ACA: Nadine Dorries has clearly broken the rules

This entry was posted on
Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
1:22 pm and is filed
under Tories! Tories! Tories!.

This latest fuss involving the fragrant Nadine Dorries began when the Telegraph wrote to her with a series of queries, including this one:

Land Registry records show that your former family home in ************* was sold in 2007. You have announced publicly that you have separated from your husband. Since then the only address on any of your files is your rented house in Bedford, on which you are claiming ACA. On this basis, we have reason to believe that you only live in one home and are therefore ineligible to claim an allowance for running a second home.

Nadine Dorries responded with more front than substance, but what little substance she did offer appeared to suggest that, while the Telegraph were unaware of another home in the mix, the rented residence in Woburn, Bedford was very much a first home and not a second home:

“On the weekends I have free, and during the recess, I go somewhere else. I am not publishing the address. I gave it to my whip and emailed it to the fees office in 2008. I spend most of the holidays abroad, all of which can be confirmed. My children stay with me when I am in the constituency, where I go my girls go, however, one also lives in London and one is at Uni. This has not always been the case. I now spend my late nights in London. At my own expense. I keep the dogs at the constituency address as I am often there on my own and it confuses them being moved around. When I am not in the constituency, especially during the long summer break, we have a house sitter, at my expense. Again, this can be confirmed. During term time I spend the majority of weekends in the constituency as my job tends to be seven days a week, as detailed above. My youngest daughter has attended a school in Bedford since last September.” – Nadine Dorries (May 15, 2009)

[Apologies here for the permalinks to Dorries’ website, most of which will only work in some browsers.]

Like most of Dorries’ rants, it’s inconsistent and rambling (where she goes her girls go… except when they don’t, which is often), but there’s a clear pattern there of her only staying “somewhere else” during weekends and breaks. That she stays in London on late nights (that may or may not be related to Parliamentary business) at her own expense is neither here nor there; the point is that she has been claiming expenses on the basis that Woburn, Bedford is her second home, when she is describing circumstances where it can only be interpreted as her first (i.e. the abode in which she spends more nights than any other).

Dorries then did a spectacular backflip with this response, again waving her children in our faces while demanding her privacy. In this version of events, she presents her life as some form of Greek tragedy that she bravely faces against the odds and blah blah blah…

“I never wanted my constituents to think that I had another prime responsibility other than Bedfordshire and Parliament; maybe I should have been more open. My daughter was due to start boarding school in September but instead she started at a school in Bedford. At the weekends we go back to the Cotswolds together, or, if I have to work such as this weekend, we stay in Bedfordshire. During the Parliamentary term time, it is unusual for me not to have a constituency engagement. I spend more nights away from my constituency home than I spend in it and I use it for the purpose of my work. I do, however, retain the right to have my daughter, or daughter’s with me depending on who is with me at the time. It may only be a second home, however, it is a home. So, to my constituents and no one else, I am sorry. My crime is that I haven’t owned up to you that I don’t always live here – that I have a private life, which has not always run smoothly.” – Nadine Dorries (May 16, 2009)

… but slipping between the cracks here are some weekends that she spends at her ‘first’ home in the Cotswolds, which she then admits are infrequent for the entire period that ACA applies. She then goes on to say “I spend more nights away from my constituency home than I spend in it,” which cleverly implies that she spends more time in the Cotswolds, without actually saying this. Given her account(s) to date, the time away from Woburn she is referring to here is more likely to refer to stays in London.

To repeat: that she stays in London on late nights (that may or may not be related to Parliamentary business) at her own expense is neither here nor there; the point is that she has been claiming money on the basis that the residence in Woburn, Bedford is her second home, while describing circumstances in which in is her first… and if you don’t believe me, here’s Nadine announcing where her main home is on her own damn website:

Nadine & Family To Settle In Woburn (circa 2005)

Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Beds, and her family are to make their new home in Woburn.

“The decision was very much taken out of my hands by the kids” said Nadine. “They fell in love with the town and it didn’t matter where else we went they kept coming back to Woburn.

As any parent will know, a move is a huge thing especially 3 lively girls. It helps with the process when the children have a big say and feel they an input in to what is happening.

It also makes sense logistically. My constituency office is in Shefford and I am in the House of Commons four nights a week so it is manageable”.

[A tip of the hat to David Titchmarsh over in comments at Craig’s place.]

And here Nadine speaks of her ‘local’ (pub), which is based in Woburn, not “somewhere else” in the Cotswolds:

“In my local last night with friends, The Black Horse in Woburn, it didn’t take long for the conversation to get around to Iraq…” – Nadine Dorries (April 10, 2008)

And her true friends and neighbours? Also from Woburn, and not “somewhere else” in the Cotswolds:

“Last night a true friend and neighbour took me for dinner at the Birch in Woburn…” – Nadine Dorries – (June 7, 2008)

That last one was a weekend, too; one of those weekends that she claims to spend “somewhere else” in the Cotswolds… except when she doesn’t, which is often.

Here she is waking up in Woburn on a Monday, which is kind of hard to do when you fall asleep “somewhere else” in the Cotswolds on a weekend:

“I got the papers at seven and read every one back to front. Sky sent a car for me and I read all the way from Woburn to Islington…” – Nadine Dorries – (Feb 6, 2007)

In these and other entries that are too personal to go into, Dorries repeatedly publishes accounts portraying Woburn as her first/only home and time in the Cotswolds as time away not only from Parliament, but from her family (in the couple of entries on her non-blog that mention the Cotswolds here and here she speaks of being alone – i.e. minus her ‘girls’ – and/or free of distraction).

Further, repeated mentions of her staying in London ‘at her own expense’ seem a bit odd when she appears to be describing circumstances where she is free to claim for that expense, so I think I’m within my rights to suspect that she’s been staying somewhere in or near London that requires little-to-no actual expenditure, and her implication that she’s somehow hair-shirting on this front is a ruse.

Getting back to the Telegraph and a puff-piece from happier times:

Telegraph – The Tories’ Nadine Dorries: Bridget Jones, MP

Working 100-hour weeks and commuting from her “post-divorce bolt-hole” in Woburn to London every day, Dorries says she finds the working mother in politics routine “very difficult”.

Commuting from Woburn to London, you say? Every day, you say? And for that added touch, here’s Nadine telling us that this interview was conducted at her home… not her other home or her holiday home or her constituency outpost:

“The Sunday Telegraph sent a reporter and a photographer to my home yesterday to interview me…” – Nadine Dorries – (Nov 3, 2007)

That same week, Nadine describes BBC Three Counties (which covers Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire and NOT the bloody Cotswolds) as “my local radio station”.

And so it goes on and on and on and on…

So, to summarise:

By her own account, Nadine Dorries’ first/primary home is, and has been for years, in Woburn.

If she now wishes to claim otherwise, she can come over here, bring her damn lawyers with her, and prove that it has been otherwise… throughout the period where she was claiming our money while claiming Woburn was her second home.

Even if she somehow manages this by proving that she’s stayed in the Cotswolds property for more nights than she has spent in the Woburn property (ideally, during/including those periods when Parliament was in session), she can still be described as breaking ACA rules, as she will have volunteered information providing “grounds for a suggestion of misuse of public money” and created an “arrangement which may give rise to an accusation [of] obtaining an immediate benefit or subsidy from public funds”.

Oh, and if she wants to bring stays in London into it, she can first pay back any money she may have falsely claimed against her Woburn residence, and then produce receipts for these overnight stays (where possible/applicable) and claim this money back by the book.

Nadine Dorries has reportedly claimed a total of £65,918 under the Additional Costs Allowance since 2005. At least £18,000 of this is reported to have been claimed against the Woburn residence under second home expenses over the past two years (i.e. including the period she was busily blogging details portraying it as her first home)

While the rules are so extraordinarily elastic as to defy logic, Dorries has clearly broken them; there’s no question about it.

Further, she has responded not with transparency, but a barrage of largely irrelevant emotionally-charged bullshit and insisted that the circumstances in which she has claimed our money is none of our business! WTF?

Well, I’m sorry, but as long as our money is involved, it’s our damn business. If she values her privacy so much, she can return the money; then she can stay where she likes, when she likes, with (almost) anybody she pleases.

So what’s it going to be, Nadine; our cash back or transparency?

Once we’ve settled that, then we can discuss to what extent you have broken the rules and if you’re fit to hold a seat in Parliament.

Extracts from The Green Book – Parliamentary Salaries, Allowances and Pensions (820 Kb .PDF) (summary)

3.1.1. Scope of allowance
The Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) reimburses Members of Parliament for expenses wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred when staying overnight away from their main UK residence (referred to below as their main home) for the purpose of performing Parliamentary duties. This excludes expenses that have been incurred for purely personal or political purposes.

3.2.1. Eligibility
You can claim ACA if:
a You have stayed overnight in the UK away from your only or main home, and
b This was for the purpose of performing your Parliamentary duties, and
c You have necessarily incurred additional costs in so doing, and
d You represent a constituency in outer London or outside London.

3.3.1. Principles
You must ensure that arrangements for your ACA claims are above reproach and that there can be no grounds for a suggestion of misuse of public money. Members should bear in mind the need to obtain value for money from accommodation, goods or services funded from the allowances.

You must avoid any arrangement which may give rise to an accusation that you are, or someone close to you is, obtaining an immediate benefit or subsidy from public funds or that public money is being diverted for the benefit of a political organisation.

ACA must not be used to meet the costs of a mortgage or for leasing accommodation from:
* yourself;
* a close business associate or any organisation or company in which you – or a partner or family member – have an interest; or
* a partner or family member.

3.4.1. Location of overnight stays
If your main home is in the constituency, you can claim ACA for overnight stays in London – or in another part of the constituency if reasonably necessary in view of the distance from your only or main home.

3.11.1. Definitions
Main home
When you enter Parliament we will ask you to give the address of your main UK home on form ACA1 for the purposes of ACA and travel entitlements. Members are expected to locate their main homes in the UK. It is your responsibility to tell us if your main home changes. This will remain your main home unless you tell us otherwise. The location of your main home will normally be a matter of fact. If you have more than one home, your main home will normally be the one where you spend more nights than any other. If there is any doubt about which is your main home, please consult the Department of Finance and Administration.

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