham explains why they might need an accountant.
Burnham, the culture secretary, avoided thousands of pounds in capital gains tax by channelling a £16,600 property windfall through the parliamentary expenses system.
Burnham was given the money by a property developer to persuade him to move out of a flat he rented in Dolphin Square, a desirable apartment block near Westminster. He would normally have been liable for a tax bill of up to £6,665 on the windfall.
The Commons authorities agreed to bend their own rather lax rules, and added the windfall to his second home allowance, which is exempt from tax.
The deal meant he was able to claim more than £32,000 on his second home allowance for a single year – far beyond the maximum £21,643 then allowed.
Burnham moved into Dolphin Square after entering parliament in 2001.
He designated the flat as his second home and, over the next five years, claimed more than £90,000 in parliamentary allowances for rent and bills.
But if the expenses scams cause too much bad publicity, ministers have found a convenient way for us to pay for some help.
Harriet Harman, Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander hired Scarlett McGwire for “consultancy” services – at our expense of course.
In total, more than £20,000 of our money was spent on McGwire, a media expert who advised the Labour Party between 2004 and 2008.
McGwire helped Harman with her successful campaign to become deputy Labour leader in 2007, although Harman denied that this was the work for which we paid.
Miliband told the parliamentary fees office that he hired McGwire for help with “speeches, communications and writing”. All Cabinet ministers already have special advisers employed by their departments for this very purpose.
The stench of corruption gets worse by the day. The Speaker Michael Martin was forced to resign for overseeing this farce. But ultimately the man in charge is Gordon Brown – he should go and go now.
We do not need MPs’ promises to stand down on a cosy pension. We need criminal investigations and jail for the crooks at the top.