Friday, 17 March 2017

All in the Family

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The independent watchdog for the Westminster Parliament has announced that from 2020 onwards MPs will no longer be able to use taxpayers' money to employ spouses and relatives as members of their staff.

Now that's a good thing if you ask me, since MPs ought to lead by example when it comes to observing modern-day recruitment and employment practices.

What's significant is that an independent external body has brought about this reform   and it will be interesting to see if the Scottish Parliament now follows Westminster's lead.

Ban on MPs from employing spouses at next election

BBC UK Politics

Image copyright - PA Image caption - Nearly one in four MPs employ spouses, relatives or family friends

Newly elected MPs will no longer be allowed to employ spouses and other relatives using taxpayers' money.

The new rules will come into force at the next election, expected to take place in 2020, although the 151 MPs who currently employ "connected parties" will be able to continue to do so.

The parliamentary watchdog, Ipsa, said employing family members was "out of step" with modern employment practices.

Many MPs argue partners are uniquely placed to do the jobs expected of them.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which processes and polices MPs' expenses, announced the ban as it published a revised version of the rulebook for MPs' claims.

'Fair and open'

Its chair Ruth Evans said Ipsa would stop paying for new staff members related to MPs from the time of the next general election, scheduled for 2020.

"We believe that the employment of 'connected parties' is out of step with modern employment practice, which requires fair and open recruitment to encourage diversity in the workplace," she said.

Ipsa said the crackdown was not due to any abuse of the rules or inappropriate claims. The watchdog also acknowledged the need for MPs to employ people they trusted but said they did not consider "that these can only be connected parties".

"On balance, the need for good employment practice which is transparent and encourages diversity outweighs the benefits which some MPs find in being able to employ connected parties," it said in a statement.

Some 151 of the the 650 MPs at Westminster - almost a quarter of the total - employ family members, including 84 Conservatives, 50 Labour and 10 SNP MPs.

The change follows a consultation in which, Ipsa said, a majority of MPs came out against any changes to the rules, with several arguing that spouses provided "good value for money" as they worked overtime and often went beyond the call of duty. 

'Value for money'

Under the revised proposals, a member of staff who begins a relationship with an MP while working for him or her after 2020 will have their contract ended after two years as partner or spouse.

There was anger among MPs at the introduction in 2010 of a limit of one family member of staff in the wake of the expenses scandal, with many arguing that spouses were best able to handle the unpredictable work patterns, long hours and need for absolute trust associated with being an MP's secretary or assistant.

The change led to a sharp fall in the numbers of MPs employing family members, from 32.8% of male MPs and 23.1% of women in 2009 to 26.6% of male MPs and 12.9% of women in 2012/13.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life has backed the proposed new changes, arguing current rules were "not appropriate in a modern workforce".

Research has suggested that spouses, relatives and family friends of MPs are paid, on average, £5,000 more than those with no prior connection. However, Ipsa said the sums saved by the changes would be relatively small.

All in the Family (02/11/16)

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The employment practices and expenses of Westminster MPs have come in for considerable scrutiny since the great MPs' expenses scandal.

The Scotsman keeps up that honourable tradition with the report below which focuses on major overtime payments approved by two SNP MSPs.

SNP’s Paul Monaghan pays his brother Mark over 225 hours overtime
Paul Monaghan SNP MP
Picture: TSPL 

A SNP MP has been accused of “cavalier behaviour” after it emerged that he use the public purse to pay his brother seven weeks overtime in only a year. 

Paul Monaghan, the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, signed off 255.75 extra hours for his brother Mark, who he employs as his constituency communications manager. 

The payments were revealed in an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) document, which also showed that SNP MP Corri Wilson for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock paid her son Kieran Donoghue 118 hours of overtime. Mr Donoghue has since left the role and been replaced by his sister Shannon. 

All in the Family (20/03/10)

As widely predicted, the new expenses watchdog for Members of Parliament IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) - has diluted earlier proposals to ban MPs from employing members of their family.

Sir Ian Kennedy has gone against previous recommendations from Sir Christopher Kelly and the Commitee on Standards in Public Life - by, in future, allowing one family member to be employed per MP.

IPSA took its decision after fierce lobbying from MPs - many of whom have their spouses and/or children on the public payroll.

This widespread practice came under intense scrutiny only after a Tory MP, Derek Conway, was forced into the spotlight - for having several members of his family on his staff - and was rightly shamed for a gross misuse of public funds.

IPSA conducted a public consultation exercise in which 59 per cent of respondents agreed with the proposal to outlaw the practice of allowing MPs to employ family members. 

Yet, this new quango decides to go against the views of the wider public - and says that IPSA knows best. 

But the fact is that MPs brought all of this public scorn and derision on themselves - it was not a case of a few bad apples spoiling the rest of the barrel.

Because more than half of our MPs were at it - in one way or another - over their expenses claims.

IPSA has done the public a dis-service - the views of MPs should have had no bearing on this issue - they have a such an obvious vested interest. 

All in the Family (08/01/10)

If anyone wants to know why MPs should keep their families and politics separate - look no further than the case of Peter and Iris Robinson.

Not only are they both Westminster MPs - they are both Members (MLAs) of the Northern Ireland Assembly - and enjoy an 'extended' family income of around £572,000 from their joint salaries and expenses - according to The Mail newspaper.

The Robinsons earn a combined total of £246,017 from their MP and MLA jobs - plus £71,434 that Peter Robinson is paid as Northern Ireland's First Minister (on top of his other salaries) - while Iris Robinson earns an extra £9,550 as a local councillor for Castlereigh.

Just where do they find the time? 

In addition, Mr Robinson employed his daughter, Rebekah, as his office manager and private secretary, while his son, Gareth, is his parliamentary assistant. 

Not to be outdone, Mrs Robinson employs their elder son, Jonathan, as her office manager, and her daughter-in-law, Ellen, as a part-time secretary. 

The existing 'rules' on MPs' expenses mean that this is all fair and above board - but that's exactly why the system is in such desperate need of reform.

All in the Family (24/01/10)

The Sunday Times today lays bare the behaviour of another Westminster MP - who used his family to exploit expenses - - here's a summary of the paper's investigation into Labour MP David Chaytor. 

MP David Chaytor used daughter in expenses scam

David Chaytor, pretended his daughter was his landlord so he could claim almost £13,000 in expenses from the Commons for “renting” a flat that he himself owned.

David Chaytor, MP for Bury North, drew up a tenancy agreement with his daughter but disguised their relationship by giving her middle name as her surname.

Land Registry records show that Chaytor and his wife were the real owners of the property and there was no reason to claim his rent from the Commons. The mortgage had been paid off.

He is being investigated by the police after it was alleged he had claimed interest payments for a “phantom” mortgage that had already been paid off.

So far Chaytor has gone along with the false assumption that his claims had been for interest. It has allowed him to brush off the discrepancy as an “error” in his “accounting procedures”.

However, a Sunday Times investigation casts doubt on the MP’s claims. It is clear that Chaytor was claiming rent rather than interest and did so by creating a false tenancy agreement with his daughter as landlord.

It has also emerged that he received expenses for renting a property from his mother, after Commons rules were introduced to prohibit MPs from claiming on homes leased from relatives.

Chaytor is a 60-year-old former lecturer who entered parliament in 1997. As an MP he can claim expenses for the cost of maintaining a second home in London or his constituency.

In autumn 2005 he told the Commons that a house in Todmorden, Lancashire, was his main residence and began claiming expenses for his second home on a flat with commanding views across Westminster.

He and his wife had owned the flat since 1999 and had paid off the mortgage in full in January 2004. As a result, he should have been allowed to claim only expenses for upkeep, running costs and necessary household items.

However, Chaytor submitted claims for £1,175 a month on his expense forms under the heading “mortgage payments (interest only) or rent”. Until now it has been assumed these were erroneous interest payments for the “phantom” mortgage, but this was not the case.

A closer inspection of his expense forms provides the first clue. In one of the forms he crossed out the words “mortgage payments [etc]” and underlined the word “rent”.

Chaytor claimed that he was renting his flat from a woman he called Sarah Rastrick. These are the first names of his daughter Sarah Rastrick Chaytor, who had recently graduated from university when the arrangement started.

Chaytor had also used the name Sarah Rastrick when paying his daughter £5,000 from his Commons office allowances for research while she was a student.

The MP claimed a total of £12,925 for his rent payments between September 2005 and August 2006. It is not known whether any rent changed hands, but his claim was paid.

He stopped the claims for rent when he bought another flat in the same block using a mortgage. While keeping the original flat, he told the Commons his new property was his second home. This flipping of homes meant he could claim more than £11,000 in stamp duty and legal fees on his new purchase.

It was one of four home flips by Chaytor in less than three years. In August 2007 he began claiming rent for another property he had designated as his second home. This cottage in the village of Summerseat, near Bury, belonged to his mother Olive, who had moved into a care home because she had Alzheimer’s disease.

The Commons had introduced new rules in July 2006 preventing MPs from claiming expenses on properties rented from relatives. Nonetheless, Chaytor claimed a total of £5,400 over the six months that he rented the flat from his mother. The relationship would not have been obvious to the Commons authorities as his mother, who died last year, had remarried and used the surname Trickett.

The police have passed a report on Chaytor, who will step down at the election, to the Crown Prosecution Service. A decision on possible charges is expected before spring. His lawyers say he should be immune from prosecution as he is protected by parliamentary privilege.


January 2004

Chaytor pays off mortgage on Westminster flat
September 2005 

Flips second home to the flat and claims £12,925 in “rent”
September 2006

Buys another flat in same block and flips second home. Claims £11,500 in stamp duty and legal fees
August 2007

Flips second home to mother’s Bury cottage and claims £5,400 in “rent”
February 2008

Flips second home to Todmorden and claims £1,500 for furnishings