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Newspaper Crowdsources 700,000-Page Investigation of MP Expenses 188

projector writes with an interesting project from the UK: "The Guardian are crowd-sourcing the investigation of 700,000 pages of UK MPs' expenses data. Readers are being invited to categorize each document, transcribe the handwritten expenses details into an online form and alert the newspaper if any claims merit further investigation. 'Some pages will be covering letters, or claim forms for office stationery. But somewhere in here is the receipt for a duck island. And who knows what else may turn up. If you find something which you think needs further attention, simply hit the button marked "investigate this!" and we'll take a closer look.'"
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Newspaper Crowdsources 700,000-Page Investigation of MP Expenses

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  • WhatTheyClaimed (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tomun ( 144651 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:28AM (#28387021)

    The mySociety folk that created TheyWorkForYou, PledgeBank and others have their own MP expenses site and also want your help. See here: []

  • WOW (Score:3, Informative)

    by xlotlu ( 1395639 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:31AM (#28387033)

    Just WOW. Look at all the shenanigans they dug out in just one day: []

    Great idea and good job Guardian.

  • Re:Waste of time? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Halo1 ( 136547 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:34AM (#28387053)

    The Telegraph will publish the uncensored versions [] over the coming days.

  • Re:But will it work? (Score:5, Informative)

    by stupid_is ( 716292 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:38AM (#28387069) Homepage

    I commend the idea and the effort. But there are 700,000 documents, each with how many pages each? It's an interesting idea but will the crowd's enthusiasm hold up?

    Each doc is usually around 1-5 pages - but there's so much redaction it's almost worthless (have a peek here []). As to the crowd's enthusiasm - I can't see it waning unless the govmt get another crisis to hide this behind. Most folks want to see a significant change in the way MPs are paid, and this really kicked the Labour party in the knackers at the recent local & European elections (admittedly it may have been more akin to kicking them while they were down, what with the current PM being as charismatic as month old roadkill, and the Iraq war being such a success).

  • Re:Waste of time? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Xest ( 935314 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @06:28AM (#28387337)

    Yeah, this is what amazes me, and this is the stuff they didn't censor. That's why I think we really need to know the stuff that was censored.

    We already know they censored some pretty major stuff, so it suggests they actually think the stuff that isn't censored is all okay.

    As you say there's a lot of stuff like the £250 petty cash, the £400 food allowances and so on, but there's also a lot of small staff that across all claims will instead add up. Using Ian Cawsey as an example again he paid £26 for a hanging basket and a watering service, £26 is little, but he could've paid £5 for the hanging basket and watered it himself, £21 saving isn't a lot, but that £21 that could've bought another text book at a school - across all expenses and MPs however many textbooks for schools can we not afford for even the small expenditures?

    A major attitude change is indeed required and not just in government but right across public sector from schools to police to MPs (I use to work in public sector for just over 5 years FWIW) no thought whatsoever goes into how can I ensure I do this in a manner fair to tax payers. They just assume money grows on trees, because the government provides an endless supply of cash. When a department head says they don't have enough money the government just pays them more, the real answer should be to sack him and get someone that can do the job on budget.

    I'm concerned that no media outlet has really made the connection yet - that maybe this isn't just a problem with MPs and the issue spreads right across public sector. Some council heads get paid £250,000 a year, far more than any MP and get expenses as well - we should be scrutinising that lot as well as MPs. We need a nationwide re-evaluation of how tax payer money is used. If any amount of fairness was injected into the system as a result I guarantee you we could shave a good few % off of everyone's tax and still have no detriment to public services whatsoever, hell, I saw literally millions thrown down the drain first hand when I worked in public sector, but good luck finding any manager who cares. It needs to come from the top down, starting with the MPs and absolutely not stopping at the MPs.

  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @06:28AM (#28387339) Journal
    It's one of the more reputable newspapers in Britain. Has a moderate left wing stance and a well educated readership.
  • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnup . n et> on Friday June 19, 2009 @06:41AM (#28387387) Homepage

    The best way to characterise The Guardian is by attempting to characterise its readership. The Guardian once bundled a poster by one of their cartoonists Posy Simmonds, which had charicatures of the various archetypes -- the social science academic with his beard and wooly sweater, the New Labourite in a suit, the muesli eating sandal wearer, the earnest social worker, etc.

    For a while the term 'Guardianista' has been used, in a gently mocking tone.

    I'm pretty faithful to the paper. Although it's stuck with New Labour as they shamelessly drifted to the right, it's still (what I would call) moderate-left at its heart, and has its share of columnists who keep the faith.

    It's funded by a trust, so it's meant to be independant of owner interests. It was the first paper to appoint a Reader's Editor.. it's generally good stuff.

    Readership is low compared to the big hitters, but it's mainstream enough that you'll find a copy in any newsagent.

  • Re:Duck Islands (Score:2, Informative)

    by NinjaCoder ( 878547 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @07:07AM (#28387525)
    These guys wrote the rules; but put in a get-out clause for themselves. For example, I am self-employed. But I can't claim for household goods, food, decoration and cleaning for a 2nd home when I need to work from home. I can reimburse myself from my company, right enough, but then the taxman taxes that as a benefit. In the tax code there is a specific clause releasing MPs from this. When I sell a second home, the tax man can claim a chunk of the profits; when they sell a second home they can designate their official MP 2nd home, and escape that tax. Not to mention the taxpayers actually pay for the interest on the mortgage of that second home. And they can also claim renovation and improvement and decoration grants for these 2nd homes. So we end up with MPs building property portfolios on taxpayers expense. And some of these guys live within tens of miles of Parliament, so why do they even need a 2nd home?? (As an aside, Private Eye revealed that Labour minister made a statement to the effect that the government expects job-seeks to be able to commute up to 1 1/2-2 hours to get a job. Yet he lives within 10s of miles of Parliament, but still needed to get a second home to reduce his commute)
  • I cheated and RTFA. (Score:5, Informative)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Friday June 19, 2009 @07:20AM (#28387591) Journal
    "Also, the Guardian's claim that there's a receipt for a duck-house in there is false, as that claim was rejected and no rejected claims have been released officially."

    The Guardian doesn't make that claim, the summary does. The Gaurdian actually backs up your statement that it was rejected...

    "...he admitted claiming £1,645 for a floating "duck island" in his garden...[snip]...a claim for a floating duck island designed to protect his ducks from foxes. This was rejected by the Commons authorities."
  • Very true..
    To add to this, a scottish perspective (and maybe a little backdrop since the main papers here are basically either independent politically, and stick to to whomever they feel deserves it, SNP-loyal, or Labour-loyal; all the papers are much more political in Scotland) would be to add in the Scottish dailies; obviously i'm not going to include the "scottish" Sun etc. since they are exactly the same as the UK version, just with a story about how all Scots are thieving lying benefit-scheating heroin addicts every 2 pages...

    The Record: Biggest scottish daily. Owned by trinity mirror, much like the Mirror itself, really. Heavily, extremely pro-Labour, anti-SNP, anti-Scotland and anti-anything-Labour-tell-them-to-be. On the day of the 2007 Scottish elections (which the SNP won), their editorial predicted a plague on all your houses if you vote SNP etc. Going out of business fairly soon if they continue to lose readers...

    The Scotsman: broadsheet, mostly independent; seems to moderately support the SNP now, as well as other liberal ideals. Quite a nice paper, if I bought a daily it'd probably be this...

    The Herald: broadsheet; biggest selling "proper" paper in Scotland now, having overtaken the Scotsman. Politically independent (mostly), and will occasionally criticise Labour or SNP alike. May well be also folding, many many job losses in recent years.

    There are others but I can't be bothered and they're mostly all small-fry anyway....

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @08:10AM (#28387935) Journal

    That depends on your political perception. It is registered as supporting the Labour Party. The same Labour Party that is doing the redacting here.

    Maybe their online presence is different, but I subscribe to the Guardian's RSS feed and in recent months they've been much more harsh on the current government than I would have been. They've also been running articles claiming that the Labour party has abandoned its roots and the people it is supposed to represent. Maybe they are supporting the Labour Party in the abstract, but they certainly aren't supporting the current Labour leadership; even the BBC has been more moderate in their attacks on the government, and attacking the government is practically the official hobby of the BBC.

  • Mod Parent Up (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @08:33AM (#28388153) Journal
    The mySociety folk have done some really great work. They run TheyWorkForYou which gives you detailed reports on how your MP voted and everything they've said in Parliament, and WriteToThem, which provides a very easy way of writing to your representatives and collating information about how often MPs respond to letters. They are also responsible for the site. It's really great to see them getting involved here.
  • by soliptic ( 665417 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:38AM (#28390709) Journal
    No, the guy is just plain wrong; they do not have any party affiliation [].

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