They won’t stop and they won’t learn – II

IPSA sends out the cheques

It seems MPs aren’t just keeping to the traditions of the previous parliament in respect to submitting a few iffy expense claims, they’re also still whinging about having to deal with IPSA. This has been going on for months (see this blog) but now things seem to be coming to a head.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was warned that MPs would take action unless a “simpler” and “fairer” system was introduced by next April.

Okay, to be fair this was what a lot of bloggers and journos said at the time. Simple and fair, particularly fair to the taxpayer who funds these fuckers, is what’s needed. The simplest and fairest possible system would have been to model MPs’ expense claims on systems common in the private sector, which normally involve a simple reimbursement of reasonable expense on presentation of receipts and invoices. In some jobs you get given a company credit card because reasonable expenses can occasionally be pretty unreasonable on the employee’s pocket – if you have to fly for business reasons, for example – but in my experience when you get given the card you’re also given a short lecture: anything unreasonable that you stick on the card simply comes off your salary, so don’t take the piss. When I had a company card there were no problems with putting flights on for me and a colleague or getting the meals in while staying at hotels for work, but if I hadn’t booked economy class or had included any alcohol with the meal it would eventually have been docked from my wages. And of course my bosses checked every form I submitted and every line of the credit card statement, requiring me to justify expenses on one or two occasions – always successfully I might add, because my attitude was to always be able to justify every line or assume that I’d be paying for it with my own money. This type of system is extremely simple and it is also completely fair, and if MPs want to adopt it we should all support them. But somehow I doubt that’s what all of them mean by simple and fair.

Since its introduction in May, many MPs have complained bitterly at having to abide by its tough new strictures – which were approved by the Commons following the expenses scandal.

Ah, right. Fair and simple means having to follow stricter rules than under the old Fees Office system. I wonder if my proposals would be seen as fair and simple by many MPs.

There were claims that MPs had been reduced to tears at being forced to abide by the rules.

Oh, my heart just bleeds. Fucking sooks, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the Commons. You’re not in fucking chains in there. If it’s so tough take the Chiltern Hundreds and piss off.

During the debate, MPs singled out individual members of Ipsa’s staff for criticism, accusing them of fostering suspicion and leaking stories to the Press. Other officials were described as “remote” and “obstinate”.

While the debate was still ongoing, Sir Ian Kennedy, the head of Ipsa, issued a statement rejecting as “categorically untrue” allegations by Ann Clwyd, a former chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, that the watchdog had leaked stories to the Press.
Saying that details of expenses claims had been released only following a freedom of information request, he added: “I regret deeply, as will many, such attempts to undermine the professional integrity of members of my organisation.”

Not the only thing Ann Clwyd was moaning about. I had a brief look at this debate in Hansard and just before saying the information was leaked to the presss Ann Clwyd saying this:

The story in The Times said that one MP had had a claim for £338 for a shredder refused. Why on earth was he refused that for a shredder? We all use shredders; we often have to shred correspondence, for example.

Well, Ann, possibly it might have been refused because £338 is a lot of fucking money for a shredder. Of course he needs to be able to shred correspondence but if he can’t find a machine for half that much then future correspondence might be along the lines of, “Why the fuck are you so profligate with our money, you inept wanker?” As I’ve explained already, nobody is saying he may not have a shredder and expense it. Nobody – nobody reasonable, anyway – has ever said that MPs can’t have what they need for the job they do any more than past employers of mine expected me to bounce up, down and around the British Isles paying for all the fuel, flights and accommodation out of my own pocket. No caps on spending, no allowances made, no limits imposed, just the simple and fair requirement that I could justify every line and the understanding that I might well not be reimbursed if I couldn’t.

In that respect the MPs have a point. IPSA is a sticking plaster solution as a result of a knee-jerk reaction. Many bloggers were sceptical and felt that it may as well have been called YAFQ (Yet Another Fucking Quango), and so it seems it is. It is over complex and it probably is unfair to parliamentarians – there’s no question in my mind that it isn’t fair to the taxpayers when once again the receipts are not being made available. But what makes me more than a little suspicious of the MPs’ motives – aside from the point that at five hours this debate was apparently worth spending five times as much time on as one about the fighting in Afghanistan – is that if they genuinely wanted simplicity and fairness they should be advocating scrapping IPSA altogether and replacing Gordon Brown’s Heath Robinson effort with something very close to what is the norm in the real world, preferably with full disclosure of all receipts and invoices by making them available online to anyone who wants to look along with the reasons given for the purchase. For example:

32nd of Gloom 2010 – 15 sheet x-cut wheeled shredder with bin from Staples, for destruction of private correspondence from constituents etc.*
£140 + VAT (receipt attached, PDF copy forwarded for online publication)

See? And millions of people do that week in, week out. What’s so fucking hard about it? Where’s the complexity? Where’s the unfairness?

‘Kinell!

* Yes, I deliberately chose one that was half the price after VAT that the unnamed MP tried to claim for, but sounded like it would still suit a small office with a light but fairly constant amount of shredding to do. I also found one that was similarly specced but more than twice as much. Took about fifteen minutes light surfing for both of them.

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Posted on December 4, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on They won’t stop and they won’t learn – II.

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