Thursday, 12 August 2010

Bob Neill: being taken for a ride by the likes of us

Finally seeing your party get into government after 13 long years only to see a whole bunch of fun-looking jobs handed to the Liberal Democrats (the Liberal Democrats!) must be tough enough for mid-ranking Tories, but imagine how bad it feels when you finally get the long-awaited call from No 10 and discover that your years of loyalty have been rewarded by... being made Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Communities and Local Government! Wooh!

It's no wonder Bob Neill is in such a bad mood, but it seems a little unfair to take it out on Civil Servants from the Government Office network (who his boss has just sacked) by publishing all their expenses online and complaining that they were
"quite literally ... taking the taxpayer for a ride"* by spending public cash on "fun" things like team-building trips to Blackpool Pleasure Beach. After all, on the list of fun things to do in life "spending a day at Blackpool Pleasure Beach with colleagues from work" is right up there with "cleaning up after a Conservative Futures party at a Lady Thatcher inflatable doll factory".

Still, kudos to Bob for believing in being totally open about how public money is spent. And he clearly believes in setting an example - drop by his
constituency website, type "expenses" into the search box and you're given a complete breakdown of all the taxpayer money he spent on... Oh, no, hang on, you actually get this:

"No matching records were found for your search."

Fortunately the Daily Telegraph has been more helpful when it comes to creating an army of armchair auditors. I know that criticising MPs over their expenses claims is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel (or harpooning great big blubbery whales in a kiddies' paddling pool in the case of Eric "Only Cabinet Minister Visible From Space" Pickles and his
£280 a month food bill), but in the spirit of openness and transparency I thought it only fair to take a look at what the honourable member for Bromley and Chislehurst has been claiming.

Bromley South to Victoria (a 20-minute walk from Parliament) takes a whopping 23 minutes, so obviously Bobby needed a second home in Central London, otherwise he might have had to leave home before 9am each day. So that explains why he had to claim £365 a week in housing costs.

What's less clear is why he ALSO charged the taxpayer £215 a week on "travel costs", given that:

a) He has a taxpayer-funded second home a short walk from Parliament precisely so he doesn't have to travel;


b) a Zones One to Five weekly travel card costs just £44 (with Tube included, obviously, so he could brave the District & Circle instead of facing that trek down Victoria Street.

Still, at least we can't accuse him of taking the taxpayer for a ride - it's pretty obvious that taxpayers were paying for him to go on one.

*I did cringe at the use of "literallty", which in this case would have involved the Civil Servants taking a bunch of taxpayers on The Big One. And if they DID do that, I really can't see what he's complaining about. Perhaps he's just jealous because Government Office for London never took him to Chessington World of Adventures.

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