This has become the new and interesting question this summer. A long summer break has been traditional, and used to pass without much comment. Maybe then people accepted that MPs worked crazy hours for the rest of the year when Parliament was in session, regulary going on to midnight or beyond, that they thought the hours evened out with the summer break. Maybe they thought Parliament was doing a better job then, or just did not think about it.
This year is different. The summer break is very long, but follows hard on the heels of a Parliamentary year when the gullotine has been used to curtail debates, with many debates on the economy and other crucial matters delayed or ducked on a regular basis. It occurs after Labour has introduced the half term breaks as well. There is a general sense of lack of value for money throughout the public sector, and a growing understanding of the public spending crisis, so it is no wonder more good questions are being asked about what MPs are up to.
As readers of this blog will know, I am working on a review of public spending both by central and local government. I am publishing bits of it here as I make progress, and will be sending proposals to the Shadow Chancellor. One of the main issues is public sector productivity, which has failed to keep pace with the private sector, or in some cases has gone backwards.
If we just take the case of MPs the decline in productivity coupled with substantial increases in the public sector costs of doing the job is at once obvious. In 1997 my productivity was cut by around one quarter by the Boundary Commission who took a large number of electors away from my seat instead of proposing fewer MPs. They could have made larger seats out of the ones that were below average in size, but instead decided to lower productivity by creating more seats. Since then there has been a steady reduction in the hours that Parliament sits and the hours available to debate the important big national issues. Whilst I can still ask questions, the chances of any sensible answer have been reduced substantially by spin oriented Ministers wishing to avoid answering. Since 1997 there has been a big expansion of the public sector payroll with more staff helping MPs to do their jobs.,
The truth about the job is that it is more than full time when Parliament does meet, as we need to cram a lot into relatively few days. Anyone diligent ends up working very long hours on those days. The rest of the time more than half the job is prevented by the lock out from Parliament. It’s a crazy way to run anything. It is symptomatic of Labour’s public sector – overmanned, inefficient and very expensive. This summer once again Parliament is a building site, as some necessary maintenance work is mixed up with “improvements” and “security” measures. Pity the poor taxpayer, as the people’s Palace is turned into an fortified camp, and as their representatives are driven away by the absence of debate and by the need for the builders to have some space.