Last week a list of MPs who rent office space in local party offices was released.
Since 2010 I have rented an office at the Labour Party offices in Erith, and questions have been raised about this arrangement. In order to be as open and transparent as possible I have answered these questions below:
Q. Why do you rent from the Labour Party?
A. Because it is the cheapest office available, and so it is good value for the taxpayer.
Q. How much is the rent?
A. It is £4,160 per year. It is payable quarterly and this sum covers the rental of the office, the use of a kitchen, and the use of another room for community surgeries. My office has its own locked door which only I, and my staff, can access with keys.
Q. Who decided the rent?
A. A fully qualified independent surveyor decided what would be a fair rent. It is a requirement that before any rent can be paid a valuation must be completed. This is to ensure that the rent is fair.
Q. Couldn’t you rent somewhere else for the same money?
A. No. The only space I could rent for a similar cost is a lock-up on an industrial estate, which would be harder for constituents to visit. The current office is located right by a bus stop, and so it is convenient for visitors.
Q. Don’t you think it looks as if it is just a way of giving money to your political party?
A. If I rented an office that I did not use I could understand that point. However, the office is essentially used full-time. It is often the location for my community surgeries and where I hold meetings with constituents. I have two caseworkers based there throughout the week, and I often use the office myself at weekends.
Q. Some people say that your party could just give you an office. Why do you have to pay rent?
A. There is a separation between my role as an MP and my membership of the Labour Party. I believe I need a proper arm’s length arrangement with the Labour Party that ensures I have proper tenancy rights. My office has separate locks, separate internet access, and a separate phone line. I believe that this is extremely important to safeguard the confidentiality of the personal case files of my constituents. If I was gifted office space by the local party I believe that this would be more difficult.
Q. Why do so many MPs have this type of arrangement?
A. I believe it is because it is often the cheapest way of getting an office in the area you represent. As long as there is clear separation between the MP’s office and the party then it is actually a prudent use of public money. I would, of course, be happy to look at alternative premises so long as they offer the same convenience for constituents, and are more efficient for the taxpayer.
Q. Do you think this practise should be stopped?
A. No. As long as the arrangement is real and transparent then it means that local people can bring their often bulky papers to my local office rather than incurring the high costs of photocopying and posting the information to my House of Commons office. People call to see my caseworkers throughout the week, and they could not do that if we did not have a local office. I believe it is important for MPs to have a visual and solid presence in their constituencies in the form of an office that is a point-of-call for local people. This provision must be the most cost-effective to ensure that monies are rightly invested in providing the best possible service for constituents.