Thursday, 14 May 2009

Bloodied but unbowed

This is the latest MP to be caught up in the expenses scandal, possibly bearing the scars of a painful encounter with the Conservative leadership after reading today's Telegraph.
Stephen Crabb is widely seen as a Tory high-flier, a rising star, and an assiduous constituency MP. His website tells how he and his family returned to settle in Pembrokeshire before the last general election.
Except we now know that his main home for some time was a rented property in London, not the home where Mrs Crabb and their children live outside Haverfordwest.
The Pembrokeshire house was officially Mr Crabb's second home, hence he was able to claim on his expenses £9,300 for the stamp duty paid in its purchase. The taxpayer paid for the interest on the mortgage he has on this home.
This is, of course, entirely within the rules, and Mr Crabb denies there was any financial motive behind his re-designation of his second home. Like Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears, his second home has varied between his constituency and London. It is now his London flat once more.
All perfectly within the rules, although the Conservatives' new scrutiny panel may have the final say on this.
Mr Crabb issued a statement late last night in his defence:
"Every decision I have made about accommodation as Member of Parliament has been made with the explicit guidance of the Fees Office. Indeed, the switch of my designated second home from London to the constituency in October 2007 was actually suggested to me by an official in the Fees Office.
"At the time I was not just using a room in a flat rented by another MP in Westminster, as implied in the Daily Telegraph article, I was actually the joint-tenant on a fully commercial basis and shared all costs of the property.

"I reject the allegation of ‘flipping’ my London property to make a profit as a result of taxpayer-funded refurbishments. The flat I sold in August 2007 in South East London was bought by me in 1997.
"During the 12 months that I claimed Additional Costs Allowance against this property I, along with all the freeholders on the estate, paid for obligatory external paintwork to be done and
I also claimed for five new windows following a burglary at the flat.
"The cost of this work was approximately £3,000. I am advised that this capital work did not materially affect the sale value of the property.

"Over the last four years juggling family life in two locations 250 miles apart has been extremely difficult. It has not been easy achieving settled arrangements but at no stage have I sought to change addresses for capital gain or to avoid capital gains tax.

"I stopped claiming ACA against the constituency property in summer 2008 after we had started renovating it as I did not consider it appropriate to enhance a property for which the taxpayer paid the mortgage interest.
"No renovation work on this property was charged to my ACA. I have referred all my accommodation arrangements over the last four years to the new Scrutiny Panel for independent advice on the claims I have made."

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