Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Brown's Expenses Measures Do Not Stand Up to Scrutiny

I have only just now had chance to read Harriet Harman's written announcement on MPs' expenses. Parts of it beggar belief and deserve further analysis. My comments are in blue.

To enable MPs to do their work representing their constituents effectively, there needs to be an allowance system. The public are entitled to be confident that that the allowance regime is fair and reasonable and effectively enforced.
Agreed. We can all agree on motherhood and apple pie.
The Prime Minister has asked Sir Christopher Kelly and the Committee on Standards in Public Life to look at all of the relevant issues involved in MPs' allowances as speedily as possible.
OK, so perhaps we should wait for him to issue his report? Or...
In the meantime the Government thinks it is right to bring forward reforms that can be enacted sooner.
So what was the point of his report then? I imagine he feels he has been made to look a fool.
We will therefore be asking the House of Commons to support the following proposals, which will reduce the cost to the taxpayer:

A. Flat-rate Allowance. We propose that, for MPs representing constituencies outside London, the Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure (commonly known as the 'second home' allowance) should be abolished and be replaced by a flat-rate daily allowance, based on actual attendance at Westminster on parliamentary and government business or the business of the Opposition frontbenches. This will be limited to the Parliamentary session or a maximum number of days.
So what about when MPs visit the Commons in the parliamentary recess? Most of them do. Is that not classified as working, just because Parliament is not in session? What will the maximum number of days be? What will the rate be? John Mann says £127.50 and others have mentioned £170. Which is it to be? Will MPs on foreign trips still be able to make a daily claim? They could legitimately argue they are on parliamentary business, after all.
There will now be no second home allowance or claims for food, furniture and fittings, fuel, mortgage interest, rent or council tax.
So the daily rate can be claimed by MPs even if they don't need it. How on earth can that be justified? One MP I know currently claims less than £8,000. Under this new system he will be allowed to claim up to £25,500 if the daily rate is £170 and the number of days is 150.
We will ask the Senior Salaries Review Body to set the appropriate level of allowance independently, comparable to those set by wider public and private institutions. The Committee on Standards in Public Life will want to consider these issues going forward, including the issue of taxation. Provision will be made for the long-term ill and maternity leave. The claims by each Member should be published annually.
All well and good, but this rather proves that this statement is jumping the gun.
B. London. For anyone representing constituencies within reasonable distance of Westminster, the Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure will be replaced by the London supplement, which already applies to inner London MPs. The Committee on Standards in Public Life will of course want to look at the current Green Book rules on this and the SSRB should report on the level of the allowance.
Might be helpful to define "reasonable distance". Travelling time? Distance? Practicality of getting home?
C. Grace and Favour homes. Ministers who for security or other reasons live in so-called 'grace and favour' homes will continue to pay council tax and tax on the benefit of living in this accommodation but will not receive this new allowance. The Committee on Standards in Public Life should be asked to report on these arrangements.
A statement of the bleedin' obvious.
D. MPs' Staff. In future all staff appointed by MPs without exception should become direct employees of the House of Commons, which would become centrally responsible for their employment terms and conditions, their contracts, and the payment of their salaries within the limit allowed - and will have the right to make an independent assessment of such contracts. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is examining the rules governing employment of spouses or other relatives.
Does this include staff who work for MPs but are actually paid for by their parties? Can't see why it should.
E. Full receipts. There will be a requirement for receipts for claims for all remaining transactions (for office costs, travel, and communications), including those under £25. MPs' claims will be subject to independent audit by the National Audit Office.
Good. Join the club.
F. Transparency of MPs' Second Incomes. The Prime Minister has already asked the Committee on Standards in Public Life to look into the issue of MPs and second jobs, in order to avoid conflicts of interest and to reflect the fact that MPs receive a parliamentary salary for a full time job. Meanwhile, there should be greater transparency.
And this means what exactly? The current system provides for full transparency.
This government has been the first to publish a list of Ministers' interests.

Where Members of Parliament have a second source of income from second jobs, irrespective of whether it is in their capacity as an MP, every payment shall be declared with a full description of who paid and what for. There shall also be a full declaration of the hours worked for the payment received.
This is known as the "let's get at the Tories" clause". The last sentence is preposterous.
G . Pensions. We have taken steps through the SSRB to reform MPs' pension arrangements. In the meantime, in order to contain the cost to the public purse, a proposal will be put before Parliament to increase the contribution required from MPs by around £60 per month for the current year and to extend the scheme's pension limit of two thirds of final salary to all scheme members for future service.
Big deal.
H. We will ask the Committee on Standards in Public Life to look at the circumstances applying in Northern Ireland before final application of the flat rate allowance for MPs representing Northern Ireland.
Outrageous. Are we United Kingdom or not? Do we want two classes of MPs? Betty Boothroyd declared that there is no Associate Membership of the House of Commons and she was right.

I hope that with the support of the whole House we could implement the majority of these proposals in time for 1 July. My Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister has offered to meet with the leaders of the main Opposition Parties to discuss them. The Committee on Standards in Public Life will report their views in due course, which of course we will consider seriously, but we should implement as many interim changes as possible without delay."

I have to say I think this is a deeply divisive political move by the Prime Minister. He is trying to force the other party leaders into a corner. They shouldn't fall for it. There are one or two sensible ideas here which can be worked on, but several of the proposals will not stand scrutiny and were clearly dreamt up in about five minutes. it won't take too much time before they unravel.

UPDATE: Nick Clegg has described the attendance allowance as "
Bringing the Brussels gravy train to Westminster is not the way to fix our expenses system". He's right.


Enlightened Despot said...

Two questions:

Without explaining its need, an attendance allowance looks - and has already been criticised as such - like an additional payment for turning up at their place of work. Who else gets that? Of course those who need to stay overnight should have an overnight/subsistence allowance - why not call it that and offer it to all MPs when the House sits after, say, 7pm and to others outside a reasonable travel to work area?

Do we assume the reference to Northern Ireland actually means "it's disgraceful that republicans can claim accommodation expenses for not turning up. This should screw them"?

Old Holborn said...

Wait until the receipts are published in July

To quote the Grauniad "The publication of all MPs' receipts is a time bomb waiting to explode in July. Government whips speak of the danger of byelections, and even suicides, when they are made public."

Can't WAIT!

FonyBlair said...

There is some pretty aweful stuff in here.

To be fair on teh grace and favour homes section you would have been the first to ask "what about grace and favour homes" if it wasn;lt mentioned.

Dan Hannan was on LBC this week and said let's have less MP's and of those that are MP's as many as possible shoupd be working in real jobs. He was almost suggesting thet MP's shou;d kepe well away from Parliament as much as possible, to stop meddling and only talk and vote on important iossues.

I'm inclined to agree...

Trend Shed said...

I may be a cynic, but after 12 years of spin and manipulation by this government can you blame me?

......... I think this announcement on expenses has been rushed through to grab the headlines and push today's IMF forecast that the cost of the bank bail out is £200 Billion out of the headlines. In spin terms, Gordon has been successful.

Such an ill thought out U-Turn on expenses, rushed out on You Tube and also pulling the rug from under the guy Brown asked to report on MP's expenses has all the hallmarks of Brown's "policy-by-spin" attitude towards governing the country.

Anonymous said...

But it will create a useful diversion from us plebs realising that we are up to our necks in the shite because the National Debt is about to overtake GDP when Alistair has to spill the beans on Budget Day

Allan said...

MP's already get paid a large salary to attend parliament it is outrageous that they should even consider a turning up payment. They should join the real world, I don't get a second home if I move because of my job, I may get a relocation allowance, but I would be expected to furnish my home and pay my bills myself.

Any allowances I claim have to be supported by a receipt and must be clearly work related, it is about time that Cameron and Clegg said that they would talk to the succesful private companies to see what their expenses schemes are.

While we are at it lets reduce the number of MP's and increase the amount of time they are sitting, I am fed up with the amount of time they are away from the commons. Your average person gets 4/5 weeks paid holiday it is about time MP's had the same.

Cedric P. Rothermere said...

The whole ill-thought-out plan, including the video nasty, smack of desperation. How long can he go on bumbling like this?

Anonymous said...

Typical of Brown & Co. What a load of piffle.

Anonymous said...

The written announcement says 'MPs receive a parliamentary salary for a full time job'. That may seem fine, until you consider that some MPs have jobs as Ministers. How can government minsters possibly claim that it is unreasonable for an MP to have a second job?

Anonymous said...

Isn't this all a bit of a constitutional outrage too?

It is not for the Prime Minister, or any party leaders for that matter, to decide on parliamentarians' expenses; it is for parliamentarians.

If The Speaker had anything about him, he would tell Mr Brown to get his executive tanks off the parliamentary lawn.

Jimmy said...

"Dan Hannan was on LBC this week and said let's have less MP's and of those that are MP's as many as possible shoupd be working in real jobs."

Never having held down a real job doesn't seem to have bothered Hannan too much before now.

Iain Dale said...

Jimmy, doesn't being a journalist on a national newspaper count?

Verity said...

Shambolic. Rushed out because they're feart. I know dogs who wouldn't eat this for breakfast.

Where's Brown's straitjacket said...

Having watched that horrific video and read these ridiculous pronouncements, one has to wonder where Labour's '3 wise men' have got to. Probably wiped out by Brown's henchmen.

hatfield girl said...

'There will now be no second home allowance or claims for food, furniture and fittings, fuel, mortgage interest, rent or council tax.'

Well, most people expect to use their wages for meeting these costs. And they don't expect to be paid a wage, and then paid an allowance for turning up at their place of work to earn it, either.

Anonymous said...

If MP's staff are employed by Parliament, what happens when an MP dies/is not elected/is sacked?

Is the taxpayer then liable for a nice big public sector redundo package for the employee? Or will the staff member be redeployed to the incoming MP?

I just don't see how this would work

Jimmy said...

I'm open to correction, but I understand he went from central office to write leaders for the torygraph before heading to Brussels. Private sector I grant you, but real world is a matter of opinion.

Jimmy said...

"Do we assume the reference to Northern Ireland actually means "it's disgraceful that republicans can claim accommodation expenses for not turning up. This should screw them"?"

Were I a betting man I'd wager it means precisely the opposite.

Anonymous said...

The only way for the expense issue to be cleaned up is if Brown calls an election asap i.e. June 2009.

This way a new house of Commons with many of the sleazy MP's defeated, retired can play no new part in producing a new democratic settlement. This can be incoperated with legislation to appoint an interim house of Lords.

Brown is just hanging on with no agenda for change, Expenses is another reason why Brown should go to the palace and call an election as a change in government can legislate to stop the sleaze of the past from effecting the politics of the future.

Surely Brown should have announced this in the commons as well?

Maybe Brown has done this as he can then draw some of the fire at PMQ'sd on the economy?

john miller said...

I despair.

It's like watching a robot where the programming has gone awry. The 'bot keeps chirruping and whirring but nothing sensible is coming out of it.

One just waits for the batteries to run out before approaching it, lest, like a partially lit firework, it blows up in your face for no apparent reason.

Sophia Pangloss said...

I share the same gut feelings as most when it comes to snoutroughism, but then I catch myself and worry -

what is an MP exactly? Is it really a job, just like what I do?

Or is it my itsy bit of a link to what's left of democracy, that wee choice, when there ain't any choice?

sealo0 said...

Is a second income a job?

If so anyone who rents out a second home has two jobs!!

William Blakes Ghost said...

Another little snippet to remember is that the Scottish Assembly had a rate of £115.85 (for London as of 2007).

Based on Iain's 150 days that would work out at £17,377.50.

Of course there would be no transparency. All the scrutiny currently possible would disappear. So dear Mr Timney could sit and watch his favourite films at the cost of the Taxpayer and no one would ever know.

Incidentally, if MSPs attend Parliament (Mr Salmond for example) could they claim both?

Bob said...

Clegg and Cameron should issue a joint communique on this, saying it is bollocks.

And issue a joint working party to meet and form a view.

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous, so they effectively are just rerouting the funds, thats all this is and Brown is obviously trying to head of something larger coming down the wire, the mp's expenses must have dynamite in them for him to do this, trouble is, THIS IS WORSE.

It looks like he is just laughing at the taxpayers and that video, that was weird like watching one of those suicidal teenagers before they hang themselves.

Ed said...

I work in the private sector and I get a very generous attendance allowance.

If I attend I'm allowed to keep my job, if I don't attend I lose my job. Simple really.

But I guess MPs are higher mortal beings and they need to be incentivised to turn up for work at all.

On pensions the honourable members get the opportunity of keeping their final salary schemes, with a small increased payment. That is a big deal Iain.

I long ago had to give up my final salary scheme (by a forced section 32 buyout which the regulators waived through) and am now on a money purchase scheme - horribly clobbered by Gordon Brown's £5 billion p.a. tax grab. I, and most of the country in the private (productive) sector, can now only dream of getting a 2/3rds final salary scheme.

And politicians wonder why there is so much negativity against them.

Unsworth said...

Desperate rag-bag of ill-considered measures thrown together by a crazed and frightened bully. No one in their right minds could possibly believe that this heap of ordure will in any way address the in-built venality of so many MPs.

It's not about 'rules', it's about principles.

Anonymous said...

OT - deep joy:


Anonymous said...

Brown is in panic mode.

He is being deliberately seperated from the herd of protectors, Macbride taken down, watson,, whelan, all sidelined, Balls is being dealt with now. Only a matter of time before Brown gets trapped by the lions away from the herd and they tear him to pieces. Classic wildlife survival tactics. Game over Gordo.

Anonymous said...

Typical Brown initiative - rushed, ill thought through and likely to be counter productive. Previous examples include the FSA, tax credits, Lloyds / HBOS merger and I’m sure others could add to that list. If you look at his career it is littered with second rate decisions more concerned with style than substance. I imagine from his apparent arrogance he thinks he’s very clever – but I suspect history is going to mark him down as a fool.

Anonymous said...

I find your blog interesting, informative and entertaining - Where I can read it! Light blue text on a white background does not work for people like me with poor eyesight. Could you try an different text colour scheme, please?

Verity said...

Jimmy - Daniel Hannan still has a regular job writing for The Telegraph.

Anonymous said...

I think we should call their bluff. Let's tell them loud and clear that we might consider allowing them to change the rules in this way but a prerequisite is confirmation that they will be back dated for the last three parliaments and financial adjustments will need to be made. Oh and btw adjustments in tax-payer's favour only.

After all it was this lot that overthrew centuries of legal precedent by making retrospective legislation and punishment legal. What's sauce for the goose ......

Anonymous said...

'Childprotector' -- Northern Ireland, No - the hint is they can carry on as usual.

Move into 'Danger Mode' - Brown has had another of his clever ideas.

Snake oil salesman Brown is reduced to peddling his way to get MPs and the nation to buy a pig in a poke. Well I think the cat is already out of the bag.

Tom said...

Does being a Minister not classify as a "second job"? Methinks Brown and Harman are using this review as an excuse to drag the Tories into their muck.

Unknown said...

This whole allowance thing is just a distraction. Look we know that every Gordon Brown budget (and be assured Darling is just a glove puppet here) has some nasty litlte tax rises hidden away. It takes a few days for them to sneak out. So guess what? He can sneak these out whilst the press pack are chewing over PMs trying to defend their expenses.

I liken it to throwing a guard dog a nice juicy steak whilst the burglar sneaks past.

Martin S said...

Full of holes, Iain, as you have spotted.

Here's a point

MPs' Staff. In future all staff appointed by MPs without exception should become direct employees of the House of Commons, which would become centrally responsible for their employment terms and conditions, their contracts...So, a worker for an MP who manages his office in his/her constituency in -say- Blackpool would be under the control of the House of Commons?

How would this work? Presumably they would be under the health and safety control of the House of Commons. Which cannot be right, as the House of commons could not have control of an office hundreds of miles away.

Also, if an opposition MP employs someone who becomes an employee of the government, how could he or she trust them to do their bidding and not the bidding of their employer, the government?

Dual Citizen said...

This is Brown trying to sweep the issue under the carpet.

However much the "allowance" turns out to be (let's say 20K):

1) Jacqui Smith could still claim 20K for lodging with sis.

2) Balls/Cooper and the Wintertons could claim 40K between them.

No receipts. No transparency.


Anonymous said...

If any of you Labour arceholes read this, you had better beware that Kim Il Browns solutions to the corruption taking place with MP's remuneration, is only going to make the public even more angry.

Tell me why you consider yourselves to be different to decent hard working ordinary people?

Tell me why you consider yourselves to be privileged considering you are an expensive cost to the nation, certainly not revenue generating?

Your crass inept selfish proposals continue to show MP's as slimeballs of the greatest order, there for your own benefit and gratification.

Millions of people, thanks to you lot, continue to lose their jobs while you continue,to fleece the nation; have you no shame or humility? I guess not or you wouldn't be politicians.

So lets hope, just like many of us, you all lose your jobs at the next election, but even then you're insulated by your gold plated pensions.

Even pigs don't have their snouts in the trough as much as you lot. You really are beneath contempt

Unknown said...

Browns proposals smack of the ultimate stateist Labour inspired solution. In essence it's a statement that all people should be treated the same, get a further fixed-ish allowance for having their jobs, plus everyone is employed centrally.
A better solution would be the complete opposite:
(i) continue to have staff employed locally
(ii) expenses and staffing costs paid for locally ( prcepts on council tax or whatever it needs to be ) so that local people / constituents can pay as much or as little for their MP and how much money he gets.

Any centralised system is open to abuse because it would be a 'one size fits all' system: but the central point is that it would further remove MPs from the people they are supposed to represent and make not just them but their staff clients of the new Labour inspired muzzled parliamentary system: lobby fodder for show.

Jimmy said...

"How would this work? Presumably they would be under the health and safety control of the House of Commons. Which cannot be right, as the House of commons could not have control of an office hundreds of miles away.

Also, if an opposition MP employs someone who becomes an employee of the government, how could he or she trust them to do their bidding and not the bidding of their employer, the government?"

Businesses manage it, it's hardly rocket science. This reform ensures that staff are paid properly and not abused by greedy employers. It will also ensure they're not expected to perform childcare duties (no names no packdrill).

I'd have liked to have seen nepotism addressed. I'm sympathetic to the employment of spouses/partners as otherwise they may not see each other but it's the only exception I'd make. This applies to all parties: if no-one else will employ your idiot child then the taxpayer should not be expected to.

Lady Finchley said...

Members' staff are cock a hoop about this - at the present time they are employed by the MPs which means they can pay as little or as much as they like, they have to beg for even a cost of living rise even though the salary allowance rises each year at the rate of of inflation. They have total control and refuse to recognise the union. The cleaners, clerks, kitchen staff, librarians etc at the House have more holiday time, access to occupational therapy, a proper HR department,a creche and an annual salary review that is enforced as well as being able to have a comeback if they are being forced out. Staff have no such protection. So central employment - bring it on!

The Remittance Man said...

I've got an idea. Instead of paying MPs a salary AND a bonus for turning up to work, let's calculate their hourly rate based on their existing salary. Then double it but only pay the bastards for those hours they spend in the working bits of the Palace of Westminster (the chamber, committee rooms and their offices - the bars and restaurants being "outside the pay zone"). This would encourage attendance at debates and committees and make the buggers reconsider their extended holiday hours.

Jon Harvey said...

If I was being very cynical I would propose that we put the business of being an MP out to tender in order to assure Value for Money from our elected representatives. Before an election - each candidate would have to submit not only a manifesto but also a business proposal for how much they would cost the taxpayer each year they serve as an MP. In this way - the electorate could vote for the candidate whose views ~and~ budget they support.

But as that is unlikely to happen - this is my proposal to add to the pot:

I would suggest that a large meeting including a wide cross section of front and backbench MPs, a peppering of external observers (including you Iain), representatives from membership of the major political parties, some senior civil servants, people with good knowledge of how expenses work in other parliamentary democracies (such as Germany, France, Netherlands etc) and others (??) - so that there is a rounded view of the issue.

Then this meeting should use a process that would allow all points of view to heard, debated, assimilated and synthesised (I favour Open Space: http://www.openspaceworld.org/ ) into a series of broadly consensual proposals. These would then have to be debated on and agreed by the House of Commons.

I know that this is counter to the usual approach to deciding a way forward (a small cabal of people are given the task to 'prepare a report' - and after numerous consultations, political manoeuvrings & machinations & deals - the contraversial and partisan report emerges which has already cost the taxpayer a lot of money) - but I just want a transparent and 'without prejudice' discussion to sort this whole bloomin mess out - for all parties - as it taints politics and corrupts democracy.

N18MER said...

With Brown there is always an ulterior motive. In this case, I wondered, why the rush? Especially as the Committee for Standards has been given a gee-up lately and told to get on with it.

The answer, it occurs to me, is to be found in the imminent publication of the damaging receipts in July. What Brown said in his Amityville Horror video yesterday was that he wanted the House to vote as early as next week. My guess is, that following such a vote Brown will declare that the crisis is over, and that the publication of receipts would be irrelevant, no longer necessary and out of context with the brave new world of MPs remuneration.

The Military Wing Of The BBC said...

The key point which every one seems to have missed is:
because if they are and they are to be introduced immediately, they are a massive increase in the pensions for all MPs and in particular all the Labour MPs who will lose their seats next year.

Since their "final salaries" will be increased substantially by the replacement of a non-pensionable expense with a pensionable daily attendance allowance.

THIS IS A LEG-OVER BY LABOUR MPS ON THEIR WAY OUT desperate to further line their pension pots.