LAST week Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson agreed to answer questions put to him by Star readers regarding his expenses claims for the last four years. This week Mr Donaldson gives the answers you have asked for.
Q. In 2007/2008 his "Communication Allowance" was £5,360. What. exactly was this "Communication?" Why no mention of this in previous years i.e. 2004/5, 2005/6 and 2006/7.
A. The Communications Allowance covers the cost of maintaining a web site and providing an annual report to constituents which is distributed by Royal Mail. This was a new allowance introduced in 2007 and these costs were previously covered by the Office Costs Allowance.
Q. If his 5 full time staff, and 3 part time staff are paid directly by House of Commons and N. I. Assembly what does the "Staff Allowance of £66,458, £77,476, £87,425 and £89,492 cover?
A. The staff allowance is the total of the salaries and national insurance contributions and for staff members. These are the sums paid directly by the House of Commons.
Q. When the receipts are published is there anything you think your constituents will dislike?
A. The cost of hotel stays booked at short notice can be high at times in central London and I am restricted in where I can stay for security reasons. That is one of the reasons why I decided to share a flat with a colleague to cut down costs. In the most recent year 2008/09 for which figures have not yet been published, an invoice for the printing of inserts for Christmas cards issued by my constituency office was wrongly included in a claim. The parliamentary fees office rightly advised that this printing was not covered by the allowances and I paid the invoice myself.
Q. Do you employ any relatives?
A. My wife Eleanor has worked as a personal secretary for over twenty years when I had my own business and she continued in this role on a part-time basis after I was elected to Parliament. She is a fully qualified secretary. I employ five full-time staff and two part-time staff.
Q. You say you share a flat in London. How does the claim for this work? Do you both claim half the cost or does only one person claim the full amount?
A. I claim half the cost and my colleague claims the other half. The maximum allowance is £24,000 pa and in the past year I have claimed just over £13,000 (2008/09) which represents a saving of over £10,000. This is one of the reasons I decided to share a flat in order to cut the cost of staying in London.
Q. You say you claim the interest only on the mortgage of your London flat of £769 which comes to £9228? Yet your additional cost allowance has varied between £13,000 and £21,000. What has the extra money been spent on?
A. In 2004/05 and 2005/06 I did not have a flat and so the bulk of the allowance in those years covered the cost of staying in hotels in central London. In 2006/07 I acquired the flat and the costs since then, in addition to mortgage interest, have included service charges for the flat, utility bills, maintenance" insurance and some furnishings. The full details of each claim will be published shortly by the House of Commons, together with the relevant receipts.