Thursday, February 15, 2007

Should MPs be encouraged to car share?

So the news rolls on about MPs travel expenses. As I understand, one of the biggest problems is that MPs are given credit cards to use to purchase things like rail tickets. They used to be given books I think. The rules are such that they use this card to purchase a ticket at the face price of the ticket.

It all sounds perfectly reasonable until you think of where the real problem lies. As all us ordinary, non-ivory towered proles know, if you have to do a long journey on a train the state of the railways means that you should buy a ticket in advance as much as is possible. This will save you masses of money compared to just turning up on the day and sticking your credit card in the machine.

So, do we think MPs do that? After all, they have a fixed working week, and it's timetabled with plenty of time in advance. The vast majority of them could, quite easily, buy advance tickets and save the taxpayer a few quid. Sadly, the reality doesn't work like that. As one former researcher said to me, "MPs try to get home early all the time, if they get a sniff there's no votes on Thursday they'll all fuck off at 6pm on Wednesday", and herein lies the problem.

If you're always itching to get home early, and you don't know if and when that might happen, why would you buy a ticket in advance and bind yourself to staying in London an extra day? Easier to just chuck the magic plastic in, type in your PIN, and not worry about it. After all, it's not really your money you're spending.

This leads me on nicely to car sharing by MPs where possible, and I want to use two MPs as an example who I believe still share an office, Mark Tami, and 'propa blogga' Tom Watson. Now, last year, Watson spent £5,077 on rail and £1,914 on mileage. At the same time, his close colleague and office buddy, Mark Tami, spent £7,589 on mileage and £1,310 on rail.

Tami represents the Welsh constituency of Alyn and Deeside, whilst Watson represents West Bromwich East, you can get to Watson's on the way to Tami's. So should they be expected to car share? OK, there will be times when it's not feasible but wherever possible would it not make sense?

I should stress that I'm not attacking either Tami or Watson on this point (although I was surprised that the year before Tami claimed over £12K for mileage), they just happen to be two MPs that I know share an office (or at least did) and who have geographically close constituencies, and appear, in terms of their claims, to travel by different modes of transport. They're a perfect case study for the question, should MPs be encouraged to car share?
Travel expenses sourced from here.


Anonymous said...

Since when were North Wales and West Bromwich "geographically close"? I think you may be trying a bit too hard to make a point here!

dizzy said...

I think you don't know the UK road network very well. M40 -> M42 -> M56.

Anonymous said...

"They're a perfect case study for the question"

the Wintertons are another case study...they also seem to use different transport means

Anonymous said...

They do still share an office...heres hoping they take your advice.

Anonymous said...

I know where West Brom is and I know where Flint is ,about 80 miles difference ,M6 ,M56 to Queensferry ,sorry ,out of the way

dizzy said...

nonsense, it's not out of the way at all.. it's on the way. Even it meant dropping off and Watson getting, heaven forbid, a public bus or local train for less public money.

Either way, your comment is nitpicking around the general point regarding a greater use of sharing of travel by MPs who already share office and travel through each other's constituencies.

I applaud the attempt at anonymous derailing though.

Anonymous said...

Dizzy sth of Birmungham I will defer ,the M6 thru Birmungham is horrible all day ,you jump off to go to West Brom nasty ,back on M6 upto J19 nasty ,even A41 behind the wagons , A49 no ,how about the one's who do live closer to London ?

dizzy said...

ok we're still getting derailed here. It is not beyond possibility that Watson and Tami could travel together at some time thus saving some money.

But as I said above, pretty clearly, this was not an attack on them but more me picking two people who I happen to know share an office and roughly share a route home and who currently use two different types of transport for the majority of their travel.

Instead of playing the fallacy game of refuting the example, I'd rather stick to the point being made about MPs sharing their travel more wherever possible.

tom watson said...

Nice piece of innuendo Dizzy. Lets just give you the facts:

1. It's 95 miles from my constituency office to Mark Tami's.
2. We no longer share an office and haven't done for over a year, although we do share an intern, who is paid - just for your records.
3. I was in government for nearly three years. Leaving London before a vote was virtually impossible.
4. As a Whip, I was responsible for Friday sittings in the Houe which meant leaving London on the 3.40 train from Euston at the earliest.
5. I don't know why, but the phrase "get a life" is on the tip of my tongue.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that MPs should share ,but sometime's inconvience does rear it's head ,and I just think you picked the wrong one's even if they do share an office.
Roughly using the same route and different transport ,is probably a preference for them,I honestly agree with you , please don't hit me.

dizzy said...

Of for fuck sake Tom, don't be such a silly twat.

I'm not quite sure what these "facts" you're giving me are for precisely. Firstly, I don't care how much you pay your intern or whether you even have one for that matter. Second, I said I didn't know if you still shared an office. Third, I didn't say you did leave a vote, I said someone said, of MPs generally, that they will try and leave early if they can.

Looks, I thought, from the last paragraph of my post that I was pretty clear that you and Tami were chosen quite simply because I knew you shared an office (at least did once and whether you still did didn't detract from the overall point). I wasn't saying you were fiddling the system, nor was suggesting that you might have. I was, as you politicians like to say "starting a debate" about the wider idea of transport sharing amongst MPs.

As for me getting a life, I'm not in politics, so I already I have one thanks.

Now do stay around and discuss the content of the post instead of acting like an impetuous child.

Anonymous said...

Tom Watson telling Dizzy to get a life. This is the same Tom Watson who wrote in his resignation letter to Tony Blair: 'The Labour Party has been my life since I was 15.'

That sentence alone told me a lot about you.

But seriously, someone makes a point about how public money is spent, and you tell him to get a life? Are politicians really that arrogant? Dizzy went out of his way in his post to emphasise that he wasn't picking on you, merely that he knew some facts of your situation, so he used that to make a wider example.

Whether or not you realise it, Tom, as an MP, you are the servant of the people, and it is our money you spend. For you to dismiss a legitimate point in such a manner is nothing short of disappointing.

Anonymous said...

Dizzy anonymong here I was enjoying that debate with you ,Whether I won it or not or left it unfinished ,I still enjoy reading your blog.

Bob Piper said...

Took the bait.... reel him in, Tom.