MPs’ Pay

I’m very uncomfortable and unhappy with the proposal from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) that MPs’ salaries should be increased at a time when the country is going through painful but necessary austerity.
Taxpayers and constituents who have had to tighten their belts and take a drop in living standards to pay off the debts incurred in the boom years will look on with incredulity at both the timing and tone of these proposals.
Having given up a business career to stand for Parliament in 2010, I watched with incredulity and shared the public's outrage at the expenses scandal of the last Parliament. The sad fact is that the scandal badly damaged people's trust in Parliament and all MPs - including those of us who had no part in the expenses fiasco - now have a duty to do all we reasonably can to re-earn that trust.
Having taken a 50% pay cut to become an MP, I believe the principle should be that MPs’ remuneration is set at a level which does not attract people motivated by making money, which is the wrong motivation for the honour of serving in Parliament, but a level which does not deter people with the skills and experience the public say they want to see in Parliament. In poll after poll the public are very clear that they want fewer career politicians and more people with experience in the real world outside, including people who have been in business, where remuneration is much higher.
Before we review salaries I think we should review the bigger question of what we want MPs - and Peers - FOR, what sort of responsibilities we want them to exercise, and what the appropriate overall remuneration package should be, using comparators with the public rather than private sector.
The starting point should be the same as that which Parliament is rightly asking of the rest of the public sector: 'how can we reduce the cost and increase the quality of the service to the public?'
The salary of MPs is the last thing we should be reviewing, not the first.
We should start by looking at
  • reducing the number of MPs
  • clarifying their responsibilities (and setting a benchmark responsibility equivalent in the public sector that reflects them: should an MP be paid the same as a street cleaner, a school teacher, a school head, a District Council or County Council CEO, or what?
  • sorting out what, if any, outside interests the public want MPs to have (I favour the idea of a fixed cap on the Hours per Year allowed to be spent on outside interests, with MPs having to declare how they spend it, and anything they earn. That way MPs who are GPs or lawyers or in some other profession can keep their skills, and retain their expertise in their sector, others can do voluntary work, or spend it in their constituencies, or however they choose, and let their electorates judge them at the ballot box.)
  • dealing with the unusual costs incurred in needing to spend time each week in Parliament in London and in constituencies in a way the public are happy with, and
  • the salary increment to Ministers (a major driver for many MPs desire to be in Government) compared to the increment for senior Parliamentary responsibilities such as Chairing a Select Committee to hold Government to account,
  • looking at how we can 'Put Our Own House in Order' and reduce the cost of Parliament by running it more efficiently, tackling waste and inefficiency and making it - and ourselves - more accountable. (I'm appalled as a new MP to discover that we never receive or review any accounts, or appear to have any scrutiny of the administration of the Palace we work in. I and many newly elected MPs can see lots of ways to run it more efficiently, without downgrading it into a Corporate Hospitality venue.)
Most importantly, it is up to us, as a Parliament, to show the leadership and responsibility so sorely lacking in the expenses fiasco, but which underpins public trust and ultimately public acceptance of our remuneration. We should not of course set, or vote on, our own remuneration, but we should set up a much more thorough and rigorous review - possibly even a Royal Commission - that properly reflects public concern, and them be guided by it.
If the public could see us taking responsibility, asking the difficult questions that need to be asked, subjecting ourselves and our institution, Parliament, to the same rigour and scrutiny that we are voting for across the public sector, and trying to raise the quality and efficiency of the service we offer, I think they might have a bit more respect for us and the institution. And be a bit more willing to look at what the right remuneration is.
The salary of MPs is the last thing we should be reviewing, not the first.
The whole question of the cost and value of Parliament needs a much more thorough review.




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