THE Stratford Mop of 1914 appeared little changed from previous years. Wartime austerity had not yet set in and few people foresaw that the conflict would be lengthy. One of the great traditions of the fair was its roasts. No less than five oxen and seven pigs were rotating on the spits outside the pubs on the big day. The excursion trains brought their usual hundreds of revellers from Birmingham and other centres of population. None of Stratford’s conscripts had yet embarked overseas, although just five days before, a regular with the South Wales Borderers, Sgt RH Savage, had been the first Stratfordian to fall victim to the war. He had been struck by shrapnel at the Battle of the Aisne and died of his wounds in Bournbrook Military Hospital.
Four years ago Ellis Holtom, of Stratford-upon-Avon, was born with half a working heart. Later, the Herald featured his condition as a tribute to the work of Birmingham Children’s Hospital where he was treated. Now, to mark Congenital Heart Defect Week his mum, Vicki, updates his story. . .
ALL 326 local planning authorities in England, councils like Stratford-on-Avon District, need a local plan. The core strategy is a component of that local plan. It contains all the local district wide policies that need to be considered when processing planning applications. New development needs to satisfy local needs, helping to realise the hopes and ambitions of its communities and protect them from situations they fear. New homes and places to work should provide then with a healthy lifestyle, a pleasant place to live, good recreational facilities and above all the infrastructure that enhances their quality of life. The buzzword to describe this is ‘sustainable’.
THE poor are paying more than they should be for their energy, according to damning new evidence from Stratford-upon-Avon’s Citizens Advice Bureau. Prepayment meters (PPMs) are costing users in fuel poverty a “disproportionate amount” for what little gas and electricity they can afford, the bureau has found. There are around 7.2 million people on prepayment meters in the UK and several thousand in the district of Stratford. Despite Stratford’s reputation as an affluent area, the bureau is being forced to come to the aid of more and more people living in fuel poverty on an increasingly regular basis.
BACK in September a headline in the Herald stated that I was claiming “£170,000 in expenses.” This week another expenses story appeared, this time about my energy bills, so I wanted to use this opportunity to take my constituents through exactly what I cost them.
Let’s start with my energy bills.
The Mirror’s report that my energy bill was £5,822.28 last year is not accurate because IPSA, the Parliamentary expenses watchdog, included a bill from the previous year. As a result my claims for last year actually relate to energy bills of £3,903.35. I readily admit this is high, but it does reflect the costs faced by many of my rural constituents who, like me, rely solely on kerosene and electricity because they are not connected to mains gas.
The overall figure of £170,000 in expenses also needs unpacking.
Most people think of business expenses as personal costs incurred in the course of carrying out a job: work calls, taxi fares, hospitality for clients, and so on. The MPs expenses system is unusual in that it treats staffing costs as a personal expense. As a result, the vast bulk of that £170,000 figure is accounted for by office payroll, including maternity cover for one of my staff in the last financial year. Without maternity cover the overall figure would have been £151,315, which is in line with the average amount claimed by MPs to support their work.
Once you strip out staff salaries, which as I have indicated should not be treated as personal expenses, my total expenses came to £24,765.57 in the 2012-13 financial year. This is well below the Parliamentary average of £32,498. All of this information is publicly available on the IPSA website.
My overall expenses fall below the Parliamentary average because I am lucky enough to own my constituency home, rather than claim expenses for rent as many of my Parliamentary colleagues do. For comparison, back in 2010-11 when I was renting a flat in Stratford-upon-Avon, I cost the taxpayer £29,664 in expenses, over £5,000 more.
It’s worth remembering that all MPs with constituencies outside of London must live and work in two places at once. When the House of Commons is sitting my job is to be there representing you, but the rest of the time I need to be here in Stratford meeting residents and getting their views on the issues that matter to them.
I chose to buy a home in the constituency because I wanted to put down roots here, I made a lifelong commitment to the people of Stratford-on-Avon when I took my oath of allegiance to the Queen. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have the privilege of representing you in Parliament and I hope to do so for many years to come.
As of April this year, my annual salary is £66,396. It’s absolutely right that people debate whether that figure is what an MP is worth, and I know there are some who think MPs should be paid much less. My own view is that we need a salary that will attract a wide range of people into politics: people who have run small businesses or worked in public services, not just millionaires or political geeks who’ve never had a job outside Westminster.
I should emphasise that my salary and the expenses regime is not decided by other MPs but by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which was established after the expenses scandal because it was rightly thought that MPs should no longer be in charge of determining their own pay.
When it was created, IPSA consulted on whether MPs should be able to claim costs for second homes they owned and concluded that it was only fair for MPs to be recompensed for the costs of running a second home since these costs would not have occurred if they were not an MP.
There’s a debate about whether paying expenses on second homes in this way is the most cost effective way of running our democracy. Some commentators have suggested that it would be cheaper to give every MP a hotel room during the week, although given the costs of central London hotels compared to housing outside London this seems unlikely. Others have argued that the answer is to raise MPs’ salaries and do away with expenses altogether. If we want to cut the cost of politics, my own view is that we should update the constituency boundaries to better reflect demographic change and in the process cut the number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600.
We can even have a debate about whether MPs expenses should be means tested, with wealthier MPs unable to claim. Personally, I don’t think that people who have built their own businesses should be penalised for going into politics, but the fact that we are having this discussion shows that we are in a better place than 2009 the year of the expenses scandal. The new, more transparent IPSA system allows media and the public to go onto the IPSA website and scrutinise our expenses line by line. It is then up to us to justify our cost to the taxpayer. Any measure which makes Parliament more accountable to the citizen is undoubtedly a good thing.
MP sparks new row over expenses with heating bills
Stratford MP feels the heat over expenses