There are signs that this big story about the expenses of the public sector is not going to stop at MPs. The Telegraph doubtless has more to say about what MPs have claimed for office costs and staffing as well as for second homes. Meanwhile the Sunday Times is working away revealing more about the claims that peers make in the Lords. I am told various local newspapers are now sending in Freedom of Information requests over Councillor and senior executive expenses and remuneration in local government. Doubtless some other media outlets, not to be left out, will be trying to find out more about the expenses, salaries, entertainment and travel for the quangocracy.
Never again will a politician be able to say with a straight face that there is no waste in the public sector. Never again will they be able to say all spending is essential, and targetted on front line services the public value. The answer to that is a luxury rocking chair or a fee for media training for an MP. These individual items may be small against the totals of public spending, but when multiplied out across the upper eschelons of the whole public sector they amount to large sums. Throughout many parts of the public sector there is a willingness to go on seminars and conferences, to hire consultants for work that could be done in house, to have extra senior staff and to spend more on IT in the hope of a solution. None of these things are wrong in themselves, and when done in moderation some may be useful. When done to excess they create serious problems in public budgets.
I assume the jolt to MPs as a whole from this story and the new rules being put in will lead to lower MP claims overall this year. Sensible people throughout the public sector would be wise to see that the same pressures could apply to them, and start to look at how they can also do more for less.
Meanwhile one or two of you have expressed worry about the idea of fewer MPs. I think we do need fewer, but with Parliament meeting more often so we each have more chance to make our points in Parliament in a timely and effective way. For much of the year I have to make my points on the website, because there is no Parliament to attend, let alone one with a debate where I could be called and make them in order. The idea of fewer MPs must not be a weaker Parliament. There should be fewer Ministers as well, and more opportunity to cross examine them. Above all Parliament needs more control over the timetable, so we can discuss what we want when we want to. The government should be able to pass its business, but only after scrutiny and when it has made its case to justify it to its majority.