Political Promise

Stop Moaning about Expenses

In David Brownsey-Joyce on February 8, 2011 at 10:04 am

David Brownsey-Joyce has heard enough about all the poor MPs and how hard it is for them to claim expenses, so he decided to compare their system to the one he has to use at work.

I get fed up with hearing about MPs and how difficult the new expenses regime is for them, how they get paid so little and so must make sure that they get their expenses paid in full to make up for the costs they incur.

Well I’m sorry but I’m pretty sure that everyone feels deep inside that they are paid less than they should be and that they should claim for every single cost they incur during the process of doing that job.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) was set up in the wake of the expenses scandal by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in an effort to make MPs more accountable for their expenses and (fingers crossed) stop them crossing the line between claiming what they needed to do the job and for everything not nailed down.

A number of MPs are unhappy with the new system and are exerting pressure on the Government and particularly the Prime Minister’s office to have the system overhauled in favour of a less administrative system. Saying they need flexibility to do their job, that they spend too much time filling in paperwork. Well my answer to that is simple, don’t incur the expense and then you won’t need to claim for it.

Where I work there is a very simple system in place to claim for a list of expenses that is authorised, anything not on the list must be approved in advance and then show proof of purchase afterwards. This is similar to the IPSA’s list which details everything that can be claimed for and the individual limits, details of which are freely available on the IPSA’s website.

We have a traffic light system in place, where everyone knows what will be accepted as part of the job with minimal fuss (Green), what will be queried by the finance team (Yellow), and what will be rejected out of hand (Red). We have even attempted to lower the number of claims for accommodation and transport by partnering with providers of these services who bill back to the company and then have to be approved by a procurement executive.

So first question, why don’t MPs have an accommodation and travel provider paid via central Government? It would be so much easier for them to go about their duties if they knew that they could logon to a system, using an individual username and password, and book train tickets and hotels in advance getting corporate rates at set limits. With 1st class not available to book except in cases of advanced tickets or during set periods. All of a sudden there is a complete audit trail available for every single parliamentary trip and the IPSA could simply review all travel and accommodation expenses in one go for all MPs, making queries where necessary.

Of course for those MPs that like driving in their car, simply allot a mileage rate, oh wait they already do that. Same as where I work, same as everywhere where you need to use your car and get to claim expenses.

Problems with the process

The actual process rather than the limits seem to be the biggest issue for MPs. They don’t seem to like having to fill out a form online and then taking their receipts over to the IPSA to get rubber stamped.

Well I like everyone I know where I work have to fill in an excel spreadsheet, using dropdowns to allocate coding, then print it off, get it signed, after having all receipts scrutinised, then scan the complete document with all receipts into one document which is then sent off via email to our outsourced expenses team in India for processing. There can of course be a few issues with transmission and it relies on receipts scanning well, but seriously it’s not that big of a deal. We have a team available who can deal with any problems that come up and they handle thousands of employee claims, not just the 649 odd MPs that IPSA have to handle.

Like IPSA guidelines all expenses must be submitted within 90 days of the cost being incurred. Where I work if you turn in an expense claim after 90 days you need to get a secondary approval by the division’s head of finance; this is done in person and you can expect to be asked questions; similarly if you do not have a receipt you need the division’s head of finance to personally approve your expenses. This inconvenience is designed to make people turn in their expenses promptly and accurately, and it works. No one likes taking the begging bowl to the boss’s boss, but that’s how it’s suppose to feel. There are reasons that rules are put in place.

How is this any different to an MP, doing their personal expenses and having to ask authorisation from the IPSA for anything over 90 days old? The question arises, why did they leave it so long? Were they not that bothered by the expense, were they waiting for them to accumulate and do them all at once.

Technical difficulties are always going to be a problem, the system was introduced and all MPs were training on it by IPSA, along with MP’s staff; hang on why are MPs staff being trained on the system unless they are doing the expenses for their respective MP? So much for the ‘it takes too much of my time’ argument. Maybe they should rephrase it to say, ‘it takes too much of my researcher’s time’.

When the system changes where I work, I usually spend time within my division going through it with employees, making sure that they have enabled the macros, have the correct coding, are using a PC rather than a Mac (don’t ask). Training on new systems is always going to be required and from where I sit the system seems absolutely paradise compared to where I work.

Public perception

The bottom line is that MPs brought this upon themselves by getting caught with their hand in the till. They should get over themselves and get on with the job because they currently get expenses provisions for all of the following areas:

  • Accommodation costs
  • Carer benefits (which I personally agree with)
  • Travel and subsistence, including staff and family members
  • Staff costs, and incidental costs incurred by interns
  • Office costs
  • General admin costs (equipment, stationary, maintenance, ect)
  • Winding-up expenses (for the losers in elections)
  • Disability assistance
  • Security assistance
  • Insurance
  • Contingency payments (for emergencies but is vague in detail)
  • Necessary financial assistance (incredibly vague in detail)

A full breakdown of the rules are available on the IPSA’s website

These are just the section types, there are clauses and contingencies that make me feel like we are still are far too lenient. If you look at the details really closely it looks like you could increase your standard of living very nicely by claiming the maximum on everything even if you don’t need it; especially with regards to accommodation.

For those MPs who don’t feel that they get enough, well I’m sorry but you’re already on close to three times the national average, as a starting point and I don’t actually believe the argument that these individuals would be on a much higher wage in the private sector.

A few of these individuals could make it in the private sector, would make a lot of money and would be successful; however we are now in the age of the career politician who go from University, to Researcher, to MP. Where along that line do they actually get the experience and gravitas to become chief executives within private companies; they simply would not make it.

As opposed to those individuals the major political parties claim to want to recruit, the individuals who drag themselves up through nothing but sheer determination and undeniable talent; the downtrodden individuals who excel despite circumstance.

If MPs want to finally get past the expenses scandal, then they need to get their heads down, do a good job and not moan about it. Otherwise they may find that they don’t survive the next election. After all it’s our money they are spending. I would expect to be thrown to the wolves if shareholders thought I was abusing my expenses, why should MPs be any different.

 

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