Tuesday, 21 April 2009

What the world's been waiting for


Just appeared on the Number 10 website: Gordon Brown announces proposals for a radical overhaul of MPs' expenses.

I'm particularly pleased by the plan to make all staff employees of the House of Commons, which is something I've been arguing for for a long time. Not sure how the attendance allowance thing would work out - I've voted against such measures in the past as if someone has a modest flat in central London it's going to cost them the same regardless of whether they're there three nights a week or five. There's one particular MP I know who has a marginal seat, a very long journey to the constituency and a young family there; he would lose out under these proposals because he tries to spend as much time in his constituency as possible, whereas someone who only occasionally visits their constituency might gain. And the bit about second jobs will really put the cat amongst the pigeons for the Tories! Will Gordon be able to achieve a cross-party consensus on this before next week? I suspect not.

"Going round the country I have been struck by the comments that are made by young people when I meet them about the jobs they want to do when they grow up. I meet large numbers of people who want to be doctors and nurses, many who want to be teachers and firemen and ambulancemen and many who want to be in the caring services. And when I ask them why they want to do what they plan to do, they say because they want to make a difference.


But these days I rarely meet anyone who wants to be a Member of Parliament when they grow up and that is a shame, because I think MPs can make an enormous difference to people they represent - whether its voting for laws that improve the whole of the country in or whether it is fighting the cause of a single constituent who needs your help. And we need future generations of committed young people to come into politics.

Now the vast majority of MPs I know do an excellent job. They are in public service not for what they can get, but for what they can give.

Yet the issue of expenses is casting a cloud over the whole of Parliament. So MPs need to have the humility to recognise that the country has lost confidence in the current system. To restore our faith in Parliament, and the good that it can do on the public’s behalf, we must commit to tightening up the system of allowances urgently.

Every MP I know wants to live by the rules, but for too long some of these rules have been insufficiently clear. So we need to make the rules clearer, and we also need to save money.

So I am announcing today urgent proposals to make our system of MPs’ allowances and expenses simpler and less generous.

Sir Christopher Kelly and the Committee on Standards in Public Life are continuing to carry out an independent review into the system so we can make permanent changes.


But I believe we have to act urgently with interim proposals to restore people’s confidence that MPs are there to serve the public and not serve themselves.

And I want a vote to take place to overhaul the current system as early as next week. A detailed written statement setting out our will be made by Harriet Harman but its main points are:

- the additional costs allowance - or second homes allowance - should be abolished and replaced by a flat rate daily allowance. This will reflect the fact that MPs do incur extra costs from working in two different places but it should be based on attendance in the House of Commons.

- those ministers who live in official residences would not be entitled to this allowance. Nor would MPs within travelling distance of Westminster - they would receive a London supplement similar to London weighting of salaries.

- the Committee on Standards in Public Life is examining the rules governing employment of spouses or other relatives. But in the interim, staff appointed by MPs should, without exception, become direct employees of the House of Commons, which will now be centrally responsible for their employment terms and conditions, contracts, and the payment of their salaries within the statutory limit allowed - and will have the right to make an audit and independent assessment of such contracts.

- while the committee on standards in public life looks into the issue more fully, we will ensure there is greater transparency on second jobs held by MPs. Where members of parliament have a second source of income from second jobs, every payment should be declared with a full description of what it is for and who paid it. There shall also be a full declaration of the hours worked for the payment received.

I want to discuss these interim proposals with the other party leaders and hope we can reach consensus. We will ask the House of Commons to approve them next week. With these changes I hope that the work of MPs can become recognised again for what it should be – a service to the public."

12 comments:

Dr Technical said...

I pretty much agree with the guts of the new expenses idea.

As far as the second home allowances go you do get to keep or sell the 2nd home at the end. The alternative would be to have a pool of houses for MPs to use, or the taxpayer pays the mortgage and the property goes back to the state at the end.

There are always the student hall or army barracks models!

Kerry said...

But are you aware that under the second homes allowance, only the interest on a mortgage can be claimed? Which is deemed to be the equivalent of rent.

excession said...

I think the devil will be in the detail of GB means by a flat payment. Some of the MP have been claiming more that my entire salary to run a second home. I manage to run mine and my bike etc etc fine on a lot less that they claim. If this flat rate just happens to be more than the national average wage then it's just a device to reduce the embarrassment of having to reveal how much some MP's have claimed for what I would consider luxury goods. It'll be just back to the normal snouts in the trough.

Can you think of any private sector employer who would allow general staff to claim expenses the same way that MP's do?

Bristol Dave said...

I don't understand why the government don't just build/purchase a load of tower of fairly nice flats close to westminster for use by MPs. Surely it'd be cheaper than each one having their own second home?

And I was just bemused by that video of Gordon, frankly - he kept smiling at very strange points in the video, and was able to keep the smile up for a few seconds before he ended up looking dour again!

Bristol Dave said...

Also, and not wishing to be too blunt about this - but is the replacement to the second home allowance that Gordon is suggesting not simply paying MPs extra money (to the tune of £15k a year I understand) simply for turning up to work?

Captain Fun said...

Quite interesting one for me as I always wanted to be an MP - but grew up a failed wannabee - Oh and a headteacher !. Strange I don't see queues of teachers wanting jobs - I don't think there are quite so many young people with ambitions to become teachers as GB might imagine.

Also strange because my daughter (12) decided that she wanted to enter politics today, and began by filling in the Lib-Dem questionnaire on street lighting - she wants it to be known that street lights should be in a variety of colours - Pink, Blue and Yellow - the ones they have now are just boring !

Anyway - I can't help but think that a lot of MP's really do need a second home. Even those relatively close to London would find it difficult to commute sensibly. I live only 35 miles away, yet if I have a meeting finishing around 8.00 in London, it's generally knocking on 11.00 when I get home - What it must be like voting at 11.00 or whatever then trecking back to Bristol or Hartlepool or whatever, I shudder to think.

If you make it difficult for MPs to have second homes, it means that you favour the rich who can afford it anyway, as potential MPs.

If you prevent MPs having second jobs, how do you legislate for those who run their own business ? Though it pains me to say it this would discriminate principally against potential TOry MPs.

I still think it should be both an honour and a privilege to be an MP - and we shouldn't hold back on the privileges.

Kerry said...

It's not being suggested that there should be a ban on second jobs, just that MPs should be open about how much they earn and how many hours they devote to them. Then it's up to constituents to decide what they make of it all.

Apparently being an MP is William Hague's 5th best paid job... so his account of his working week will make for interesting reading!

Captain Fun said...

To "excession" 6.23 21/4; "Can you think of any private sector employer who would allow general staff to claim expenses the same way that MP's do?"

In times of plenty yes I can - some of the American companies in London have people in 'all found' accommodation, with fees for their kids at private schools, and private health care all thrown in. Sounds good until they decide to move you to Detroit 3 months later.

Captain Fun said...

"It's not being suggested that there should be a ban on second jobs"

Where's that coming from then ? it seems to have been flying round all day ? I'll take your word for it though.

Just saw this on Twitter btw http://tinyurl.com/d6xskw - apparently Nick Clegg is mortgaged to the hilt. Well he would be with a 60k salary and 1.3 million pound house. I'm always amazed that the Mail pretend to believe that 60,000 is a high salary. Also 4,549 for rail expenses is just par for the course - slightly more than I pay now - but can't claim for.

Can I ask - when MPs published their expenses a few weeks back, I didn't understand why the staffing expenses seemed so high, but lots were - what staffing expenses does an MP usually incur ?

Kerry said...

This is what Gordon said on second jobs today:

"While the committee on standards in public life looks into the issue more fully, we will ensure there is greater transparency on second jobs held by MPs. Where members of parliament have a second source of income from second jobs, every payment should be declared with a full description of what it is for and who paid it. There shall also be a full declaration of the hours worked for the payment received."

The staff 'expenses' are staff wages plus employer NICs. The allowance is about £100k p.a. so that would be 3 or 4 members of staff, depending on how much you pay them. NIC accounts for about 10-12% of the budget I think.

Sometimes the overall figure is higher, for example if a member of staff has been on maternity leave or long-term sick leave, as the MP can then claim extra for cover.

Captain Fun said...

Thanks

When you compare that to say, a headteachers staff - the 100k wouldn't pay the salary for a Deputy and a Secretary. And I suspect you get a lot more mail than I do (probably nearly as much as our IT co-ordinator ! ) (apologies for teacher in-jokes)

I'll stop commenting now ! Enjoy your commute back to Bristol !

Kerry said...

"I suspect you get a lot more mail than I do"... put it this way, I'm still in the office!