How much should an MP spend on doing the job?

 

           Last week the media criticised MPs for spending more in 2012-13 than in 2008-9 on running their offices and on their general expenses. After all, the critics pointed out, IPSA the independent body brought in to curb excesses this Parliament had changed the rules over what can be claimed, and cut the items and amounts in many cases.

         Despite this total MP claims have risen from £95.4m in 2008-9 to £98.1m in 2012. That means the average is now £150,000 per MP. So why so much and why has it gone up?

          The main item in the spending is staff. Most people working as executives do not have the  salaries of staff reporting to them recorded as part of “their” expenses and remuneration.  Some MPs employ staff to do research, to write speeches, to talk to the media, as well as employing staff to help with casework, office organisation and organising the diary.MPs themselves of course run the surgeries, supervise the casework, undertake the constituency visits and consultations,  do all the work in the Commons, and undertake the political activities which Parliamentary staff must not handle.   Staff wages and salaries have gone up since 2008-9, though more recently there have been tight controls on pay increases as for the rest of the public sector.

           The other big item is living accommodation in central London for the majority of MPs who cannot get back to their constituency homes, given the working hours through to 10.20pm on Mondays and 7.20pm  on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the need to be back by 9am the following morning. IPSA decided to disallow mortgage interest on a flat an MP had bought, but IPSA does pay rent bills. Many MPs have switched to renting, and all new MPs have to rent, so there has been a big increase in rental costs and an overall increase in cost as this is a dearer way of providing housing.

           As some of you strongly think MPs claim too much, I am inviting you to contribute.  How many staff you think would be appropriate, and for what tasks? Do you think IPSA have got the housing right? 

          I am also interested in your thoughts on employing a relative. This has  attracted considerable attention, with some saying relatives work longer  hours and will work outside normal office hours, whilst others think it is more difficult to ensure  a relative does provide value for money.

 

(PS I will not publish  personal assaults on individual MPs, as I cannot check it all out. I do not myself employ a relative, and last year claimed £65,807 for my office and other costs so you do not need to ask. ).

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78 Comments

  1. Posted September 16, 2013 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    I was there when the local Councils were told to have a Cabinet on pay. The mood changed overnight. From a group of well meaning amateurs we changed (I was an insider at the time) to a group of rather secretive professionals.

    I honestly do not really care whether MPs employ their wives as staff. You say you do not want us to mention individual MPs. Even so, I do want to say that Steve Barclay, our MP, is excellent and he asks the right questions in parliament.

    I am almost at the point myself of trying to get back the amateurish unpaid MPs of the past. I know that, now I am retired, I work much better and more imaginatively when working as a volunteer. I am then, once more, a trusted professional.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Any party with a manifesto to stop huge pay for LA ‘cabinet members’ allowing expenses only and reinstating surcharges for gross waste would be onto a winner.

      Our LA has just burned off the parking bay markings in front of house parking space crossovers, which the council charged £1500 for, so that the spy car can fine us for blocking our own drive with a second or visitors car. A neighbour was fined twice recently and her builder was fined, along with his whole street, for parking as before, the offence being recorded at 5am. My plumber was fined for a 20 minute stop. The councillors can apparently do nothing about it. Why should they when they are now part of the same moneygrubbing/ mugging ‘service’.

  2. Posted September 16, 2013 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Although many wives and relatives may be indeed be good employees and hard workers it should clearly not be allowed as it the systems needs to be seen to be honest.

    Alas as we have seen the honesty, intelligence and morality of many MPs is often exceptionally low. Most simply cannot be trusted as we can see by looking at each person and their historical expenses claims. We also see MPs with many outside “consultancies” which clearly must affect their stand on say green issues and countless other areas.

    I cannot help but think that the less you pay MPs the better the quality of MPs you will get. Venal, career seeking, MPs are the last thing we need more of. I note that many seem to pay their wives about 45,000-50,000 which seems rather on the high side to many. No doubt with pensions, expenses, ipads and leaving pay offs on top. Did these wives go through a fair interview & selection process?

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 6:11 am | Permalink

      Meanwhile Cameron clearly thinks it is right to have even people like David Laws MP, back into government, the public are even expected to call him the Right Honorable David Laws MP. At least we will not have to have Chris Huhne back though he still seems to have learned nothing.

      I do not think I could personally trust (some MPs ed) to employ a relative, on a fair and honest basis.

      • Posted September 16, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        JR, perhaps you ought to ask Gordon Brown as he is representative of an MP, former party leader as well as a PM

        Lords were allowed back after being sent to prison why not Huhne? Look at the low standards across the board, what change has actually happened? There are many others of his ilk still at Westminster. It is only a part time job and is not worth the huge expense to the taxpayer.

        Most laws come from the EU the rest is whipped therefore what is the purpose in having so many MPs or their family on the gravy train of the taxpayer. Family should not be employed that w clear after the expense scandal. Where is the equality or fairness imposed on the rest of society, what rigorous process takes place, there might be better people for the job. It is another fiddle. Another failed promise by Cameron to reduce the cost of parliament and the number of politicians.

        Only China has more politicians, how ridiculous is that?

  3. Posted September 16, 2013 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    My question is not about money, but why British MPs spend so much of their life on being an MP, and are, on average 10 years older than Dutch MPs. Would more frequent career switches not be better for the country as a whole and broaden the experience of those who represent the people in the H.o.C.?

    Reply The counter argument is you need to have a group of people who are experienced at the ways of Whitehall and Westminster to govern. You presumably do not want people to stop being doctors or lawyers after a few years?

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Peter, I would go the other way, saying no-one can be an MP unless they have retired, ie. over 65 years old, because in my opinion, the performance of MP’s decreases substantially when they have fresh university degrees and no life experience, and these people never improve.

      • Posted September 16, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        Governed by even older gits than we are now? How stupid is that? Is the youth of this country already not massively under represented? Often people are young and stupid and grow to be old and stupid. The difference in Doctors and lawyers is that you need brains to do the job. Anyone can be elected by the same stupid people as themselves. I am middle aged by the way.

      • Posted September 16, 2013 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

        @lojolondon: That would make for backward looking policies. Imagine all these pensioners trying to understand social networking 🙂
        I rather favor a parliament which is a reasonable attempt to reflect the electorate’s composition (age, gender, race) and for parliamentarians to switch from business to public office (e.g. parliamentt) and vice-versa.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Reply to reply: Would it take more than 2 years to become experienced at the ways of Whitehall and Westminster? The average experience of Dutch MPs is 4 years, and ten percent of them between 10 and 15 years. The UK top of 60 years experience is a bit on the high side for us.

      Reply The UK average is 10 years as an MP.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      JR: “The counter argument is you need to have a group of people who are experienced at the ways of Whitehall and Westminster to govern.”

      My counter counter argument to that is; decimate* the civil service this year next year and the year after, until it is of a size that Parliament can control.

      In the original meaning of the word – but without the blood shed of course.

  4. Posted September 16, 2013 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Why not something like an MPs’ hostel ? It could be plush enough with allocated rooms and suites for the MP’s term of office.

    ‘Renting is more expensive’

    Which is what we see in social housing too. The council house sell-offs did not end welfare housing. It simply transferred its provision into the private sector which has jacked up the costs which have been passed on to the taxpayer. The bankrupting welfare debt speaks for itself – as do the housing bubbles.

  5. Posted September 16, 2013 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    When i was in employment (i am now retired) The cost of travelling to and from work fell to me. If at anytime, i went away on company business. I had to book into a ‘Travel Inn’ type of hotel, the cost of which was borne by my employer. I really don’t see why MP’s should not follow this model. Any MP choosing to buy or rent a second home. Should do so entitrely at their own cost.

    Reply The difference is MPs have to work in the same 2 places throughout their time as MPs. Putting them into hotels each week is probably dearer than some more permanent arrangement. It is also difficult bringing all the clothes, books, papers etc you need with you each week. I find it better to keep changes of clothes appropriate for the events I need to attend in London available in London.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Reply to reply
      I don’t think “dearer”, “more difficult”, “better to keep changes of clothes at” would actually wash with HMRC if you were an employee of a private company attempting to refute a benefit in kind claim by them.

  6. Posted September 16, 2013 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    On the one hand you are paid from the public purse. On the other you need to show that you are in the real world.
    1 Employing relatives, unless it can be emphatically shown by independent interview that they are the best available candidates for the job, shouldn’t happen.
    2 HMRC would say that a small business paying rent or mortgage repayments for a flat wouldn’t be allowed to be reclaimed. Hotel bills are however paid, so the same should apply to MPs.
    3 Pensions should be paid into private sector schemes, obviously up to and no more than the maximum £40k p.a. with the lifetime limit strictly applied.
    4 Allowances for travel etc should be subject to outside scrutiny by an HMRC offshoot, much in the same way as R and D credits are in the private sector. If the expense can be truly warranted as contributing to innovation in the sense that MPs need to research a subject, fine. if not, the money comes out of their own purse.

  7. Posted September 16, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Given that most legislation now comes from Brussels and that almost all information is available online I cannot see any justification for an MP to employ more than one assistant. Researchers are not necessary and if they cannot speak to the press or express themselves in a speech why are they in the job? As for accommodation in London why not convert some of the vast number of office buildings owned by government to flats and let them stay there. I’m sure some suitable buildings could be found that have useless civil servants working in them, in fact it’s hard to think of any government building with civil servants that aren’t useless so sacking them and converting the building should be no problem. How about the Foreign Office for a start, it would do us all a favour if that nest of vipers was cleared out. We’re constantly told there’s a shortage of accommodation in London so this could start a trend- I hope.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately the constant interference from the EU makes life more complicated for a diligent MP, not less, as indeed it does for anyone who takes a serious interest in current affairs. It would be foolish to consider any policy without first checking to see what the EU might have to say, and its tentacles now extend into so many areas that it is more likely than not that it will have something to say.

  8. Posted September 16, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    I cant understand why it is so difficult to set up an expenses system for MPs such as those that operate in businesses up & down the land. If an MP incurs a legitimate expense from work, then he or she should be refunded promptly. Obviously MPs with constituencies far from London will have higher expenses. Since MPs are nowadays required to live in their constituencies, they should have an allowance for living in London, for however many nights they spend there when Parliament is sitting. It should be set at a reasonable level, eg £200 per day, and those who choose to own a property should be able to take the cash in contribution to that cost. I don’t see why MPs should not employ relatives, so long as the relatives are properly qualified and are paid a reasonable sum for their work. MPs should bear in mind, if employing a relative, that this is likely to be scrutinized.

  9. Posted September 16, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Let’s see how generous MPs are when the money is not going to their relatives.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      Indeed it would be interesting to see the average rate paid to relatives by MPs and the average rate paid to other independent workers by MPs.

      I suspect it would be about 50% of the relative’s rate. Just coincidence no doubt of course.

      • Posted September 16, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        Just a coincidence, like for example being ennobled and giving money to political parties or being ennobled and writing articles in favour of the economically mad HS2 project.

        All just a remarkable coincidence.

  10. Posted September 16, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Employing a relative is never a good idea . Quite apart from the question of whether they have the best skills for the job , there is the matter of disquiet if there is some reason to be disappointed or disaffected with performance – a rift would result in a family relationship . I would think that research and secretarial/administrative backgrounds were necessary back ups for any MP , however , there must be a great deal of duplication – particularly in the research area on matters being dealt with the HoP . In the past Central Pools existed for secretarial back up ; in research the same sort of organisation could apply – in fact many advantages could be gained by having more than one fish swimming in the same water . Re-arranging support along these lines could be more effectively controlled and financially monitored . The substantial differences in the cost of supporting MPs should be more carefully scrutinised and controlled on a week by week basis ; when the results are announced , too much time has gone by to do much about it . Of course it is easy to criticise and comment from the outside ; a detailed knowledge should first be established by an independent outside body .

    Reply There is a general research service available for MPs to “buy” from their allowances if they wish. I do not use that either, as I prefer to do my own research.Some MPs buy both the general service and have their own researcher for their own particular Parliamentary interests.

  11. Posted September 16, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    The issue of relatives working for MPs is ridiculous as they should employ those they trust most, especially when you have media and partisan sneaks ready to spy and try and embarrass; if a relative can do the job, then fine let them. I can make the case for at least one or two MPs who have made their FAMILIES a gravy train, especially on Birmingham council, but in general I see nothing wrong with it as long as the job is done.

    As to accommodation……that is entirely different. I see NO REASON for ANY MP, to rent, or buy, property on the public purse. They don’t live in London as such so there is no need, especially given there is very adequate accommodation just a minute away with the finest security. I was stationed at Wellington Barracks and there are hundreds if not thousands of spare rooms in the upper tiers of the barracks that are empty that can be utilised for MPs, so why not use them? Nobody would be able to claim for fancy fittings and the like.

    It’s a bit of cheek when the same day a ten year tariff is announced for benefits cheats the likes of Jacqui Smith gets a new, massively paid, TV show and appears on late night politics show; that’s the sort of thing that needs sorting out to regain trust.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      And that’s just on top of her NHS day job. So many jobs, so little time….

  12. Posted September 16, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    The other interesting issue is the cost of running IPSA relative to the previous system.

  13. Posted September 16, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Well done for claiming less than half the average and running this blog. Is a list of the top claimers available and sorted by party?

    Reply You would have to work through the full published list yourself on the IPSA site.

  14. Posted September 16, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I think the whole debate, ever since it began, has missed the central point.

    MPs do an essential job, and they should be paid accordingly. What we do not want is for MPs to give themselves special perks not available to others: inflation linked pensions springs to mind. They should be paid comparably to similar professionals in the public sector.

    The expenses debate has been muddied by failing to differentiate between expenses and allowances. If MP were given a London (Westminster) living allowance then the matter of rent and mortgage does not arise.

    There is, possibly, the issue that unlike everyone else a MP can be “summarily dismissed”, but on the other hand they also get “employed” unlike others, and the pros and cons come with the job which they choose to do. And it seems the supply well exceeds the demand.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

      I agree that MPs do an essential job. Although I also agree that supply will always exceed demand, we don’t want to end up with poor quality/corruptible MPs representing us.

      Therefore the financial rewards need to be quite high, either by a good salary or by restricting sittings so they can earn money outside (or both).

      I agree with you that expenses has confused the matter. I think previous PMs should take some blame (including Mrs Thatcher) for suppressing MPs’ salaries although those who fiddled their expenses have no excuse!

  15. Posted September 16, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    John,
    What would you think about a block of flats for MPs? Wouldn’t that be cheaper than housing allowances?
    It might be easier to protect as well.

    David

    Reply I have no problem with that idea – would have been a good investment for the taxpayer as well.

  16. Posted September 16, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    How can one judge whether a MP’s expenses are reasonable if one has no idea how much work he or she does?

    Mr. Redwood provides a long list of tasks that a MP is involved in … yet some, including a former Prime Minister, we are told rarely attend the house.

    And many have second jobs too.

    So, the publishing of a diary or work schedule for each MP ought to mandatory. And the expenses should be proportional to how much work is done and, to be fair, where the MP lives – to reflect transport, housing and staff costs. Oh no, wait, these are not generally taken into account in the public sector.

    Reply MPs coming a long way can claim more travel costs.The question of how much MPs do can come up in the media or during elections if an MP is failing to perform. You would soon hear of it if an MP was failing to deal with constituents’ queries or refusing to attend any functions.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      The question of how much MPs do can come up in the media or during elections if an MP is failing to perform.

      Yes, I am sure it can. But how can it come up in the media unless someone investigates a particular MP and tries to find out what they do, exactly, for their money.

      As I said, publication of a diary / work schedule would be the easy answer. I understand that politicians of all parties are very keen on transparency.

  17. Posted September 16, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I don’t care too much for the actual sum (within reason). The point about the expenses money was where money was going. MPs must be seen to be living as ordinary people, to be public servants whose reward is the opportunity to shape this country’s policy.

    Surely few people have an issue with renting a modest weekday flat for MPs out of the commuter belt and with employing staff in the constituency office to deal with constituency issues (not for general party campaigners or similar).

    I think a ban on employing close family and relatives is probably wise. Not because they can’t do a good job or work hard, but just because it always becomes abused. If it is to work the sums must be modest and hours properly recorded.

    Where every lunch and taxi etc is on expenses – that can grate with taxpayers because many of us have to pay all of our day to day costs to and from work ourselves.

    Reply Lunch is not on expenses! Nor are taxis unless they are on Parliamentary business – not for politics/personal events etc.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      Why are BBC staff allowed to claim for lunch and taxis. I run a small business. I can’t.

      • Posted September 16, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        You can claim for taxis in the course of business.

  18. Posted September 16, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    There are too many MPs – particularly in Scotland. Cameron should have ended the coalition when Clegg reneged on the boundary changes. This episode spoke volumes on both their characters.

    For years I have felt the number of MPs should be halved and their salaries doubled. At least three consequences – the experience and quality would increase, their role would have to be altered from frequently “glorified social workers”(Tony Banks) to legislators/Government scrutineers and the number of ministers would have to be substantially reduced with inevitably less government.

    As to accommodation the Palace of Westminster is apparently no longer fit for safe use and needs possibly two years work to remove asbestos etc. Perhaps it is time for a Brasilia. Unlikely I know but London all my life has been the most expensive place to live and work and commute and with extra immigrant influx, rich and poor, this situation is accelerating. Most MPs cannot endlessly be featherbedded with Central London 365 day per year housing costs when the Commons barely sits for half that time.

    Employing a relative – no problem for me provided it is a real job.

    Reply I will be in Parliament this afternoon in my office, and again there tomorrow even though we are not in session. There are still evening London events to attend etc.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      “There are too many MPs – particularly in Scotland.”

      Firstly you need to catch up with the reduction in the number of MPs elected in Scotland which has already taken place. The electoral quota used in Scotland is now the same as that used as in England; ie the principle is that the average number of electors per MP should be the same north and south of the border.

      Secondly I don’t agree that there are too many MPs overall. For a start, an average of about 70,000 electors per MP is already more than enough.

  19. Posted September 16, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    For starters. If you want a classic example of how governments waste money, take just one in the IPSA Report and Accounts. “Recruitment of Board – four new ordinary Members were recruited and took up office in January 2013. This is a ring-fenced budget created in 2012-13.” [Cost: £60,000). A civil servant with a phone could have done the job in an hour using the opening patois of “‘Ere mate, would you like a cushty little job on the IPSA Board; couple of hours a month; no sweat?”

    IPSA does reasonable accounts at http://parliamentarystandards.org.uk/transparency/IPSA%20corporate%20reports%20%20publications/Annual%20Reports,%20Corporate%20Plans%20and%20Estimates/Annual%20Report%20and%20Accounts%202012%20-%202013.pdf .

    Have a look at the accounts on document page 56. You will notice that line item “MP and MP Staff costs”, went up by 6.4%; all of it due to staff costs. Anyway, for some reason, it still takes 58 people in the MP’s pay office to look after 650 MPs. One for every eleven MPs, I doubt the BBC needs that many.

    JR, in US terms you are very cheap to keep. Pour a stiff one, sit down and hold on tight before you read this. http://www.examiner.com/article/how-much-does-congressional-pay-and-benefits-cost-taxpayers . ” If a member of Congress serves for at least five years, be it in the Senate or the House of Representatives, they receive full pay and health benefits for life.”

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      We have to be careful about making comparisons with the US, where underneath the federal Congress there are 50 state legislatures while (so far) we only have 3 devolved legislatures beneath the Westminster Parliament.

      However what they have in common is that the cost per head of population is quite small – the estimated $6 billion annual cost of Congress works out as $19 per head – and so there is a constant temptation for legislators to think that a little more could be taken without too many people noticing.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      ” If a member of Congress serves for at least five years, be it in the Senate or the House of Representatives, they receive full pay and health benefits for life.”

      It’s important to attract the right kind of person. As JR alleged in an earlier post, Germany does not have any ‘world class’ cities where the per capita income is at jackpot levels. However, the USA has Washington, the world’s hotspot for the mining of governmentum. Then, of course, they also have New York which houses the world’s most valuable printing press.

  20. Posted September 16, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    “Most people working as executives do not have the salaries of staff reporting to them recorded as part of “their” expenses and remuneration.”

    Of course in May 2009 in the run-up to the EU Parliament elections Nigel Farage put his foot in it by pointing out that his expenses as an MEP over ten years had amounted to perhaps £2 million, which the smearmongers immediately translated as money that he had personally “trousered”.

    Interestingly even at that time a calculation showed that the cost to the taxpayer of his primary accuser, a eurofanatic Labour MP who has since resigned his seat and who is now awaiting trial over his own expenses claims, was not much less even though he did not have the additional travel and accommodation expenses of an MEP.

    I take it, JR, that you would always deprecate that kind of smearmongering, whatever its source?

    Reply I do not accuse my rivals of “trousering” money paid to others!

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      So on average Nigel Farage has spent £200,000 per year on expenses. Does that include renting a property in Brussels and his flights between the UK and Brussels?

      • Posted September 16, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        I’ve no idea what arrangements he has for accommodation in Brussels and Strasbourg. The point is that the total he estimated included money paid to his office staff, which as JR correctly states would not normally be regarded as part of his own expenses and remuneration.

  21. Posted September 16, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    In principle I wouldn’t object to an MP choosing to employ a trusted family member or friend rather than having to recruit some unknown person who could turn out to be a political opponent. However it clearly doesn’t work in practice, with too many examples of MPs’ family members being paid well over the odds for doing little work.

    I think the public have to be realistic about the costs of running a democracy – which is not the same as Cameron’s “cost of politics” – but MPs also have to be realistic about what they claim for – pruning the wisteria on your cottage not being an expense which should be met by the taxpayer.

    Reply When he claimed it it was legal under the then system as part of the costs of having a 2nd home. It is of course n o longer an allowable expense.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Every organisation has a culture, not fixed but changing over time, and in a way I can’t blame new MPs who are being shown the ropes by their more experienced colleagues if they accept it as normal practice that this or that kind of thing can be claimed on expenses.

      I recall a work colleague upbraiding me for not having put the cost of a newspaper on my expenses claim for a business trip. After all, if I hadn’t had to make the train journey (always first class was the company rule) then I wouldn’t have had to buy a newspaper to read on the train, so the company should pay for it. The fact that I hadn’t actually bought a newspaper to occupy myself during the journey seemed to be immaterial.

      However I think many MPs must have known in their hearts that they were going over the top with their expenses claims, or they wouldn’t have been so determined to stop the public knowing the details. That I think is the most disgraceful aspect, that the information had to be obtained illegally so that taxpayers could know how some MPs were abusing their positions of trust.

      • Posted September 16, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        I think that your last paragraph gets to the heart of the problem. What irks people most is the impression that they have profited in some manner from the expenses/perks of the job. For example, the taxpayer paying the interest on mortgages for houses with the possibility of the nominal owner securing a profit on resale rather than the taxpayer.

        zorro

  22. Posted September 16, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Nepotism goes on everywhere, remember the social mobility tsar James Caan who said parents shouldn’t be eager to provide their children with work experience and their children should be encouraged to make their own way, when providing work for his own children! Nick Clegg also wanted to limit social mobility, despite his own father arranging his work experience. If you stop MPs from openly hiring their own family members they could swap family members with each other.

  23. Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Some MPs seem to claim really huge amounts for travel expenses for travel around the world whilst others claim next to nothing. To many of us it seems an excuse to see foreign places at the taxpayers’ expense, one day on business and the rest of the week sightseeing. Are all these “fact finding” trips really necessary as part of the duties of an ordinary MP? The Speaker seems to be a typical example!

    Reply As an MP who has never claimed for a Parliamentary overseas trip I would like to defend many of them. Foreign Affairs specialists do need to visit other countries. The Speaker leads delegations of Parliamentarians abroad as part of the UK’s diplomatic efforts, and hosts visitors here in return. Sometimes Select Committees can learn more by visiting a foreign country which has handled a problem well in a way we might follow etc. It is also possible to imagine a trip which is more fun that work, and for some MPs to become too addicted to representing the UK abroad.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      I know a professor working in a highly specialised science, who has to visit conferences worldwide in order to meet colleages, find out what advances are happening and find research money. These have mainly to be paid for out of c60k taxed salary and travel and accommodation are economy class. HMRC will not allow this travel as a tax deductable expense and taxes visits paid for by others as a ‘jolly’.

  24. Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Consider this Redwoodians. Seven people sat around a circular chinese restaurant table, all worldly wise due to age and experience. One says, Vince as party leader; Lib Lab pre election alliance; doorstepped as a Plan B manifesto to the headline Plan A – single party – manifesto. There would have to be a Lib Con Plan C with a “pull-in-case-of-emergency” rip cord.

    How we all laughed … and then it went very quiet.

  25. Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    “Most people working as executives do not have the salaries of staff reporting to them recorded as part of “their” expenses and remuneration.”

    So why should MPs’ staff not fill in timesheets and submit them directly to the HoC which would pay their salaries directly? Apart from ensuring the relatives are actually working for their salaries, why otherwise should it be a problem?

    “…there has been a big increase in rental costs and an overall increase in cost as this is a dearer way of providing housing.”

    It is fairly obvious that historically, some MPs saw building up a property portfolio as the main perk of the job, purchasing the largest property on the market in their constiuencies, some as big as Balmoral, then flipping their main residences in order to maximise the cost to the taxpayer of mortgages and home improvements.

    The cost of renting is typically higher than of purchasing, particularly in Central London, as a direct consequence of the government’s creation of a disfunctional housing market and immigration and housing benefit system.

    Reply MPs staff are paid directly by IPSA and are on contracts designed and controlled by IPSA. Housing costs were always subject to an upper limit.

  26. Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    There MUST be a cap – surely the only job in government where expenses are entirely uncapped?
    I suggest that MP’s can’t spend more than their salary on their annual office expenses. The further from London, the more spent on travel will be balanced by lower salaries for staff. Simples.

    Reply There is a cap on the different headings of spending.

  27. Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Well for individuals trading under a limited company which they own, which is quite common, its not unusual to pay the spouse a salary to take advantage of the spouses tax allowance and often it’s a ruse as the spouse is in practise not doing much or indeed any work for the limited company. It’s just a set-up to use up that tax allowance. And people are told to trade as such companies by the accountants because of the way dividends are taxed much less than pay, and the way national insurance works. And so on.

    So the public are naturally suspicious that MP’s are up to the same trick. Paying their children while at college simply to use up their tax allowance and so on.

    My fix for this would be to fix the tax system. Make tax allowances transferable within one family and tax dividends the same amount as pay. Roll national insurance up into income tax. Make benefits into negative tax payments which can easily be paid by simply payroll software when the tax allowance is adjusted. Then if MP’s wanted to employ family members there would be no tax advantages and it would be more likely to be a genuine arrangement.

    Simplify the complex government administration of all the tax and benefits system, reducing the costs to the country there. And stop the government manipulations and social engineering. Stop the need for anyone to play the system by employing their family just for tax purposes.

    Oh and the other important aspect is the old boys network, and the way internships and early trainee posts are handed out. I want to see a proper meritocracy in this country not kids given jobs simply because of who their parent knows. All of the main parties are guilty of extreme favouritism and it’s not good for the country. A winning electoral strategy is to be pro meritocracy.

    • Posted September 17, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      You know Ian I see eye to eye with you on a lot of posts, but this assumption makes my blood boil. I know lots of family businesses and I know lots of spouses that work their fingers to the knuckle to grow and protect those businesses. This wide brush approach of yours is insulting to me. I work the same hours and have built several businesses with my equal share husband, I do not underestimate his value as he doesn’t me. My dentists are a husband and wife partnership she is actually my preferred dentist of the two of them.

      Do you have children? If they were out of work and you knew of work available or suitable for them are you honestly saying you wouldn’t point them in that direction and put in a good word for them, they have to win the job and keep it and business owners aren’t all mugs that would take on any child of their friends and contacts. My son found his own paid internship and got his own job out of university off the back of that trial without favour or contacts but if were out of work I would use his considerable skills in my business without a blink.

  28. Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    The rule ought to be that those in a position to spend public money should not be allowed to direct it towards their own relations or those of their friends, no matter how singularly talented those people might be. If MPs want to pay for the assistance of their spouses and children (and girlfriends, boyfriends and random acquaintances) out of their own salaries then that is up to them.

  29. Posted September 16, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    In theory, nothing wrong with a trusted relative doing secretarial work. But not as a paid “researcher” unless properly qualified.

    • Posted September 17, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      What are the qualifications required of a researcher? Should every researcher have a degree, even those of an age where only 6-10% of people obtained a degree? What should their degree be in? Would an NVQ be suffice if a paper qualification is required? Would years of training and work experience without certification be sufficient? Surely it is for the MP to determine if the quality of the work they are given is sufficient, if they fail to get good quality staff the mud should stick to them and there’s the catch they seem to be able to walk away from their department and research poor quality with no affects on their career and there should be accountability.

      Reply That is no longer the case. Researchers now have central contracts, so the MP hiring has to show they are properly qualified and able to do the job, and that the MP has been through a proper recruitment process. The job and person has to graded for the pay scales.

  30. Posted September 16, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I have no problem with MPs employing relatives – I presume most MPs will discuss these appointments with the local party officials, which provides accountability.

    Overall way too much has been made of MPs expenses which overall amounts to small beer in comparison to the waste in the public sector generally. The BBC salaries and payoffs, Gps on more than £100,000 pa, local council wastage on cycle paths, EU expenditure, Quangos with no purpose, Public Sector employees on more than the Prime Minister(!), Network Rail finance issues, etc etc.

  31. Posted September 16, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Quite how many staff an MP employs depends on what the public expect of an MP.

    Having spent many years working in government it is was clear to me that there is an ever rising expectation by many constituents that MPs should be available, more or less on demand, to intervene where their personal interests and government functions collide. I would prefer for this quasi social worker role to be taken up by bodies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and for MPs to be able to spend more time looking at the bigger picture and making sure that legislation is properly scrutinised. It follows that that where MPs are relieved of their time consuming social worker function the need for many staff recedes.

    As for employing a member of the family is concerned it does often look unfair, but who else is prepared to be around for long hours and being intimately involved with a not always easy going personality? An MP has to be lucky to get an employee as committed and sympathitic as a spouse or a son or a daughter. It may look bad, but the alternative is often worse.

  32. Posted September 16, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I only wish that the media and public indignation at MP’s remuneration extended to items that are really out of control and impact the health of public finances! I won’t bore you with the list…

  33. Posted September 16, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    If I promise to vote conservative and woo you (as one contributor suggested we do) , then will you pay me to push the party for you !?
    In case those few don’t understand.. this is a joke… but however the suggestion does carry is a smidgeon of irony!

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      One reason for introducing the secret ballot was to ensure that a candidate could never know whether or not those he had paid to vote for him had kept their side of the bargain, making such outright bribery a futile exercise. Another reason was to make it more difficult to intimidate electors. It may come as surprise to some that it was as late as 1872 than Parliament agreed to secret ballots for parliamentary elections, three decades after the Chartists had made it one of their six demands.

  34. Posted September 16, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Given that MPs are planning to cap benefits at £26,000 this should also be the cap for the total costs of MP’s accommodations (though it won’t apply to the cost of offices, assistants, or other such expenses). This cap would quickly ensure that there would be enough affordable housing in London.

    Reply The MPs cap for housing is well below £26,000!

  35. Posted September 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I cannot understand that employing relatives should be subject to a debate on the rights and wrongs of doing so. It is plain and simply nepotism and the debate on that was settled a very long time ago in that it was agreed that is not acceptable and should never be countenanced.

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      Its not wrong to employ relatives at all – often it means the spouse acting as pa or a nephew or niece doing some research on a break from studies. It’s just a small perk which should not be made much of. It’s fine for MPs to have some privileges – they are in a senior and powerful position in society and the majority of MPs of all parties know where the line is and don’t cross it.

  36. Posted September 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    The fundamental rule should be that there isn’t one rule for MPs and a different rule for the rest of us where expenses are concerned. All MPs should be paid and treated as having a London base. Any additional accommodation allowance would therefore only apply to MPs whose constituencies are not within commuting distance of a suitable commutable location for Westminster, and would be geared to the typically much lower cost of housing in an outlying constituency. Newly elected MPs from more distant constituencies should get the same HMRC approved moving expenses as anyone else moving jobs regionally within a company.

    Having spent many years often working late evening hours, I know that trains to most commuter areas run late enough to cover current parliamentary hours.

    I do not take a sanctimonious view about employing relatives. Many family run businesses do just that, and I certainly don’t begrudge MPs who work hard doing likewise. Some families in certain kinds of employment are often unpaid helpers: ask any diplomat. I suspect that even where MPs don’t formally employ family, many will have significant unpaid help from them.

    I suspect a more important change would be to provide proper grounds for recall votes. Five year parliaments do not provide sufficient discipline. In normal employment, repeated failure to turn up would be grounds for dismissal, as would gross overspend against budget or abuse of expenses. It is voters, not IPSA who should be the judge of whether an MP is worth their pay and expenses.

    Reply An MP can typically only leave the Commons at 10.20 pm or later on a Monday evening, and then has to get to a London rail terminus to try to get a last train. That is why many MPs are judged by IPSA not to be able to commute. On Finance Bill nights and some other business, the business is open ended and go on beyond the 10pm deadline ( which anyway does not include the time for the votes hence 10.20 plus)

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      I don’t accept that leaving at 10:20 is not commutable. I frequently (in fact, for several years usually, five days a week) left later than that. It leaves over half an hour to get to Waterloo for the 22:56 to Wokingham, with another direct train at 23:26. MPs only have Mondays as a late day

      What are the sitting (meeting) hours of the House of Commons?

      2.30-10.30pm on Mondays, 11.30am-7.30pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 9.30am-5.30pm on Thursdays and 9.30am-3pm on sitting Fridays.

      Paddington, Euston, King’s Cross, Waterloo, Charing Cross, Victoria and London Bridge are all under 15 minutes by tube from Westminster, and even Liverpool Street is under 20 minutes. That leaves a wide swathe of destinations that could be reached before midnight.

  37. Posted September 16, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    The bedroom charge will still be defended after this by MPs named? Have a go fantasists and give us a look at your peanut brains. When you come out in the open you are squashed. What does that tell you about yourselves. The UN investigation was very revealing of Tory thinking. LOL!

    • Posted September 17, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Denis Copper and the like as a prime example.Outraged at terms and little else.

  38. Posted September 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    I seem to remember that back in days when marriages were taken to be a lifetime partnership and men were the primary wage earners it was quite common for wives to take an active part in their husband’s job. The local policeman’s wife frequently used to answer the phone when people phoned the village police house. The doctor’s wife likewise if anyone needed help out of hours, while the vicar’s wife virtually ran the church. Nowadays many small businesses, plumbers, shopkeepers, builders, decorators, electricians etc rely on having a two person partnership, usually the wife, to act as ‘secretary’ and often book-keeper.
    I see nothing whatsoever wrong in an MP following that established and traditional way of life, especially with a job requiring considerable travel and ‘understanding’ from their spouse. Why should they not choose the person who understands them best to work in such a role?
    There must however be safeguards, such as a salary limit in line with private company rates, and a check that the person involved is actually doing a real job.

  39. Posted September 16, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    I would suggest that the budget for each MP should be in the region of £400,000 per annum, weighted by a mathematical formula according the geographical spread of the population in the constituency and other anomalies (it may be that the cost of travelling to and from Westminster and property prices balance each other out).

    This budget, which should increase or decrease by the same percentage change as national wages in the previous year, should cover all costs including staff and the MP’s own salary.

    Whoever they employ, whether it is their spouse, offspring or the man next door, should be a matter for them. However this information should be published (I believe it already is) so that their constituents can make the final judgement at the ballot box.

    reply That would be a large increase on the current costs. Why?

    • Posted September 16, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      I would take a guess that currently the MP’s salary + staffing allowing + expenses/allowances added together total around £200,000 to £250,000 pa (please correct if I am wrong).

      I have thought for a long time that MP’s salaries are far too low for the job they are expected to do and this will lead to poorer quality MPs and possibly corruption.

      I would prefer MPs to be earning roughly double what they do now whether they have other forms of income of not.

      Also, because of email and greater awareness of MPs and due to the increase in population, constituency work has increased. I would also like to see MPs have enough staff to deal with this.

      I would see this as coming to roughly £400K pa total budget.

      One caveat: if we do not claw powers back from Brussels then we should do the opposite and reduce MPs salaries in line with their reduced responsibilities.

      Reply The average MP claims £150,000 for office costs, salaries and expenses on top of the salary – so well under £250,000 as you suggest.

  40. Posted September 16, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Best move on and leave it to IPSA, at least its independent of MP’s but never going to be perfect.
    What I do find difficult to understand is why IPSA is so expensive to run. In the 70’s I worked for ten years for BP travelling the world – along with lots of other employees – the travel and expenses system seemed fair clear and simple. (Don’t know but I doubt it cost a lot to administer)

    • Posted September 17, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps BP should offer to take IPSA over? I suspect they could handle it at one tenth the cost.

  41. Posted September 17, 2013 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    I now work as a one man band. My work involves a lot of reading and quite a lot of writing. Even with the wonders of technology, I cannot do it all alone so employ my wife on an “as needed” basis, not least because I have to work to some very tough deadines.

    MPs are presumably bombarded with mountains of letters which have to be answered after investigation, as well as working to understand the matters on which they vote and comment.

    How can that job be done on the cheap? The public debate on this is poor. If there are to be fewer MPs, each MP’s job will expand. If we want cut price democracy, the job needs to shrink to Victorian proportions. That may be a good idea, but I doubt if the army of letter writers would agree.

    Reply It’s emails these days – as they are easier to do we get more of them than letters.

  42. Posted September 17, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    The first thing I think which bedevils this discussion is the inability to distinguish between the honorable MPs and those who are fleecing the system. The Press has been to blame for that and the public are to blame for not using their critical faculties to demolish the press vultures for their lack of rigour. I was almost alone at the height of the last scandal in stating that I was fairly certain that 400+ MPs had acted honestly where expenses were concerned.

    Clearly, the staff required depends on the nature of your constituency and the level of caseload which arises from it. Personally, I would be surprised if the MP for Kensington and Chelsea had a higher caseload than an MP in Hackney, although I am happy to be proven wrong on that. Therefore, it may be the case that certain MPs will need two staff working on caseload whereas most will probably only require one.

    It is not clear to me whether specific expenses can be assigned to work associated with Committees that an MP may be a member of. I would certainly expect a member of the Science & Technology select committee to spend time and money preparing professionally to interrogate witnesses. As a result, I would expect certain expenses in that regard to be filed separately.

    A member of the whips office may require more support in managing their constituency effectively than a back bencher without extra responsibilities.

    Where accommodation is concerned, again there may be discrepancies depending on the nature of the MP’s family. It may be the case that tenancies originally taken up in 2000 are cheaper in 2013 than those taken up in 2010, since the cost to the landlord is less.

    I remain to be convinced that the ‘second home’ needs to be a luxurious abode, nor is it a place for impressing mistresses, business partners, clients or the like. Its sole purpose is to provide convenient, local accommodation to the HOC. It should contain no more than 2 bedrooms, a functional kitchen, a living area and a small study, with suitable facilities for washing. It is not a family hotel either, since the State is not in the business of subsidising jollies for MPs’ families.

    If it is cheaper for the State to buy property for MPs to live in, so be it. But MPs should not profit from such activity, the State should.

    By far the best solution would be to relocate the HOC out of London to an area where accommodation costs would be far lower. No doubt Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester are already vying for the privilege. Perhaps the purpose of HS2 is becoming clearer?!

    As for relatives working, I have no problems with it, so long as an independent audit confirms that value for money is achieved. I suspect in many cases, more than value for money is delivered, however if cases of abuse exist, they should be rectified.

    Reply The current rent allowance would not allow an MP a 2 bed in Westminster! Bedsit more like it at current rentals.

    • Posted September 20, 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      If it is cheaper for the State to buy property for MPs to live in, Would this apply to social housing?

  43. Posted September 22, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    To answer your question
    a) an agent and a secretary/PA in the constituency to help with the caseload and answer constituency enquiries
    b) a PA in London
    c) a researcher to help you do your job in holding the government to account. this position would not be available for anyone on the ‘payroll vote’.

    I do sometimes wonder if each MP should have a deputy who would look after all the ‘social worker’ jobs MPs have to do nowadays, which aren’t in the official job description (representing their constituents in Parliament.) such as acting as unofficial ombudsman for constituents in their battles with councils, health authorities, government departments etc etc.

  • 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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