Friday, October 27, 2006

MPs Expenses Non Scandal Rears Its Ugly Head Again

People didn't take kindly to my post earlier this week on face transplants and Margaret Beckett. Bovvered? Do I look it? Well, for those who had a collective sense of humour failure over that, get your teeth stuck into this.

Recess Monkey reports HERE that Margaret Beckett, our beloved Foreign Secretary, comes top of the list for the amount of her Parliamentary Allowance she spends on her staff. What the rascally monkey fails to point out that her Chief of Staff is..... her husband Leo. Maybe he works for free for all I know, but if she's top of the list of 656 MPs, shouldn't we be told?

While openness is good and we deserve to know how much our parliamentary representatives cost us, I do get sick of the usual tabloid insinuation that MPs 'trouser' £180,000 each. The papers always try to make out that all MPs are on the make and keep most of the allowances for themselves. Are they saying that MPs shouldn't have any research or secretarial staff? For the record MPs get paid around £60,000 - the rest is spent on office support, staff, travel etc. There are legitimate debates about acoomodation and travel allowances, but let's not be defensive about the fact that parliamentarians need to run an office. Most MPs employ the equivalent of between two and three members of staff and have to rely on the voluntary efforts of parliamentary slaves interns. The level of their salaries are structured by House of Commons rules, not the MPs themselves. They do not have a free hand. If they employ more people they have to find the funding themselves. There are many imperfections in this system, but when I started working in the Commons in 1985 I was working a 60 hour week for £6,000 a year. The whole of the secretarial allowance in those days was £12,000. At least we've come a long way since then.

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

Petty cash!
Take a look at Brussels-in particular the Euro supporting Tory ones.

Peter Hitchens said...

Iain
When you get elected I promise to send you £5 a week to help keep you going.

Anonymous said...

Iain - M.P.s decide every few years wether to allign their pay with, typically, senior civil servants. M.P.s also decide the 'process' for determining their expenses.

It is entirely correct therefore to say they decide their own pay and allowances, if indirectly.

They also recently voted to enhance their own pension provision from 'generous' to 'outrageous'. Paid for with public money of course.

All expenses can be claimed without receipts, which would be unthinkable in the real world. When the Scottish parliament recently moved to receipted expenses the total claim dropped dramatically.

One of the less well know scandals is the money available to retiring or defeated M.P.'s. The amounts are truly staggering and large sums can be claimed after only a few years memeberhip. And they say being an M.P. is an honour.

This whole process is a disgrace and is a major contributor to voter apathy. M.P.'s have only themselves to blame if they are thought to be on a gravy train. They've got the gravy and the meat and the veg.

Iain Dale said...

Anonymous, I agree with you on receipts and pension provision. The system does indeed need to be changed.

UK Daily Pundit said...

We assume they're on the make because a number of them are. Until a standards board of non-parliamentarians is set up to oversee the conduct of MPs, including a detailed analysis of those expenses claims which are clearly fraudulent, a number of MPs will continue to pick our pockets at every opportunity.

Blamerbell said...

On much firmer ground with Beckett here Iain.

Even some of your fellow Tory bloggers thought you were a bit harsh on her in one of your other posts.

You can read about that here:
http://blamerbellbriefs.blogspot.com/2006/10/tory-blog-tiff.html

By the way, I've now linked to you and would be grateful if you could link back to me in your Welsh section. Ta!

BB

The Druid said...

Members of Parliament should be well paid. 60K is not much frankly for such a responsible job. Their pay needs to be review upwards. Double it. That said I would have a strict ban on outside interests that were paid. No directorships etc., until after retirement.

Before anyone gets on their high horse and starts whinging about "snouts in troughs" remember that poor salaries means the incidence of MPs who either crap or corrupt will go through the roof.

barancle_bill said...

I do not consider myself an old codger, but I can remember a time when it was considered an honour to serve as an MP.
Also I also think that if we had MPs on the minimum wage. We might have politicians who are in it for their beliefs, rather than their bank balances.

Chuck Unsworth said...

Interesting that some seem to think that MP's should be paid lots of dosh to stop them from being corrupt. I think everyone should be paid on that basis. I can do corruption along with the best of them, so maybe the taxpayers better start writing large cheques for me, too.

As to MP's being 'responsible', well, what for exactly? When do they actually get held to account for their venality or stupidity? Seems to me they've got pretty good job security compared with most people, the pensions are sewn up nicely and they keep getting raises every year. Just how bad is that?

Og said...

Any reason why the annual percentage increase in expenses should be three to four times inflation?

Anyone know the percentage increase figures for the past few years?

What the public finds hard to swallow is that the annual increases always seem to run so much higher than their own pay scales.

The Druid said...

How often do you hold government to account Chuck? And how much legislation are you responsible for? Zip at a guess.

And 'honour' doesn't pay bills.

You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Which evidently suits most people so they can complain about how awful MPs are. No wonder this country is going to ruin. The people have the politicians they deserve.

Chuck Unsworth said...

Does The Druid seriously believe that more money = greater integrity? On that basis the convicted Enron criminals (but one example) are all extremely 'honourable men'. And what about the ongoing investigation into purchased peerages?

Any damn fool can vote for a piece of legislation put together by Civil Servants and lawyers. Doesn't exactly induce brain damage does it? Any damn fool can get up on his/her hind legs and spout off in Parliament - many of them do, when they've got nothing better to do, like sorting out their finances, remortgaging their second or third homes etc.

I'll be seriously impressed when I see Parliamentarians putting their minds to withdrawal of the endless proscription and legislation pouring out of this (and, to be fair, previous) government(s). I'll be even more impressed when they actually put their hands up and say 'Sorry, we got that wrong. We'll repeal that law' Any chance of that? The statute book continues to grow exponentially, and yet we can't even implement or police previous legislation. In any event, Parliament is rapidly becoming irrelevant, what with European legislation taking precedence.

Cinnamon said...

60k is that all? That is very low and imho leaves politicians open to having to take on 'extra work.'

I don't understand why the small amount of expenses is such a big deal, should MP's rely on 'donations' or 'loans' instead, like the political parties do at the moment? (brr)

Cinnamon, who thinks that if we want democracy we ought to be prepare to fund it in a clean way without making politicians rely on handouts.

Anonymous said...

Surely the real question is why there have to be 660 of the buggers. No other country needs anything comparable per head. Sack three quarters of them and then we will see if there is money for the assortment of allowances currently lavished.

Anonymous said...

The House of Commons has 646 members. It is worth mentioning that members of the House of Lords do not get salaries and have a derisory research and secretarial allowance. This explains why the cost to the public purse of a peer is less than one-quarter the cost of an MP - and less than one-tenth the cost of an MEP.

The Druid said...

Institutions are only as good as the people you have in them.

I think that we should have the brightest and the best in Parliament. So in order to make it attractive you offer proper money, and then stop them from acquiring outside interests, jobs etc. Under such circumstances, I think it not unrealistic that MPs work in Parliament for the people, not themselves.

The peerages scandal looks increasing like corruption. There is surely something seriously rotten with a constitution where a man can make a "charitable" loan/donation and with a nod and a wink find himself with a seat for life in the legislature? There is now no alternative to a directly elected upper house.

Chuck: You are right about the EU. 80% of our laws flow in from this binge legislature. My view is simple. Out. Time to give their lunatic laws a miss and get Parliament running our country again.

Man of Kent said...

The Additional Cost Allowance (ACA) has been used quite extensively to make vast gains on properties that they have bought using this allowance. The ACA should not be available to London MPs but the lack of rules surrounding the ACA has allowed London based MPs to claim that their newly acquired holiday cottage is in fact their new principle private residence and therefore get the mortgage paid for. If they tried the same trick with HMRC they would end up in jail for fraud.

There are so many other instances of MPs "filling their boots" by employing family members, buying rail tickets for mistresses etc etc.

How can they be expected to represent us when the tax rules that apply to us do not seem to apply to them ?

Final part of the rant, why are the costs of MPs going through the roof when the majority of legislation comes from the EU ?

Danvers said...

Some very sensible suggestions made here so far, and I agree with your basic argument. Having always had ambitions to stand for Parliament, I am not sure that, if elected, I could afford to take the pay cut it would entail (especially since having children - schoolfees 'n' all), unless I was able to keep working to a significant degree in the private sector. Contrast this to the US Congress whose members are well paid and have spacious offices in the Congress building (I got shown around once, and it is really like it is in the West Wing) as well as properly staffed offices (often plural) in their constituencies.

Anonymous said...

The druid's comments reflect the shallow thinking of those arguing for election of the second chamber. The 'loans for peerages' scandal do not make a case for election - the crisis arose because the system actually worked and the peerages blocked - any more than some MPs misusing their allowances makes a case for not having elected MPs.

Anonymous said...

politicians are just like nappies. They get changed for the same reason.

Pedant said...

Worth the money or not (and on balance probably not) our MPs do an awful job of persuading us that we need what they actually deliver, not what they are supposed to deliver. If they provided what they ought, instead of the circus they do provide, no one would begrudge the money.

Pedant said...

In reply to Danvers, why the hell should we pay to indulge you? That's what the job pays. If it's not enough don't apply.

The Druid said...

Anon 4:22 - The system didn't work because we have peers who it seems got their peerages employing all the best tricks of football managers - a bung here and a tap there. The problem is that once in the Lords there is no way of removing them. But with elections we can of course boot them out come polling day. As Churchill said democracy isn't perfect, but its the best system we have.

Noel Slevin said...

Iain, firstly I should correct you - there are 646 MP's in the Commons ;)

However, you make a perfectly reasonable point - we want MP's to run the country, but we don't want to give them the money to fund their offices to help them do their jobs. So what if my MP spent £150,000 last year, and £15,000 on postage? There's nothing wrong with them sending letters to their constituents; similarly, we can't expect Angus MacNeil to fund all of his travel by himself, it is actually quite expensive to travel to and fro between Westminster and the Western Isles.

With regards to Margaret Beckett, do you think we should allow MP's spouses' to run their offices, or is there too much danger for underhand dealings? I would say it's being a little too prescriptive, but I wonder what other people would think.

Chuck Unsworth said...

At the risk of personal calumny 'school fees and all'?

Blimey! You do get some toffs in here don't you? What percentile of the population can afford to shell out that kind of money, eh?

And how does that kind of stipend relate to the 'minimum wage'? Yes indeed, there are quite a few who would be really pleased to scrape along on half of an MP's pay and perks. But then maybe they're not solicitors or architects or quartered in Kensington.

Does this constitute some sort of wind-up?

Anonymous said...

Iain,

Spot on mate!

Shotgun said...

I'll never forget how Becket used to be defended against any and all negative comments by a couple of people, can't remember their names, on the UKpolitics forum on Compuserve...yes, it was that long ago. One of the people that used to defend them went to jail for fraud and the other had a Damascean revelation and turned against her and hubby.

He started out by defending because becket and hubby were peoples people and worked tirelessly for the workers, then ended by saying they were leeches who fed off the workers and had the biggest pensions pot of anyone they knew.

Maybe she is just now preparing for retirement or whatever, but one thing is certain; she is paid way above her abilities and has never been anything but a second rate back bench MP who is only in her position to bolster Bliar and as Bliars whipping girl.

Shotgun said...

The Druid said...

Members of Parliament should be well paid. 60K is not much frankly for such a responsible job. Their pay needs to be review upwards. Double it. That said I would have a strict ban on outside interests that were paid. No directorships etc., until after retirement.

Before anyone gets on their high horse and starts whinging about "snouts in troughs" remember that poor salaries means the incidence of MPs who either crap or corrupt will go through the roof.


Bollocks...the more they are paid, the more they rely on patronage, the sleazier they are.

The richer they are the better, and keep the wages low to ensure only those who wish to serve go into politics.

Shotgun said...

As to MP's being 'responsible', well, what for exactly? When do they actually get held to account for their venality or stupidity? Seems to me they've got pretty good job security compared with most people, the pensions are sewn up nicely and they keep getting raises every year. Just how bad is that?

Bliar might be held to account yet...his place in history might be in jeopardy and that would be devastating for him.

jafo said...

Sorry to appear like a common pleb, as there's obviously some very well-heeled types posting here, but the vast majority of the population don't regard £60,000 a year as a low salary! Nor do I buy this "got to pay lots of cash to get the right people" argument that doesn't seem to apply to the British Army, teachers, nurses, firefighters, ambulance people and the Police - not to the tune of £60,000 basic wage, anyway.

But, to be honest, it's not the basic pay I object to but the humungous expenses without any check on whether the claims are true or fraudulent.

Claiming around £20,000 each for the "extra house" (Additional Costs Allowance) - and saying it's "within the rules". Why aren't receipts required? What additional cost has Tony Blair got with the Sedgefield house, when he lives free at Downing Street and Chequers? What about Margaret Beckett's claims, with previously the free flat at Admiralty House and now the Foreign Secretary's house in London AND Chevening?

Then there's the travel - Eric Joyce claimed £45.000 in one year for travel between London and Falkirk - obviously not a fan of the budget airlines! But then why would he be, after all, the taxpayer is picking up the tab.

No offence Ian, but the fact is that huge numbers of people want to be MPs, and whereas many may well be acting from the best of motives, it doesn't seem that this "low salary" is putting anyone off, does it? On the principle that the Government works on - for other people, of course - there's no need to pay any more money because there's no recruiting problem!

Gracchi said...

No Chuck actually it doesn't- take a cheif executive of a FTSE one hundred company who employs directly say 500,000 people- he will probably earn around a couple of million- with share options, with bonuses and have a couple of nonexecutive directorships. Our Prime Minister earns around 150,000 pounds and can't do any other job but has a nuclear button under his hand and controls the destinies of 50 million people.

Oh and as for what MPs do afterwards- I once saw a fascinating program about where MPs went after 1997 and the Tory disaster that year. They followed one guy who had a city career who went straight back into it. But another MP who had fallen to the Libdems in the South West had been a teacher and was unemployable after losing his seat- reduced to the dole. Not sure it is so cushy afterwards unless things have changed.

Colin said...

uhdqpcoqwmzhixit1. Abolish all office allowances etc paid to MPs, and allocate staff to them, such staff to be employed by Paarliament and paid standardised rates. That stops the Leo Beckett-style fiddles that go on, prevents family members getting on the gravy train and MPs employing their cronys and favourites - anyone remember Betsygate?
2. Increase the salaries of MPs considerably to c. $90-100k and bar all outside earnings - and accept that MPs should be well-paid.
3. Reduce the number of MPs considerably - by maybe a third - and thus reduce their staffs and total costs. This small country has more blood-sucking politicians per square mile than almost anywhere else when MPs, MEPs, MSPs, AMs, County, borough and district councillors are taken into account.
4. Put the issues of parliamentary pay, resourcing (staff etc) and allowances into the hands of an independent commission with a strong audit function (checking that travel claimsd was actually incurrd, that housing expenses are real and not paying off mortgages, often non-existent, etc) and publish the results. At the same time, establish norms for each constituency in terms of planned travel expenses etc and measure the amounts claimed against those norms to identify excessive expenditure.

We need to attract good people into Parliament and pay them adequately; but they have to accept that being in receipt of public money make sthem more accountable than most people, and that transparency shuld be mandatory not voluntary. No one should be making money from expenses - they should be paid to cover actual costs incurred.

None of these steps are difficult, onerous or likely to stem the permanent queue of people applying to be candidates and standing at elections. They are common sense and deserve implementation. Which party will be 'courageous' (thank you, Sir Humphrey) enough to do so?

Tim Worstall said...

'The whole of the secretarial allowance in those days was £12,000. At least we've come a long way since then.'

Some hundreds of millions so I hear.

You consider this an advance or a retreat?

'Members of Parliament should be well paid. 60K is not much frankly for such a responsible job. Their pay needs to be review upwards. Double it.'

Wages are set by markets. There are at least 10 (OK, three or four serious) applicants for each job as an MP.

They're paid too much. Ministers are even worse, of course.

Chuck Unsworth said...

God, this is turning into fairly hard work.

Gracchi, I'll take your word for how much Blair 'earns'. But I really don't believe he's doing this out of a sense of benevolence. He sought and got power. The 'responsibilities' that you mention are what he actually wanted. Why, clever lawyer that he is, did he not go and work for some City firm - maybe like that Cherie Booth woman, who seems to be milking it for everything that she can?

My complaint is about the lack of integrity shown by so many of these monkeys. Maybe some think that Blair is a Paragon - in which case perhaps he'll set an example by opening up his accounts for all to see, including his claims for his residences etc. What chance is there of that, eh?

If it's accepted that the Prime Minister should, as Chairman and Chief Exec of UK plc, be paid bundles more cash then OK, let him operate under the same terms as these 'captains of industry'. If he doesn't perform the shareholders (i.e. the taxpayers) can turf him out at an AGM. And none of this four years in power stuff.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think the City guys are any better, but I certainly don't think that politicians are all models of virtue - very far from it. I guess the numbers of politicos with real probity and decency could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Anyone care to start a list?

Sadly it's true. Blair does have an effect on the lives (and deaths!) of many - more's the pity. That he and his colleagues should treat the slaughter in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere with such casual disdain is a matter of national shame. That they can not even run the country properly is a disgrace. No Chief Exec running a business in this way would have survived for nine years.

Shotgun said...

Gracchi said...

No Chuck actually it doesn't- take a cheif executive of a FTSE one hundred company who employs directly say 500,000 people- he will probably earn around a couple of million- with share options, with bonuses and have a couple of nonexecutive directorships. Our Prime Minister earns around 150,000 pounds and can't do any other job but has a nuclear button under his hand and controls the destinies of 50 million people.


How many top FTSE company directords are put in position by virtue of pulling the wool over the eyes of a bunch of people who in reality don't know the slightest thing about anything? This is a vacuous analogy that bears no resemblnce to reality.

That company director may be out of a job if he messes up just once, but Bliar, having fucked up the futures of millions, will get onto the gravy train once he leaves office and never look back. What will he pay for his mess ups?

If they go into politics, they should go into it to serve, not to make money.

Intrigued said...

What I don't understand is why Scottish MPs top the list but have less work to do as MPs since devolution.

I've been intrigued why that lines has not been picked up on.

Anonymous said...

Seeing as most constituencies have at least 4 candidates at every election, and many have 10+, there is obviously no lack of people willing to be M.P.s on the current rates. Where is the evidence that we are missing out on candidates?

But, you say, they're no good. We want, erm, business men. Yes, business men. No, not business men 'cos they're rich. I mean lawyers. No, not lawyers 'cos they're toffs. I know, more ordinary people. People who earn less than £60k.

There is absolutely no evidence that we're missing out on 'good' candidates because of the pay. What the current M.P.s want is mediocre people for top rate pay.

CityUnslicker said...

Colin has it spot on. The main issue in my mind is that the allowance is for paying wives, kids and mistresses to do alot. I fyou gto by on so little once Iain think where the rest of the MP's allowance as going.

The key is to have central resources that the MP's can use and then reduce their allowances to subsistence needs.

Just like in the real world.

Lady Finchley said...

The only one of you who has spoken ANY kind of sense is Colin. Having worked in the House for some considerable time I am more than qualified to argue the toss here.

I agree that staff should be paid independently AND be paid market prices. At the time they are not. One should not have to have an inferior standard of living because they serve. While there are some relations who are paid disproportionately for the work they do and in some cases, don't do, most of the wives I know who work for their husbands are extremely hard working and deserve every penny. Having said that, we must be open to scrutiny so that those who don't are exposed.

As for both staff and MPs we put in a great deal more hours than most and are always on call. The lack of money for staff means that older, more experienced workers are effectively barred from taking jobs because they do not pay enough to cover mortgages, children etc. Age discrimination by default.

Since I first started working in the House the demands of constituents have grown tenfold. The MP is expected to solve everything from wheelie bin collection to deciding national policy. Constituents frequently want to vent, many have serious problems which have grown since Government failures such as Tax Credits, the Child Support Agency etc. Then, there is immigration. No matter what an MP's views on it are, they MUST take up the case of any of their constituent who asks. Immigration cases take a huge amount of time and manpower. It is no secret that it is the staff that does a lot of the leg work - if they didn't, the MPs would never be in the chamber and would never be deciding any national policy. They'd be glorified council and social workers.

I really do resent the notion that MPs don't work hard for their money - the majority do and this stupid argument comes up every year when the figures are relased.

The money to fund the running of the office is insufficent and we can only afford second rate equipment which constantly breaks down and costs us dearly in terms of time.

What I would want changed is the fact that many MPs are NOT automaticlly passing on to their staff the cost of living rises that they receive each year. If staff were employed centrally and not by the MPs this would not happen. The MPs don't get to pocket any thing that may be left from the staffing allowance nor does it roll over to the next year so I can't imagine that this does them any good then to show the public when these reports are released each year just how economical they are.

There are many MPs which do not have any paid outside interests and they are usually the ones who hire family members. If you want to stop outside business interests and the hiring of family members then you have to pay them more.

As far as postage and writing paper go, how are we supposed to contact constituents - thru smoke signals? Nevertheless I do suspect that many use postage etc for political purposes and it is very difficult to catch them out at this.

I do agree with everyone about the second home in London thing. If you have a London constituency in which you live then you commute liek the rest of us. How absurd to have a constituency home in Hendon and then one in Westminster.

No doubt you'll all be up in arms but you have just heard it from the horse's mouth - not the horse's ass!

Anonymous said...

Druid's comments are fairly typical of those who comment on the basis of lack of empirical evidence. Nor does he appear to understand the normative argument for assymetrical bicameralism. A single elected chamber facilitates accountabilty to the electors; two elected chambers divides it and favours parties and special interests. As for the discussion on MPs' allowances, it masks the fact that parliamentary staff - research assistants in particular - are poorly paid. I agree that it would make more sense to pay them centrally.

Westmorland Activist said...

There is a complete spectrum of MPS from complete wasters to those who are too consciencious for their own good health. I have seen both and it is pretty obvious that the average elector has little idea as to where their own MP lies on the spectrum. A skiver is being well paid for nothing but a workhorse is grossly underpaid.

Err yes, MPs should write to their constituents when they have something productive to say. But there are many MPs who spend more on postage than it would be legal for their oponents to spend in an entire election campaign. Sorry, that CAN'T be right.

I think all elected representatives should be reasonably rewarded - well as a long suffering District Councillor I would. However, I just don't buy the idea that the more you pay the fewer monkeys are recruited. Our own party's A List would suggest exactly the converse.

Anonymous said...

Lady Finchley, I agree with you. I am currently an intern, I work for an MP for free. However, as I live in Greater London, the MP pays my tube fare for me. If he didn't do this then I wouldn't be able to work, I would actually be losing money.

MPs do work very hard, regardless of what people say, many of them work all day, all evening and at weekends. Once you have included constituency activities, lobbying, any all the other elements that make up the job, it is a hugely time-consuming task. And there is an increasingly large amount of constituency work to do, as well as issues to vote on. Chuck forgets that there are very complicated issues debated in Parliament, which means that MPs do need to take the time to try to understand them. And where do people suggest that the funding for things such as stationary comes from? If MPs never replied to constituents, then that would defeat a large part of the point of them being there!

If we do not pay MPs enough, then they will have to take other jobs (as I know that many do) reducing the time that they have to get to grips with national issues or help constituents.

Lady Finchley said...

Anonymous Intern -

We simply could not do our work without you (our own intern is a treasure) and though it could be said that you are having the opportunity of a lifetime it certainly is not something you could afford to do for any length of time and why should you have to? There are few other 'businesses' which relyso heavily on 'slave labour' so why should MPs have to?