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Big-spending Bill - All the local MPs' expenses

Three sets of ladders in three months, a razor and a scented oil-burner are among items Wearside MP Bill Etherington claimed on his expenses.

The House of Commons has released more than a million expense forms and receipts for the UK's 646 MPs.

>> See the expenses for all local MPs in full here

There has, however, been criticism that some information has been blacked out for security reasons.

This means it is not possible to see, for example, when MPs have "flipped" their second homes to enable them to claim for both addresses.

Mr Etherington was among the biggest spenders from the area, putting in thousands of pounds in claims for household items and maintenance work including:

- Step ladders for 19.99, followed by two more sets of ladders only two months later at 99 and 39;

- 74.44 for a razor;

- A 119 radio;

- 2,490 on nocturne grey roller blinds from "designerdrapes";

- A special-order avocado replacement toilet cistern for 293

- 5,250 for replacement doors and windows;

- 1,233 for a purpose-made fence.

The Sunderland North MP also seems to have been plagued by furry pests, claiming 305 to repair his roof after problems with rodents and 180 to repair his boiler after what appears to be damage done by mice.

The former shipyard and coal-mine fitter seems to have taken on some household tasks himself, claiming 55 for drills, a starter tool kit for 59.99 and 30.60 for door knobs.

In January 2004 he put in a claim for 4,038 for a raft of household items including throws, bedding, 1,939 on furniture, a "silver pedestal aroma jar" for 10, a satin cushion and a dwarf tulip.

The left-wing Labour MP, who was elected in 1992, has claimed between 592–790 on mortgage interest for his small second home in Camberwell.

He has since said his payments now are more like 450 per month.

Mr Etherington was not available to comment today, but in the past he has defended MPs' right to claim expenses.

He said he thought it was wrong if MPs had improved their homes for personal gain, but he added that it was not his place to live in "the most miserable circumstances possible" to keep costs low.

The MP said his mother had died about the time he was elected and he took some of her old furniture down to his London home.

But he added that over the years some had to be replaced and repair and maintenance work on his house was needed.

CHRIS MULLIN'S 30-year-old black and white TV set caused chortles around the country and provided a bit of comic relief at the height of the expenses row.

The Sunderland South MP is among the lowest claimers and most years has claimed more than 10,000 less than the 23,000 maximum.

In Mr Mullin's did claim 20,004 in 2005 – the year he moved from Brixton to a new property, his only house move since entering Parliament in 1987.

He claimed about 5,000 for redecoration and refurbishment work, and some removal costs.

These included 147 to hire a vehicle he drove down to London himself to carry some items of furniture he had stored in Sunderland or ordered in the city.

The MP, who is retiring at the next election, claimed 303 in miscellaneous household items when he moved to the new home, including a budget-price microwave at 24 and a reading light for 51.

Other items claimed over the past five years range from a spare set of keys at 5.74 to 330 for a fitted cupboard.

Mr Mullin had paid off the mortgage on his second home in Brixton when he moved in to his new home, and therefore only claimed about 4,000 in 2004/05.

When he moved, his mortgage interest claims were about 681 per month, which he says have now dropped to 231.

"It's an excellent deal from the taxpayers' point of view on a property which would be 1,100 a month to rent," he said.

"However, they may, after all the hysteria we've had, abolish the right to claim mortgage interest – therefore costing the taxpayer several hundred pounds more."

IT was bedsheets that put Houghton and Washington East MP FRASER KEMP in the media spotlight last month.

The retiring MP took flak for putting 16 bed sheets and two DVD players – priced 89.97 and 60.99 – on his expenses.

He was also criticised for trying to put a 1,699 flat screen TV on his expenses having already claimed 599 for one the year before, though he did not proceed with the claim.

Mr Kemp pointed out that he paid for most of the furniture, fittings and decoration out of his own pocket and his expenses show he claimed for only a few large items in the past five years.

As well as the bedding, his claims include 249 for bedroom drawers and 279 for a fridge freezer.

He claimed 887 for legal fees and 1,180 for other house purchase costs.

His claims for smaller items include a juice master for 24.99 and a 19.99 iron.

TO show she had nothing to hide, Washington MP SHARON HODGSON opened her books before the expenses went public.

Mrs Hodgson, who represents Gateshead East and Washington West, invited the Echo to thumb through her claim forms.

They showed she had flipped second homes twice – she said for family reasons, not for personal gain.

As well as the usual gas and electricity bills, she has claimed a total of 2,687 on fixtures and fittings since being elected.

She was caught out for forgetting to pay the VAT on her office camera she bought cheap from Singapore, but this has now been rectified.

The MP was also found to have tried to claim 900 for a TV not long after she was elected – but did not go ahead with it after taking advice from civil servants.

ONE MP will have no trouble finding his way after claiming a satellite navigation system on expenses.

KEVAN JONES, right, who represents the North Durham ward, claimed 169 for the gadget bought in Halfords in July 2007.

During the 2007 to 2008 period, Mr Jones claimed a total of 160,365, with 22,083 of that in second home allowances.

Mortgage payments on his London home average about 1,440 and have been up to 1,880 a month, and include insurance.

Other part-claims have been made for curtains, at 250, along with bedding at 237, carpets costing 1,913.

Other claims have been made for rent of his constituency office, hire of rooms for surgeries, stationary, website updates, water bills and London taxi fares.

EXPENSES documents reveal Easington MP JOHN CUMMINGS has spent thousands of pounds decorating his flat.

A revamp of his London living room after the gas fire was condemned as unsafe cost the taxpayer 2,036 in February 2006, with two bedrooms repaired and decorated at a cost of 1,113 in November 2004.

The property, which has an interest-only mortgage of 125,000, also had a further 1,344 worth of redecoration carried out in January 2008.

Mortgage payments themselves ranged from 515 a month to 568.

Figures show Mr Cummings, below, who has been an MP since 1987 and is standing down at the next election, claimed a total of 156,044 in expenses during 2007 to 2008, with 22,075 of that as a second home allowance.

Claims were made for office rent in his constituency, mobile phone and landline bills, stationary, servicing and food bills of up to 400 and cleaning of about 200 a month.

In April 2004 claims were made for 578 for a television, video, CD player and insurance, 113 for bedding and pillows and 169 for crockery, pans, a kettle and other equipment, with 1,385 also paid for stamp duty, solicitor fees and land registry fees.

Mr Cummings told the Echo: "Now the claims are readily available for inspection it is for others to judge, but in my view my claims are reasonable given that I provide a good service to my constituents through a fully-staffed office.

"I fully understand the justifiable concerns of the general public about the widespread abuses of the system. It is a time for contrition. Deciding on our own salaries and expenses should be taken out of MPs' hands altogether."

DURHAM City MP ROBERTA BLACKMAN-WOODS, has called for more transparency after expenses documents were made public.

She says she has never hidden any expense claims from her constituents, publishing them on her website since 2006.

She said: "We have to now try to restore public confidence and the only way to do this is to change legislation and create an independent body – and MPs should not be involved in any of this.

"The sooner this is done, the quicker democracy can be restored."

Dr Blackman-Woods, right, who claims 1,364-a-month for a mortgage on her second home, also feels that action needs to be taken on MPs involved in the scandal.

She added: "There should be procedures in place to deal with this."

Records show Dr Blackman-Woods also claims a monthly 57.50 furniture payment as well as between 300 to 400 on food each month.

Figures show that from 2007 to 2008 she claimed a total of 158,136 in expenses, of which 23,041 was for a second home allowance.

In April 2007 Dr Blackman-Woods claimed 681.66 for maintenance work carried out on her second home, and more than 700 in December.

Records also show that in April 2007, she received a reminder for an outstanding council tax bill to the value of 79.07.

Dr Blackman-Woods said: "As soon as I was aware of the late payment I paid it."

What you can't see in the MPs' expensesTHE information blackouts on MPs expenses was for security and to protect personal data, civil servants and politicians have said.

When MP Sharon Hodgsgon opened her books up to the Echo, the uncensored versions showed information in grey boxes which would then be blacked out in the public version.

This included where she had bought goods from and product descriptions as well as personal addresses and details of taxi journeys – which she said was to prevent people being able to track the regular movement of her and her staff.

Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin even insisted that a letter he sent to civil servants explaining his change in circumstances when he moved house remained in his expenses file.

Such correspondence between MPs and the fees office would normally be removed.

Here is a list of what could and has been blacked out by civil servants:

- Any residential address of a member of either House of Parliament.

- Travel arrangements of a Member where the arrangements are regular in nature.

- The identity of any person who delivers or has delivered goods, or provides or has provided services, to a member at any residence of the member (this does not apply to members' offices or to head office addresses of large suppliers).

- Expenditure by a member on security arrangements.

- All names of hotels/guest houses used.

- Correspondence or advice letters to or from Department of Resources/DFA.

- All manuscript additions to forms, receipts etc where these have been made by HoC staff.

- Dates and times on till receipts where the name of the supplier is included.

- Bank and credit card statements (but mortgage or rental agreements or statements will be published to the following extent: (a) names of mortgagee/landlord/chargee (b) amount of interest and rent and (c) information contained on statements of account such as value of mortgage). off

- Itemised parts of telephone bills listing calls to individual numbers.

- Personal items on till receipts and invoices for which no claim has been made.

- Misfiled pages relating to another member.

- Names and addresses and other details of members of staff on staff claim forms.

Other information that is not central to the purpose of the claim or which could aid identity fraud including:

- Personal telephone numbers and other contact details.

- Barcodes.

- Cost centres and departmental identification numbers.

-Personal data of third parties (excluding the name of mortgagees, chargees or landlords).

- Bank/Giro details.

- Photocopies of cheques;

- Account, invoice, delivery, order, NI or reference numbers.

- Signatures.

Police looking into MPs' expenses claims

POLICE have said they are "not far off" announcing whether some MPs will face criminal investigations over their expenses.

A team of detectives and experts from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are looking at accusations made against a small number of MPs.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has declined to speculate as to how many politicians may face a police investigation or subsequent prosecution.

He said: "We are seeking more information. We will get that information, analyse it and then we will make a decision. I do not think we are that far off."

Meanwhile, the former Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, right, has survived an attempt to boot her out of Parliament.

Labour Party members in her Salford constituency wanted to deselect the MP over allegations that she flipped her second home designation for personal gain.

But Ms Blears, who has visited Sunderland twice in recent months, survived after the vote went in her favour.

 
 
 

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