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Meeting papers and minutes relating to decision not to publish MPs' receipts
FOI111
Disclosure Date:30 Dec 2010
Categories: IPSA - BOARD COPIES OF RECEIPTS/INVOICES
Exemptions Applied: None
Request

I was rather appalled to read [1] that IPSA now do not intend to publish full receipts for MPs expenses claim, on that grounds that it would cost too much to do so.

Surely it should have been clear to all concerned from the recent Expenses Scandal that there is much public interest in the actual receipts, and many of the abuses reveals by the Telegraph would not have been apparent had just the data that you are now intending to publish been available then.

That being the case, surely IPSA must have given serious consideration when setting up the new expenses system to enabling the easy publication of the full receipts. Indeed, even if you had not realised this yourself, it was a specific recommendation of the CSPL Report [2] that "All expenses should be accompanied by receipts or documentary evidence and receipts or documentary evidence should continue to be published."

The easiest and most cost-effective way to allow the publication for receipts would almost certainly be to require MPs submitting claims to provide scanned copies of receipts, entered directly into the same secure web-based application that is used for submitting claim details. From the amount it is claimed it would cost to publish receipts, I can only assume that your new system does not include this functionality. I'm afraid I regard this as a massive failure on the part of IPSA or whichever predecessor body took this decision.

This failure is even more disappointing given that last summer Sir Christoper Kelly received expert advice from Mr Tom Steinberg outlining a specification for just such a system. [3]

Had the facility to store electronic copies of receipts been included from the start, it would now require only a marginal increase in costs to publish them along with the expense claims.

Instead, the public will now be faced with a much larger bill.

This failure to publish receipts also seems to contradict the previous announcement that IPSA will "publish all claims and supporting information provided against them, other than where explicitly set out below" in [4]. I see no mention of not publishing receipts in that document.

I would therefore be grateful if IPSA could provide an explanation as to why it was thought unnecessary to include receipt publishing functionality in the new system. Do you have costs / quotations for the system with and without the receipt functionality included? Alternatively if no new system was procured, exactly why was this decision taken? Again did you have any costings done? Please supply relevant papers / meeting minutes covering these issues.

Secondly, why was it left so late to announce that full receipts would not be published? When was the decision taken? Was the Implementation Advisory Panel [5] consulted on the change?

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/8144531/MPs-expenses-will-not-be-published-says-IPSA.html

[2] http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/OurWork/MPs__Expenses_and_Allowances_x.html

[3] http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/Library/OurWork/MPs__Expenses___E713___mySociety.pdf

[4] http://www.ipsa-home.org.uk/docs/Publication%20Consultation%20Response.pdf

[5] http://www.ipsa-home.org.uk/MinutesImplementatioAdvisoryPanel.html

Response

The points raised in your email and response to your Freedom of Information request have been addressed separately. I will answer the points raised in your email regarding IPSA’s decision not to publish full receipts first. 

IPSA publishes details about MPs’ expense claims paid under the new, independent regime on IPSA’s dedicated publication website www.parliamentary-standards.org.uk as a matter of routine. The first set of expense claims, covering claims processed from 7 May to 31 August, was published on the 2 December 2010. Claims processed in September and October 2010 were published on IPSA’s website on Thursday 3 February 2011. IPSA will continue to publish transactional data in two-monthly cycles. 

IPSA’s approach to publishing expenses is similar to that used by the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. The publication website allows you to search by period of time, by MP, by constituency, and by general expense category (such as travel or accommodation). For each expense category you will further be able to search by the particular type of expenditure (such as “public transport – rail”, council tax, and photocopier hire). The search results then provide various further details, including class of travel, place of origin and destination, and number of nights spent in a hotel. Often these will be accompanied with additional details providing further information.

IPSA made the decision not to publish copies of receipts in addition to the large amount of transactional information we are already publishing after considering how we would best serve the interests of the public. As part of this consideration various questions were asked, and these included: 

  • what additional information will the publication of receipts give the public?
  • how do we provide a high degree of transparency without incurring disproportionate cost?
  • where do we draw the line between what is a proportionate and disproportionate cost?

In reaching a decision to the above questions, consideration was given to the role of IPSA in providing a new system of independent regulation, and the advent of the new stricter rules on what MPs are allowed to claim for. 

IPSA believes that the information we publish provides a very significant amount of  detail, which should give the general public a clear picture of what MPs are claiming for  and provide the necessary assurances that claims are appropriate, and are within the ambit of the rules set out in the MPs’ Expenses Scheme.

IPSA is therefore confident that the right balance has been struck in public interest between the proactive publication of all information at whatever cost, and the proactive publication of large amounts of information, as is practice, at a more sustainable annual cost. Also relevant is the fact that IPSA is wholly funded from public money and is, moreover, required under section 3A of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 (as amended), in carrying out its functions to “have regard to the principle that it should act in a way which is efficient, cost-effective and transparent”. 

IPSA has published the policy on the proactive publication of MPs expense claims on  our website www.parliamentartarystandards.org.uk (see: Publications; Publication of MPs’ Expenses; IPSA’s Publication Policy).

The expense claims system was implemented in May 2010, and with it being a  new system it was essential that sufficient time was allowed for it to become  fully embedded within the operational processes of IPSA. The last meeting of the Implementation Advisory Panel took place on 26 July 2010, and the decision on  the details of how we would publish MPs receipts took place at the IPSA October  Board meeting and therefore it was not possible to consult the Implementation  Panel about the decision.

Turning to the Freedom of Information request, you have specifically requested relevant papers/meeting minutes relating to the following information:

“why it was thought unnecessary to include receipt publishing functionality in the new system. Do you have costs/quotations for the system with and without the  receipt functionality included? Alternatively if no new system was procured,  exactly why was this decision taken? Again did you have any costings done?”

Minutes of the IPSA Board meeting in which the publication of receipts were discussed can be found on the IPSA website (see: Publications; IPSA Board meetings). The relevant Board meeting minutes are as follows: 

This information is therefore exempt from disclosure under Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act as the information is already in the public domain. A copy of the minutes are attached for ease of reference. 

IPSA holds further documents in relation to your request. Two Board papers were considered by the IPSA Board regarding the decision to release transactional data  only. These papers outline the arguments for and against publishing receipts, including  the related estimated costs. Some of the information contained in these papers relevant to this request engage the exemption at section 36 (2)(c) (provision of free and frank advice) of the Act. The application of these qualified exemptions requires a subsequent  public interest balancing test. In this case, the competing public interest arguments are  complex and we estimate that we will need an additional 20 working days to reach decision on disclosure. We therefore intend to write to you no later than 3 March 2011 with a substantive response relating to these additional documents.

In addition to the information I provided you at that time, I advised you that Sir Scott Baker, IPSA’s Qualified Person under the Freedom of Information Act, was carrying out a public interest balancing test, under section 36 (2) of the Act, in relation to some of the information contained in the requested papers. 

I am sorry it has taken so long to provide you with a final response. Sir Scott has now completed the public interest balancing test and has agreed to the full disclosure of the two Board papers which consider the options for the publication of information on MPs’ expenses. 

Sir Scott considered the importance of IPSA’s Board and its officers being able to  operate frankly in full mutual confidence against the presumption that  requested information is disclosed and the elapse of time since the Board  considered these matters. On balance, Sir Scott considered that disclosure at this  time would not impact on the ability of the Board to receive free and frank advice from its officers.

 

Please, therefore, find attached with this letter the following papers: