Page last updated at 08:48 GMT, Friday, 6 February 2009

Is this Britain's cheapest MP?

By Justin Parkinson
BBC News political reporter

Philip Hollobone
Mr Hollobone says he does not see himself as a maverick

As sure as night follows day, or Tom follows Jerry, mention MPs and the word "expenses" is sure to come along soon afterwards.

The UK's elected representatives have done little to project an image of selfless frugality in recent years.

On top of a 60,000-plus salary, the last time their annual allowances were published - for 2006/07 - they averaged 135,600.

The largest total claim was 185,421.

But at the bottom of the allowances league table - on 44,551 - was Philip Hollobone, Conservative MP for Kettering in Northamptonshire.

The quietly spoken 44-year-old is highly unusual in employing no staff: no secretary, no researcher, no-one.

'Suits me'

Sitting in one of the Palace of Westminster's many subsidised eateries, sipping a 30p cup of tea, he said: "I don't need staff. It's public money that you're spending.

"It helps to economise where I can by doing my own case work. At the same time I'm minimising the risk of getting out of touch, and I can respond directly to constituents' concerns.

"I haven't called for other MPs to do the same as me, but the arrangement suits me.

"I think people are surprised by my arrangement. If I were a frontbencher I don't think I could do it, but it's do-able for a backbench MP."

Mr Hollobone is pleased the government has given up its attempt to exempt details of MPs' expenses from freedom of information laws.

I try as much as possible to do my fair share
Philip Hollobone

Like a small number of his parliamentary colleagues, he argues that details of individual claims should be published in full.

Mr Hollobone said: "It's right the government did a U-turn and decided not to press forward with these proposals. The public quite understandably is upset that there seems to be one rule for them and another for MPs.

"A lot of people in other jobs know that even the smallest of expenses claims - a couple of pounds or so - require receipts. Why should MPs be any different?"

Whatever the "snouts-in-the-trough" view some have of the UK's elected representatives, most MPs work very long hours.

Mr Hollobone is again unusual in combining his duties with continuing to serve on the borough council.

'Overlap'

He said: "It means I'm really in touch on local issues in Kettering and I raise them in Parliament. I find it extremely useful and it minimises the danger of being out of touch.

"There's quite a lot of overlap in stuff I deal with as an MP and a councillor, but I suppose on balance it adds to my workload. It's worth it, though, as it keeps me really local."

A married father of two, Mr Hollobone studied history and economics at Oxford University before becoming an energy efficiency adviser.

He said: "A lot of Britain's industries were in the public sector at that time. They then went into the private sector, which took out a huge amount of inefficiency. I would hope that that hatred of waste informed my perspective on work and life generally."

He may not choose to lay down the law to more expensive MPs but Mr Hollobone is less forgiving of people who misbehave on the London Underground.

Gwyneth Dunwoody
Mr Hollobone cites the late Gwyneth Dunwoody as an inspiration

In his "spare time", he works as a British Transport Police special constable, patrolling the stations near Kings Cross.

He said: "It's very interesting. I enjoy it. It really helps, for instance when I was on a parliamentary committee looking at changing the law to allow penal notices for disorder for cannabis offences."

Mr Hollobone is also a member of the Commons transport select committee.

He insists his frugality does not make him a "maverick", but he cites Gwyneth Dunwoody, the outspoken former Labour chairman of the committee who died last year, as an example to follow.

"She was a lady of independent thought and was widely respected as a very good chairman. It was a delight to serve with her. I think her work as a parliamentarian inspired me and all who met her.

"The important thing to remember as an MP is they're there to represent their constituency in Parliament. Turning up in Parliament and speaking out is an important part of the job. I attach huge importance to voting as often as I can.

"You ask MPs what their job is and there will be about 646 different answers to that question. I think essentially it's representing issues concerning your constituency and making sure the government is made accountable for its decisions.

"About 100 MPs are in the government. They are the people who run things and make the decisions. The other 546 of us try to bring them to account."

Weekends

Outside Westminster, Mr Hollobone is a director of a "clean coal technology" company, which "doesn't take up a huge amount of time".

Even so, with his distaste of hired help, could he be labelled a workaholic?

"I'm not sure that's the right description. I try to keep Saturday afternoons and Sundays free. I try to separate work and family.

"There's a certain amount of work to do, but we can't work 24 hours a day. There's always something else we could do.

"It's part of working here that the hours are as they are. If you are voting after 10pm, that leaves time beforehand to fill, usually with work.

"I've got two young children who are aged two and four. I try to take my eldest child to school on Monday morning before I come to Westminster and I try to take them there and back on Fridays and give them their bath when I'm at home.

"I try as much as possible to do my fair share."

'Fantastic place'

Mr Hollobone moved to Kettering to fight the 2001 general election, which he lost to Labour's Phil Sawford by 665 votes.

In 2005 he triumphed by 3,301 votes.

"It's a fantastic place to live. Everyone is very friendly and it's a community that works. It's also a highly marginal seat, which makes it interesting and exciting."

Mr Hollobone says he is acutely aware of the effect the economic downturn is having on his constituency.

"Unemployment has climbed 50% in a year. We are in the middle of a big recession.

"On balance I think people are quite pleased that I've been very economic with the allowance system. The answer to a lot of questions is not to put more public money into them."

Cup of tea over, Mr Hollobone - as sparing and careful with words as with money - walks back to his office to do some more work, unaccompanied.

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