Rowen's expenses revealed

Date published: 22 May 2009

In a bid to prove that he is not on the Westminster gravy train, Rochdale MP Paul Rowen has revealed full details of his expense claims to Rochdale Online.

Rochdale Online spent this afternoon (Friday 22 May) going through every receipt he has submitted over the last four years as the MP expenses scandal continues to rock Parliament to its core.

The Liberal Democrat MP said he had nothing to hide and wanted constituents to know he was not milking the system.

Mr Rowen submits regular claims for the interest on his £305,000 mortgage for his flat in London, which is his 'second home', utility bills, council tax, phone and television licence fees under the Additional Costs Allowance (ACA), in line with the rules.

He says that he has never submitted a bill for cleaning his own flat, but does pay compulsory service costs, which go towards the upkeep of the complex which his flat is in.

His food bill on the ACA between 2007/08 was £1850 and only once has he spent the full £400 monthly permitted allowance, when a group of pensioners visited him in Westminster to see the British service-women's memorial and he paid for their meals.

"My food bill when I am living in London is a lot higher than when I am in Rochdale," said Mr Rowen. "When I am in Rochdale I have time to cook for myself but in London that just isn't possible. I'm out of the flat at 5.30 in the morning and back home at 11pm completing my duties."

In 2006 Mr Rowen bought his own flat in London and paid a decorator from Rochdale to paint the flat at a cost of £630 - a cost which Mr Rowen believed to be 'very reasonable'. He also spent £2,000 on bedroom furniture.

"Now that I own my own flat in London and am set up down there the costs will go down over time," said the Rochdale MP. "I have no intention of 'flipping' my flat or my home in Rochdale to make a profit. I think that is just wrong and I cannot justify the MPs that have done that. It should be stopped.

"The rules are clear that we should only spend money to cover our parliamentary duties and I have used some of the ACA allowance and some of my own money to get set up in London. I have definitely spent more of my own money on furnishing the flat with a lot of second hand items from my own home.

"If I was still a teacher and got a job in London I would get a re-location allowance and that would be no different.

"I am not in favour of playing the property market like some of my colleagues.

"The majority of MPs do not have much money behind them and I think that their claims are mostly legitimate. The majority are decent hard working people and we have been let down by a small number of  politicians.

"I believe that if the Speaker had not blocked the release of expenses two years ago then we would not be in the mess that we are in now.

"Thirty years ago Cyril Smith described parliament as like living in a glorified public school, an old boys club, and not much has changed. It is not just the expenses system that is wrong it is the way parliament runs that needs changing. In America a congressman can be recalled by popular vote and we should be able to hold similar by-elections here. I think that would change things considerably, especially given the current situation with expenses.

"It has been suggested that all politicians should live at the same place, perhaps in a hotel, when they are in London but that would be a security nightmare with protests bringing the whole place to a stand still."

Among Mr Rowen's more detailed expense claims was a DVD/VCR player at a cost of £250, while the taxpayer also foots the bill for his TV licence in London, which he believed was 'reasonable' due to his working hours and his need to keep up with current affairs. He confirmed that he does not have a Sky television subscription, which many MPs do have.

"As far as I'm concerned there is nothing in my allowances that I am ashamed of as far as my second home goes, although I know some people think that even that is not acceptable.

"My average working week is 80-100 hours. I am not complaining about that because my job is very interesting and I love doing it but it is nice to have my own place in London where I have clean clothes and a place to relax. I think I can justify that."

Back in Rochdale, the taxpayer has funded Mr Rowen's £1,000 advertisement hoarding at Spotland Stadium and more controversially £700 an issue for advertisements placed in local Liberal Democrat leaflets/magazines - effectively subsidising local Liberal Democrat politics. Challenged by Rochdale Online that this is an abuse of taxpayers money Mr Rowen sought to defend it on the grounds the adverts were non political for his MP surgeries, however, Rochdale Online maintained that taxpayers money should not be used to prop up party political propaganda.

Mr Rowen also claimed £6000 towards the cost of a £15,000 envelope stuffing machine at his Drake Street office, which is also used by the local Liberal Democrat party. Mr Rowen said that he only ever claims costs for stationery, advertisements and supplies that are for his own use as an MP and that the Liberal Democrats pay for all party political materials, in line with the rules.

Mr Rowen pays a commercial rate, which was set by local estate agent Andrew Crossley, to rent his Drake Street office from the local Liberal Democrat owned property company.

In total for 2007/08 Mr Rowen claimed £23,083 on the Additional Costs Allowance, £22,994 in incidental expenses, £88,468 on staff, £10,324 on communications, £12,129 on travel, £94 on staff travel, £1,328 on centrally purchased stationery, £4,591 on associated posting costs and £1,128 on centrally provided computer equipment. In total he claimed £164,139 - the 55th highest out of 645 MPs across the country.

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