- The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority removed all details of MPs’ expenses.
- The watchdog for MPs’ pay and expenses said it was to protect lawmakers after the killing of an MP.
- Transparency campaigners say accountability must be maintained by the return of the details.
The British Parliament’s expenses watchdog has removed all details of MPs’ expenses dating back more than a decade in a move that campaigners fear could compromise transparency and accountability.
Freedom of Information (FOI) responses from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) for the years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 have also been removed from the watchdog’s site, Insider can disclose.
Granular detail ranging from an MP’s expense claims for £1 newspaper subscriptions to £9,919 of bought-in consultancy services has now been excised from the site, removing the detail of the newspaper and the name of the company.
The deletion has affected all MPs’ claims since IPSA started publishing them from 2010.
The watchdog said it removed the details to “reduce all possible risk to MPs and their staff” following the killing of Sir David Amess MP at a constituency surgery last Friday.
In the wake of Amess’ death, some MPs shared concerns with IPSA about the information published, “including data on travel and constituency surgery venue hire,” according to a memo published by the watchdog.
But the publication of this level of detail has previously led to Insider’s reporting on how a Tory MP handed over more than £30,000 of public funds for consultancy work carried out by a donor’s firm, and abbreviated the name of the company to just “A”.
The watchdog has also delayed the scheduled November release of MPs’ expenses claims for June and July 2021.
IPSA said the removal of the detail is only temporary while the risk assessment of the data is made, but was unable to say how long it might take.
The IPSA removal also came soon after Insider revealed that IPSA had accidentally leaked the names, home addresses, and telephone number for two staffers working for an MP in a FOI response published on its website. That response was removed after Insider alerted IPSA to the data breach.
Every single FOI response since November 2019 has since been removed with the latest IPSA excision of MP expenses.
FOI requests to IPSA are typically for the specific invoice or receipt uploaded by the MP as part of an expenses claim, as they reveal more detail on the purchase and how parliamentarians are spending public money.
IPSA has suggested that its handling of FOI requests will also be reviewed as part of an overall risk assessment.
Transparency campaigners raise the alarm over IPSA’s removal
Tom Brake was a Liberal Democrat MP until 2019. He is now the director of the campaigning group Unlock Democracy, and has urged the prompt return of as much detail as is safe.
“Rightly IPSA’s priority is to work with MPs to make it as safe as possible for them to continue to engage with and represent their constituents,” he told Insider.
“But it is essential also that, having given priority to safety, as complete details of MPs’ expenses are provided as possible and as promptly as possible. This will ensure transparency and accountability over that spending is maintained,.”
Susan Hawley, executive director at Spotlight on Corruption, echoed Brake’s concerns.
“While it is obviously important that IPSA review its publication policy to ensure the safety of MPs in light of the tragic circumstances, IPSA needs to take a proportionate response to this,” Hawley told Insider.
“It is essential it does not close down or remove existing transparency data which has no bearing on security, and as a result throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
An IPSA spokesperson told Insider: “IPSA and other parliamentary bodies are currently reviewing processes to reduce all possible risk to MPs and their staff. While we carry out this review, we have put temporary measures in place to reduce the level of detail available regarding MPs’ business and office costs. In the interest of transparency, the amounts and budgets are still available to view on our website.”