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Expense Categories for MPs

Categories of Expenses for MPs 2010 – 2015 (See the code)

In this analysis I investigate the different expense categories that British MPs recorded and the amount of money they claimed in each category. After the expenses scandal in 2010, MPs were forced to submit their expenses claims and the data would be made publicly available. I thought it would be interesting to see what the MPs spent our money on!

The data comes from the Parliamentary Standards Data Downloads page and is available for complete years from 2010 to 2015 (at the time of writing). This piece of analysis focuses more on data visualisation than previous posts have and I’ve made use of the Plotly library for Python. Plotly is a free and open source charting library which has an API available in several languages. I really enjoy using it and it’s really easy to get some great results very quickly! You can also make some very complex charts as well. You can find the tutorial on how I manipulated the data and created the visualisation here or you can fork it at my Github.

 

 

This is the part where, after spending hours hunched over a computer furiously typing semicolons, I get to write about what the data shows. I’ll discuss each year of expenses data individually before comparing them all.

The chart above shows the expenses data for 2010. Straight away, we see that the the majority of expenses paid to MPs in 2010 fell in the categories ‘Accommodation’, ‘Constituency Rental’ and ‘General Admin’, although ‘Travel’ was not far behind.

There are a few Expense Types which fall above the threshold (25% of the largest value). I take Expense Type to be a more granular breakdown of Category and there it is no surprise that the items in Expense Type correspond to the wide categories. For example ‘Own Car MP’ clearly fits into the ‘Travel’ category, whilst ‘Stationery Purchase’ could easily go in ‘General Admin’.

The ‘Travel’ chart shows the breakdown of travel types on public transport. Heartwarmingly, ‘Standard’ and ‘Economy’ are each larger than ’First’ and ‘Business/Club’ for rail and air respectively.

Wikipedia tells me that the parlimentary expenses scandal dominated the news in 2009. I expect to see a change in the structure of the Expenses Categories and Types in the following years.

 

In 2011 ‘Constituency Rental’ basically fell off the map as far as expenses were concerned, whilst ‘Accomodation’ rose slightly and ‘Office Costs’ skyrocketed. This is just conjecture at the minute, but I may have an explanation as to why this happened . . .

. . .

. . . In 2009, the expenses scandal was all over the new. It turns out that many MPs had been making fraudulent claims, and generally misusing their access to the public purse. It seems that most claims before this time were related to MPs having second homes in London. Could it be possible that some MPs switched their primary address to London (not sure what the law says here), and were therefore able to claim it as ‘Accommodation’, whilst still claiming their constituency home but instead classifying it as ‘Office Costs’? I’ve got an office in my spare room . . .

It may however also be the case that the rise in ‘Accommodation’ costs were due to MPs having to stay in hotels in London. These MPs couldn’t claim for a second home in London and may have cashed in. The rise in Office Costs and Travel could therefore be attributed to lazy accounting from the 2010 General Election.

The expenses paid in 2012 show a similar story to 2011 in terms of distribution between the categories, however the actual amounts claimed have increased slightly. Office Costs, Accommodation and Travel are still the top three expense categories, and the share of Business/Club and First Class tickets are still reasonably proportional to the shares for Economy and Standard class respectively.

In 2013 however, the distribution of expenses has completely changed again. Payroll is by far the largest category, with a total expenditure of a cool £80m. This figure dwarfs the other, historically high categories which have actually risen slightly.

The 2014 expenses are almost identical to 2013, with Payroll once again being the largest category by a long way.

In 2015, the distribution of expenses paid by category is similar to that seen in 2011 and 2012, although ‘Winding Up’ has made a cheeky appearance, whatever that is. I’m not sure that we have seen the final picture for the 2015 expenses, as some claims may still come in; I don’t know this for sure, but as the 2015-16 financial year has just ended, there may be a few retrospective claims still to come.

 

The chart below contains all of the years together, with a shared y-axis. This means that all of the amounts paid in each category in each year will be directly comparable. 

The huge leap in the amount expenses paid to MPs in 2013 and 2014 for Staffing only becomes apparent when the charts are put next to each other. As discussed, Office Costs and Accommodation dominate the expenses for 2011, 2012 and 2015, whilst the expenses in 2010 were spread more evenly between General Admin, Accommodation, Constituency Rental and Travel. 2013 and 2014 look to be very interesting years indeed, and I will investigate the reasons for this in a future next analysis.

 

 

I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this piece of analysis, and that you’ve found the code tutorial useful. I try to explain my analytical methods and thinking in plain English, and I really take the time to explain what each bit of my code does but if there’s anything that you don’t understand, send me an email or ask a question in the comments.

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