23 April 2009

What counts as "attendance" and other thoughts on MP expenses

The Daily Mash has probably got the best summary of Gordon Brown's proposals that MPs should get an attendance allowance instead of a second home allowance:

"Mr Brown has proposed abolishing the controversial £24,000 a year second home allowance and replacing it with a £25,000 a year dragging-your-fat-arse-into-work allowance."

Although what counts as "dragging-your-fat-arse-into-work" if you are an MP? Will there be any requirement to attend the chamber of the House itself or take part in a committee meeting or will it be the clocking on and buggering off routine which is apparently prevalent in the European Parliament (the fact that Brown is considering adopting a system which is being so roundly abused in the European Parliament should be a clue that it is utterly rubbish)? 

On the other hand, in an era when people are able and are encouraged to work remotely rather than commute unnecessiarly, should we really be encouraging MPs to travel to Westminster when they don't need to be there.  There is also the danger that they will want to be seen to be "active" on days when they are claiming their allowance and appear in the chamber simply for that reason, rather than because they have something useful to contribute. 

I have a simple but radical solution: give all MPs a budget roughly similar to the aggregate value of their salary, allowances and staff budgets, then let them decide exactly how they wish to apply them.  If they want the money for themselves (as salary) then it will be taxed as income and if it is spent on staff or legitimate office expenses (including travel) then not.  It would then be simple for voters to compare what each MP decides to keep for him or herself and what is spent elsewhere.  

This would do something to deal with issues of what pay rates are needed to attract the right people (and just because there is a long queue of people wanting to become MPs, doesn't mean that they are the best people for the job, or that the "right" people will be happy to take a pay cut). 

More importantly, it would encourage MPs to look for savings wherever they can in how their offices are run as all savings could be put towards other Parliamentary activities - or even their own salary - which is the same position as any business owner is in when savings are made.

Having previously thought it was fair enough for MPs to employ husbands, wives and children, clearly the behaviour of a few has made this untenable and must be stopped. 

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