SINCE the expenses scandal of 2009, the topic of what our elected representatives do with public money has become - rightly - one of heightened scrutiny.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (ipsa) publishes all expense claims made by MPs, so you can type in your postcode or name of your local MP and get the full break-down of what they have spent.

From mobile phone contracts, to a new laptop, and monthly consultancy to a London pad, we dug a little deeper into some of the costs listed by North Hampshire MPs this year, and asked them to explain what the money was really for.

Maria Miller - Basingstoke

In the 2019/20 financial year, Maria Miller spent £7,907.25 on travel, £1,044 on accommodation, and £5,441.55 on office costs - bringing her total expenses to £14,392.80

So far in the 2020/21 period (since April) she has already exceeded last year’s office costs (£6,408.59), plus an extra £1,017.35 on travel - a running total of £7,425.94.

All three Conservative MPs for North Hampshire spent more than £3000 in May on “Policy Research Unit (Conservative)”.

We asked them all what this was, and what the money went towards.

Mrs Miller responded: “MPs pay an annual subscription fee of £3050 to the Policy Research Unit Limited (PRU) which is a pooled research facility based in the House of Commons, providing research and briefing advice, and campaign letters on all major business on the floor of the House of Commons.”

If all 364 Conservative MPs contribute this research unit, at a cost of £3050 per MP per year, that means it runs on a whopping £1,110,200 of public money annually.

Working from home has caused many of us to rethink our ‘home office’ set-up, and Maria Miller is no exception.

On April 6, she made a purchase of computer equipment of over £1,200, and then made three more computer related purchases on April 17 totalling £394.95.

In explanation, she said: “COVID19 outbreak meant that my team and I had to transition to home working full time. To support my constituents and continue my parliamentary duties remotely, it was necessary to purchase an additional laptop for my team at £1,219.02 from Parliamentary Digital Services which ensure all hardware meets security measures on Parli network. £394 was for additional hardware equipment of cable, monitor, keyboard, and headsets.”

Furthermore, the transition to home working led Mrs Miller to spend £264 on an additional phone “to facilitate all phones to be diverted to a member of staff, to ensure constituents could get in touch.”

In April and May, her telephone contract/usage expenditure was just £61.88, but this jumped to over £200 in June and over £300 in July . When asked why, she said this was also due to working remotely, but added: “I have since changed tariff to ensure that costs are not affected by increase in home working.”

Finally, Maria Miller spends a standard amount on hotel rooms of £175 (or thereabout) for hotel per London visit. However, this is not the case for all MPs in the area.

When asked how she managed to keep to this amount, while some spent over £500 or even listed “rent” in London under accommodation, Maria said: “The Scheme of MPs’ Business Costs and Expenses is made by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) it is intended to ensure that MPs’ use of taxpayers’ money is well-regulated and that MPs are resourced appropriately to carry out their parliamentary functions. Accommodation costs are included in that scheme and have a limit on budget and expenditure per night.”

Ranil Jayawardena - North East Hampshire

In the 2019/20 financial year, Ranil Jayawardena spent £3,401.25 on travel, £21,561 on accommodation, £39,996.36 on office costs, £3,746.83 on staffing, and £1,170.30 on miscellaneous - bringing his total expenses to £69, 875.74.

So far in the 2020/21 period (since April) his office costs sit at £5,443.36, plus an extra £998.51 on travel, £3519.29 on staffing, and £1,073.67 on miscellaneous - a running total of £11,034.83.

Alongside the contribution to the policy unit, another stand-out expense for Ranil Jayawardena was hotel costs.

On three occasions this year in a short period of time (February 13, February 27 and March 4), he spent a larger amount (£525 each date) on hotel costs in London than on other occasions, and compared to other MPs’ usual hotel charges.

Furthermore, a significant number of his expenses from this year have been dated July 20, including £1,073 on miscellaneous “removals” and over £1,800 on computer equipment, which suggests something was significant about that date.

In addition, he had already spent £1,170 on “removals” on March 17.

Finally, he spent £300 on “professional and consultancy” on June 1 and a further two charges of the same amount in the same category are dated, again, July 20.

It may be that he pays someone a regular consultancy fee, but then why were two instalments charged to the same date in July?

We put all of these queries to Mr Jayawardena, whose team responded with the following statement: “Mr Jayawardena complies fully with the Ministerial Code. Quite properly, the Register of Members’ Interests details his past business involvement, and this was scrutinised fully by the Cabinet Office on Mr Jayawardena’s appointment as a Minister.

“All costs reclaimed by Mr Jayawardena’s office are within the budgets set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority - who regulate, scrutinise, authorise and publish the relevant details of all MPs’ expenses. Our focus remains serving local people at this difficult time.”

Kit Malthouse - North West Hampshire

In the 2019/20 financial year, Kit Malthouse spent £1,047.13 on travel, £26,946.66 on accommodation, and £24,014.10 on office costs - bringing his total expenses to £52,007.89.

So far in the 2020/21 period (since April) he has spent £7,439 on office costs, plus an extra £6,000 on accommodation, but nothing on travel - a running total of £13,439.

Kit Malthouse is also paying his £3k membership to the policy unit - but his other “consultancy” costs seem high, at £800 per month.

And talking of comparatively extortionate costs, while Maria Miller spent £175 per hotel room, and we question why Ranil Jayawardena was spending over £500 at any given time on accommodation, under “accommodation” Mr Malthouse spends over £2,000 a month in “rent.”

Plus, Mr Malthouse already spends £415 a month on “rent” under office costs.

When asked about each of these things, Mr Malthouse commented: ““All my office and related costs are claimed within the budgets set with every item being carefully scrutinised by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, who publish the appropriate details on their website. My focus remains on serving my constituents during this very challenging time.”

Last year, it was Ranil Jayawardena who spent by far the most, but so far this year Kit Malthouse’s expenses have been higher. At this time, both spend considerably more than Maria Miller. But given regulations, it remains unclear why such differing amounts are spent in the same categories.

Interested in more information on MP expenses? You can see all the breakdowns for every MP here.