Wednesday, 22 April 2009

That Gordon Brown plan for MPs' expenses

Our Dear Leader, in his infinite wisdom, has decided that MPs' second homes allowance should be replaced, thus pre-empting the inquiry into expenses he himself requested two weeks ago.

As things stand, MPs can claim up to just over £24,000 second home allowance. To get this, they have to produce receipts for whatever they spend.

Under Brown's plan, MPs would instead be entitled to claim a daily allowance in the region of £140-£170 for every day the attended Westminster on parliamentary or ministerial duties.

Oddly enough, given the number of days the Commons is in session, this will work out at roughly the same £24,000 as under the current arrangements, with the important difference that MPs won't have to produce receipts. So, just to be clear, Gordon Brown's plan is to give MPs the same amount of money, but make them unaccountable for how it's spent.

The other consequence of the proposal is that it will lead to MPs turning up at Westminster first thing in the morning, signing-in to claim the allowance, then clearing off again, just as happens in the Lords and the European Parliament, both of which have attendance allowances.

Brown's plan is, to be frank, a crock of shit. We shouldn't expect anything else though, given Labour's tendency to legislate without thinking through the consequences of anything, like with the abolition of the 10p tax rate for example.

No sensible person will dispute that many MPs need a second home in London, but there is understandable concern as to how the allowance for that is spent. There's no need to throw out the current system though, it just needs to be tightened up. Here are some suggestions as to what could be done:

1. MPs should not be allowed to claim mortgage payments, only rent. Why should the taxpayer help MPs buy an asset for themselves?

2. MPs should only be allowed to claim the allowance for a home in London, i.e. the allowance should only cover the property they've had to rent to support their duties as an MP.

3. MPs should not be allowed to claim the allowance for their family home. You pay for your own home from your salary, like everyone else.

4. Claims for furnishings should be restricted to necessary purchases and a price cap set for each item. Beds, chairs, fridges, cookers, microwaves, tables and a TV are fine. Patio heaters are not.

5. No allowances at all should be available to MPs living within a reasonable commuting distance of Westminster.


bcc said...

Agreed. I think we (the country) should buy up a decent size office block/flats/hotel near Westminster and provide working homes for them.

A decent size 'suite' each, provided and furnished to a decent level. It'd be easy to keep secure, and in the long run should work out much cheaper. At the very least it'd put them all on an even footing and stop some of the scumbaggery.

I was amazed at how little thought (or perhaps the staggering arrogance) that's gone into this proposal, even compared to the usual efforts...

dan! said...

I used to support the idea of housing MPs as you suggest, however it would take a very long time to pay for itself so I'm now not so keen on the idea.

The closest comparison we have is Portcullis House, across the road from the Place of Westminster, which opened in 2000 at a cost £235 million to build and provides offices for just over 200 MPs.

An accomodation block would be larger, having to accomodate about 500 MPs, and the suites would be bigger. You could save on excesses like the bronze cladding at Portcullis House, but that would be offset by the high cost of the substantial land requirement, furnishings and ongoing security. It's also likely that the place would have to be renovated every 10-15 years.

I would estimate you're looking at at least £600 million for initial construction, balanced against about £12-15 million a year in second home allowance at present.

Anonymous said...

Balls to that; fix politics once and for all by cutting their earnings down to something that makes sure they're there to serve the country, not themselves.

Cancel all perks and privileges, including expenses. Every MP gets a salary based purely on years service, starting at 30kpa, going up by 1kpa to a cap of 60kpa after 30 years. Implement an income cap of 20kpa above their salary, and persist the cap once they leave the commons; any surplus is taxed at 100%. Numbers are for illustration only - just make sure they earn significantly less than they would in the private sector.

As for accommodation, requisition one of the many disused underground stations, block up a few hundred meters of tunnel, add some air conditioning and heating, build two or three toilet/shower rooms, a cafeteria, a recreation room and a few shared office areas - then fill the remaining space with a few partition walls and enough bunk beds to accomodate all MPs. Give every MP access as and when they want it, and give them all bus, tube and train passes so they can get back to their constituency.

That would weed out all the career politicians, avoid the expenses issue altogether, and sort out public transport at the same time.

dan! said...

I'm not sure if you, Anonymous, are being serious or subtly comedic, but I'll take you at face value.

The idea that MPs shouldn't get expenses is nonsense. Without expenses the only people who are going to step up to be MPs are the very wealthy, because most MPs couldn't cover their own expenses. They need staff to help cover their constituency caseload and more generally to help them be more effective as MPs. Pity the constituents of a cabinet minister under an Anonymous government!

There's a debate to be had about salary levels. I think they should be generous because salary shouldn't be a bar to anyone wanting to be an MP. Set a low salary and you're either going to get MPs who are, again, very wealthy or, on the other hand, even more mediocre than many of them are now. We need more people from the professional classes in parliament and punitive salaries aren't going to encourage them.

You suggest a 20k cap on earnings above parliamentary salary. Presumably this is because you believe MPs shouldn't really have second jobs. The problem I have with that is that the effectiveness of an MP should be judged by their constituents. If they think their MP is doing a good job, then what does it matter how much money they earn from other sources?

As for accomodation, I'm pretty sure your suggestion is a joke, because it's certainly not practical or legal and would do nothing to encourage people to want to be an MP. You appear to want to punish people for being MPs when in reality we need to be encouraging them.