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Working or shirking? A closer look at MPs' expenses and Parliamentary attendance

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Do MP allowances help to deliver an effectively functioning legislature or are they just a bonus of the 'Westminster gravy train'? New research by Professor Timothy Besley and Dr Valentino Larcinese| at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) concludes that MP expenses are mostly justifiable and that the system does fulfil its main purpose of levelling the playing fields between MPs.

Using data from 2001-2004 released under the Freedom of Information Act, Professor Besley and Dr Larcinese conducted a statistical analysis of MP's expenses, focusing on overall spending, specific spending and attendance.

In Working of Shirking? A Closer Look at MPs' Expenses and Parliamentary Attendance, the researchers examine:

  • the relationship between expense claims and constituency characteristics - ie. distance from London, size of the constituency, income level of constituents
  • whether differences in political circumstances affect expense claims - ie. the marginality of the constituency and the party the MP represents
  • how individual characteristics affect expense claims - ie. age, educational background and how long an MP has served for.

The research found that with regards to overall and specific spending:

  • Party affiliation, constituency size, average income of the constituency and marginality of the constituency are all uncorrelated with the total amounts claimed.
  • The distance from Westminster, however, is a very strong predictor of spending (£ 31.8 per mile each year).
  • Age and experience turn out to be the most important factors: older and more experienced MPs claim less.
  • Cabinet members spend less: keeping other variables constant, they claim approximately £9,000 less than average per year.
  • Travel expense claims appear to be mainly driven by objective needs, linked with constituency characteristics, in particular the distance between Westminster and electoral constituencies.
  • For staff and other expenses, party affiliation and the age and experience of an MP matter. The Liberal Democrats seem to be high spenders on staff while Labour MPs spend more on other items like postage and computer equipment. The Conservatives appear to be lower spenders on these items. Age and experience, or announcing retirement reduce spending, especially on computer equipment, stationery and postage.

Because high expenses alone do not reflect the benefits of these, levels of Parliamentary attendance were also taken into account. The report found:

  • Attendance varies substantially, with a few MPs attending fewer than 10 per cent of possible divisions while others attending more than 90 per cent of the time. 
  • The average cost (over a three years period) of an individual vote in parliament is £556. This figure, however, hides a large variation: the cost goes from £257 for the cheapest MP to £3,360 for the most expensive.
  • The highest ratios of expenses over attendance are those of members of the executive, with the Prime Minister being the most expensive of all.
  • Excluding members of the government, this analysis provides a number of new names among the 'high spenders'. George Galloway, for example, has the highest ratio of claims per vote among non-government members, even though he was only 333th in the list of expense claims. Gwyneth Dunwoody, Michael Mates, Nigel Jones and Debra Shipley are among the top 10 expensive votes (again, excluding government members), in spite of being placed in the middle or even quite down in the list of spenders

Valentino Larcinese said: 'Up until now MPs have not themselves been subject to performance targets. But this raises the wider issue of whether (as public servants) they should. Our findings show that the allowance system does seem to fulfil its main purposes of levelling the playing field between MPs with different circumstances and providing MPs with the means to improve the quality of their service.'



Press cuttings

Commons refuses to detail MPs' expenses
(16 Oct 06)
Dr Valentino Larcinese, LSE, author of the study, Working or Shirking? A closer look at MPs expenses and parliamentary attendance, said: 'If you want to spot abuses then you need to see the detailed claims.'

Notes (20 Feb 06)
Former Big Brother house inmate and MP George Galloway was established by an LSE study to be Westminster's most expensive backbencher. However, the Prime Minister was the worst one overall. 

Cambridge Evening News
Counting the cost of voting for your MP (23 Jan 06) 

Edinburgh Evening News
Man with the nation's purse is costing us a small fortune (21 Jan 06)
Gordon Brown is the most expensive Scots MP, according to a new survey. The London School of Economics survey compared the expenses claimed by Westminster MPs with the number of times they voted.

Metro London
The fur flies as police move in on Big Brother (20 Jan 06)
A study by LSE estimated that Big Brother housemate and MP George Galloway is Westminster's costliest backbencher.

Financial Times
Galloway 'costliest backbench MP' (20 Jan 06)
A report produced by the London School of Economics said George Galloway MP is parliament's costliest backbencher.

Evening Standard
Galloway named Westminster's costliest backbencher (20 Jan 06)

Public Servant Magazine
Mentions research by Tim Besley and Valentino Larcinse on MP expenses and Parliamentary attendance.
(Link - no longer available)

Daily Telegaraph
Galloway named costliest backbencher (19 Jan 06) 

Galloway 'most expensive MP' (19 Jan 06)

This is Local London
Galloway tops MP expenses list (19 Jan 06)

The Sun
Galloway most costly MP (19 Jan 06)
George Galloway is Westminster's costliest backbencher. The controversial MP's expenses amounted to £1,491 for each time he voted in the Commons, researchers from LSE revealed yesterday. 

Galloway revealed as parliament's most costly member (19 Jan 06)
Authors Timothy Besley and Valentino Larcinese, LSE, quoted.

UTV, Ireland
Galloway is 'costliest backbencher' (19 Jan 06)

BBC News Online
Galloway tops vote expense list (18 Jan 06)
Quotes from authors Timothy Besley and Valentino Larcinese, LSE.

18 January 2006