The story so far... Hufty-tufty Thanet Tory MP Sir Roger Wind has distributed an email complaining at the cheek of the local blue-top in questioning his expenses. After a bit of an old moan, the former Radio Caroline DJ and BBC producer's blistering missive reproduces the impertinent questions the hack asked (see previous two items). Now read on...
After seventeen years the furnishings, provided at my own expense, in the London accommodation that I was occupying at the time had become dilapidated. When, in 2004, I determined that I would fight the 2005, 2010 and, probably, further general elections I sought pre-approval from the House of Commons fees office to purchase replacements. The cost of £509 for redecoration, which does not include materials, was considered reasonable as were the other items listed. The total cost averaged out at about £150 per year. This claim has subsequently been examined, along with all other Additional Costs claims, by the Conservative Party`s Scrutiny Panel and I have been requested to make no repayments.
The Isle of Thanet Gazette is wholly aware of the circumstances surrounding the purchase of a television set for professional use. Its sister paper, the Thanet Times, recently ran a plagiarised version of a story published in the Herne Bay Times which was itself lifted from a 'Gale's View' that I wrote for the Herne Bay Gazette and the Thanet Extra in July 2008! That column has been posted on my website ever since - as the Gazette knows full well. The bottom line is that following the demise of my 15-year old, analogue TV, I again sought advance authority to purchase a new TV set in a Comet Warehouse (Margate) sale. The price was 50% lower than the cost of hiring an equivalent set over a six-year (two years remaining of the current parliament and potentially four of the next) period. It was approved as value for money and also cleared by the Scrutiny Panel.
Following a car accident that left her wheelchair-bound for two months, my wife and I decided that I would move from a basement flat (down some steep steps) to the room that I now occupy when in London. In order to make this viable certain adaptations were necessary and these one-off costs were again approved by the Fees Office and have also subsequently been cleared by the Scrutiny Panel.
My Additional Costs claims for rental, utilities and sundries are now amongst the lowest for Members representing out-of-London constituencies and, when the 2008/2009 figures are published will be revealed to be below £6,000 out of a potential £23,000.
The 4,000 posters purchased in 2005 were for 'advice surgery' advertising. These are provided, at the rate of about 1000 a year, to voluntary groups, doctors’ surgeries and dentists, schools, hospitals, businesses and other outlets for notice board use.
Had the Gazette taken the trouble to check the claims more thoroughly they would have learned that I did not pay '£50 to become a Friend of Herne Bay Festival' but bought a £50 advice surgery advertisement in the festival programme. I have also purchased similar space in parish magazines and other such outlets and find it a cost-effective way of reaching my constituents and informing them of the services that we offer.
I regard the money spent maintaining my website as also cost-effective. Not only does it allow me to post press releases, photographs and other information (such as this) that might otherwise be ignored or edited by the local press but, judging by the number of requests for assistance that I receive via the website it helps many people to make contact with me when they most need help.
The computer and broadband costs referred to are in excess of the three office computers installed in my main parliamentary office in Birchington and enable me to access my full office records from the office in my home at any hour of the day or night. It may surprise the Isle of Thanet Gazette to know that many Members of Parliament work what is, effectively, a seven-day week.
The £130 Olympus digital camera and memory card were purchased, with advance approval, for office use. This is not a 'top of the range' camera but represented, at the time of purchase, the best value for money to generate press-quality pictures. We have found that local papers, including the Isle of Thanet Gazette and the Thanet Times, are frequently unable to send reporters and photographers to cover local events (and in my case sometimes parliamentary duties with the armed forces, police or overseas) and have been grateful to receive the pictures and copy that we supply to them free of charge.
The Isle of Thanet Gazette may again be astonished to learn that we deal with a large volume of correspondence. All of my mail and most of my e-mails are opened by me, personally (I arrive in my office at 06.45 and my wife, who runs my parliamentary office, is ordinarily at her desk before 07.00), processed by me and sent by express delivery to Birchington for typing and onward transmission.
We have large numbers of constituents who either cannot afford or do not choose to use e-mail and therefore deal with most post by letter. We are currently turning around between a hundred and a hundred and fifty communications a day and, although we do not always succeed, we try to respond to enquiries within 48 hours.
I am fortunate to have the services of two excellent and dedicated audio typists. After fifteen years one of our Dictaphone systems became unfit for purpose, inefficient and, potentially, a hazard to aural health. I believe that my team have a right to decent office equipment and this machine was replaced. I also bulk-purchased a supply of dictation cassettes to get best value for money: at any one time we may well have six tapes in circulation and although these are re-used they do, of course, wear out and become inaudible after excessive use.
I frankly do not think that it is up to the Isle of Thanet Gazette to try to tell me, or my staff, how to run our office or what equipment we should use. We do, of course, receive complaints from time to time but the general level of customer satisfaction with the speed and efficiency of our handling of constituency casework is amongst the best. (Source: theyworkforyou.com)
My office, like most businesses, uses pens! The special-offer purchase of 100 Regal pens (the 'gift boxes', cardboard containers, were thrown in free) represented good value for money, last longer than slightly cheaper throw-away items and we still have a good supply of them for necessary future use.
Standards of journalism
As a pedant with the glimmerings of a classical education I sometimes use long words. My staff are diligent and we take trouble to try to ensure that our correspondence is literate and grammatically correct, that the right words are employed for the right purposes and that the spelling is checked. We do not always succeed but our standards are high and the office copy of the Oxford English Dictionary assists this process.
Had the Isle of Thanet Gazette staff scrutinised my published claim form properly they might have been better informed. In their eagerness to imply that I have used expenses to buy Rutherfurd`s (excellent) novels for personal use they have clearly looked at the receipt for the dictionary which contains, also, these three books that were bought at the same time. An elementary study of the supporting form shows, however, that only the dictionary was claimed for.
If my constituents believe that I have been either excessive or improper in my use of what we consistently recognise is their taxpayer`s money then they will no doubt tell me so in the usual manner.
Here endeth the email.