Thursday, 21 May 2009

it's no wonder he's smiling!!!

this report featured in this weeks South Belfast News.....

MP tops ‘other expenses’ list in Westminster

South Belfast News 20th of May 2009

by Alana Fearon

As the MP expenses scandal rumbles on at Westminster, it has been revealed that South Belfast's only MP is the third highest expense claimer in the north.
Alasdair McDonnell is currently one of 18 MPs from the north with a seat in the House of Commons and number three on the local highest expenses claimers list.

In the last three financial years, the SDLP man claimed a total £444,862 in expenses for his role as South Belfast MP, according to the Sunday Times MPs' expenses list. It also shows that Dr McDonnell claimed £22,000 in "other" costs making him the joint first highest claimer in that category out of all the MPs in Westminster.

North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds was the highest expenses claimant in the north followed closely by fellow DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson.

However figures revealing that Dr McDonnell's total expenses claims from 2005-2008 amounted to almost £450,000 have caused controversy among the South Belfast-based Northern Ireland Residents' Coalition.

The Sunday Times list shows the South Belfast MP claimed a total £156,830 in expenses in the financial year 2007/8 making him the 150th highest expense claimer out of the 646 MPs at Westminster.

The SDLP MP and MLA claimed £23,083 for his second home allowance, £16, 967 in office expenses, £94,769 in staffing costs - the 56th highest staffing costs in the Commons - and £22,011 in "other" costs. Other costs includes travel, IT, postage and stationary and makes the SDLP MP the joint first highest claimer in that category.

He also claimed £9,310 for regular journeys between his home, constituency and Westminster and £320 for family travel costs. He claimed no London supplement.

In previous years he claimed £145,728 and £142,304 in total respectively.
Stranmillis resident Andrew Charles from the NI Residents Coalition said Dr McDonnell should explain his claims.

"Despite having two constituency offices, one of which is only open part-time and the main office which is on the same site of his GP surgery, which was recently relocated to a new fancy premises, these costs seem to be on the high side given that he is also an MLA," he said.

"The people of South Belfast have a right to ask our MP to stand over these expenses. How can he be the third most expensive MP in NI, and still practice as a part–time GP according to his register of Member’s interests? Dr McDonnell should come clean with the electorate as to his costs and job priority. South Belfast needs a full-time politician.”

The House of Commons Register of Members' Interests states that the South Belfast MP is a part-time GP, owns a farm in Co Antrim from which he gets rental income, is paid his MLA salary and has shares in Arrow Travel in Belfast. The register was last updated on May 6 but Alasdair this week denied being a practicing GP.

Dr McDonnell went on to say that many of Andrew Charles claims were "disingenuous".

"I am not a practicing GP, I am a full-time politician working as hard as I can to deliver the best constituency service possible across South Belfast to all of the people of South Belfast.

"Mr Charles states that some of my rent claim for 'fancy' new premises 'seem to be on the high side. I would ask Mr Charles what qualifies him to make these assertions and query whether he has been inside the constituency office where he is more than welcome to visit.

"I run two constituency offices across South Belfast and pay for the rent of my main office on the Ormeau Road out of my own pocket. The only thing I don't pay for out of my own pocket is staffing costs and utility bills."

The SDLP man went on to say that his party believed in total transparency, clarity and accountability surrounding MP's expenses.

"This is public money for public roles and therefore must be entirely justifiable," he said.

"I am on public record for backing calls for the early disclosure of expenses and fully support the planned full publication procedure agreed by parliament and I fully stand by all my expense claims.

“I am fully committed to the people of South Belfast who I have had the privilege to serve since 2005 as MP. All the expenses I receive are used to provide the highest constituency service to all of the people of South Belfast."

He concluded by saying: "One would hope in the interests of all Northern Ireland residents that Mr Charles is asking the same questions of Nigel Dodds and Jeffrey Donaldson who have both submitted higher claims.

“Otherwise Northern Ireland residents will be entitled to ask is Mr Charles simply doing the bidding on behalf of his friends in the DUP who are in no position to lecture anyone on the use of public funds."

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