Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Value for Money or Pigs in Muck?: what should be the future of MP's expenses?

It is frequently claimed, but more often debated, that Britain's MPs are good value for money, however the revelations of expenses, from the employing of family for doing nothing to exorbitant amounts for window cleaning and mock Tudor gables offers a different picture. As the Speaker Michael Martin considers a yearly allowance, the real consideration is public perceptions of its representatives. If the low trust in politicians in general is fueled by a perception that they are doing the job for the perks, honours and ex gratia payments that are part of the job (in other words in it for what they get out) then any lack of transparency does not help. The key question here is would a company director be able to spend the company profits on having a flat near the office while having a second home elsewhere; the answer is no. So either MPs are paid to allow them to afford two houses, or an alternative is found. One that was mooted was the idea of having a hotel or hostel type building with permanent rooms for MPs that they could turn into a home but then give up once and if they lost their seat. This would allow politicians from outside of London to have a base close to Westminster but would not require a lot of nontransparent expenses. And it is the lack of transparency that is the problem. While the claims are not excessive by the rules, the headlines extracted from the published expense claims give an impression of widespread excess. This compounds the perception of MPs as having their "snouts in the troughs", one which is largely unfair but could be widely held as more is revealed that suggests nest-feathering and corruption. This needs to stop, but a system be put in place that is open and transparent, seen as value for money and not allowing MPs to do as they wish with the public purse. Parliament was created to curb the excesses of a monarch, it should not then appear to create its own excessive spending; the appearance here is the key and needs to be tackled seriously and with the public in mind.

1 comment:

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