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mps’ expenses January 5, 2011

Posted by Bradley in : regulation , trackback

The UK’s Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has published a consultation document seeking input on the new MPs expenses scheme and on how it “does business”:

We recognise that initially we needed to operate as if we were providing services to a customer. This has had certain consequences, not least the ever-increasing demand for detailed advice and interpretation of detailed rules and guidance. The cost to the tax-payer is considerable. We are clear that the model of how we do business must evolve. Yes, we must address the Scheme’s rules. But yes, we must also address IPSA’s role. IPSA is above all a regulatory body. As such, we will be exploring ways of doing business which reflect this role.

Why does IPSA feel it is doing business, and providing services to customers (which seem to be the MPs and not the taxpayers)? After all, it was introduced to deal with massive manipulations of the earlier expenses scheme. And the document notes that “contributing to the restoration of public confidence in our democratic institutions” was one of IPSA’s important aims, and that IPSA tends to hear more from MPs than it does from the public. There are some suggestions of moving towards a more principles-based system, for example with respect to claims for taxi fares, which are only allowed when absolutely necessary but could be left to MPs’ discretion on the basis that the claims would be published and visible.

Meanwhile, the customers are complaining. MPs argue that the current rules interfere with their family life – for example, if they have chosen to live in London (where their job requires them to spend a bit less than half the year) but have constituencies outside London where they must spend weekends doing constituency business, they will not see their children at the weekend. This problem might be solved were they to live in the constituency (and this would have the added benefit that they might develop a better understanding of their constituents’ lives). Why should the UK have a system which encourages Londoners to represent people in other parts of the country rather than a system which might encourage people to stand for Parliament from the places where they belong?

Travel expenses for family members are also an issue. The document asks:

Should the rules on claiming travel costs for family members be changed? In particular, should MPs be able to claim for spouses’ or partners’ travel costs when they are travelling between the MP’s London Area residence and constituency residence: (a) with dependent children aged between five and 16 years; (b) with the MP only; or (c) on their own when visiting the MP?

MPs are currently developing rules which threaten the family lives of the rest of the population, for example by the regressive step of increasing VAT, by ill-conceived changes to the health service, and increasing the cost of attending university. Perhaps MPs might consider these other issues more carefully if they had to experience the sort of belt-tightening they want to impose on everyone else.


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