Tuesday, 5 February 2008

What Should the Rules be for MPs? Guest Article Series

The next article in the Matt Wardman series on "What Should the Rules be for MPs? Guest Article Series" is up. Today it is Dave Cole - and a jolly good post it is too. We are not in total agreement, but we do share the belief that our MPs are not such bad lot and that things should be done to tighten up the system - we differ slightly on the means and extent. I suggest you have a read.

Below is my contribution from yesterday for those who missed it:

Independent Adminstration Needed

This first contribution is by Garbo of the Poliblogs, who argues that our politicians are in fact far more honest than they are currently being painted, but that an independent decisonmaking and administrative process would help create the necessary transparency and clarity, and improve the reputation of politics.

Garbo previously wrote an article on his own blog soon after New Year, which you may like to read first. He then updated his opinion after the Derek Conway affair at the end of January.

Bad Week for Politics

It has been a shocking week for the reputation of our MPs. There is a long held perception that MP are a bunch of no-good, money grabbing corrupt jobsworths who look after themselves and don’t give a damn about the rest of us. I think this is a lazy and unfair view of what are actually some of the very best politicians in the world.

Compare our lot to what goes on in other countries, then you start to actually thank the Lord we have them and not anyone else’s. And I’m not just talking about the developing world. Russia is basically run by corruption. Nothing would get done without some level of corruption in Italy (and very little does with it). Even the US presidential elections make our dirty trickster politicians seem like high jinks in the playground. But while our press (and bloggers) love a good scandal story and will exaggerate the sleaze of our MPs, I am not suggesting for one moment they are whiter than white.

Take Money Decisions out of MP’s Hands

As such I propose that the only effective way forward to ensure our MPs snouts are not in the trough and to appease our over-reacting press, who paint one MP’s misdemeanours as the wrong doing of 650 MPs, is to take the money decisions out of their hands altogether.

The issues at stake here are:

  • MP’s Pay – the yearly MP pay rise
  • MP’s expenses – the right for MPs to take housing allowances and get the tax payer to pay for just about any facet of their constituency work from pens and pencils to transport.
  • MP’s staff allowances – the MP’s employment of anyone they see fit to do as much or as little work for a very generous salary.

For me, I think it is time that all the above was done by an Administrator. Cue Matt Wardman and David Cole to shout “U-Turn” and The ThunderDragon to suggest that all HR types are crap and that we are somehow handing power over to unelected bodies… but bear with me!

Independent Pay Body for a Fairer Deal

Firstly I will deal with the MP’s pay rises and Matt’s and Dave’s correct calls of a U-turn. I am not suggesting that MP’s have the decision to vote on their pay rises taken out of their hands because they are abusing the system. Far from it.

As Matt and Dave know, I believe that MP’s are worth every penny of their £60k salary and that by voting for themselves every year they are under such massive scrutiny from the press and public they actually end up giving themselves pretty modest increases.

This year’s annual pay rise was preceded by all the cynics shouting and ranting that MPs will inevitably vote for an inflation busting rise. What happens? They gave themselves a 1.9% - instead of the full 2.56% recommended by the independent Senior Salaries Review. Not such a good story, eh?

It is no coincidence that the one area of payment to our MPs that is least abused is that one that is most in the public eye. Instead of awarding themselves a massive pay increase, they actually went well below the independent recommendation. This is a system that works.

Only it doesn’t. Because MPs are under such pressure to take such small pay rises, it only encourages them more to play the system outside their salary, i.e. expenses claims. Therefore, I propose that we take the decision out of the hands of MPs, not to limit their pay, but to give them a fair pay rise – because right now they are not getting one.

No more free-for-all on expenses

Secondly, this same body should be responsible for handling expense claims.

  • Every single expense claim that an MP makes should be verified and signed off by this independent body. No random checks that will inevitably lead to individuals getting through the system.
  • Everyone should be checked – no room for the odd opportunistic claim that someone will probably get away with and thereby muddy the name of MPs again.
  • Housing should be handed out on a needs basis, not as some sort of privilege that is to be taken advantage of.
  • Transport should be verified and signed off.

Then at the end of the year every single MP’s expense claims should be published for all to see by this independent body.

Professional support to end nepotism and falling short of the law

Finally, the employment of MP’s staff. Again, this should be done with the independent body. Professionals who understand employment law and who is the best candidate. HR professionals.

At this point, last time I suggested this, The ThunderDragon (see comments) stated that all HR professionals are crap and that we would be appointing more unelected people in to positions of power.


I may sometimes sympathise with his stereotyped opinion of HR people; howeber, the reality is that I am not suggesting they employ bad HR people! If all HR were so bad, why would every single major company in the world have an extensive HR department with the most senior figures usually right at the top of the company? You can not dismiss a whole profession just because you don’t like them!

As for appointing people to power? Who is being appointed to power? Not the HR people:

  • These HR professionals will be there to ensure that the correct and proper procedures are gone through – like they are in every other public sector body:
  • They know the law and so will take the pressure off the MP.
  • They will ensure that the best candidate gets the job, not some MP’s son who is studying for his degree in Newcastle where he is clearly not best placed to do the job!
  • The HR people won’t be going in to the Chamber and voting on laws that affect the country! Nor will the researchers and PAs be doing much more than reading Hansard and writing letters.
  • They will manage employment of MP staff under a competitive process and the position advertised publicly to all, in line with the law for all other public sector recruitment.

I also propose that the MP is part of the employment process – the HR professional is there as a guide and as a check that nothing that falls under the category of nepotism occurs.

It both protects the MP from making a mistake and also from deliberately abusing the public purse.

The Cost Savings

And how much would this all cost? I suspect it would pail in to insignificance with the cost savings that they would provide. MPs would think twice about claiming expenses and they would be under real pressure to provide value for money – including in their employment of staff. They would employ a better calibre of candidate who would churn out more work.

Everyone is a winner

By setting up this administrative body, everyone is a winner - including MPs. The tax payer will save money, and can be sure that there is no corruption going on. MPs get a better annual pay deal and will see that they appoint a better calibre of candidate to their staff.

It will also restore some confidence in our MPs and do a lot to restore our faith in politics - which right now is being undermined by a very small minority of MPs and a savage press.

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