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.