Welsh MPs have claimed more than £170,000 in fuel and congestion charges since 2019, an investigation by The National has found.

The figures come during the final days of COP26, where world leaders are gathered to discuss solutions to our escalating climate crisis - and following our report on the thousands in extra cash many Welsh MPs receive on top of their salary each year through second jobs, gifts, and donations.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the median salary in Wales is £28,506 – the lowest of all the UK’s four nations. A person in full-time employment at the UK National Living Wage rate will earn just under £18,000 per year – five times less than an MP’s salary, which currently sits at £81,932.

On top of their salaries, MPs are permitted to make expense claims for their commute between Parliament and their constituency, and they receive heavily discounted food and drink at parliament, also subsidised by public money.

The National Wales: MPs make roughly triple the median salary of WalesMPs make roughly triple the median salary of Wales

Among those claiming back thousands on their commute was former Welsh Secretary and Vale of Glamorgan MP Alun Cairns, who is currently our highest earning Member of Parliament. Alongside his role as MP, Mr Cairns holds three separate jobs providing “strategic advice” to the boards of private companies, netting around £60,000 on top of his £81k salary.

Between March 2019 and April this year, Cairns claimed £6,225 for fuel and £553.50 for congestion charges.

The London Congestion Charge was introduced in the early 2000s as a measure to tackle pollution in the city. Transport for London states that the £15 per day fee is “designed to encourage motorists to use other modes of transport”, by billing them for driving in certain areas.

An additional 'Ultra Low Emission Zone' (ULEZ) fee of £12.50 per day is required for more heavily polluting cars.

Electric vehicles are exempt from the charges, and those living within the congestion charge zone – which includes many MPs – can claim a 90 percent discount.

A total of £12,971 in congestion charges have been avoided by Welsh MPs since 2019, a practice which is legal and does not break any of the rules governing MP expenses.

Labour MP Mark Tami claimed the highest individual amount for congestion charges, at £1,864.50. 

Tami, who represents Alyn and Deeside, received more than £2,000 in donations from Power Leisure Bookmakers and UK Music last year, and made a further £1,005 for speaking engagements and completing surveys. He expensed just over £12,000 in fuel costs.

READ MORE: Wales would benefit from switching to a four-day working week

David TC Davies, MP for Monmouth, was among those who expensed for both congestion and ULEZ charges, claiming £220 since 2019. The Conservative member also claimed £5,000 in fuel.

Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, MP for Torfaen, claimed £997 in congestion fees. Another of Wales’s best paid MPs, Thomas-Symonds received just over £15,000 on top of his salary over the past year – a mixture of book royalties and fees from legal work carried out before he was an MP.

The National Wales: Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has claimed just under £1,000 in congestion fees since 2019 (Source: House of Commons)Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has claimed just under £1,000 in congestion fees since 2019 (Source: House of Commons)

The former Oxford lecturer has claimed back £5,468.85 in fuel since 2019.

Last month Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald resigned his post as UK Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Employment Rights and Protections, claiming that the leader’s office had instructed him to “argue against a National Minimum Wage of £15 an hour and Statutory Sick Pay at the living wage” during an event at the party’s Brighton conference.

READ MORE: National Living Wage 2021 Wales: When is the increase, how much is it?

The party was criticised earlier this year for refusing to back both calls for a 15% NHS pay rise by its affiliated unions and calls for a 12% pay rise for nurses by the Royal College of Nursing.

Mr Thomas-Symonds' office told The National that the Labour member had driven more frequently to parliament as a result of the pandemic. It was essential for him to be onsite, they said, to fulfil his role as Shadow Home Secretary.

Parliament closed in late March last year as the country went into lockdown, with most MPs returning in May. Restrictions in the House of Commons tightened again during the second wave in winter, with MPs able to participate in debates and PMQs remotely until July this year.

Plaid Cymru MPs have also claimed significant sums for fuel and congestion charges over the past two years. Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru group leader in the House of Commons, claimed more than £9,000 in fuel.

Saville Roberts serves the relatively isolated constituency of Dwyfor Meirionydd. Her constituency office is located in Dolgellau, where the nearest train station is more than two hours away on foot.

A vocal campaigner for decisive action on climate change, she attended Energy Day at COP26 in Glasgow last week. Nevertheless, the Plaid MP has avoided more than £700 in congestion fees since 2019.

READ MORE: Wales must act now on waterway pollution

The Clean Cities Campaign, a collection of European organisations campaigning for zero-emission transport and mobility, wrote to IPSA – the regulatory body overseeing MP expenses – last month, expressing concern about the practice of expensing London congestion charge fees.

The National Wales: London's congestion charge zone (Source: openstreetmap.org)London's congestion charge zone (Source: openstreetmap.org)

Caroline Russell, the Green London Assembly member who chairs the body’s health committee, told The Independent at the time: “Employers allowing employees to regularly expense a charge like the ULEZ or congestion charge just to get to work completely defeats the point of having these deterring measures in place.”

Jenny Bates, transport campaigner at Friends of the Earth, had added: “MPs should be setting an example and not drive unnecessarily into central London, contributing to climate emissions and the capital’s deadly air pollution.”

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Transportation accounts for a significant proportion of the UK’s domestic CO2 emissions, with cars and HGVs making up 55 and 16 percent respectively.

The UK contributes to many more emissions through its investment in fossil fuel projects around the globe. A recent report estimated that the UK government’s fossil fuel investment portfolio is worth at least £700m.

Our thanks to Jon Stone at The Independent. 

All named MPs were approached for comment.

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