Friday, April 24, 2009

If You're Gonna Do It, Do it Right, Right

Gordon Brown is trying to rush through his plans for MP expenses reform so quickly that he intends to put it to a vote next Thursday. However, he has already lost the backing of the Conservatives and Lib Dems, not because they are wanting to protect the status quo but because they want the House of Commons and its Members to be accountable to the people who put them there.

The chair of the committee on standards in public life Sir Christopher Kelly has added his thoughts:

"There must be reform and it must be done properly. This is not something that should be left to politicians to sort out for themselves. If public confidence is to be restored, there needs to be an independent inquiry by people with no political agenda of their own."

He's right. The public aren't necessarily upset that MPs are given expenses to do their jobs. After all most of us who work in offices have a budget for the stationary we use which we have to process through the stationary ordering manager. Some of us are able to claim a reasonable travel allowance for performing our work related business (MPs have two places of work their constituency and Westminster after all). Most of us also if working away from home have some subsidence allowance, or if doing it on a long term basis get some help in finding suitable accommodation from our employer.

None of the above would possibly be begrudged a Member of Parliament. It is in the minutiae of the expense claims that MPs have made that lies the problems. Brown's scheme to give them an allowance for turning up at the office is laughable.

I'm currently writing this on my daily 20 mile commute into work, like a lot of people that does not entitle me to a nice flat in Edinburgh. This week has been a prime example of me not knowing the hours I will be working. Indeed on Wednesday out of necessity to have an urgent conference call the only time this could be had was scheduled to take my working day beyond 10 hours from start to finish. While I could have used my weekly ticket for a long meandering bus home I was too shattered but took the train. I didn't ask my boss to put me up at the Edinburgh Park Novotel.

So yes there needs to be a look at who claims a second homes allowance. But for those of our distant MPs they need to have somewhere permanent to lay their heads at the end of their working days.

But to restore public confidence Gordon you don't hide away everything that is being done by giving out a flat rate. Currently we have an idea of where that spending is divided. So we can challenge our representatives on just what they are spending on. In the Scottish Parliament the receipts for the expenses are made public. Just as I have to make a detailed claim for expenses to my employers the people are the employers of our MPs. We want, need and should know how our public money is being funded.

If you are going to do it Gordon, do it right, properly and transparently. Don't attempt to sweep it under the carpet is a swift move of damage limitation.

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