The Parliamentary Resources Unit (PRU) scam

This entry was posted on
Friday, July 18th, 2008
1:24 pm and is filed
under Tories! Tories! Tories!.

The Conservative Party owes taxpayers 2 million pounds and change, and I mean to collect.

Please note that the above is a preliminary figure. How soon I get to an exact figure depends on the PRU’s willingness to be transparent. For now, this is a (*cough*) conservative estimate based on the following:

According to the Daily Mail, the Parliamentary Resources Unit was set up in 1997 by Tory ‘loverat’, proud Quad Bike owner and devout opponent of Parliamentary transparency David Maclean.

(Incidentally, David Maclean’s website comes to us via Palace Computing, courtesy of the Incidental Expenses Provision.)

As the Evening Standard reports; “78 Tory MPs (are currently) claiming Commons expenses to pay for the party’s ‘Parliamentary Resources Unit’.” (Details can be found here, if you’re willing to wade through them. I missed a fair few subscribers in my previous post, as some have claimed a whole year this quarter, while others have only claimed a quarter this quarter. It is also likely that there are current subscribers who have claimed nothing this quarter.) The PRU itself claims to provide; “briefing, research, correspondence and related support to 150 Conservative MPs and front bench peers.”

Applying an estimated average of 75 subscribers per year who claim this cost back from the taxpayer seems more than reasonable.

Currently a PRU subscription costs just a shade under four thousand pounds a year (£3877.50 p/a to be precise), but a subscription probably cost less in 1997. I’m going to be very generous and assume it went as low as two thousand pounds or under and apply an average of £2500 p/a.

11 years x 75 subscribers x £2500 = just a shade over 2 million pounds.

OK, that’s the (preliminary) figure. Now let’s get to the part where the Conservative Party needs to pay it back to the taxpayer…

As the Evening Standard reports; Labour MPs pay about £2000 a year out of their own pockets towards their party’s Resource Centre (i.e. their equivalent of the PRU), which provides research and advice for backbenchers.

This money is not claimed back from expenses, but from the MPs’ pay packets. In short, the Tories lift this expense from the pocket of the taxpayer and Labour do not.

Now, can we be grown-ups about this, and acknowledge that this isn’t purely about how ‘legal’ or ‘compliant’ an arrangement is? If it appears inequitable to the average voter, then Cameron has a problem to the tune of at least 2 million and change (and he certainly can’t expect the MPs and former MPs involved to cough up the cash… it’s just not going to happen).

But let’s take a look at compliance anyway, because (again, one needs to be a grown-up about it) David Cameron isn’t going to do a damn thing about this unless he feels he has to. Showing a poor level of compliance (or a mere veneer of same) turns the screws and increases the possibility of taxpayers retrieving this cash.

So let’s start screwing and squeezing. I’ll start, shall I?

The PRU makes a lot of noise about ‘compliance’, but take a quick peek at the job description they provide for their ongoing call for interns:

The successful candidate must have:
# a proven interest in UK domestic politics, ideally in one or two specific areas of policy;
# strong organisational, writing and research skills;
# good interpersonal skills and the ability to perform in a team;
# willingness to write enthusiastically on behalf of Conservative MPs and Peers.

[Psst! This job ad also featured on the Conservative Party website until yesterday. This ad on carries a large ‘Conservatives’ logo and a prominent link to the Conservative Party website. The nature of the job and who you’ll really be working for is made very clear to applicants, if not the public at large.]

Now in which direction do you think that enthusiasm “on behalf of Conservative MPs and Peers” will be most appreciated from an unpaid and highly disposable intern?

One might get the impression from this ongoing advertisement for interns that an inherent bias toward Conservative policy/thinking is not only a desirable attribute, but a goddamn job requirement.

A zoo that only keeps ferrets is not a zoo, it is a home for ferrets. The natural behaviour of most animals will be distinctly ferret-like, no matter how many of them you shave (it’s a lizard!) dress in wetsuits (it’s a seal!) or nail to perches (it’s a parrot!) to give the illusion of balance and diversity.

[Old Joke: I went to an animal park once, and it only had one lousy dog in a cage. It was a Shih Tzu.]

For now, I’ll hand over to the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard and Labour MP John Mann for more… but don’t think for a second that we as should leave this to the old-schoolers or even certain ‘leading’ bloggers who have blogged the data release (1, 2) but shown an alarming lack of curiosity about the data itself. Bloggers from Westminster village might find sport in the PRU’s who’s who.

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