Brian Monteith: MPs must take pay freeze to earn respect of public

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What is to be done about pay for Members of Parliament? I know many people would prefer to avoid the question altogether. Indeed some would say they are lucky they are given any pay for their job – such is bad feeling that still undoubtedly exists following the MPs’ expenses scandal back in 2009.

Well it’s not that easy, for in trying to find some way of dealing with the issue MPs created a new arms-length body (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority – IPSA) that was to review their pay entirely independently but in comparison to other jobs, and make a recommendation that the MPs could not change, whether they liked it or not. Any pay proposal would be put into law automatically and would require new legislation to 
prevent this happening.

It is now expected that IPSA will recommend that MPs pay – currently £65,000 – should rise to about £70,000 after the next general election. The only way this can be stopped is by MPs voting through new legislation, something that the party leaders are now having to think seriously about as they need to act soon if they are not going to risk annoying too many members of the public.

The expenses scandal that ended up with some MPs going to jail for fiddling their expense claims and others having to resign or retire rather than face the justifiable wrath of their local electors came about because our party leaders feared upsetting the public by allowing MPs’ pay to rise in comparison to other pay scales that had been chosen as a guide. Instead the parliamentary authorities colluded with the politicians and agreed that higher than ever expenses could be claimed – and for some ridiculous items. This naturally led to abuse – but it also created a mentality where MPs thought they were owed money for every paper clip, toilet roll and milk carton – as well as flat screen televisions, fitted kitchens, moats and tennis court repairs. It was truly unbelievable and has so soured relations between politicians and the public that it is hard to see how they will ever be repaired.

Victims of this were not just the ordinary taxpayer who was funding all of this malarkey, but the many decent, honourable and honest politicians that had not submitted outrageous claims but were tarred by the same brush.

Now it should also be remembered that the pay of MSPs in Holyrood is tied directly to that of MPs and so if Westminster allows the pay increase then the MSPs get the same percentage increase as well – with only a change in the law preventing it.

I probably take the unpopular view that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys and there is no doubt that we have ended up with too many monkeys (there will always be some) in Westminster.

Frankly, when you look at what some head teachers of schools, GPs, top brass in the police and the like can earn it is often far and away more than £65,000 a year. Then there’s all the large, if not daft salaries that the heads of various public sector and government organisations receive – like the boss of the Royal Mail receiving some £1.5 million a year. Then there’s also the pay-offs and bonuses that organisations such as the BBC hand out to themselves. Ultimately the bosses of the people that run public bodies are the MPs – and it is unrealistic to expect them to be of better quality if we are not prepared to try and attract people into politics with a reasonably competitive remuneration.

Of course the average wage for people in Britain is around £25,000 – so an MP earning £65K is doing very well – but that’s not the point. We need to attract bright, hard-working and honest people into politics and leaving other jobs to pay better is not going to help in attracting a better quality of person to become our legislators.

Still, for all I believe MPs’ pay should be allowed to rise in normal circumstances it is important that MPs realise these are not normal or even ordinary times. It is a time of austerity and MPs are asking many people to make personal sacrifices, not least in losing their jobs or 
taking a pay freeze.

In such straitened times our politicians have to set an example, they need to lead from the front and they need to show that they are not in it for the money.

Our MPs need to pass a law and take a hit for austerity – just like so many other people are doing – after all, they are voting through yet more cuts of some £11.5 billion so it would be absurd if not immoral if they were then to allow themselves a pay rise.

Maybe then, but only then, will our politicians be in a position to argue that they are deserving of a more appropriate pay level and allow the next pay recommendation to go through. To do so now would be insulting to the British people and only strengthen the view held by so many that politicians are only in it for themselves.