Today some further questions arise which the Labour MP for Stevenage, Mrs. Barbara Follett must address in the light of the statement she has issued in response to the questions I raised yesterday. For it seems that her statement is at odds with other statements she and her husband have made about her expenses in the past.

Yesterday’s statement was made exclusively, it seems, to something called PinkNews.co.uk, a web site of which I was blissfully unaware until now. It reads as follows:

Because I want to give the people of Stevenage the best possible service I can, I spend all of my MP’s salary, allowances and some of my personal income running my constituency and parliamentary offices.

There are no donations involved.

The funds are either from my parliamentary income, or from the joint accounts that I hold with my husband, Ken Follett.

As most of the money in these joint accounts is earned by my husband he is quite correct to say that the taxpayer is not subsidising his lifestyle. In fact, it is the other way around.

That is the explanation Mrs. Follett now gives concerning her husband’s assertion on the Andrew Marr programme which was:

I should be so lucky. Barbara in ten years as MP has never brought a penny home. She spends all of her allowances and all of her salary running her office and I actually subsidise it to the tune of every year at least a hundred thousand pounds a year”.

To put the matter shortly, the issue this raised was whether this ‘subsidy’ had been registered in the Member’s Register of Interests and whether, as an apparent long-term set of donations, these had been declared to the Electoral Commission.

This is not the first time Mr. and Mrs Follett have been moved to respond to claims in the press that they are doing very nicely, thank you, out of her Parliamentary expenses. It seems that the Daily Telegraph’s Spy column took a pop at them in November 2004 as was recorded by Guido Fawkes at that time:

The Torygraph’s Spy column has obviously stung the Follets with this:

“Champagne socialist MP Barbara Follett has been under fire for claiming £20,000 in expenses to pay a mortgage on her London pied-à-terre, even though her £2 million constituency house in Stevenage is an easy half-hour commute to the Commons.”

As Guido records, this brought forth a joint statement on Mr. Follett’s website:

Statement on Barbara Follett MP’s parliamentary expenses

Barbara Follett makes no financial gain from being a Member of Parliament – in fact her work is heavily subsidised by her husband, Ken Follett.

The expenses she claims from the House of Commons Fees Office amount to less than half the actual cost of doing her job. She puts her entire salary back into her office, taking nothing for herself. But, as this does not cover all the costs, Ken subsidises her.

In the financial year 2003-2004, it cost Barbara £275,695 to do her work as the MP for Stevenage. Two thirds of this amount went on paying her staff in her Stevenage and Westminster offices.

But she claimed only £118,214 in expenses. She contributed her entire salary of £55,118 to meet some of the difference. The remaining £102, 673 was met by Ken.

Ken Follett said: “I’m not complaining – I’m very happy to help Barbara serve the people of Stevenage in this way. We have released these figures only because some newspaper stories have given the impression that our lifestyle is being subsidised by the taxpayer. In fact, it’s the other way around.”

Barbara and Ken Follett

What can one possibly say but that that statement is completely at odds with her latest offering? You could have no clearer confirmation that in the year 2003-2004 Mr. Follett gave her £102,673 by way of a donation to run her Westminster and Stevenage offices. This statement leaves no room whatsoever for ambiguity.

In addition, there is no mention here of this being money jointly owned by them.

And, in the light of what Mr. Follett said to Mr. Marr, it is a reasonable and proper to draw an inference that Mr. Follett has been meeting a large proportion of her expenses for several years. The evidence could, I suggest, be no clearer than this, their own joint statement of November 2004.

I turn now to another account which Mrs. Follett has given of her expenses, that which appears on her own website entitled My expenses this year which seem to relate to 2005-2006:

This is the time of year when MPs’ salaries and expense claims are made public. This was not always the case but, when Labour came into power, we felt that the public had a right to know how much their representatives cost. So, here is the breakdown of my salary and expenses claims for this year.

My salary was £59,095 and, because my husband can afford to pay my living expenses, I used this income to fund two constituency caseworkers. My office expenses claim totalled £130,971. This sum was not paid directly to me but was spent on my behalf by the House of Commons’ Fees Office. This year’s amount covered the following :

  • £83,157 in salary costs for my three parliamentary assistants.
  • £19,997 to cover the costs of stationery, printing, telephones, computing, maintenance, staff training, cleaning and repairs costs in my two offices.
  • £3,906 to cover the costs of parliamentary postage and IT.

I also claimed all £21,634 of my “Living Away From Home Allowance” this year. This covers some of the extra costs that MPs with out of London constituencies incur when they stay in the capital whilst parliament is sitting. In addition, I claimed travel expenses of £2,277 which brought my total living away/travelling to London claim to £23,911.

In relation to that year, on the face of it, Mrs. Follett would have you believe that her office expenses had fallen dramatically to a total of £166,155: down by £109,540 from the substantial £275,695 of 2003-2004. That is, frankly, not credible.

The sum of £109,540 is, of course, roughly similar to that which Mr. and Mrs. Follett said was his ‘subsidy’ to her in 2003-2004. It is difficult to believe that in the year 2005-2006 she spent only 60% of what she was spending just two years previously and it may well be inferred that he again ‘subsidised’ her Westminster and Stevenage offices in the same way as before.

Again there is no mention of any payments being made out of joint accounts.

One may also make one other observation concerning her most recent statement.

Whilst in part what she says is ad idem with what Mr. Follett asserted, to the extent that each claims that Mrs. Follett spends her allowances and MPs salary running her office at Westminster, the claim that the balance is from joint accounts owned by herself and her husband does not square with the assertion by Mr. Follet that “I actually subsidise [her office] to the tune of every year at least a hundred thousand pounds a year” which on the face of it implies that he and he alone provides the funds.

In the light of what many may think are wholly contradictory statements, it might be thought that it is now incumbent upon Mrs. Follett to come clean about what is going on.

In particular she must explain how her present version of these matters squares with the statement she and her husband made in 2004 to the effect that Mr. Follett, and Mr. Follett alone, did indeed then ‘subsidise’ her work to the tune of more than £100,000.

If the 2004 statement is correct and that represents the pattern of what has been going on, then, I suggest, those subsidies amount to matters which ought to have been subject to declaration in the members register of Interests and to being reported to the Electoral Commission.

We await your explanation, please, Mrs. Follett.

NOTE: Mrs. Follett’s claims also reveal a potential lacuna in the law. What is to stop A giving money to B for payment into a joint account that is then used by C, the regulated donee and the other holder of the joint account for regulated purposes? What a perfect way to conceal donations (though I do not suggest that that is what has happened here)!

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