Thursday, 2 April 2009

Final Word on MPs' Pay and Rations

Even I am now almost bored of the debate surrounding the thieving by MPs of taxpayers' cash. I think this will be my last post on this for a while, unless some new exposé stings me into action. I have read two interesting blog posts by others on the subject:

British Dude has an interesting article by JackArt. He makes some very good points, for example:

"The (current) rules achieve two ends... first they create a culture of entitlement amongst MPs, which is corrupting; and they poison the wellspring of debate, and they seriously reduce confidence in the political process."

He goes on:

"Unfortunately MPs have been allowed to appear to profit from a badly designed system. This is the New Labour way - design something in haste in response to the Baying mob, and then leave it half done."


"This is wasting time, energy and bile on a few quid for some porn, when it should be focusing on the real crime committed by MPs: failure to hold the executive to account over the savage assault on our civil liberties and the profligate waste of taxpayers' money on spurious "stimulus" packages by a government who is more interested in scorching the earth ahead of a Tory victory than actually "saving" the economy."

Where I differ with him is here:

"I am not interested in MPs expenses. I couldn't care less if an MP was enriching himself at our expense. Trying to stop money flowing to power is futile and pointless, and one shouldn't even try."

There is an important issue of principle here. Leaders must have integrity to be respected. We elect these guys to lead our Government, to lead our country to represent us at an international level. If they lose our respect because of their actions, either by doing stupid stuff or filling their pockets with our cash, then we should call that to account.

Nor do I agree with this:

"The idea that they only work when in Westminster is just laughable, and demonstrates profound, and frankly willfully chippy ignorance."

Some work hard. Some work less hard. And some are just fucking lazy, whether that is in Westminster or their constituency. I have seen this from the inside in a previous life. With virtually no scrutiny, there is a considerable cohort who do the absolute minimum and milk their over-generous allowances.

I also disagree with this:

"...if they are not paid appropriately, genuine corruption (altering the governance of the land in return for money) becomes more common. Like it or not, the kind of corruption common at the top of, say, the Italian system is rare here. £60-odd grand a year is not big money for a legislature..."

JackArt is right that in that UK political corruption almost does not exist. It's in the 0.00% range, unlike many of our European cousins who are all up to it. (Little aside - when working within the European Parliament many years ago, a few office doors down from me, there was a Greek MEP who never turned up ever and in fact rented his own European Parliament Brussels office - with all its facilities, free phone, free fax, free meeting space etc - to a Greek lobbying company! Un-fucking-believable.)

But here's the point: £65k in UK employment terms is a lot of money. It may seem like small beer for some of us who are doing well, but it's 2.5 times the national average wage. On just salary alone, MPs cost the taxpayer £42 million pa. Add to that MPs' expenses of another £93 million pa, and then pensions and so on and MPs direct costs add up to the thick end of £200 million. That is a number that needs public scrutiny and control. What other group of civil servants votes itself £200 million pa of taxpayers' cash to spend on themselves as they see fit?

And I have a problem with this:

"Removing "office" costs from MPs individual expenses will cost vastly more as any incentive to keep this down (the embarrassment of declaring it personally) will be removed."

I agree but this is not the best solution. Better to give them an allowance (I have previously suggested £75k rather than the overgenerous £100k as now) and let them spend it all if they want. The point is that it should be paid direct from Parliament to the named support staff, rather than go via MPs' pockets for them to fiddle.

Another problem is this:

"Removing any second homes allowance will necessitate a higher salary to enable the supporting of two homes."

Absolute rot. Give them a per diem or overnight allowance. They can do what they want with it: buy a flat, rent a flat, use hotels. That's up to them. But only pay them for the nights they actually spend in London on Parliamentary business. Viz salaries, see my comment above. Too many commentators are suggesting - egged on by MPs staring down the barrels of losing their fat 2nd home allowance - that MPs will need a pay rise. No other fucker in the UK is getting a pay rise right now. Quite the opposite. We're all down-sizing, many into having no job at all! Time for MPs to down-size too, and if that means getting rid of that nice 2nd home, paid for by the taxpayer, so be it.

And this point needs some comment:

"Any centrally owned flats for MPs will be more expensive than simply allowing a bit of mortgage interest."

This suggestion has been circulating in the media and on blogs for a few days. It is mad! Barking mad. What better way to waste more taxpayers' money than to fund a special hotel for MPs! Can you imagine how this budget would spiral out of control. Remember Portcullis House? The Scottish Parliament? The Welsh Assembly building? Incredible that anyone would suggest such a stupid thing when all they need is to join the real world and have a per diem or overnight allowance.

I find Luke Akehurst's view on almost anything very annoying, in the 'it's so irritating when those whose views you dislike often say something interesting and sensible' vein. His post on MPs' pay and allowances is part good and part bad:

The good:

"The basic salary MPs get is a good one compared to the vast majority of the population but derisory -even taking into account discounting it for an aspect of voluntarism/public service - compared to jobs of equivalent seniority (and in the case of Ministers scary levels of responsibility) - including the salaries of the newspaper editors getting sniffy about them."

And this:

"MPs need to grow up and stop pretending they can live the lifestyle of someone far better paid whilst publicly appearing to have a salary of only £64k. If they want the better lifestyle they need to accept the scrutiny that will come from having a salary proportionately bigger. Otherwise they should learn to live on £64k, which after all sounds like megabucks to over 90% of the population.

"They also need to take a good long look at their consciences and ask if the tax payer really ought to be paying for 88p bath plugs or £700 stereos. Whatever the rules say, I'd feel queasy and morally sullied if I claimed for either. The question they should ask themselves is "this will end up in the public domain by one means or another, how would a reasonable elector in my constituency view this use of their tax money?"

But Luke goes off message badly:

"The vast bulk of the headline "expenses" figures quoted in the press are not expenses at all - they are staff pay. When non-MPs fill in expenses claims at work we don't add a section for the pay of the staff that work for us....Most of the rest is legitimate - is anyone seriously saying MPs should pay for travel on parliamentary business, their office IT equipment or postage costs for casework letters out of their personal salaries?"

Luke, my dear Lefty, you miss the point: first, their allowances are overly-generous and second, they fiddle the fuckers and keep the cash for themselves - aka theft in every other walk of life.

This too is just wrong:

"MPs need a second home because we expect them to live half the week in their constituency and half in London. If a non-MP had an employer who expected us to live away from home half the week we'd expect to be able to claim the accommodation and subsistence on expenses."

No, Luke. For possibly 183 days this year, they need an allowance for staying in central London, not for the taxpayer to help them start a property portfolio.

Luke's conclusion badly misses the point:

"I would suggest that a quick solution is to find a "public sector comparator" - the Civil Service is an obvious one - and put MPs onto exactly the same expenses regime as the equivalent public servants, and allocate them to one of the civil service pay scales so their annual increments, pensions etc. are transparently linked to it, with Cabinet Ministers earning the same as the Permanent Secretary who reports to them."

The solution is to take control of the setting, administration and policing of their pay and allowances away from them. Poachers don't make good gamekeepers.

But I guess we all know what's going to happen. My prediction:

ACA goes. Overnight allowance comes in. MPs get pay rise.

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