Did local Tory MP charge taxpayers nearly £4,300 more for additional 2017 publications that breach IPSA rules on MP’s expenses?
North Devon Conservative MP Peter Heaton-Jones faces further questions today over the misuse of taxpayers’ money after the discovery that he claimed an additional £4,245 in 2017 for printing and distributing a second political leaflet believed to breach the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority’s rules.
On Monday, Instow Liberal Democrat candidate Rod Teasdale revealed that Mr Heaton-Jones was ordered to repay significant postage costs for distributing an Annual Report deemed by the parliamentary watchdog IPSA to have breached MPs’ expenses rules.
Today an investigation by North Devon Liberal Democrats reveals that in 2017 Mr Heaton-Jones, who said “there is nothing else to it” when questioned about his earlier breach of Parliamentary rules, had in fact previously claimed an additional nearly £4,300 of taxpayers’ money for producing an earlier Annual Report.
According to IPSA’s record of Mr Heaton-Jones’s expenses, the North Devon Conservative MP claimed £1,467 on November 3 2017, which his expense claim states was for “printing annual report”. A month earlier, on October 5 2017, the Tory MP made another three claims totalling £2,778.84 for payments to the Royal Mail Group.
By spreading the payments over two months and making three to the Royal Mail on one day of £999, £999 and £780.84, Mr Heaton-Jones kept charges to his Parliamentary Procurement Card below £1,000 to circumvent rules that restrict payments to £1,000 per transaction and £4,000 in one month.
The timing and scale of the payments to the Royal Mail are entirely in keeping with the costs usually associated with distributing leaflets such as the Annual Report, which IPSA ruled was ineligible. The Royal Mail requires distribution to be booked four weeks in advance.
Ten years after the 2009 expenses scandal ended the careers of several MPs by exposing the widespread misuse of public funds, Mr Heaton-Jones was castigated on Monday by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) for charging ineligible expenses to his MP’s Procurement Card and ordered to repay the money in full in a humiliating move.
This latest revelation adds further shame for the Tory MP, already warned that he faces a formal investigation if he fails to repay his ineligible 2018 expenses payment.
Mr Heaton-Jones’s original attempt to get taxpayers to pay his political publicity costs in contravention of the Parliamentary code were brought to light by Rod Teasdale, Liberal Democrat candidate for Instow in the District Council election on May 2.
However, they pale in comparison to the nearly £4,300 of taxpayer funds that Mr Heaton-Jones has now been found to have claimed for an equally ineligible leaflet.
“The whole thing stinks,” said Mr Teasdale. “It highlights his lack of integrity and is yet another example of why he and the Tories are unfit to represent North Devon.”
“When I knock on doors in Instow, voters tell me time and time again that they are sick of Tory cuts, infighting and broken promises. This will just add to the widespread deep despair by my neighbours with their Conservative MP and Tory policies.”
Mr Teasdale wrote to IPSA after receiving an eight-page, full-colour leaflet promoting Mr Heaton-Jones’s activities as an MP. Distributed widely across North Devon by the Conservative Party, the leaflet was titled ‘Peter Heaton-Jones MP Annual Report 2018-19’ and carried an imprint stating it was ‘funded by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to assist the MP’s parliamentary duties.’
IPSA ruled the Annual Report breached its rule that taxpayer funds must not be used to pay for newsletters. Mr Heaton-Jones’s 2017 Annual Report carries the same imprint stating that it was funded by IPSA from taxpayers’ money.
Mr Teasdale said: “It seems serendipitous that this scandal has occurred on the 10th anniversary of the much larger MPs’ expenses scandal, when many MPs were sanctioned for fiddling their expenses and claiming for personal costs to which they were not entitled. In many cases this was a career-changing event.”