The public outrage following the revelations of the MPs’ expenses scandal was one of the defining features of the last Parliament. As a result, today, we have a completely new system.
Gone are the old discredited allowances and in their place are clear, firm and fair rules about what MPs can and cannot ask from the taxpayer to enable them to do the job we elect them to do.
Just a fortnight after the election, IPSA is now processing claims from MPs online under the new rules. For some – particularly those not familiar with what went before – their early impressions are favourable and many have said the system is simple to use and comparable with the expenses approach used by their previous employers.
However, for others, the system is proving a challenge, and I understand this. After all, IPSA – set up by Parliament to be genuinely independent of MPs and government – decided quite deliberately not simply to reform the system incrementally but to create something radically different to help restore public confidence in how MPs claim expenses.
The new rules received public and cross party support when they were published in March. Indeed, this newspaper commented at the time, the new rules would see MPs subject to “an independent, rigorous and transparent expenses system”.
Some MPs now complain that the online system is too complicated, while others claim that IPSA is forcing them to lay off staff or pay pensions contributions out of their own pockets.
Let me respond particularly to these points. On the first, IPSA has invested heavily in providing training and advice to MPs. Just two weeks in, we have provided one-on-one inductions to more than 550 MPs and answered around 1,000 emails to help MPs and their staff. There is also a telephone information line, and extensive help on our website.
On the second, the budget provided for MPs to staff their offices (almost £110,000 a year) was calculated on the basis of MPs’ staffing pay last year. The new budget made provision for pension contributions, for national insurance and for inflation. To those who now say that the calculation is wrong, our response is simple: if you have better information we will be pleased to examine it.
Implementing a new rules-based system for 650 MPs, all with different needs and circumstances, has inevitably thrown up some anomalies. We always said if there were issues which needed ironing out, we would consider them.
But the new system is here to stay and with it a great opportunity to restore some of the public confidence lost last year. Working together, MPs and IPSA can ensure that is done.
Andrew McDonald is Chief Executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority