Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Oops I did it again – Labour MP in trouble for 2nd time on use of Parliamentary mail

LABOUR MP for Blaydon, Dave Anderson, has been taken to task for a second time in three months for misusing House of Commons postage. And for the second time his office has been blamed for the “error”.

Mr Anderson was forced to pay up in January for misusing taxpayer funded stationery and pre-paid first class mail after he wrote to Labour members to attack Lib Dem councillors and drum up support for Labour’s local election candidates.

But House of Commons authorities have investigated him a second time following a second complaint from me.

In September last year, Mr Anderson changed office address and decided to inform each constituent (except me!) of the change. 30,000 letters were sent out in prepaid first class envelopes.

Under House of Commons rules, stationery and prepaid envelopes cannot be used for general circulars and can only be used to reply to constituents who have contacted them.

Mr Anderson was entitled to have the information about his new address sent to constituents. However it should have been produced as a leaflet and delivered by a leaflet delivery company at a fraction of the cost of 30,000 first class letters. Or it could have been delivered by Labour activists (not that there are many of them!)

In an email to me, Assistant Serjeant At Arms Ruby Beech said she was convinced the decision to send out 30,000 first class letters was “a genuine administrative error.”

The email explained that the postage was repaid but only by shifting the costs from one budget to another.

I find it staggering that misuse of 30,000 prepaid first class envelopes has been put down to an ‘administrative error’. Did Mr Anderson not question why 30,000 sheets of Commons headed stationery were going through a photocopier, a job that must have taken days to complete.

Did he not notice 30,000 envelopes in his office going through a laser printer to add addresses? Did he not notice the small army of people needed to stuff 30,000 envelopes?

Then there was the job of taking 30,000 letters down to a sorting office which would have taken a few van trips. It’s hardly the quantity of letters you can pop into the local post box.

Didn’t Mr Anderson notice this rather large logistical operation taking place in his office and ask some questions as to what was happening?

I have no problem with Mr Anderson wanting to tell constituents how to contact him. But he needs to be a great deal more careful in how he gets that information to people.

Mr Anderson has been let off very lightly. Meanwhile the taxpayer has been left to pick up the postage bill which must be close to £10,000.

Copy of email from Ruby Beech, Assistant Serjeant at Arms, to me:

From: BEECH, Ruby
Sent: 18 April 2007 10:25
To: Jonathan Wallace
Subject: RE: David Anderson MP
Dear Mr Wallace

you will have seen from my "out of office" message that I was on leave from the 30th March until yesterday. Prior to my leave I met with Mr Anderson on a number of occasions and he conducted a full audit of his correspondence since he came into post including numbers of letters under various categories, numbers of envelopes of various kinds used. A number of approved items had previously been sent out via an agency and the costs claimed via the Incidental expenses provision.

This time when the staff sent out the change of office address the person who sent it out thought that it would be more efficient to send it out using the pre paid envelopes. The staff member, knowing that change of office address could be sent out using public monies, did not check the exact rules regarding the envelopes. The staff have been given detailed information about the different uses of House stationery. The costs of the envelopes and postage have been repaid to the budget which covers the cost of the pre paid envelopes and the appropriate claim made to the incidental expenses allowance. A number of other minor errors were found during the audit and these have also been put right. I am convinced that these were genuine administrative errors.

The rules regarding the use of House stationery and allowances for communicating with constituents are being amended this month and it is hoped that these will be clearer for both MPs and their staff.

Thank you for expressing your concerns over this matter.

Yours sincerely

Ruby Beech Assistant Serjeant at Arms

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