Rowen tackles allegations

Date published: 25 June 2009

Following the threat of legal action by Paul Rowen MP, the Rochdale Observer has agreed to print Mr Rowen's refutations (below) on the front page and an apology on page two. The newspaper is also making a donation to Springhill Hospice and meeting Mr Rowen's legal costs.

Mr Rowen, who describes the coverage as, “inaccurate, misleading and damaging to my reputation" and said: “This last week has probably been the hardest of my political life.

"Since the article appeared I've been contacted by scores of Rochdalians shocked at the way the Rochdale Observer has belittled and misrepresented the work that I do. C P Scott must be turning in his grave.

"I appreciate the scrutiny of the expenses I incur in my job representing Rochdale locally and nationally.

"As someone who has represented Rochdale both on the Council and in Parliament, I am shocked.”

Commenting on the allegations made by Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate, Mr Rowen  said: “As someone born and bred in Rochdale, it has always been my ambition to represent the people of my town. I have done this conscientiously and my staff and I have always strived to put Rochdale first. Whether this is by the thousands of cases we do on an annual basis, or fighting for extra resources like our new sixth form college, Metrolink and Bus Station or campaigning for the very best services for our town.

“The comments made by my political opponent are the type of disgusting smears that Labour is trying to put behind them nationally. The fact is that he completely misrepresented by expense claims. It is clear that he cannot be trusted on issues like this. I hope that he will have the good grace to apologise and promise in future not to misrepresent facts in this dishonest manner. Behaviour like this drags politics back into the gutter and is morally indefensible. I hope that in future we can have an open debate on the future of Rochdale after decades of Labour neglect.”

The claims and Mr Rowen's refutations:

Among the more surprising claims made by Mr Rowen were 30p for syrup for his £2.05 latte at Starbucks

Other low profile claims include 40p ... for a banana.

But the list doesn't stop there, with Mr Rowen claiming as little as five pence for a 'bag for life’ at Asda and £1.29 for fries at Burger King.

Mr Rowen has told the Observer these claims were made on behalf on an unpaid intern, 
he said: “It is quite clear from the information available to the Rochdale Observer that these claims were made on behalf of an unpaid intern. This was not apparent from the article.

"Unpaid interns are common in MPs Offices as it gives them valuable experience working in the House of Commons.

"I currently have a student from Rochdale working in my office and have given 4 local people this unique opportunity since being elected in 2005.

"Interns receive reasonable travel and food allowances through these costs and that is what these costs refer to.

The MP also claimed a total of almost £26,000 for printing and advertising in 2007/08.
Mr Rowen said: “This is simply not true and completely without fact. This implies that a huge amount of money was spent on party political campaigning. The actual figure spent on advertising and printing was £3,539.06. This included my annual report, delivered by volunteers to 42,000 houses in the Rochdale constituency. Since being elected, I have done 4 of them. An annual report is delivered by most MPs across the country. Before it is printed, the House of Commons proof read it. If this printing is party political then they would refuse to pay for it. The fact that it has been accepted means that it is not party political.

"The advertising was simply letting constituents know where and when I carry out my advice surgeries and comprised of posters that go in community centres and other community and municipal buildings.

The building is partly owned by the Rochdale Liberal Democrat party, who have shares of less than 30 per cent.
These claims have led Labour Parliamentary candidate to accuse Mr Rowen of using his expenses to raise funds to help fund party politics.

Mr Danczuk said: "The thing that strikes me most, apart from Mr Rowen claiming 40p for a banana, which he could have got from Rochdale market for less than 10p, is the amount of taxpayers’ money that has been claimed to fund the Rochdale Lib Dems.

"Time and time again he has claimed for printing of leaflets and rent of the building with £4,000 claimed for the consultancy services of the North West Lib Dems.

"The taxpayers of Rochdale are paying for these free leaflets to be produced. I am convinced that some of what he is doing is inappropriate."

Mr Rowen said: “It is frustrating my political opponent has criticised me and made unsubstantiated allegations.

"I have never paid for the printing of political leaflets using my expenses. To do so would be illegal. I placed adverts in externally printed party newspapers advertising my surgeries and printing posters for my surgeries for display in libraries and community centres. Both contain no political content.

"He also implies that there is some sort of impropriety in the rental agreement surrounding our Drake Street offices. Many MPs including the Prime Minister rent offices from political parties or supporters. The rules for this are clear. It must be a fair market rent determined by an independent surveyor. That was what I did. In the same way my predecessor Lorna Fitzsimons rented her office from a Labour Councillor (Doug Cronshaw).

"All MPs claim allowances and expenses to enable them to do their job.

"I welcome the greater transparency but the media, whilst exposing wrong doing where it occurs has a duty to report these fairly and responsibly.

"The £4,000 for the North West Regional Lib Dems pays for invaluable research and advice on region wide policy issues, assistance with region wide media content, communications and coverage, staff training and staff management advice, cross constituency event co-ordination, liaison and promotion of MPs' work across the region and access to regional office services and administration staff.”

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