Margaret Beckett tried to claim £600 for hanging baskets and pot plants as she lavished tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on her constituency home whilst living in a grace and favour apartment in London.
The housing and planning minister found herself in trouble with the fees office when she submitted the claim in 2006, which covered “the supply of plants for hanging baskets, tubs, pots, planters, pouches and garden”, and another £711 for “labour and materials for painting of summer house, shed and pergola”.
An official in the department of finance and administration sent her a letter explaining that expenses claims had to be “wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred to enable you to stay overnight away from your main home”. The official said that in respect of the work in the garden: “I find it difficult to conclude that it meets the requirements set out in the Green Book.”
The official cut £1,311 from Mrs Beckett’s total claim of £15,211.21 for work on her house, which drew this response from the minister: “We live in an old cottage – not the beautiful, strong, stone-built type, but the kind of thing you throw together for the farmworkers from the bricks you had when you knocked down the pigsty – and it requires a good deal of maintenance and repair.”
Mrs Beckett, 66, claimed second home allowances of £72,537 for her constituency home in Derby in the four years between 2004 and 2008, despite having no mortgage or rent to pay on the property.
Mrs Beckett earns £104,050, but during her spells as environment secretary and foreign secretary she earned £141,866.
During much of the time she was making the claims, she was living rent-free in Admiralty House, Whitehall, which enabled her to rent out her London flat.