Friday, October 26, 2007

MPs Expenses: Let the Screaming from Journalists Begin

Although the papers will no doubt make a huge fuss about MP's "tax free expenses" with screams of "snouts in the trough" - a ridiculous allusion that Labour of Love would never pander to - the bulk of these sums is generally spent to employ hard-working and typically rather underpaid staff.

Far more interesting than the total pay is where these staff are not hard working, not competent, not underpaid. And/or where they are wives, hubbies, girlfs and boyfs, masters and mistresses, sponsored candidates, or simply bloody useless.

Of course they get paid! Except that is when they are slave-interns. Which is an altogether more scandalous story.

The most interesting thing about this excel spreadsheet download for the Lib Dems (courtesy of Lib Dem Voice) is that although arch fibber Simon Hughes MP is among the lowest at £123,125 ... he appears to have had double helpings!

Those controversial housing allowances appear in column one, but no sign of sponsored travel or of the cost of parliamentary reports - some of which, like Cllr John Leech MPs in 2005 and even more so 2006 appear to be brochures for local election candidates paid for by the tax payer. Which is not allowed.

The whole Commons claim can be accessed here and the Lords right here.


Harry Barnes said...

The areas covered by MPs expenses are, in general, justified. The problems of the present system are (a) that it is open to abuses as well as to essential uses and (b) it is easy for the media to misinterpret what it is about.

On the issue of employing Staff, there is a clear alternative. Each MP should be entitled to employ up to a given quantity of Staff (or Staff time). Those they appoint should hold minimum relevant qualifications. They should then enter an appropriate spot on the salary scale and move into a system involving annual increments. The whole of the financial arrangements (under clear rules) should be operated by the Commons and not as an expenses system for MPs. It is possible to operate other provisions on the same basis - such as the hiring of Constituency Offices and the supply of Office Equipment. The latter is already done with Parliamentary PCs.

MPs would thus draw down from a list of available facilities, but would not be called on to otherwise act as accountants and then have to submit appropriate income tax returns on these matters. These type of arrangements would cut out the two basic problems I started from.

Chris Paul said...

These are good suggestions I think Harry. Similar to my thoughts on limits by items not cost on election print, and also the "producer" for the leaflets. Though these are aimed at real problems of fiddling the accountancy whereas the main effect of standardising an MP's staff is impression management.

Having said that Guido had a post today about an MP who claims next to nothing staff-wise and does everything himself. Should he be forced to have a staff?