Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Playing The Claim Game

We live in an expenses culture. It's not right. It's being abused. Claim for everything you can and everything you think you can get away with. Welcome to the Claim Game.

Many people use expenses as a perk and to boost income. Some are just more blatant and downright dishonest about it than others. 

It happens the world over in the world of business. But it's a different matter when public money is being used to fund the junkets and lifestyles. 

MPs, SMPs and MEPs are elected and accountable. Their expenses have to be written down somewhere and made public (unless they've been shredded). It is right they should be exposed but often they're just playing the system and will use the defence that 'they haven't broken the rules'. With Euro MPs that's even easier. There are no rules! 

With MPs and the like, what you actually claim for is often justified as spending as part of the job. Sort of. Not so for the Euro MP's gravy train. There anything goes. Just bung in a claim. No checks, just wait for the cheque. 

And it costs a fortune. Add up the expenses which can be claimed for all MPs, SMPs and Assembly Members (it's big). Then add in the Euro-MPs (it's very big). And finally the quangocrats and top civil servants (it's obscene). No wonder some London restaurants charge the earth. It's the expenses junket. 

The outrage recently has been on those elected and so it should be. But it's the non-elected, non-accountable civil servants and quango chiefs who can best easily get away with it. Fat chance of getting hold of their expenses. Unless you keep chipping away at it like Private Eye.

There's a plus side. Examining expenses are a great way of getting rid of people you don't like. Something dodgy usually turns up. People in the public eye are often exposed in this way. 

Maybe the recent expose of Conservative MEPs was a useful way of clearing out the deadwood. Peter Hain was never liked by the Labour Party. And Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, just wasn't independent enough. Expenses do have their uses.

The answer isn't just bleating about making expenses transparent and independently accounted. You can still play the Claim Game and be within the law and not break the rules.

The matter will only be settled when those in public office are actually instructed to only claim for real and legitimate expenses and they are only reimbursed when they can prove the spending really was part of the job.

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