Page last updated at 11:24 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

How Swedish MPs handle expenses


Jo Coburn takes a tour of Jörgen Johansson's rent-free apartment

By Jo Coburn
Political correspondent, BBC News, Stockholm

The Riksdag, the Swedish Parliament, stands on an island in the middle of Stockholm - the people and its Parliament divided by a narrow stretch of water.

As in the UK there is a huge amount of public interest in MPs' expenses here - the administration department receiving three or four requests a week to look at what is being claimed with taxpayers money.

But a key difference with the old system in the UK is Sweden's longstanding tradition of Freedom of Information dating back to 1766.

A principle that, in its modern form, means that people and the press can demand to know what second jobs MPs hold, any shares they have over a certain amount and what their expenses are being used for.

According to administrator Mats Lindh, that level of transparency is why the system works in the main and is less open to abuse.

Despite that, the rules on expenses were tightened up in 2006 and the system for claiming made much simpler.

An MP's salary is 55,000 kronor a month, equivalent to about £4,740, so their annual pay is roughly on a par with MPs in the UK.

But there the similarities stop.

Rent-free homes

For those Swedish MPs who live more than 50km (31m) from the centre of Stockholm, which is most of them, they are entitled to a rent-free second home owned by Parliament.

There are some 250 such apartments in the city and the political parties decide which of their members get one.

They are neither posh nor palatial but MP Jorgen Johannson, who lives in a block just off one of the main shopping streets, says that 50 square metres is plenty for him when he just uses the flat to sleep.

In his own words, he comes to Stockholm to work not to live.

This sounds very earnest but I am sure that is music to his constituents' ears.

Anyway, he does at least have a nice view from his state-owned apartment.

He likes it, he says, because no-one questions whether he is making any money out of the arrangement. Family members can stay but they have to pay.

So nearly all MPs in Sweden have their main homes in their constituencies and a second home, if applicable, in the capital.

There is the option to buy your own pad in Stockholm and claim up to 7000 kronor a month, equivalent to about £600.

But MPs cannot claim for any improvements to their own apartments whereas the state pays for repairs and improvements to their own accommodation.

Even more bijoux are the bedsits within the parliament building itself.

Instead of taking work home with them, the political parties often allocate new MPs ready-made homes at work.

With their single beds, kitchenettes and en-suite shower rooms, they are reminiscent of student digs.

But in terms of value for money no doubt very cost effective.

There is a daily subsistence rate for MPs representing constituencies outside Stockholm of 110 kronor a day - just under £10 - to cover travel expenses. With an overnight stay, the daily rate is 360 kronor (£31).

No relatives

All the expenses are administered by a Board of the Parliament made up of 10 MPs.

They suggest the rules and Parliament approves them occasionally by a vote. Home office costs are covered but individual MPs don't receive a set staffing allowance.

Instead, the parties they represent get a pot of money which they allocate to their members to cover staffing and other office related expenses.

This means many MPs share researchers and secretarial staff.

Almost no MP in Sweden employs family members. There is no written rule against it but it is just something they do not do.

And just to make sure that Parliament is for working not playing, there are no bars in the building. However, you are allowed a beer or a glass of wine with your meal in the restaurant.

So no scenes of drunk Swedish MPs swaying through the corridors of power.

Instead, there is a swimming pool and sauna to relax in after a hard day's work.

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