Jim Shannon told he “still regards himself as a local councillor” and “needs to let go”…

Here’s an interesting wee story. Stormont MP Jim Shannon has been ordered to pay back £14,000 in falsely claimed travel expenses he paid out to his office staff. The BBC reports

The Strangford MP’s claims were five times greater than the second highest claiming MP and 37 times greater than the average claim by all MPs.

He accounted for 26.1% of all staff constituency mileage claimed by the entire House of Commons.

So what’s Jim been up to?

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) found that Mr Shannon was the highest claimant for staff constituency mileage last year. But it said there had been no fraud.

It said “a number of errors” had been made by Mr Shannon “leading to claims for constituency office mileage that would not be allowable”.

Here’s where the interesting bit comes.

IPSA found that Mr Shannon’s staff had made mistakes in what they claimed for, which included delivering food to constituents from food banks.

Ah… And it seems the IPSA found it appropriate to lecture the Strangford MP on the proper role of as a Member of Parliament.

The report found that Mr Shannon had taken on too much work and said he “still regards himself as a local councillor” and “needs to let go”.

Probably very sound advice, but also probably none of the business of the IPSA.

Last word to Jim…

Mr Shannon said that because the work MPs do is publicly funded there “must be no question of any abuse or dishonesty” in how those funds are used.

“I am particularly glad that nothing of this sort has happened in my case and that my integrity and that of my office has been upheld,” Mr Shannon said.

“But… I know that the work done to support me must be undertaken as economically and efficiently as possible.”

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  • WindowLean

    Ach, an honest mistake, don’t ya know!

  • Brendan Heading

    Word to the wise – rightly or wrongly you win elections in Northern Ireland by being, in effect, a glorified county councillor and using your resources to solve local problems.

  • mickfealty

    Yep, and this story won’t do him any harm. A fairly benign form of Ireland’s big political issue: clientelism.

  • Brendan Heading

    It’s funny how politics in both jurisdictions works in the same way irrespective of what the politics are. he fixed the road ..

  • Gopher

    Claiming for doing work that should be charity, I wonder what actual workers get for mileage to deliver food parcels.

  • Msiegnaro

    The section where it is stated that members of staff brought food from food banks to constituents doesn’t make any sense – this could not possibly have accounted for the excess claims.

  • Msiegnaro

    I think food banks are an absolute joke, some of the people availing of them have absolutely no reason to do so and are well remunerated via the benefits system. Is the situation here that JS’s office was contacted by constituents asking for food to be brought to their homes?

  • WindowLean

    This is a cracker!

    “72. Mr Shannon has spent his entire House of Commons stationery allocation in the last four financial years and has been unable to fund further postage from his Office Costs Expenditure budget due to persistent overspends. His staff are therefore required to deliver mail by hand. In his contingency application of June 2013, he stated: “When there are large amounts of letters or leaflets for one area, my staff use their time to personally deliver these to save envelopes and postage”.

  • Msiegnaro

    They use “their time,” another example of support workers being abused by their masters.

  • Mirrorballman

    Is that what they call scamming the tax-payer these days “an error”.

  • WindowLean

    The report also states that Shannon has virtually no contact with local Councillors (apart from the one he employs of course) or MLAs…really? I wonder what the nature of his relationship with Simon Hamilton, Michelle McIlveen and Jonathan Bell is then.

  • WindowLean

    A fairly benign form of ripping off the tax payer?

  • Msiegnaro

    Are you suggesting a rift?

  • Msiegnaro

    Where is the actual report?

  • WindowLean

    Wouldn’t have a clue Mseignaro, just reporting what it says in the report. My eyes aren’t the best anymore but the DUP leaflet he claimed for delivering says that the 3 local DUP MLAs use his Ballywalter office for surgeries too.

  • WindowLean
  • Msiegnaro

    I remember some years ago there was an outcry when McIveen and Hamilton opened offices beside each other. Now they’re all clubbing together it seems.

  • WindowLean

    There’s a bit of embarrassment for these MLAs (two of whom are Ministers) that part of Shannon’s defence was that constituents regularly bypass local MLAs and Councillors and come to him to get things done hence his high mileage and stationery claims. Mike Nesbitt represents that constituency too.

  • Msiegnaro

    Gosh he has dropped them in it with that bomb – Arlene will not be happy.

  • Msiegnaro

    Just reading through the report now, if anything Shannon’s vote will likely go up at the next election.

    His work rate is phenomenal with a track record of getting things done and the traffic at the local Citizens Advice Bureau has reduced as everyone goes to their MP.

  • WindowLean

    From the Report:

    29. Mr Shannon said that he cannot say ‘no’ and whenever he is approached by a constituent, regardless of the issue, he will take it on. Matters that may fall within the purview of the local council or the relevant Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) will not be referred on.

    a. A local business owner said that Mr Shannon will take ownership of a range of minor housing matters and will call site meetings, thus incurring mileage. He believed that increasingly, local residents were bringing an ever wider range of issues to the MP due to his reputation for obtaining timely results. Councillors and MLAs were being bypassed in favour of the MP.

    d. A senior police officer commented that he constantly receives correspondence from Mr Shannon but very little from councillors or MLAs. The MP will contact him regarding neighbour disputes and parking problems and will always seek a site meeting.

    66. More broadly, the Compliance Officer saw little evidence of engagement between the MP, local councillors and any of the six MLAs in the constituency. He questions whether there is scope for dialogue over a more even distribution of casework, with MLAs and councillors taking on a greater role in certain areas which appear currently to be the exclusive domain of the MP. In doing so there is an obvious potential to achieve a reduction in staff constituency mileage.

    Shannon himself…”Personally, I have known constituents to become very offended when it is suggested that their problem be referred to a local MLA or Councillor as they feel the MP is the ‘senior person’ in the constituency and jolly well ought to be dealing with their problems, even if they are not related to parliament.”

  • WindowLean

    A bit of advice for Jim, when you display two email addresses on your party literature you might want to think about using them!

  • Msiegnaro

    Did you read the bit about the constituency office being referred to as a “hive of operations more akin to a casualty ward”?

  • Msiegnaro

    Very interesting reading.
    Mick can this be referenced in your original article?

  • WindowLean

    I knew the Health Service was under a bit of pressure but…

  • Where’s your evidence? The surveys I have seen show that the people using food banks have either had their benefits stopped (to meet targets) or are suffering from reductions in part-time working hours.

  • WindowLean

    “Ah… And it seems the IPSA found it appropriate to lecture the Strangford MP on the proper role of as a Member of Parliament.

    The report found that Mr Shannon had taken on too much work and said he “still regards himself as a local councillor” and “needs to let go”.

    Probably very sound advice, but also probably none of the business of the IPSA”

    Mick, it’s not IPSA saying that, it’s a quote from a “prominent member of the third sector” during the investigation.

  • chrisjones2

    “probably none of the business of the IPSA”

    It is when its funded by expenses allowed only for the work of an MP. Is defending planning appeals at the Council an MPs work? Filling in DLA forms? Representing people at DLA appeals?

  • Ryan A

    All this mileage might explain his ‘driving like a buck ejit’ escapades on the LAD page.

  • chrisjones2

    But its not their time …you are paying for it and for their mileage

  • Msiegnaro

    I thought from the article that besides the mileage they were working for free.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    I like this IPSA! Any chance we can get one at Stormont that might just do this level of scrutiny?

    I know the BBC’s ‘Spotlight’ has had goes at it in the past but something official would be nice.

  • mickfealty

    On the scale of things, yes. Absolutely.

  • Msiegnaro

    Was that definitely him?

  • Msiegnaro

    The quote was said by a member of the public not “IPSA”.

  • Msiegnaro

    The people whom I have seen availing of food banks were doing so due to greed and not need.

  • chrisjones2

    Nope

  • chrisjones2

    have either had their benefits stopped (to meet targets) ….you mean because they don’t qualify for them

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    From what I can see I’m inclined to agree, we’re always moaning the ineptitude of our politicians, if one is actually doing his job (and then some) then great.

  • Mister_Joe

    What were you doing at food banks?

  • babyface finlayson

    Hooray Mister_Joe is back!
    I thought he had moved to Nunavut.

  • Nevin

    Statement of Provisional Findings [pdf file] is a more useful source than a BBC report; it’s also in searchable format.

    Jim’s workload has increased as support provided by government and voluntary agencies has shrunk:

    30. The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has reduced its coverage within the constituency and issues which would previously have gone to the CAB are now handled by the MP. .. Compliance Officer

    IPSA remarks are rather muddled:

    .. the MP would have to demonstrate that it is more appropriate for this to be undertaken by his office, rather than other public and third sector bodies and officials, including, as you have stated, social services, Citizens Advice Bureau and others who can provide these services.

    and

    c. The Compliance Officer has only a limited understanding of the availability of support from other agencies such as Social Services, the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Department of Health and the Third Sector within the constituency.

    So the CO has a limited understanding and the IPSA official has failed to understand what the CO said in item 30!

  • Nevin

    “the traffic at the local Citizens Advice Bureau has reduced as everyone goes to their MP.”

    Msiegnaro, as I’ve already noted, it’s the other way round; here’s the relevant quote:

    30. The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has reduced its coverage within the constituency and issues which would previously have gone to the CAB are now handled by the MP.

  • Nevin

    Here’s a gem:

    64. The employee also said he frequently attended meetings in Downpatrick. If this takes him further than 20 miles beyond the constituency boundary, the journey is not allowable under the Scheme.

    It’s, er, less than 11 miles from Ballynahinch to Downpatrick!

  • Msiegnaro

    This and that.

  • Msiegnaro

    Yes the MP deals with these issues which is what I said.

  • mac tire

    “you mean because they don’t qualify for them”

    Many have qualified for the benefits; they were taken off them. Have a look at the statistics whereby appeals have eventually led to the benefit being rightly reinstated again.

  • Surveyor

    When can we expect Pete Baker’s forensic insight on all this? Or does he save that just for the Shinners?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Doesn’t it have a effect on democracy though when a politician claims funding to provide services that he shouldn’t be providing. Doesn’t it make it that much more difficult for other would be representatives to challenge for the spot. Effectively the state is funding someone’s reelection

  • Nimn

    I was at an event in Stormont just after 2011 elections run by one of the marketing bodies where a panel of politicians was being grilled on how they would market politics in NI to young voters on policy issues. Mike Nesbitt gave this little vignette. He called at the door of a potential voter in a Unionist area and was greeted effusively by the householder and told how great it was to see him standing for election. Mike suggested that perhaps he could rely on his vote. “oh no” came the reply ” we’ll be voting for Jim Shannon” “Why is that?” asked Mike. The answer was that Jim was great with constituents and the example cited was that Jim had even come to countersign the passport photo of the girl next door…

  • Nevin

    It seems that Mike has yet to convince some of his colleagues about the merits of a strong constituency service.

  • Brendan Heading

    By providing any kind of expenses to support a politician’s work the state is funding someone’s re-election.

    On one level it is ridiculous; these people are supposed to be legislators, not citizens’ advice bureaux. But this seems to be what people want.

  • Ryan A

    Peninsula = Hazzard County. Everyone knows Everyone.
    I grew up in another rural part of Mid Down where the sentiment growing up was ‘You can do f*** all around here without the whole place knowing within the week”.