Thursday, May 14, 2009

Norman Baker Suffers Double Blow


Norman Baker, the LibDem MP for Lewes who has been at the forefront of criticism of MPs over expenses claims, has today come under fire in his local newspaper, the Brighton Argus for claiming £7,500 rent for his parliamentary office - a building which he owns.
An MP who led criticism of Parliamentary expenses has admitted claiming about £20,000 from the taxpayer to rent an office he already owned. Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, claimed the cash to rent a constituency office in the building he had bought as his own home.

The 51-year-old has become a regular “talking head” on news programmes in recent days and repeatedly condemned the extravagant expenses claims which have outraged the nation this week.

His political opponents last night branded him a hypocrite after details emerged of his arrangement to claim money to rent the office space at the house he owned in High Street, Lewes.

Mr Baker said yesterday he had checked he was not breaking any rules before buying the house and making the claims. He said he had claimed roughly £7,500 a year for about three years after buying the house for £310,000 in September 2000.

He told The Argus: “I was entitled to claim money from the taxpayer for the rent of an office to carry out my parliamentary office.”...

Julian Lewis, a Conservative MP who crossed swords with Mr Baker when the Liberal made comments to a national newspaper in a story about Mr Lewis's expenses claims, said: “It is utter hypocrisy.”

Jason Sugarman, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Lewes, said: “We need to clean up politics and that means everybody needs to be transparent and clear. He is tarred with the same brush as the MPs he criticises.”

In The Daily Telegraph, which has published fresh revelations about MPs' claims every day since last week, Mr Baker was yesterday reported to have had claims turned down for a bicycle and a computer at the London home he rents.

He also claimed hundreds of pounds for food in periods when the House of Commons was not sitting. He told The Argus: “It is standard practice right across business that when you're away from your home you claim subsistence.” ...

He wrote in a national newspaper on Monday: “The basic problem is this: claims for expenses should reflect expenditure legitimately and necessarily incurred by a Member of Parliament as part of his or her duties – no more, no less. Instead, they have been used by too many MPs as an alternative income stream, as a way of bumping up salary without having to vote through an embarrassing increase. The standard defence trotted out is that everything done has been within the rules. But that does not make it ethically correct, not least because those rules have been written by MPs themselves.”

I don't know if this is related to Mr Baker's behaviour but a leading LibDem Councillor in Baker's constituency, Robert Robinson, the former mayor of Newhaven, is today defecting to the Conservatives. This is quite a coup as Lewes Council is very tight electorally.

UPDATE: Norman Baker has issued a statement explaining his expenses, which I am happy to print below.

1. I have long campaigned for transparency in MPs’ expenses and for the system to be drastically reformed to end unacceptable practices. I intend to continue to do so.
2. I therefore have no objection at all to public examination of my expenses, which for some time have been published on my own website.
3. I have pursued the actions above, not merely because they are right, but because I am confident that my own expenses claims have both met the rules and more importantly are morally justifiable.
4. I would point out that I have, along with only a minority of MPs, never used taxpayers’ money to obtain a mortgage and through that a capital gain, let alone indulged in “house flipping”. I have not used the second home allowance for the acquisition of expensive consumer durables or for property repairs, and maintenance, the costs of which have fallen on my landlord.
5. In respect of today’s article in the Brighton Argus, the facts are as follows:
(a) When I was elected in 1997, I secured a shop for rent in a mixed hereditament in Lewes High Street, with my landlady occupying the rest of the building
(b) When in 2000 she decided to sell the building, I asked the Fees Office for advice on whether or not it was in order to buy the building for our own domestic purposes, and keep the office on site. I did so because
(i) We were in any case very keen to move houses and this house met our needs
(ii) The nature of the property is such that it would have presented operational problems had a new landlord or landlady been hostile politically
(iii) I did not want the upheaval, and indeed cost to the taxpayer, of moving offices shortly before an expected General Election
(c) I did not commit to purchase until I had received clearance, in writing, from the Fees Office
(d) As part of the proper protection for the taxpayer, the independent and external District Valuer was called in to decide the appropriate rent to be paid. His decision was of course accepted.
(e) The rent he decided was, in fact, marginally less than I had been paying to my landlady, so an immediate saving to the taxpayer was realised (along with the savings made by not moving)
(f) Not so long after I had moved to the house, the Fees Office indicated that they had changed their minds and that they had now decided that rent could not be paid to my wife and me, despite the written assurances in clear terms I had been given.
(g) A period of, from memory, about two years followed where no rent was paid and my wife and I provided an office in our house for Parliamentary use at no charge. Given that at that time it was not difficult to rent out shops in the High Street, my wife and I therefore lost well over ten thousand pounds of income as a consequence, while the taxpayer secured an office free of charge, saving the public purse a similar amount. The taxpayer has therefore lost no money as a result of the arrangements, indeed quite the reverse. I was thousands of pounds worse off, as I could have rented the space out for an income and the public purse would have paid for me to have an office elsewhere.
(h) In March 2006, I moved my constituency office to its present address, recommencing claiming for rent.
6. This whole story was subject to a story in the Sunday Times several years ago, followed by a correction the following week...
7. Having said that, I am totally in favour of full disclosure when it comes to matters involving public money, and am happy to provide the facts.
8. If the allegation is that this is somehow an expenses fiddle it must be the only case where the MP accused is thousands of pounds out of pocket, and the taxpayer is better off, as a consequence

58 comments:

Andrew Efiong said...

"I was entitled..."

This says it all, no? PAY IT BACK BAKER!

Simon The Bluesman said...

It's not just drip, drip, drip it's a torrential flood now. It just beggars belief. I thought Norman Baker was one of the good guys but then again he is an MP! Who next? What next? What a mess.

Anonymous said...

Lessons need to be learned here by the incoming new government ( who/when ever that is).

Most of the practices highlighted by the Telegraph over the last few days are standard tax avoidance practices out in the world. This government has tried to micro manage, imposed draconian and very picky levels of interference and taxation. HMRC have become obnoxiously overbearing and fussy.

So basically either learn that too much law making and interference always leads to the laws of unintended consequence, or suffer.

SIMPLFY. simple low flat rates of tax ( no loopholes, no offsets, no expense claims and I mean this for everyone not just MP s)

Everyone happier, costs of collection vastly reduced and tax revenues actually go up.

Anonymous said...

They are all at it aren't they?

Even Julia Goldsworthy who one would have thought is as honest as the day is long but no she lived with her sisters and claimed for up market and extravagant furniture.

Dissolve Parliament and start again. No one will miss them for a while as they aren't exactly doing very much over the next year, and they have passed most of the law making business over to Brussels anyway.

Plato said...

Norman's Communications Allowance keeps attempting to annex my postcode as part of his constituency.

Round here quite a lot of peeps really don't like his rent-a-gob style and the suubject of his expenses has been around for a long time.

I notice that he gave virtually zero credit to Heather Brooke for everything she has done to get the receipts out there.

I wouldn't vote for him if continental drift made me his floating voter.

Unknown said...

Is this case not predicated on whether the Lewes Home is what he claims ACA on?

If it's his MAIN home (aka nothing to do with parliament) and he also owns the commercial premises underneath, it stands to reason that this should in fact be a cost neutral situation. To avoid controversy I guess he could have leased out his office space and rented an office somewhere else, but depending on his ACA status, this COULD be perfectly acceptable both by the rules AND the spirit of the rules.

However if Mr Baker claims ACA on his Lewes premises, he has no leg to stand on.

UB41 said...

Plato & everyone.

Heather Brooke MBE ?

moorlandhunter said...

It seems that every MP can be criticised for one reason or another over expenses but it seems that the whole affair is now becoming a witch-hunt to find out the worst MP.
It is time to move on, prosecute or suspend those who clearly have misused the expenses or misrepresented them, but now it seems that any claim is being viewed as suspect.
I would like to find out just how much money Local Council, NHS chiefs earn or spend on expenses and wages, how much the heads of certain Civil Service department earn and how much the BBC employees claim or get paid?
I can bet you a pinch to a pile of pig crap that many of those employed in the higher echelons of the Councils, Civil Service, NHS and BBC earn considerably more than MP’s do, who after all are running our country.
Time to have an enquiry, sack the dodgy ones and move on.

davidc said...

'SIMPLFY. simple low flat rates of tax ( no loopholes, no offsets, no expense claims and I mean this for everyone not just MP s)'

this would have my support

Philipa said...

Ooh I can't wait for Newmania's comment.. ?

UB41 said...

davidc

Wholeheartedly agree.

It never ceases to amaze me (well, I just think here we go again) that every new tax/benefit that gets introduced must need an army op people to administer it.

TV licence - scrap it - get it from income tax
Car tax - scrap it - levy the fuel

Don't get me started on the benefits side of things lol

Thats News said...

Norman Baker typical LibDem.

Knows how YOU should behave, but doesn't thikn the rules apply to him.

Anonymous said...

The most shocking thing to come out of all of this, is that the BBC pay their Autocue readers £92 grand a year.

Bob said...

Is it at the market rent or below? As he needs one, and if he is saving the taxpayer money then that is right?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if he declared the rent on his tax return.

I hope that HMRC have the balls to deal with these cretins in the same way that they monster the self employed.

Andy said...

And there was me thinking that by Thursday we would be all very apathetic due to the small pathetic claims coming out. This needs to keep on going until its all out and then we will be able to start rebuilding respect in British politics

Crime does pay said...

the idiotmust be sacked and soon at that

this blog makes a strong case (lots of swearing though)

http://tinyurl.com/oqv9rr

as he /she points out this is much worse than all the other stories

Anonymous said...

Utterly appalling how can Baker carry on as an MP now. Noone will ever believe what he says again! He started the whole process and has been hung out to dry. Either pay it back or pay taxes on receiving income from renting out a room in your home.

Anonymous said...

"He also claimed hundreds of pounds for food in periods when the House of Commons was not sitting. He told The Argus: “It is standard practice right across business that when you're away from your home you claim subsistence.” ...

Subsistence? Hundreds of pounds? HMR&C allows me £5 per day!

Anonymous said...

Andrew Efiong said...

10.44 AM

Pay it back and then go to the slammer.

If you or I had done this both HMRC and the police would be all over me like a rash.

Where are they? in my opinion, getting their orders from one JG Brown.

Sorry, the Right Honourable JG Brown MP, PM. Sorry.

Mark Senior said...

I am unclear why you think it is unreasonable to claim the rent for his parliamentary office because it is a building he owns . If his office was in a building owned by his constituency association as is the case with some Conservative and Labour MP's then would they be wrong to claim the rent for that and pay it to theirparty associations ?
There is no Councillor Robinson on Lewes DC , I presume you mean Robbie Robertson .

dheigham said...

Heather Brooke MBE? Hell no. CH - Companion of Honour - is the appropriate honour.

Norman Baker appears to have stuck to the spirit and the letter of the MPs' expenses code. That leads to some daft looking expenses simply because the letter of the code is daft. He did not draft the code; but like other honest MPs, he found himself doing strange things to comply with it.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the police and the courts will have to take a hand with some of the worst cases. The rest of us need to stop sputtering and get down to clear identification of the rest of the troughers who we are going to vote out as soon as we get the chance.

J Hutchings said...

"Norman Baker,--- for claiming £7,500 rent for his parliamentary office - a building which he owns"

I hesitate to break ranks with the baying herd but claiming and being paid by the government for putting a building at the disposal of government (OK, its a political party building but he needs it as part of his job) is routine, sensible and fair - as long as the payment is a market rent reflecting market values which, I guess this is.

It is irrelevant if there is a mortgage on the bulding or not, the value is still being provided to the government.
eg doctors surgeries, some part owned, mostly mortgaged, some owned outright, are valued and reimbursement is made to the doctor owner at a market rate regardless of the funding arrangements.

If reimbursement were denied simply because the owner had paid off the mortgage then am awful lot of surgeries would be closed down as no longer viable.

Norman Baker is acting well within reasonable practice here. He has done nothing wrong and is certainly not "working the system".

Try going after the real crooks Iain.


J Hutchings

Sarah (Lewes) said...

The office was a shop in the centre of Lewes and open to the public. I believe the family lived above it. £7500 seems reasonable for commercial rent in a prime spot.

Simon Gardner said...

If Norman Baker is ‘a regular “talking head” on news programmes’, what does that make Iain Dale?

Hawkeye said...

My first reaction was "Silly tw*t" but on reflection Mr Baker may have a point. He needs to put it across better.

First, he needs on office for parliamentary work.

Second he has some office space available. If he uses that space as opposed to renting it out to someone else then Mr Baker has suffered a loss of income that he (or anyone else) would be entitled to claim for because if he had not used the office for MP work then he would have made money from a paying tenant.

If, on the other hand, the office has always been empty.......

Anonymous said...

I hate to fall in with the destructive anti-politicians and the Guidolike window lickers on this, but this serves Norman Baker right for his sanctimonious holier-than-thou act. He should have stuck together, not attacking his own.

manwiddicombe said...

If a self employed person designates a room in their home as an office space they then pay the appropriate non-domestic rates for that area. As far as I can tell so far that is all that Norman Baker has done.

It looks bad for two reasons.

Firstly, at a time when there is a momentum of corruption flowing through Parliament, he is paying the rent to himself.

Secondly because that guardian of truth and high journalistic standards (Newsquest Media Group) is reporting the story.

£7,500 pa is around market rent for a property in Lewes.

Lee Griffin said...

So because he owns office space he should be giving it free to the electorate by running his office out of it? If that were to become rule we would still lose out because any sensible and normal person would then just go and rent another office and use that space for something else, something potentially profitable.

People seem to portray this as a scandal because they believe that due to his personal and non-work situation he should have to actually lose out from a personal and non-work perspective just to run his constituency office. That's just absurd.

Sarah (Lewes) said...

As far as I can recall, Norman Baker bought this property shortly after becoming the MP for Lewes, Seaford, Newhaven and surrounding villages. Prior to that he lived in Seaford.

The shop was a very convenient place for him to meet with his constituents. It's within 5 minutes walk of the station - handy for Newhaven and Seaford. It was also a couple of minutes walk from the central bus station - good for the outlying villages.

However, I doubt it was quite such a good deal for his family. It's very noisy there after pub closing time.

wonderfulforhisage said...

Looks to me as if J Hutchins 12:04 and Hawkeye 12:42 have a valid point. What say you Iain?

DespairingLiberal said...

There will be loads of Tory and Labour MPs doing the same thing.

I do think Norman sometimes strays into humbug territory, but he is at least a fighter for truth, as with the ghastly role NuLab ministers, particularly Hoon, played in the David Kelly affair and I think it would be a shame if he left Parliament.

Anonymous said...

Having looked at the comments it does rather depend on the situation. But if he has an room in his house that he uses as an office and is renting that from himself it's appalling!

Twig said...

davidc said...
"simple low flat rates of tax (no loopholes, no offsets, no expense claims and I mean this for everyone not just MPs)

this would have my support"
That's UKIP's policy.So, do they get your vote?

keith elliott said...

Norman Baker is one of the good guys. He hadn't 'flipped' and his claims are hardly excessive.

The reaction of local Tories shows they are still the 'nasty party.'

tykejohnno said...

I wonder if the lib dem supporting bbc will have mr baker on again,this man was going round the studio's doing his purer than pure crap.Even if he has nothing to answer for as some illiberals supporters think on here,the man has brought questions up about his allowances.I also want to know if baker will be mentioned on the bbc or sky news,if he had been a tory ,baker would be up for ridicule all over the media.

Anonymous said...

This is a bit disappointing Iain. I think the problem now is that the journos dont even care about what the facts are; the MPs are all at it.

I feel particularly sorry for Alan Reid, the Lib Dem MP, who had his expenses claims story completely twisted without the paper having to care if they're right or wrong.

The fact that MPs have been disgraceful in a large number of cases, doesnt mean that journos can get sloppy or twist stories without apologies.

Dr Evil said...

Charging rent for a room in a house he already owns. Welcome to free money central. This is just wicked and I don't mean in a street slang sort of way. But lecturing others about extense troughing and then doing the same. Napoleon the pig would be proud. I hope the electors of Lewes remember this hypocrasy at the next general election.

Sarah (Lewes) said...

If Mr Baker was claiming rent back on premises that were out of town and awkward to get to - you would have a point. However, he carefully selected a base in the heart of his constituency. He made it dead easy for his constituents to get to his surgeries. He also minimized his travelling costs to Parliament by living near the station.

Anonymous said...

Amongst MPs who may claim they are getting an unduly rough ride is Barbara Follett about paying for security. She did have an ex-husband murdered while their children (13 and 9) were in the house (precipitating her leaving South Africa). She might reasonably claim that being an MP raises her visibility dangerously.

The "pipe under the tennis court" bit seems rather unfair also. Most of us non-toffs have water pipes too.

Elliot Kane said...

Surely this has to be outright fraud, doesn't it? how can you possibly claim back rent on something when no-one is charging you rent for using it?

Either this is illegal or the law needs changing badly!

Lewes voter said...

Keith Elliot: "The reaction of local Tories shows they are still the 'nasty party.'"

How pathetic you comment is - are the majority of the country also "nasty" for being so angry about the snouts in the trough MPs?

Baker is taking the p*ss here with our money

PS. I live in Lewes, and know exactly where his house over his shop is.

The shop has never been let out since he moved his office, so his claim about saving the taxpayer money, as he could have been profiting from commercially letting out the shop is tosh.

Conand said...

Vocal LibDem MPs always seem to have skeletons in their respective closets.
I hope Norman Baker keeps filling the Telly slots to explain how and why he is a total hyporcrit.

Anonymous said...

I feel very sorry about this. I have a relative down there who is a staunch Tory, but has found Baker to be a good constituency MP & very helpful in battles with bureaucracy.

Auld Teuchter.

DespairingLiberal said...

Now we are seeing, as in Conand's little piece of Tory venom, how this issue is being played for part politics. Disgusting really, as it is clear that Baker hasn't done anything wrong. The fire needs reserving for those of all parties who visibly has. This was a strong moral campaign by the Telegraph against corruption on all sides, but the pathetic vitriol of the party-haters is starting to muddy, confuse and spoil the issue.

Shabby really on your part Iain to post the story in the first place, since you know damn well that many Tory MPs do exactly the same thing, or worse.

Lewes voter said...

Im astounded at the bizarre level of support for Saint Norman of Lewes

Were Bakers cheerleaders and the Lib Dem bunnies be so forgiving a couple of days ago about the Tory moats?

Baker and crew are out on a massive PR defensive as he knows he's toast at the next election

keith elliott said...

Lewes Voter and Conand you miss the point. Norman Baker has done an outstanding job at holding the executive to account.

I'm afraid your comments merely prove my earlier point. Tories cannot help themselves but be 'nasty.'

'Flipping' is the real story in the expenses scandal but you don't want to talk about that because it's only Labour and Tory MP's who've been doing it.

Looking forward to your 'angry' response Lewes Voter!

keith elliott said...

Actually Lewes Voter, I'm interested in your response to the statement Iain Dale's blog has just printed.

For the record, if even most Tories were like Iain Dale, I'd vote Conservative. It's the viscious nasty smears, along with the latent homophobia of many Conservative activists that keeps my vote firmly in the anti Tory camp.

Heather Brooke said...

I think it's wrong to paint Norman Baker with the same brush as other grasping MPs.

He's been one of the only MPs who has battled alongside me to bring freedom of information and transparency to parliament. He's got my campaign from day one and has supported it throughout.

From what I've read his claims do not seem untoward and he's completely open about them.

And Julian Lewis MP is no one to cast a stone. This is the man who pushed through the law exempting all MPs addresses from the public domain which would have left us all in the dark about house flipping.

JULIAN LEWIS MP said...

Sorry you feel like that, Heather, given that the Daily Telegraph is - quite rightly - blacking out the home addresses of MPs in the documents it is publishing on "security grounds". These are exactly the same security grounds which explain why Parliament unanimously decided on 17 July 2008 not to allow MPs' home addresses to be published in response to Freedom of Information requests. (See: http://www.julianlewis.net/speech_detail.php?id=142)

Frank Keys said...

Baker has clearly done nothing wrong. Iain Dale lets himself down on this by publishing this while ignoring the facts. Calling Robbie Robertson a leading councillor (that's not his real name by the way, he changed it after financial problems) is a joke. The man thinks that the Tory incinerator in Newhaven will be a tourist attraction! He will be lynched by his voters if that goes public.

keith elliott said...

Mr Lewis - you were quoted as saying Norman Baker was a hypocrite in the original article and yet you have made no effort here to substantiate that accusation.

I tried to contact you directly on your web page but there does not appear to be an email address or comment section.

By the way Lewes Voter, I'm still waiting. lol

Lewes voter said...

Keith Elliot

Still waiting for what? you pompous ass (Oh, sorry, was I being "nasty" there?)

St Norman may be "within the rules" but it doesnt make it right what he's done; pocket taxpayers money for his own ends

BTW what has "homophobia" got to do with any of this?

DespairingLiberal said...

Was it for "security" Julian Lewis? Or was it to ensure that voters could never go and take a peek at all those lavish second, third and fourth homes we've been paying you all to accumulate?

keith elliott said...

Lewes Voter

Why do you feel the need to enter into personal abuse. It was Maggie who said that when her opponents started on the personal attacks that she knew she`d one.

Hey ho.

`Flipping` is the real story in the expenses scandal. Mr and Mrs Balls have been at it, so have lots of Tories. Mr Baker, and as far as I`m aware no Lib Dems, have engaged in such activities.

As far as homophobia goes it`s simply that the nasty viscious nature of debate in much of the the Tory Party and attitudes towards such progressive concepts as equal gay rights, keeps me from voting Tory.

keith elliott said...

btw Lewes Voter have you actually read Mr baker`s statement.

His actions actually cost him money!

lol

PP said...

The MP's just do not understand!

Andrew George Liberal Democrat MP for St.Ives & Helston in Cornwall is so dis-connected, he just does NOT understand how very ANGRY the British people are over the MP's expenses claim scandal!

Especially some people, like the former 15yr old homeless gay youth, who lived rough on the streets of Helston, Cornwall, but would Andrew George MP help when the lad wrote to Andrew George BEGGING for help....NO!

Andrew George MP was too busy filling in his own expense claims form it would seem!

Search youtube for the video "NO HELP for homeless gay teenage boy"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKRJjFOeKMA

Unknown said...

Pay it back Norman
It shows the point is entirely missed - he has made the same bad judgment as those he so loudly criticized - the rules do not make it right reasonable or moral - you took tax payers money - pay it back