Thursday, May 20, 2010

IPSA Is the Parliamentary Equivalent of a 'Failed State'

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has not made an auspicious start. It has packed itself with very highly paid staff, most of whom know nothing about the way Parliament operates. It's chairman, Sir Ian Kennedy, has become a hate figure among MPs.

So what, you may say. They deserve it. Well, up to a point maybe, but there is such a thing as natural justice, and there is such a thing as cutting off your nose to spite your face. Just mention the acronym IPSA to an MP or a member of an MP's staff and you can see their faces turn crimson within a few seconds. And it is easy to see why. They see a quango feathering its own nest and delighting in forcing MPs to wear hairshirts. They a quango stuffed with people who earn far more than MPs. They see an authority recruiting 3 press officers. This week, through a headhunter, it is recruiting a Marketing Manager at a salary of £85,000. Er, to market what, exactly? And at a salary of £20k more than the people it is supposed to regulate. Outrageous.

IPSA is only allowing MPs to claim 85% of the phone costs of their constituency offices or their mobile phones, or their staff's mobile phones on the basis that 15% of calls are either political or personal. MPs have to fund the difference themselves. As a consequence many MPs are now not contactable outside office hours through their staff as they have all had to give up their phones. Does that provide a better service to the public? Of course it doesn't. When one MP complained about it and ask if IPSA staff had to fund 15% of their mobile phones they were told, with a completely straight face, that IPSA staff did not make personal calls.

One new MP I know has been told that they will have to fund their constituency office out of her own pocket for the time being as systems are not in place to pay for it directly. This MP is not rich and wonders how on earth they will manage.

Yesterday, dozens of Conservative MPs met with seniro honchos from IPSA to voice their concerns. The meeting, I am told, rapidly degenerated into a slanging match. IPSA were told that they understood nothing about Parliament. It got so rowdy that it almost got to the stage where Police had to be called.

As a result, Labour whips decided to cancel their own planned meeting later on in the day, for fear that it might get out of hand.

What a state of affairs. Within 9 months of being formed IPSA has developed a reputation for incompetence worse than the original House of Commons Fees Office. And that takes some doing.

Some MPs are even talking of forcing a debate on IPSA with a vote on reducing its funding.

And they would have right on their side.

UPDATE: Tom Harris explains the pitfalls of the new claims system.

33 comments:

Alan Douglas said...

Well, now the MPs are finally finding out how we (their TAX-paying EMPLOYERS) have had to live under Labour-created systems of inspection and arbitrary box-ticking.

What ? They don't like it ? Let's hope then that when they ditch such over-prescriptive monitoring by "authority" they remember to reduce such burdens on the rest of us.

Yes, I live in La-La land, even WITH a change of government. We also need a change in the mentality of the ongoing rule-enforcers.

Alan Douglas

DespairingLiberal said...

Looks like it is behaving just as all other quangos have in recent years, eg, large salaries for jobs for the boys and girls, feather-bedding of staff, etc.

IPSA is an example of muddled constitutional thinking - "there is something wrong with the way MPs behave financially - so let's set up an outside body to regulate their eexpenses and fees". This is derived from the extraordinary obsession Blair/Brown (and to some extent Major) had with distancing government from all decision-making, leaving everything in the hands of either unelected quangos or private corporations.

MPs clearly need to regulate themselves better and the electorate can always kick them out and kick up a fuss, as they have done, if it doesn't go well.

Washing your hands of these responsibility issues by setting up overfunded and unaccountable external bodies doesn't fix the problem. It simply moves it out of reach of any public scrutiny or control.

This goes to every citizen (that's if we are citizens!) in this country, as almost every authority we now face in our daily lives is unaccountable.

R said...

IPSA was a disaster waiting to happen the minute Ian Kennedy was appointed.

Not sure what they were thinking really. His record on use of public funds when Chairman of the Healthcare Commission was, shall we just say, interesting!

Simon Gardner said...

Sounds to me like the general public will be completely on IPSA’s side.

Roger Thornhill said...

Come on, Iain, are you honestly asking us to believe that Labour have replaced an established organisation with a dsyfunctional, spendthrift, self-serving bureaucracy?

Now, please, do not stretch our credulity in this way.

North by Northwest said...

I do not understand why this is so complex.

The Parliamentary Standards Committee approaches Vodafone (or A.N.Other UK Top 10 firm) and the conversation goes like this.

"Hi, do you have an expenses policy for senior executives?"

"Yes, we do."

"Great, would you like to meet with us, we'd like to formulate our own based on yours."

"Sure, glad to help."

Bish, Bash, Bosh. Job Done.

As for office expenses, how about flat fee per constituent? We know how many constituents, we know the flat fee which at say £60,000 per MP office would be roughly £1 per year per constituent.

Suddenly that looks like remarkable value for money.

Instead this is all the worst behaviours of quangocracy and authoritarian Labour policy.

John R said...

North by Northwest has hit it raight on the head.

But I'd go one step further and outsource the whole thing to a FTSE100 organisation.

Put it out to tender, choose a company with a good qutomted system that will charge £x per head to take on the MPs. Set up the payment/claims rules as you wish them on their system and register the 650 money grubbers as pseudo-employees. No new seat warmers needed, minimal cost.

Gavin Gamble said...

Talking of Quango's....

Osama the Nazarene said...

IPSA is a LEGACY of liebor. Their answer to everything was either to commision a quango or bring in some draconian new law.

We are truly well rid of them and their quangocracy. The next step is for the coalition to start abolishing these quangos with considerable vigour. This also means salary cuts for the quangocrats!

R said...

"Sounds to me like the general public will be completely on IPSA’s side."

Possibly not by the time IPSA have to publish their own annual accounts though!

Kcila said...

Simon Gardener said: "Sounds to me like the general public will be completely on IPSA’s side."

Sorry Simon but are you from Planet Quango? I have no sympathy for snout in trough MPs but what exactly does IPSA need three press officers and a marketing manager for? The general public as you call it simply want value for money from its public servants whether they be MPs or otherwise.

MPs are ludicrously underpaid. To see IPSA bloated staff fill their boots this way has already made a mockery of the system. Nothing clean or fresh here.

I hope the Coaltion ditch it and Kennedy fast.

jamescbartlett said...

Why does any Quango need a marketing manager? Let alone one that is simply there to manage the standards of 600-odd people based in Westminster. Absolutely ridiculous and scandalous.

I have to agree with John R and hopefully more of these quangos will be shut or transitioned to an entirely private sector service. If it's worth doing, then there will be a private company willing to do it. If it's not worth doing, then well...just don't bother doing it. Easy.

Cynic said...

Another Gordon cock up

Sean Haffey said...

What we need is small government and simple rules.

NxNW has it about right, except look at best practice and then make it smaller and simpler. I want my MP focussing on what the constituency needs (which he does very well) and not on the minutiae of rules.

Tom said...

Nonsense. MPs hate IPSA. That's no surprise. But you should be wary of believing their sob-stories about having to give up their phones because they aren't willing to commit the personal expense for a phone bill.

If you choose to become an MP, you should expect to incur personal expense to fund your activities. Most MPs recognise that.

James said...

I've heard some absurd exaggerations before, but "having to give up" your mobile because a salary three times the national average won't stretch to paying £5.25 per month (15% of the current price from O2's online arm) for unlimited calls, texts and data? That really takes the biscuit. I pay more than that out of my own pocket, because my employer covers 0% of my bill - like most, I suspect.

It does sound as if IPSA is get another troughing quango with extravagant ideas which need to be culled, but it's hardly as if MPs are donning hair shirts - they've just been forced to take a few small steps back towards reality.

Richard Gadsden said...

DespairingLiberal sees the move to quango government as starting under Major, but it really began with the Next Steps Agencies under Thatcher in 1988. I'd love to see that whole trend reversed, with the vast majority of civil servants brought back under the direct control and accountability of Whitehall. Ideally, many more of them would be moved out of central government altogether, either to local government, to other locally-elected statutory bodies (e.g. new directly-elected police / health authorities) or out of the public sector entirely.

George said...

It does seem, that like all Quangoes and in accordance with Parkinson, IPSA has become topsy.

The way forward is for Clegg to include it in his bonfire of all the rules, inanities, stupidities.

And then start again.

Give someone a fixed budget for 5 years and a very short mission statement and let him implement. Savings undr budget are shared between state and org, provided mission is completed to acceptability.

Get a senior ex-military man to head and ex-officers, NCO's to manage.
Job done.

Richard Gadsden said...

It's not the MPs' mobiles that are the problem, but their staff's mobiles. Many MPs' staff are really badly paid for central London - they are often very junior positions that people take after university to try to improve their CVs. These people are on very tight budgets; the MP should cover the 15% out of his/her own (deeper) pocket, but there are probably tax problems with actually doing that.

Peter said...

Actually the Labour meeting with IPSA came first and was an even rowdier affair, and the Lib Dem meeting, also before the Conservative one, was much the same. The Conservatives behaved relatively well, I am told. But the fundamental pint is right - IPSA doesn't yet understand Parliament and it will have to learn quickly if it is to command the confidence of either MPs or the public.

Unsworth said...

"Some MPs are even talking of forcing a debate on IPSA with a vote on reducing its funding.

And they would have right on their side."

And the Left, too.

But IPSA is an entirely unneccessary edifice. The Fees Office, had it been run properly, would have been adequate. All that was required was decent management with some balls - and the ability to say No.

There's no indication that IPSA will have any more courage and ability than its predecesor - but it will cost a great deal more.

Wait till we get to the really difficult bit, that of setting figures for pay, pensions etc. Maybe we can expect to see MPs going on strike. The question then will be; Does that make the slightest difference?

DespairingLiberal said...

@Richard Gadsden, thanks for the correction Richard - I had forgotten "Next Steps", but thinking back now, I wonder if goes even further back, to Callaghan's obsession with extending Commissions into permanent fixtures. The fact is, all governments like the idea of the media being directed to some anonymous bunch of scruffy "non-civil servant" civil servants for answers instead of ministers. It isn't leadership and it isn't accountable. It wastes tax payers' money on a vast scale and it contains massive built-in corruptibility.

I totally agree with George and others here that all of the quangos and their ilk should be regarded as abolished and we should start again.

Having worked with Government "Agencies", I am also very aware that these are hugely over-staffed with over-paid jobsworth timeservers. Most of the work they do could be done by radically and I mean RADICALLY smaller staffs.

Gareth said...

The MPs knew this was coming they didn't have to stand for re-election.

I do agree on the marketing nonsense and nest feathering. It is the done thing in quango land and should be stamped on, hard.(Though, is it any difference from the Derek Conways of Parliament?)

When it comes to telephone calls you're comparing apples with oranges. The IPSA claims to not make personal calls whilst they insis that MPs should not make personal and political calls. The IPSA is quite reasonably excluding a proportion of telephone costs because they could be political. It is an arbitrary figure intentionally to dissuade MPs from abusing their expenses and one I can see no problem with.

MPs *have* shown they cannot be trusted. This day zero approach to battering the watchdog and educating them about the ways of Parliament is unsightly and unbecoming.


Sadly the simplest means to improve Parliamentary standards are ones they will never willingly go for. At its most basic - make us the watchdog.

A true right of recall for constituencies.(As opposed to waiting for Parliament to allow it)

Complete transparency on expenses - if you don't publish the claim you won't get it and things can only be claimed within 28 days of expenditure. Or, inkeeping with the decentralisation theme funding for MPs to come direct from constituencies rather than from Parliament. Get MPs bartering with their voters at election time for how cheaply they will do the job.

An alternative to the pay and expenses setup would be a block grant made on an annual basis spent as the MP wishes, with a full public audit of their expenditure. If they cannot manage a relatively small budget they are not fit to be in Parliament.

The Sibil said...

The IPSA was NEVER necessary! All that was ever needed was the strict but fair application of the same HMRC allowable expenses rules on MPs as applies to the rest of us.

What a waste of money!

Typical NuLabour.

Lauchlan McLean said...

£68,000 p/a and are whinging about having to pay for the occassional taxi before 11pm. They knew the rules would be tightened up in the new session to stop all the fiddling and thieving that had been the norm previously. If they don't like it let them stand down and join the real world and find a proper job.

Andy said...

IPSA also now require MPs to contribute 10% staff pensions from their staffing budget (previously it was paid centrally), whilst only increasing that budget by 5%. This means that if the MP is already using their entire staffing budget, which many are, their already not-very-well-paid staff will have to take a 5% pay cut.

Tony said...

One of the first actions of the coalition was mant to be the cancellation of all new quango appointments.

How can IPSA proceed with recruiting new members of staff?

they need to exist on a much reduced funding which will force a more economical approach.

For a start Kennedy's salary should be reduced to less than a MP.

IXION said...

Welcome to the real world.
Everyone who deal with govt funding gets treated with contempt, incompetewnce, arrogance and total incomprhension, about reality.

So Mps are getting the same treatment, I DONT CARE!

Lady Finchley said...

Of course all the ignoramuses are out in force on this as usual - people who know NOTHING about working in Parliament and think they are qualified to comment.

IPSA is beyond a joke. When a colleague told them that their boss was a Government Minister and didn't have the time to come to their 'initiation' session, the IPSA idiot replied 'oh so he doesn't come to London very often?'

And do tell me why an MP should have to pay for stationery used for work with constituents and then be reimbursed?

Of course as usual it will be the hard-pressed staff who will suffer most as staff budgets have been effectively cut. So we will either have to take a pay cut from our crappy wages or have two people do the work of three. When I complained to IPSA about this I got some mealy mouthed platitude. So, most of us who already work way past normal hours without overtime or time in lieu will be working even longer. Now what did David Cameron say about work-life balance?

And of course who will howl the loudest? The constituents who demand to be answered within 5 minutes of writing an e-mail. And for all those smart alecks who think we do nothing I spent the best of an hour on the phone with a distraught mother of a child with special needs who was being messed around by the LEA. An hour of advice, encouragement and sympahty from me but I should take a pay cut? Don't get me worng I love my work and I am only to happy to be able to guide people like this woman but I don't live on fresh air and neither does MY child.

And for all those idiots who say MPs shouldn't be doing this blame it on our coalition partners who long ago turned MPs into social workers and local councillors.

We are all fuming about this but then again I have to blame the MPs who just let this all happen. The only ones who challenged IPSA last year were the ones who were fighting to keep their wives in jobs. Nobody else paid attention and we, the staff all saw thing coming.

Welcome to my nightmare.

robfury said...

The main problem so far faced by IPSA have come from the MP them self refusing to change their laziness and closed minded ways,
If these mps read the information given to the rather than spitting there dummies out and crying that “everybody’s out to get me” they would find that the system is more or less the same, it's just that the rule’s are set for all to see and that they will be enforced, that the claims they make are open to the public, that (shock horror) it’s all done online and that they won’t be able to bully staff by walking in and demanding that things are passed (as with the old system).

In regards to IPSA staff and pay, everything will be published in June for all to see (along with all claims from mps) so then make your mind up as to they are blowing tax payer’s money.
Bare in mind that the board only get paid for the days they come in and are only there one day a week if that.

Many of the staff at IPSA are from the old fees office so they would have been paid anyway, the rest are on short term contract’s and IPSA will be doing a full review at the end of august as to staffing levels, so by all means cut funding for it but don’t go crying to them when it takes four weeks to process a claim.

Get you facts right before making reactionary comments, the only way this new system will fail is if at every turn the mp refuse to be part of it.
Yes change is a hard thing and a bit of a shock at first but you’re the one’s that need to win back the public and being open honest and fare should be your watch word’s.

Clearly you are one of the MP’ that feel the job is a privilege and that you’re not a public servant.
Welcome to the real world.

Lady Finchley said...

Robfury

You don't have a clue as to what you are talking about - no doubt you are employed by IPSA.

MPs never had to pay for office supplies out of their own pockets and then be reimbursed - do Council offices or commerical businesses? I think not.

Do your maths (and learn to spell while you are at it - it is b-e-a-r in mind not b-a-r-e in mind. Employees' pensions are now coming out of the staffing budget when they never did before.

And I have spoken to several new MPs who think that IPSA is pants so it is not just the old timers.

Sixupman said...

This whole sorry saga has arisen out of MPs not being given an appropriate salary and structured expenses. Their basic salary is insufficient for London/Home Counties employment coupled to constituency obligations.

At the commencement of a new parliament MPs should be given a'Float', drawn down and replenished as time progresses. That is what private sector operators do.

IPSA itself is, like all such, a self-perpetuating entity of feathered nests.

The train fare rule is one such nonsense, does the IPSA boss travel cattle class [I am one of 'the cattle by the way]?

Lady Finchley said...

I have just read that employees of IPSA will be getting performance related bonuses yet MPs are specifically forbidden to give staff bonuses - although of course they can't even afford to pay staff let alone give bonuses. Disgusting.