I’ll let you into a secret. When I fill out an expense claim, as well as following the normal labyrynthine rules about receipts and no lunch claims etc etc, I have to print out three copies of the master form – yes, three. I then have to get a pair of scissors. Yes, old fashioned scissors. I then have to take the third copy and cut it so that I produce, out of an A4 sheet, a small postage stamp-like piece of paper which has the expenses barcode of it. I then have to take a roll of sellotape, which I keep in my top drawer especially for this one single purpose, and cut off a piece of sellotape to stick the barcode to the front of an internal envelope.
I then have to send the whole package, receipts and all, to…….wait for it…………..Wroclaw. Yes Wroclaw. Poland. Incredible isn’t it? Poland. (Wroclaw, by the way, is pronounced “Vrotzwav” – quite the opposite of what you would expect – I know I’ve checked with several colleagues who live there. I have the pronunciation written on a little piece of paper also kept in my top drawer for occasions when I have to ask “What’s the weather like in Vrotzwav?”)
So, the extended ritual I have to go through to claim expenses is a pain in the neck. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Everyone who works and uses expenses has to jump through hoops to claim money back. They and we just get on with it.
I’ve just watched Bob Russell and Martin Bell on Newsnight, discussing the issue of IPSA and the new MPs’ expenses system. Full marks to Bob for putting his head above the parapet very eloquently and, of course, it is important that staff get paid and new MPs are, indeed, blameless. But I agree with Martin Bell. A period of silence from MPs on the subject of expenses would be most welcome. They should just buckle down and get on with it.
We don’t want to hear how difficult it is for MPs to claim expenses. Welcome to the real world. Now get on with it.