Jo challenges Jack Straw over new allowance costs

Plans for the new Communications Allowance were backed by a majority of MPs in the House of Commons yesterday

Jo Swinson has challenged Leader of House of Commons Jack Straw over plans for a new ‘Communications Allowance’ approved yesterday by MPs.

Jo has written to Mr Straw asking for clarity over the projected cost of the allowance, after he stated yesterday that he did “not believe for a second” that her estimated figure of £6.4 million was accurate.

Jo said:

“I have written to the Leader of the House to raise serious questions over the cost of the Communications Allowance. He dismissed my projected figures for the cost of the scheme, so I look forward to receiving his own set of estimates.

“The overriding point I have sought to make is that I feel this proposal should have been looked at more carefully in terms of the value for money that it offers the taxpayer.”

The Communications Allowance motion contains no precise figures for the cost of the proposal, as these would have to be decided by committee at a later date, however the fund is informally proposed at £10,000. Multiplied by the 646 sitting MPs, this brings the cost of funding the allowance to approximately £6.4m.

Below is a copy of Jo Swinson’s letter to Rt Hon Jack Straw MP:

Further to the debate yesterday in the House of Commons and my question to you about the Communication Allowance, I am writing to ask for further clarification about the estimated cost of the new allowance.

Given that you “do not believe for a second” that my estimate of £6 million was possible, what is your estimate of the additional costs of the Communications Allowance?

Working on the assumption that each Member would have an allowance for communications of £10,000 a year, a figure you quoted yesterday, in addition to the IEP budget and a postage limit of £7,500, the potential additional cost to the taxpayer would be £6.46 million.

Perhaps savings would be made elsewhere? For example, the Communications Allowance could include the current allowance for centrally purchased stationery, such as the House of Commons letter headed paper and non-postage envelopes? Is this expected to be the case?

I understand there could be a reduction in postage costs for those currently spending over the proposed £7,500 limit plus £10,000 Communications Allowance, but this would affect only 4 Members and save a total of just £13,964. Even if the stationery costs were also saved, which in 2005-2006 were £747,932, the total additional cost of a Communication Allowance could be £5.7 million.

I would be grateful if you could explain on what basis you think my estimates are inaccurate and suggest what you think a better estimate would be as soon as possible.

Yours Sincerely,

Jo Swinson MP

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