Where their expenses are concerned, MP-bashing has become something akin to a national pastime in the past couple of years.
Under the previous system much of it was thoroughly merited, but with a new system in place is it fair for the media to target our elected representatives for claiming expenses when they choose to cycle rather than use public transport or their cars? Metro clearly thinks so and today its front page lead is devoted to York’s Labour MP Hugh Bayley’s £4.80p expense claim for cycling. Naturally, the Metro's stablemate, the Daily Mail also runs the story.
MPs are entitled to claim 20p-per-mile for using their bikes in the course of their duties – although not for commuting – so the backbencher has done nothing wrong. He has, however, been singled out because, erroneously, Metro say he is the only MP to make a claim for travelling by bike. We counted five other MPs who have claimed for cycling and two who have claimed for their staff’s cycling mileage
The Metro article quotes the Tax Payers’ Alliance’s Emma Boon who said: “Lots of taxpayers cycle to work to reduce their commuting costs, so if MPs cycle why should taxpayers pay them?”
According to Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), the independent body which administers the parliamentary expenses system, Mr Bayley has made no claims for commuting to work.
Ms Boon also took issue with the 20p rate. “I don’t think 20p a mile for riding your bicycle is a reasonable expense,” she told road.cc. “You can claim 40p a mile for driving your car and one of the reasons is because you have to put petrol in your car. If you have a bicycle you have associated costs but clearly they are nothing like the costs of running a car.”
But surely, we said, encouraging MPs out of their cars and onto their bikes, thereby setting an example, is a good thing, even if it means incentivising the practice by making it financially more attractive.
“Our issue is not a green issue. Our issue is; do we want 20p a mile of taxpayer’s money spent on the MP cycling to and from his work or cycling around his constituency? The TaxPayers’ Alliance view on that is, no we don’t.”
She continued: “Quite frankly giving people 20p a mile - and the very fact that they had the nerve to claim it - is just ridiculous. I don’t see why taxpayers should pay for that.”
We didn’t get as far as asking what the TaxPayers’ Alliance considers to be a “reasonable expense” for cyclists because Emma hung up on us – though in a very polite sort of way.
The 20p-per-mile rate is, in fact, the standard rate set by Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs for cycling expenses for any public or private sector organisation and not an arbitrary figure which applies solely to MPs. So if you work in the public sector the chances are that you are entitled to claim the same rate for business travel.
We spoke to Hugh Bayley MP who said that as far as he is concerned the money is irrelevant.
“The money is neither here nor there, I put in a claim to signal that this facility is there for MPs and that it is used. The Metro piece is wrong, I’m not the only MP who has claimed for cycling but unfortunately it is a very small number.
“It’s good for MPs to set an example by cycling rather than using their cars. If I were to use my car it would cost the taxpayer more and there are environmental benefits to cycling plus it’s good for my health. But there are also symbolic advantages and people like MPs should lead by example.
“I campaigned for York to become a Cycling City and want to show my practical support for that by riding. In the last quarter I claimed £4.80 in total but it’s more to signal my support for a policy which encourages people to cycle.
“Each of the claims is for a meeting which the IPSA says I am entitled to claim for and if I chose to take my car it would cost the tax payer 40p per mile plus parking charges. But I’m doing it to promote the environmental and health advantages of cycling and I understand that it is something that the BBC also offer their employees.”
IPSA would not comment in detail on this case but a spokesman said.” There is no suggestion that the MP involved has done anything inappropriate. The claim was processed and paid because it was within the rules.”
So there you have it. An MP made a legitimate claim for cycling while carrying out his parliamentary duties, he saved the taxpayer some cash, and signalled to fellow MPs that they have this option available to them but is held up for ridicule as a result.
We feel there is a clear issue of double standards here. Had Mr Bayley used his car or public transport for the journeys in question – at a higher cost to the taxpayer – the matter would not have been deemed newsworthy.
Or perhaps you agree with the TaxPayers' Alliance who believe that, commuting or not, 20p-per-mile is far too generous for what they describe as “a little bit of wear on your saddle.”