The government is a rotten employer

Yesterday we debated the msierable and foolish Bill the government has brought in to change the way MPs allowances are paid and to regulate MPs financial conduct.

The centre piece of the Bill is the establishment of a new quango to design and administer the expenses and allowances system – the very same system Kelly has been asked to redesign as well. We were told the rushed Bill can always be amended later in the year if Kelly disagrees!

I asked what consultations the government has held with the Fees office staff who currently do this work. No answer.

I asked if staff in the present Fees office will be automatically transferred to the new quango (under TUPE). No answer.

I asked if staff will lose their jobs and have to compete for new jobs at the new quango. No answer.

I asked how much extra the new quango would cost compared with the current arrangements. I was told it would cost the same. I find that difficult to understand, given the costs of set up and the likely high salaries that will be offered to the Heads of the new body.

We need a less generous system of allowances. I suspect we now have one, after the changes made in recent weeks. It just needs summarising and approving.

We need tighter administation of the new system. That can be delivered by clear instructions from Parliament to a suitable senior employee, who should be responsible for systems that ensure proper approval and documentation of claims.

None of this requires an elaborate new structure. A good employer embarking on such an upheaval would consult with the exisiting staff first, hear their views, and would seek to minimise disruption and redundancy cost.

This bull in a china shop approach is likely to produce more problems, not less. This government has been keen to pass lots of labour laws for the private sector. Don’t any of the rules apply to them as employers?

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38 Comments

  1. Colin D.
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    When business sets up a new group or department, a family tree accompanies the announcement showing reporting responsibilities, accountabilities etc. If the people drawing up this Bill followed such standard disciplines, they would surely have seen the flaws and that it was necessary to work out how to integrate or eliminate the current Fees Office and that consultation was required with some or all of the existing staff. If such procedures were followed, the government might have had answers to the questions you asked yesterday. Yet again, this highlights the advantages of having people in government with previous or (dare I say it) CURRENT experience of jobs in industry.

  2. Robert K, Oxford
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Bull in a china shop sums it up perfectly, bull being the operative word for the government’s approach.
    Private sector enterprises don’t need legislation and quangos to sort out basic administrative tasks like setting up an expenses claim system.
    If the government can get in such a ridiculous tangle over something as simple as this, no wonder they make such a mess of spending the 50% of the money they coerce from UK citizens.

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted July 1, 2009 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Bull – or Balls up?

  3. eeyore
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    You ask perfectly reasonable questions and are either ignored or fobbed off with patent untruths. Have we ever had such insolent scoundrels in Government?

    I see elsewhere that Mr Balls is indignant at being called a liar. Frankly he’s lucky we don’t live in a horsewhipping age, because neither he nor his master would have escaped a public thrashing.

  4. Simon D
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Classic example of over-government.

    In the private sector the Executive Board would probably agree the main outline of the new expenses system and then hand the issue over to the HR director for implementation.

    HR would publish the new expenses regime – what you could and could not claim back and also make any changes needed to the Company Employment Regulations – the bible of rules on which any company’s disciplinary proceedings are based and which form part of the contract of employment of employees.

    If you claimed for something not allowed you would not get any money. If you acted fraudulently, the disciplinary procedure would kick in. If you had committed gross misconduct over expenses you would be sacked. Very few cases about expenses ever reach industrial tribunals because most private sector expenses regimes are a piece of cake to operate.

    If you were stupid enough to want to give flowers to Jonathan Ross you would need to find a line manager with an appropriate “flowers” budget and get him to authorise the expenditure. Otherwise no flowers for Jonathan unless you paid for them out of your own pocket.

    We have too much government in this country and too many government processes are ludicrously over-engineered. Public sector fat cats don’t much care about the taxpayers who produce the money for their salaries. In the public sector money seems to be no object. Parliament is not setting us a good example.

    Next up – when it the Government going to do something about the shockingly low productivity and ineffectiveness of the House of Commons or reform that other joke institution – the House of Lords?

  5. a-tracy
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Good questions, yesterday I read that in 2007/8 13.5 million working days we lost to work-related stress, depression and anxiety. I wonder how many of those days were in the public sector if this is how things are done?

  6. Mick Anderson
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Given that the current proposals are so poor, and that the existing system has to be replaced, what are the Conservatives intentions if this mockery of a new system is implemented?

    If elected, will they leave it in place, amend it, or replace it? Describe the reasoning and philosophy behind the choice? What is the preferred alternative?

    The numbers are relatively small in the over-all waste of this discredited administration, and there are far more important things to resolve after the election.

    However, being a small thing, it won’t take long to put better legislation in place, and it is important in the future relationship between Government and governed.

    It might be very difficult to accurately cost the NHS or Education because you don’t have access to the books, but this is well within the scope of information available to you.

  7. Acorn
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    The government is also a rotten drafter of parliamentary Bills. If ever you needed a demonstration of how dysfunctional the system is, then the Parliamentary Standards Bill is a classic.

    You can understand why clauses in the truck loads of Acts, vomited out day after day, never see the light of day. They just won’t work.

    Yesterday’s debate did show up the intellectual superiority of the opposition benches though. There was even a few MPs on the government benches that may have understood some of the clauses and the amendments. Even the Deputy Speaker chairing this whole house committee, got confused.

    Clause 1; I think the ayes have it. Errrr, division. No Tellers for the Noes. What was that all about? Was someone off message on the opposition benches?

    Have a read of Hansard, it is not as funny as Ball’s statement on inheritance tax; sorry, my mistake, education.
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm090630/debtext/90630-0007.htm#column_186

  8. jeff todd
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    How about a new declaration on the claim form?

    Something along the lines of:

    “I am quite content for the contents of this claim to be disclosed – unredacted – in all media outlets to morrow morning”

    Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

    Much simpler and cheaper.

    • jean baker
      Posted July 1, 2009 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      No need …. the Fees Office is 100% responsible and accountable for ALL alleged ‘improper’ payments it authorized.

  9. jean baker
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    I recently read that Ted Heath introduced the system allowing MP’s to claim for ‘expenses necessary to do their job’ – capped at a few hundred pounds. Tony Blair ‘upped’ this to thousands.
    The way in which the Fees Office has been allowed to operate is a scandal and an outrage; thank you for addressing the core issue, answers to which were, predictably, ‘no response’.

    I believe the ‘expense leaks’ were deliberate and designed to undermine the reputations and public opinion of MP’s per se in preparation for the next election.

    It seems that the aim of the ‘rushed legislation’ is to grant the ruling party the power to replace the (clearly) corruptly run Fees Office with yet another expensive quango with the power to sack MP’s.

    The proposals show Nulabor’s contempt for the rights of the electorate – WE elect or dismiss our MP representatives via democratic election. The proposals override and eliminate historic democratic procedures.

    MP’s are currently suffering the same ‘jackboot’ attitude as so many public sector workers before them – doctors, nurses, police and teachers – all victims of Nulabor’s ‘clenched fist’ state dictate.

    Behind Nulabor’s ‘democratic front’ lies the TRUE aim – the replacement of all the principles of democracy inside and outside the Mother of All Parliaments.

    • APL
      Posted July 1, 2009 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Jean Baker: “I recently read that Ted Heath introduced the system allowing MP’s to claim for ‘expenses necessary to do their job’ ..”

      Why am I not surprised to hear that.

      Heath, the rotten Primeminister.

      There isn’t much that can be identified wrong today that doesn’t have its malignant root is something Heath did.

      Abolishing the counties
      Bringing in unitary authorities.
      Lying to Parliament – ” There will be no essential loss of National Soveriengty”

      Judging the man by his actions, he was (not a good thing-ed)

      • jean baker
        Posted July 1, 2009 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

        Ted Heath appears to have been gravely misled by the EU, and their ultimate aims, unlike his successor Margaret Thatcher, a true Stateswoman and patriot and, therefore, loathed by the EU.

        The 12.5% economic growth handed to Labour in 1997 has been decimated to around – 30% since Blair abolished financial regulation on his arrival. Having ‘broken Britain’, he awaits his aim of EU President, having betrayed the British – he was elected on ‘spin and empty rhetoric’ on route to Federal Europe.

        Germany didn’t fool Churchill, nor does Brussels or Nulabor fool those who hold his democratic, humane beliefs.

        • APL
          Posted July 2, 2009 at 6:52 am | Permalink

          Jean Baker: “Ted Heath appears to have been gravely misled by the EU ..”

          Not good enough Jean. Heath showed not one atom of remorse about his decision to force the UK into the EU, nor any of the others he made including local government re organization. He was not misled, his action were not a mistake, he perfectly knew his intent.

    • adam
      Posted July 2, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      More likely that it was done to provide a smokescreen/justification for constitutional reform. Not much evidence though.

      • jean baker
        Posted July 3, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        APL,

        “Heath’s … decision to FORCE the UK into the EU …. ”

        Not so, unlike Nulabor’s betrayal over the Lisbon Treaty, Heath acted on the principles of democracy; the British VOTED on the basis of information given to Ted Heath. The true purpose/aim of the EU has been shown to be vastly difference since that time.

  10. pipesmoker
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    I watched a lot of the debate on TV and the input from opposition benches was excellent.

    I look forward to the debate in the upper house, maybe the government will be forced to take note of their Lordships!

  11. Brian E.
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    What I find appalling is not the fact that members were allowed to claim this money, but the fact that so many considered it was quite reasonable to do so. We should not need to have rules to regulate MPs actions, these are the “Honourable” people who are supposed to make the rules for the rest of us in order that the country might be run efficiently. If they can’t be trusted to act fairly on their own accounts, how on earth can they be trusted to act fairly on behalf of the electorate?

    Personally, I believe that there should be no rules, as all this does is to legitimise any claim that falls within the rules, whether justified or not. Payments should be made for expenses wholly and necessarily incurred in the course of their work, and all payments should be published in detail allowing the public to decide whether they met the criteria. All capital items purchased for their use whilst MPs should be public property (in the same manner as I had a company lap-top for my sole use, but remained their property) and as such should revert to the state when their term expires to be disposed of as government surplus. Living accommodation should be rented, where necessary, on their behalf, and the rent paid directly to the landlord as is practice in the commercial sector.

    We want “Honourable Members” not expensive books of rules, and until we again get this, no politician will be trusted.

    • jean baker
      Posted July 3, 2009 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Blair reportedly changed the rules which capped claims – a few hundred pounds – to thousands. The Fees Office is 100% responsible for authorizing ALL alleged ‘improper claims’.

      It was the ‘system’ and those operating it which was (bad -ed).

      ” …. no politican will be trusted” …. you only have the right to speak for yourself, not the electorate per se.

      The whole ‘expenses fiasco’ was Nulabor’s way of dealing with ‘opposition’, including Labour dissidents. Predictable, given their poll ratings.

  12. Cliff.
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    John,

    Will this be yet another quango for the next Conservative government to abolish?

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted July 1, 2009 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Hopefully.

  13. Mike Stallard
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    There is, to my mind, a huge matter of principle here.
    Our own MP, Mr Moss, happens to be resigning at the next election and we have already chosen our next Tory candidate.
    But, were he to be sacked by a Quango, I for one would be really upset. Who do they think they are?
    We, the general public, are not worried about new rules and stamping out corruption so much as “one rule for them and another for us”. Little things (see above, like flowers for Mr Ross) therefore loom much larger than big ones (like mortgages and flipping). We, the general public, are not usually in a position to flip. But we are very much into the business of smoking, hunting with dogs, being careful with dangerous things and generally being responsible. We also like our independence and do not want to live off government hand-outs.
    When we see our MPs who, before this scandal, we used to look to for an example, nannying us and then not obeying their own rules, we are incredulous, then disgust and anger set in.
    We, being British, do not behave like that ourselves and we certainly do not expect people who lord it over us to do different.
    So Mr Brown, once again, has got it quite wrong.

    • jean baker
      Posted July 1, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Those with more than half a brain cell were neither disgusted or angry; the Fees Office being 100% responsible for it’s actions.

      MP’s expenses are trifling compared to the three generational debt incurred by this government.

    • adam
      Posted July 2, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      speak for us all why dont you.

      it has made little impact of the polls

  14. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    This government is simply just rotten to the core. It seems to me that perfectly reasonable questions are seldom if ever answered by government ministers in the Commons. Incidentally, they seldom answer them in the media either. Knowledge is power and so the government want to withhold as much as possible. The whole apparatus of government is being abused by Brown et al. Most of the public are probably unaware of the actual extent of this. The opposition parties need to find a way of publicly humiliating these people. As Brown is the leader of this dreadful undemocratic behaviour and never answers a question properly himself in PMQs what would happen if the opposition benches boycotted the proceedings and explained why? I know this would leave the questions all to the government benches but wouldn’t the media reporting bring home the reality to the general public? You may say this is gesture politics but the conventional proceedings don’t seem to be working and something needs to be done to change things.

  15. Denis Cooper
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    The fact that Labour MPs will do as they’re told and vote this rubbish through perfectly illustrates the point I keep repeating – if the people vote in rubbish MPs, those MPs will vote through rubbish laws; if the people want better laws, they must vote in better MPs. Oh, and it’s of minor importance whether there are 500 MPs, most of whom are rubbish, or 800 MPs, most of whom are rubbish – in either case, the result will still be rubbish laws.

  16. Ruth
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Speaking as a former HR Director, can I just say what good points you make? If I were planning such a big change, there is no way the plan would be published without having addressed all these issues first – I would expect to spend 3 months working on it before any announcement.

    Yes, the staff in the fees office would be subject to TUPE, without doubt, something that Labour has been very keen to insist on in similar public sector changes.

    To put out an announcement without any thought to the people concerned in the current system, the cost (including accommodation, siting, etc) is an appalling way to treat people. If I had ever done this, I would have been pilloried and quite rightly. People have a right to know what is going to happen to them, they all have mortgages to pay.

    The hypocrisy of the government knows no bounds – they have introduced massive quantities of regulation in order to “protect” and implement “fairness” for employees, yet they treat their own with contempt.

  17. A.T
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    In the context of current discussions on budget cuts to be made by an incoming Tory government, a bonfire of the quangos looks like a no-brainer to me.

  18. Frugal Dougal
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    It’s not a quango’s job to sack MPs – that job belongs to parties and, intermittently, voters.

    No doubt this body will be immune to FoI requests…

  19. Lola
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Socialists, as their grand – and enitirely flawed – idea of a planned political economy crashes and burns around them, again, always seek refuge in bureaucratism.

    Their is one bound and certain way to accelerate the destruction of wealth or the failure of an enterprise, and that is to love your bureaucrats.

  20. Ad
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    John, please blog on the governments renationalisation of the East Coast mainline. As a true defender of privatisation your views would be hugley welcomed.

    • THE ESSEX BOYS
      Posted July 2, 2009 at 12:01 am | Permalink

      Could it be that the employees of the stricken National Express will join the public payroll with gold-plated pensions?

      Surely not…but there again we’re talking about the Brown government here….

      What a week to return from hols accompanied by all those NuLabor chickens coming home to roost!

      Education U-turns, ID cards, Rail franchises and now the Royal Mail.
      And what fun to see GB flanked at PMQs by Harman and Jowell, togged out in white outfits (no doubt selected for purity by Mandy!) sitting there with instructions to nod vigorously like 2 of Procul Harum’s 16 vestal virgins!

      For the umpteenth time, do they think we’re bloody barmy!

  21. alan jutson
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Seemed to me you asked very sensible and relevent questions.

    Once again it shows your experience of business outside of politics.

    Once again you gained no answers.

    It really is no surprise that this Parliament (and the last two) have lost most of the people.

    This Government it would seem is at least consistant, as it treats everyone with utter contempt, including the opposition Party’s.

    It is consistant in wasting money.

    It is consistant in fouling up even the most simple task.

    It is consistant in refusing to answer questions.

    It is consistant in wishing to remain in power at any cost.

    It is consistant in refusing meaningful debate on any subject matter.

    It is consistant in making poor law.

    It is consistant in following the EU doctrine.

    It is even consistant in bringing the Country to the point of bankruptcy (now for the fourth time).

    So why are you surprised.

    On a positive note:

    At last George Osbourne has got himself in the papers by asking a relevent question about seeing the books, so you can prepare a relevent policy.

    Think this still has some mileage in it, so let us hope he pushes this further.

    George should really be on the attack now, or make way for someone who can !!!

    Think there is certainly a case for a public type enquiry over the National debt should you get in next June, in order to hammer home the mismanagement of UK PLC for the past 12 years.

  22. James
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    The Fees Office should be staffed and run by the Inland Revenue. Preferrably those who forensically examine my self assessment every year.

  23. Snegchui
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Well, the Govt’s avowed intentions were good – but as in so many other cases the implementation is perverting the aims. An independent Fees Office is what is required, not the bother of a new “independent external body”.
    These reforms under Labour are not going to work. These reforms are being executed in order to exculpate Labour’s many failings in this area and not to improve the management of expenses. Labour just so don’t get it, they must be dunned out at the earliest opportunity.

  24. Jon
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Beggars belief and how much has this government spent on consultants to advise them over the years? I don’t expect that the government can be as efficient as the private sector but this is ridiculous.

  25. Cynical
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    So what are the “costs of set up” – on past form of this tawdry administration they will include –
    plush new offices
    a new IT system, which will be delivered late and over budget
    a team of inapporpriate senior employees, recruited because they look good rather than function well

    With any new Government body/reorganisation, Parliament should insist on the presentation of a proper project plan for the implementation, showing, costs, timescales and governance arrangements – so that the delivery team can be properly held to account.

    As this is a new quango rather than a Parliamentary office, presumably it will come within the ambit of the NAO for audit and efficiency reviews, and therefore under the scrutiny of the PAC rather than a Speaker chaired committee!

  26. Adrian Peirson
    Posted July 3, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    A Fees office Quango, sounds like Problem Reaction Solution again, first create the problem, wait for the public to cry ‘something must be done’ then propose what you always wanted in the forst place…….Destroying the Sovereignty of Parliament, now parliament is Answerable to a Quango.

    as for Ted Heath.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qy7wvvqBad8

    http://worldreports.org/news/6_e.u._treaties_procured_by_payola_corruption

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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