It's time to stop the swindling and hop off the expenses gravy train, says Siân Harrington

So let's see - that's £16,500 for Sir Stuart's London flat; £380 for horse manure plus £440.62 for a chauffeur service to drive Justin to work; £450 for a TV so Sir Terry can watch Everton FC and £5,000 for furniture at Malcolm's Cheshire mansion (is that a moat I see outside?). No Peter, I understand drumming for the Rolling Stones would help your work at The Co-operative Group, but I am not allowing drumsticks. And Jason, we know Ocado likes to be green, but hanging baskets?

Of course, the great and good of the food industry would never put in such extravagant - and potentially fraudulent - claims (unless they had worked for Defra, it appears). Not only would they face an angry backlash but - unlike MPs, apparently - they'd likely be fired. They would undergo disciplinary action, have to repay expenses and any profit made from them - even possibly face criminal sanctions. "Directors have a fiduciary duty, over and above any contractual obligations," says Tom Flanagan, employment partner at Pinsent Masons.

However, while the MP expense scandal continues to outrage taxpayers, a look closer to home shows that Britain is a nation of swindlers. A survey by budget hotel chain Travelodge last year found nearly half (43%) of respondents felt fiddling expense claims was a legitimate way of making extra cash. The typical worker apparently pockets £17 a month through false claims - £9,078 over a working lifetime and an annual £1bn bill for business.

Yet it seems we are less concerned about squandering our bosses' money than our own as taxpayers. Far from launching into a splenetic outburst, 60% of managers actually let team members get away with false claims - and only 8% of employees have been caught and sacked. Among the claims picked up by the survey were plastic surgery, a diamond ring, escorts, Viagra and a pet hamster for the office (why didn't MPs think of that?).

However, the recession has put paid to turning a blind eye - and this MP debacle is putting all expense policies under the spotlight. Research from the CIPD and accountancy firm KPMG shows 74% of private-sector employers have reduced their travel expenses already, while 55% have cut back on client entertaining and 20% have cut the availability of free refreshments at meetings.

"It's no surprise organisations are reining in non-essential spending and scrutinising their policies carefully," says Tim Payne, head of HR at KPMG. "What is important is that policy changes are made sensitively and in a way that preserves good will."

As for me, got to go. I have someone on the way to fix my noisy boiler and refit the toilet seat before I settle down for an adult - whoops sorry, I mean family - film.

Siân Harrington is editor of Human Resources.