Page last updated at 14:11 GMT, Friday, 4 July 2008 15:11 UK

John Lewis 'surprised' by MP row

By Emma Griffiths
Political reporter, BBC News

John Lewis store
John Lewis has been hit by the consumer spending slowdown

If all publicity is good publicity, high street retailer John Lewis has been an unexpected winner in the row over MPs' expenses.

Since it emerged claims for TVs and other items were measured against the store's prices, the "John Lewis list" has rarely been out of the headlines.

The publicity has been a "complete surprise," the store said.

But it was also keen to stress that the "John Lewis list" contained mostly top of the range items.

The widely-publicised rundown of prices shows MPs are allowed to claim up to 1,000 for a bed, 100 for a coffee machine and 650 for a gas cooker.

But John Lewis PR manager Louise Thomson said the company - whose slogan is "never knowingly undersold" - was a bit concerned the list suggested it was more expensive than its competitors.

'Price matching'

And she hit back at suggestions the Commons authorities should have used a cheaper retailer's price list to monitor MPs' spending habits, as it was public money being spent.

The people who sign off the expenses they called it amongst themselves the John Lewis list - then somebody said it out loud
Louise Thomson
PR manager, John Lewis

"We price match our competitors. We are not expensive - the list was showing the maximum allowed," she told BBC News.

She said she was not sure whether it was a good or bad thing for the employee-owned store group to be associated with a row over MPs' expenses.

"It was all a bit of a surprise to us in the first place - we didn't know anything about it, the MPs didn't either.

"The people who sign off the expenses they called it amongst themselves the John Lewis list - then somebody said it out loud."

Ms Thomson said she had no idea if John Lewis was particularly popular with MPs - or whether the story had been a positive one for John Lewis.

"I don't know. I guess it would be really interested to see what the customers thought. Anecdotally people have said to me 'I've seen some great publicity about John Lewis'," she added.

Sales down

But all the publicity does not appear to have generated extra custom for John Lewis.

On Friday the group reported a big drop in weekly sales, with sales of electrical items and home technology goods plunging 15.8% compared to the same week last year.

Sales of homewares were down 13%.

It said its out-of-town stores suffered most - possibly partly due to rising fuel costs.

MPs' spending habits hit the front pages again on Friday, after the Commons voted to retain their second homes allowances and rejected calls for external auditing and spot checks.

But details of the "John Lewis list" first emerged at an information tribunal hearing in March, where campaigners fought for a detailed breakdown of claims under the second homes allowance to be published.

The additional costs allowance, which MPs can claim up to a maximum of 24,000 each a year, can be used to claim for household items like televisions, stereos, furniture, food as well as refurbishments.

Commonly bought items are checked against a spreadsheet to ensure claims are reasonable.

Commons resources chief Andrew Walker told the tribunal the prices spreadsheet was called the "John Lewis list" by officials.

But he said it had been kept from MPs because "if we say what the maximum price we will allow for such an item is, it will become the going rate".

MPs vote to keep homes expenses
04 Jul 08 |  UK Politics
Watchdog queries expenses rules
01 Jul 08 |  UK Politics
MP expenses rule changes set out
25 Jun 08 |  UK Politics
MPs 'give up secret expenses bid'
19 May 08 |  UK Politics
MPs' 10,000 kitchens on expenses
13 Mar 08 |  UK Politics
'Lax' MP expenses rules condemned
26 Feb 08 |  UK Politics
'John Lewis' list kept from MPs
08 Feb 08 |  UK Politics
A guide to MPs' pay and expenses
26 Feb 08 |  UK Politics

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