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So THAT’s where our taxpayer’s money really goes…

Eric Pickles. Photo: Wikipedia

Anyone who believes that politicians live in an ivory tower and have their own best interests at heart rather than those of the country will have had their scepticism confirmed by the latest revelation: Communities secretary Eric Pickles has spent £531, 801 of taxpayer’s money on luxury limo transport over the last 3 years.

This was whilst he has been calling on councils to save ‘precious taxpayers pennies’ by cutting public spending.

Undoubtedly this report may be biased: the figure was calculated by Labour number-crunchers, and therefore could be seen as part of their agenda to defame the members of the coalition before the next election.

However it is also another disturbing piece of evidence, if more was ever needed, of the hypocrisy of the government. For years reports on MP’s expenses have come out alongside their insistence that the budget deficit needs to be tackled by ‘making cuts’ to the very cornerstones of society: education, charities and healthcare. This paradox has become such a commonplace that Pickles’ excesses may hardly seem surprising.

Others may argue that the Ministers have ‘earned’ their houses, their cars and their lifestyle. After all, that is how the capitalist system works: You reach the top and reap the rewards. But these expenses do not come out of the MP’s wages, but those of the taxpayer. What gives them the right to spend this money on themselves, whilst cutting vital services to the most vulnerable in society?

Eric Pickles can call to make cuts to public transport precisely because he is not affected by them. He is not the disabled or frail person who cannot go out because the bus no longer runs past their house. He is not the person left out of pocket because they have to take the train to visit a seriously ill friend or relative in a hospital far from home. He is not the driver facing cuts to their wages whilst being expected to offer free public transport to an ever increasing number of people.

Sources say he spent over £500,000 on luxury transport. Photo: PA

In addition to this, the justification for Pickles’ own transport expenses is fragile, considering that Westminster is only two Tube stops from his office in Whitehall. That is £4.40 for a return ticket, and £1,256 for an annual travel card. His limo bill is in excess of both these costs. In fact, tabloid paper The Mirror has calculated that £531,801 would pay for 427 annual travel cards.

Of course it may be pointed out that the London Underground is a potentially risky area for a politician to be, especially following this recent revelation. But a safe, efficient mode of transport need not consist of a luxury limo. Also, would it not be a bad idea to occasionally send politicians (in disguise) down to grassroots level, like in Channel 4’s programme ‘Undercover Boss,’ so that they can experience for themselves how the ‘necessary’ budget cuts actually impact the people?

Minister Brandon Lewis accused Labour of hypocrisy. Photo: PA

In response to Labour’s allegations of ‘wasteful activity’, Conservative MP for Planning and Housing Brandon Lewis accused Labour of hypocrisy, pointing out that since the coalition came into power, the number of ministerial cars has been reduced from six to just two between seven ministers. Whilst this should be lauded as a step forward, this statement seems like a deliberate attempt by the coalition to derail the discussion by deflecting attention away from their own shortcomings.

It is disappointing to see that, as with many other political scandals, members of the different parties are using this case to score points against each other instead of taking responsibility for their actions. Admitting that you have made a mistake in the public eye is embarrassing; a scar to your dignity, any human will tell you that. But surely the duty of politicians should be to maintain honesty and integrity with the people they are supposed to be serving, and to make amends when they have let them down? And this includes the issue of MP’s expenses.

It is time that members of the government worked together to redirect taxpayer’s money to where it is actually supposed to go: towards the community.

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1 Comment

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