Further to the interest in my Parliamentary allowances I have written to my local members to explain my own circumstances. I have attached the text of this letter below.
I wanted to write to you in the light of recent press coverage about MPs expenses, and tell you of my own circumstances.
There were a number of inaccuracies in some of the reports about my expenses and these had been taken up with the respective media outlets. But throughout I have responded fully and promptly with any press enquiry about my expenses.
I have never had a mortgage or owned any property in London. I have had the same ‘second home’ in London since 1989 in a block of flats known as Dolphin Square which is situated near Parliament. This is a one-room studio flat (or bedsit) which I rent including a parking place for just under £800 per month. The rent and my tenancy are protected until 2034. When I give up my tenancy and leave Parliament I will receive no financial benefit.
In 2005 the new Landlords offered me £38,000 to give up the tenancy so that they could put a new tenant in at a full market rent. I refused that offer and decided to remain where I was.
Elspeth and I furnished the flat ourselves in 1989 and between then and 2006 I did not make any claims for any updating. By 2006 the flat was in need of substantial updating due to almost twenty years of wear and tear. This was made more urgent by the fact that as Leader of the Party I was spending six or seven nights a week in London and was often joined by Elspeth.
I obtained quotations for work to bring the flat up to a suitable standard and submitted these to the House of Commons authorities and was advised in writing that they were acceptable and could be charged to the ‘second home’ allowance.
It was impossible for me to supervise what was required and I enlisted the aid of a constituent with experience in this – something I had advised the House authorities I intended to do. Again there was no objection.
Let me make it clear that I take full personal responsibility for my actions.
When the matter was raised with me last week I took the view with hindsight that the payment to the constituent was for my convenience and not essential and I have repaid the sum involved.
Both as Leader of the Party and otherwise I have been firmly of the view that MPs should not be exempt from Freedom of Information and that the system of expenses needs radical reform. I believe in both of these as much now as I did before recent events.
With the exception of the financial year 2007/08 I have consistently been amongst the lowest ranked MPs with regard to the use of the “second homes” allowance and when the figures for 2008/09 are published I am convinced that they will reflect that trend. I would like to emphasize that neither my cottage in Gateside nor my house in Edinburgh have ever been subject to tax payers money and the upkeep of both properties has been managed by Elspeth and myself.
I would like to say that over the past three decades I have been incredibly lucky to have the tremendous support of the Local Party here in North East Fife and I highly value your own contribution. I hope that I can continue to count on your support.
As ever, I am always available if you have any queries about this or any other issues arising out of MPs expenses.