Expense claims of South Tyneside MPs revealed

EXPENSES CLAIMS ... Emma Lewell-Buck and Stephen Hepburn.
EXPENSES CLAIMS ... Emma Lewell-Buck and Stephen Hepburn.

SOUTH Tyneside’s two Labour MPs claimed combined business costs and expenses of almost £50,000 over five and six-month periods last year..

The claims cover such outlays as accommodation, office costs and travel.

Emma Lewell-Buck, MP for South Shields, claimed a total of £23,539.05 from last May until September, her first five months in office.

And her counterpart in Jarrow, Stephen Hepburn, claimed £25,186.50 for the six months from April to September.

The figures have been released by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) and form part of a bid for more public transparency – after the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009.

All the amounts claimed by our MPs are now available to view online by logging on to http://www.parliamentary-standards.org.uk/

Coun Lewell-Buck’s costs included a monthly rent of £671.52 for her office at Ede House, South Shields, and in the region of £313 each for 15 return journeys from her constituency to Parliament by train.

There were smaller claims too – including 5p for a pencil sharpener.

Mr Hepburn’s business costs also covered £1,040 a month for rent at his office on the Viking Industrial Estate in Jarrow. And he too made regular return journeys from his constituency to London by train – again at a cost of £313 a time.

Today, Mrs Lewell-Buck defended her outlay, saying the majority of the costs were the result of setting up her office at Ede House.

The MP, elected to replace David Miliband, estimated almost £10,000 of her spending went on office costs.

She said: “We basically had to start from scratch. The bulk of costs have been spent setting up the office, on rent, computers, internet access and telephone lines.

“If I didn’t have those facilities I wouldn’t be able to represent my constituents. I’d be letting them down. We receive hundreds of e-mails each week. We still don’t have enough computers, but my staff hot-desk to keep costs down.”

Mr Lewell-Buck also addressed criticism from Independent Coun George Elsom, the leader of the opposition on South Tyneside Council, that she had claimed back 5p for the metal pencil sharpener.

She said: “George is not a stupid man and knows when you buy office supplies, you buy in bulk, and the 5p for a pencil sharpener is among that. You can nitpick if you go through these lists with a fine tooth comb.

“It also has to be remembered that as MPs we need to travel to London twice a week, and that’s not cheap, and there’s two tube journeys after that. Again, if I didn’t travel to London and speak in the chamber, I wouldn’t be doing my job.

“I know that it seems like an awful lot of money, but I’m happy I can account for it all.”

Mr Hepburn did not comment on his claims, despite requests from the Gazette.

Twitter: @shieldsgazpaul