A thought occurred to me the other day. If MPs are using their expenses to pad out their paltry sixty grand salaries, then it might be possible to see this by analysing the expenses figures and looking at how they correlate with other data. My first idea was that there should be some correlation between the travel expenses and the distance from the MPs' constituencies to Westminster.
The House of Commons Expenses data for 2006-7 is here. As is normal with sensitive data like this, it is provided in a format carefully chosen to make analysis as difficult as possible. However, with a trial copy of Adobe Acrobat, and a bit of jiggery pokery in Excel I've managed to get what I think is a clean set of data. I've removed from it those people who are no longer MPs - including Tony Blair.
Having eyeballed the data, the travel expenses didn't actually look as if they were going to throw up anything nefarious. Because of this, and because the staff costs were so much higher, I decided to analyse these instead.
My hypothesis was this: if MPs are employing lots of staff, their office costs should be inflated too, to reflect all the work done by the staff. I therefore prepared a scatter plot of office costs (columns 3, 7, 7a and 8 on the PDF file) against staffing costs (column 4). Here it is:
I've asked Excel to calculate a linear trendline, which you can see on the graph. And if you were in any doubt as to how good a correlation there is between staff costs and office expenses, the answer is that there is none. Literally. (For those who aren't statisticians, the R2 value of 1E-5 which is to say, near as dammit zero, is the figure which tells you whether there's a correlation or not. A value of near to 1 is a strong correlation. Zero means there is none.)
Which strongly suggests that quite a lot of our elected representatives are on the fiddle.
(If anyone wants the data, you can download it by clicking here).