What about late payment?

Smarta can only imagine what it must be like to work at Westminster at the moment. It can’t be fun. Hungry Telegraph journalists slavering around every corner, terrified MPs avoiding all eye contact and overworked publicity people shouting ‘no comment’ every time someone offers them a cup of tea.

Expense claims aside, it seems Westminster may now have another thing to add to its growing list of things to apologise for: late payment.

According to Glasgow East MP John Mason, the government may not quite be adhering to a pledge made by Peter Mandelson in November, when the business secretary promised the government would become a shining beacon of business practice by paying all its bills within 10 days.

Oddly enough, according to Mason, that hasn’t happened. Figures given in parliamentary answers showed just 50% of bills submitted to the Home Office were paid within the allotted time, while the figure for the Ministry of Justice was a penny-pinching 66%.

Mind you, the Home Office figure has risen since November, when it paid just 18% of bills on time.

Mason said the figures were appalling. “There is no excuse for these extraordinary failures by the UK government to meet its own 10-day target and pay its bills on time - particularly in these troubled economic times when a speedy cash flow is important to many businesses.

"This isn't simply about keeping the businesses afloat but keeping people in jobs."

The bright side, of course, is that if the claims office at Westminster adopts that sort of attitude with MP’s expenses, the debate over expense claims will go away in no time.

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