The recently published report from the House of Commons Members’ Expenses Committee into the Operation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 contained some good recommendations for staff based on the oral and written evidence submitted by the branch earlier in the year. Three wins for the branch were the recommendations that staff groups should be included in consultations in the same way that statutory consultees have been in the past, that staff expenses should be paid promptly and direct to staff and that IPSA should review the remuneration for staff, including redundancy, to allow MPs to retain experienced staff and provide opportunities for interns.
The report said:
16. Impact on MPs’ staff
167. We received evidence from the Unite Parliamentary Staff Branch and the Members’ and Peers’ Staff Association about the impact of IPSA’s scheme on the terms and conditions of MPs’ staff. Some of the staff observations related to the difficulties of the claims process, and were similar to MPs’ observations. As one member of staff put it, “I feel the constituents have been let down by the amount of time we are diverted away from day to day business to deal with admin and expenses matters”. There were several criticisms relating to the impact on staff.
168. As discussed above, under the IPSA scheme, the staffing budget has risen from £105,264 in 2009/10 to £115,000 in 2010/11, but it is now expected to cover staff pension payments and child care costs, previously met from a central budget. The Chair of the Parliamentary Staff Branch of Unite noted a “huge amount of disquiet” about the changes. He said that IPSA’s defence was that it had removed a number of elements previously included in the staff expenditure budget, but these elements made a “negligible difference” to the budget, and the end result was “evidence of staff hours being reduced and redundancies taking place as a result”.
169. Staff employed before May 2010 are eligible for £8 a day as a contribution to childcare costs. However, those taken on after May 2010 are eligible only for a salary sacrifice scheme. Unite told us that a number of their members who were made redundant at the election when their MP stood down or was defeated had subsequently found employment with another MP, but were finding that the change to child care support was making it “increasingly difficult to make ends meet”. Unite believed the change had been “purely for budgetary reasons”, and considered that “It is a backwards step and sends a message that Parliament is not a family-friendly place to work”. IPSA states that it “recognises that its Scheme is less generous than the previous Scheme administered by the House of Commons, but it believes its Scheme provides a suitable level of support to staff members, comparable to the schemes administered by other public sector organisations”.
170. Another concern is redundancy payments. The Chair of the Unite Parliamentary Staff Branch informed us that MPs’ staff used to be eligible for a maximum 15% bonus in a given year, at the discretion of the MP concerned and if funds were available in the MP’s staffing budget. In the event of redundancy, this could be “matched” with an additional bonus, again at the discretion of the MP concerned and if funds were available. This was in addition to statutory redundancy pay. Under the new scheme, staff redundancy payments are paid from the contingency fund; IPSA’s standard contract for staff states that these will be “made in accordance with statutory requirements”¯in other words, without the possibility of a bonus. Unite suggested that, combined with the move to fixed-term parliaments, the reduction in redundancy provision for MPs’ staff was likely to make retention a “real problem” in the period leading up to an election.
171. Some staff who responded to Unite’s survey mentioned delays in receiving payments when they had incurred costs on behalf of the MP, sometimes of a month or so, slowness in paying the expenses of unpaid interns and the fact that payments are made to the MP rather than directly to them. For example: “Trying to claim for train tickets to attend surgeries in the constituency every month typically takes four weeks; when you’re on a low salary of 17K, waiting for IPSA to refund £60 every month is a nightmare”; “When a bill needs to be paid urgently I have to put it on my card and then wait to reclaim it from IPSA, via my Member”; “I have to pay BT bills myself then claim the money back as I know from experience they are slow and we have been threatened with bailiff action”; “It is my money that I have paid out of my pocket [for mileage, train tickets and office supplies] … doing the work I am expected to do yet I have a monthly battle trying to work out if any of the monies have been paid”. One constituency worker said that attending training courses at Westminster, involving train and hotel costs, had become “virtually impossible due to the claiming back system—those of us on low wages … simply cannot afford to have such an outlay”. IPSA is not the employer of MPs’ staff, but it has a duty of care towards them and needs to take much more account of their relatively low wages.
Impact on MPs’ staff
194. MPs’ staff have not only had to spend significant amounts of time dealing with IPSA’s claims system, but IPSA has worsened their terms and conditions, downgrading their redundancy terms and provision for childcare. IPSA’s procedures have also left many of them out of pocket for long periods when they have incurred costs on behalf of their MP, and it does not consistently reimburse such costs directly. IPSA’s initial unwillingness to meet representatives of staff appears symptomatic of its attitude towards MPs’ staff.
IPSA should establish a liaison group with MPs’ staff, and should include their representatives in consultations on the same basis as the statutory consultees. (Recommendation 14)
IPSA should review the overall remuneration package of MPs’ staff, and in particular redundancy pay, with a view to ensuring that they are appropriately rewarded and that MPs are able to retain experienced staff and provide opportunities to interns. (Recommendation 15)
IPSA should make it a consistent practice that MPs’ staff who incur legitimate costs relating to the MP’s parliamentary duties receive reimbursement direct, and should ensure that such reimbursement is made promptly. (Recommendation 16).
On Thursday 15 December the House of Commons resolved that the Committee on Members’ Expenses report should be considered by IPSA as part of its annual review.