Expenses are what it says on the packet, says Guy Moreton. They are not gifts are benefits in kind

As expected, the recent local and European elections have brought a huge adverse reaction from the general public to the quite unbelievable antics of our MPs at Westminster. The expenses claim débâcle has been a real eye-opener, with members from all sides of the political arena providing quite breathtaking examples of just how divorced from the reality of the lives of ordinary people they have become.

I have no issue with the concept of out-of-pocket expenses for rent or accommodation costs for an MP who has to have a base in London. I also recognise that the present rules exist to ensure that people from all walks of life can take part in politics. However, it cannot be right to expect the taxpayer to subsidise property purchases that can, at some point in the future, be sold at a profit.

Most business people will agree with Steve Easterbrook, CEO of McDonald's UK, who took part in Question Time recently. He said the expenses débâcle was a national disgrace and he couldn't believe that any organisation could have such sloppy controls over cash handling. He went on to say there were thousands of businesses with perfectly viable expenses systems that protected both the employer and the employee and were based on the premise that no one should profit.

That's the point - they are expenses not perks. They are to cover the essential costs of doing the job. For anything outside this, then surely the Inland Revenue should be looking at them as gifts or benefits in kind - that's what would happen to the rest of us.

Saying all this has got me thinking about trust in business as well as in public life. I agree with Easterbrook that any half-decent company will have a good system for covering its expenses and any one of these systems could be used to keep tabs on our MPs, but I am just as sure there are plenty of employees across the country (and probably a lot of bosses as well) who try it on a bit regarding their own claims. Maybe they're not claiming for the moat or a swanky new duck island but I'm sure plenty of people in the world of business have claimed a few extra business miles or an evening allowance that they have manipulated for their personal benefit. I'm also just as sure that, if presented with the same opportunity as the MPs, ie a fundamentally flawed system with weak controls at the core, then plenty of other people would take advantage.
Many a floundering politician has resorted to the Bible for justification in times past and it is probably fair for some of them to say "let he who is without sin cast the first stone". However, what's really disappointing about this is what it tells us about MPs' leadership qualities.

Guy Moreton is director of recruitment practitioner More People.