Heaton-Jones told by Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to repay money in full in humiliating move
North Devon Conservative MP Peter Heaton-Jones has been reprimanded by Parliamentary authorities and ordered to repay monies after making expense claims that contravene the code on MP’s expenses.
Ten years after the 2009 expenses scandal ended the careers of several MPs by exposing the widespread misuse of public funds, Mr Heaton-Jones has been castigated 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.
Established in the wake of the expenses scandal that undermined voters’ confidence in their elected representatives, IPSA also blocked the payment of an additional expenses claim made by Mr Heaton-Jones for the production of an annual report sent by his agent, David Hoare, to all North Devon voters.
In a letter to Mr Heaton-Jones, IPSA warned the Tory MP that he faces a formal investigation if he fails to repay his ineligible expense payment.
Mr Heaton-Jones’s 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.
“Getting taxpayers to pay for something illegitimately and then being forced to repay it is an utterly humiliating state of affairs for Peter Heaton-Jones," said Mr Teasdale.
“The whole thing stinks. 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 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.
Shocked that his local MP was using public funds for blatantly political purposes, Mr Teasdale wrote to IPSA to ask if it breached the watchdog’s code of conduct.
Replying in a letter, IPSA’s compliance officer told Mr Teasdale that ‘section six of ‘The Scheme’ sets out the types of claims that IPSA will not pay and this includes newsletters’. The letter said IPSA’s Chief Executive Officer had come to ‘the view that ‘newsletter’ also includes annual reports. On this basis, I have determined this is an ineligible expense.’
The letter added: ‘When I checked the IPSA systems, the claim submitted by the MP for the production of the annual report was awaiting validation and authorisation and so I was able to intervene and block the claim being paid.
‘However, the MP had paid for the postage for distribution of the reports with the use of his Procurement Card (credit card supplied by IPSA) and the bill had been settled by IPSA. I have now written to Mr Heaton-Jones and informed him the postage costs claimed on his Procurement Card were an ineligible expense and he must refund the monies to IPSA.’
Mr Teasdale was told by IPSA that it was ‘happy for the matter to go to the press’, but asked not to make it public until Mr Heaton-Jones had responded to the demand that he repay the outstanding monies.
However, Mr Teasdale decided to inform the press sooner because he believed it was in the North Devon public’s interest to hear about it as soon as possible. He 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.”