The work of an MP – running the complaints department


The biggest category of incoming emails from constituents other than lobby based campaign emails concerns poor performance by various parts of the public sector. The MP is the person individuals turn to if their benefit is wrongly calculated, if their tax demand is too high, if their passport or visa is causing problems  and if the government is being unfair on their business. The MP is also often the person they come to when the mistake is made by the local Council. MPs get a lot of work about social housing, planning, social care and local licencing, where Councillors are in some ways better placed to take the matter up and demand improvement or apology.

One of the features I like about the UK system is the local MP, with one member for each place. He or she has every reason to want to help a constituent, and the role of the MP is understood by most people in the public sector who will wish to co-operate with his enquiry. The simple rule all MPs follow is we only take up the cases of our own constituents. Chaos would result if MPs started picking and choosing which cases they took up from a variety of different constituencies. We are motivated to help our own constituents, and the system understands the MP’s right to make demands on behalf of those he or she represents.

There is always a difficult question over how much an MP should get involved with Council matters. Take no interest and some will allege you are  not doing the job. Take too much interest and you make yourself a nuisance to elected Councillors who have powers from their office  to demand papers and require answers from local officials which  MPs do not have. It is always a good idea  to find a working balance. I wish to see stronger local democracy, so it is important not to try to swamp it by too constant a presence and too much attempted interference.

Some people also wish MPs to help them sort out complaints with private sector companies. MPs have no special powers to do so and no privileged position, in the way we do with national government through our right to question and demand of Ministers. Parliament can fire the Minister if all else fails. However, Parliament does have some powers to summon and expose wrongdoing or bad practice  by large companies through its Committees, so there may be occasions when an MP letter can help.