MPs must come clean about who they employ using public money

This article was first published by The Times Red Box.

Two recent stories have highlighted the lack of transparency and accountability over who politicians employ in their offices.

On Saturday The Times front page focused on Barry Gardiner, MP, Labour’s shadow minister for international trade and climate change. Mr Gardiner, it was reported, had taken £180,000 in donations from a law firm that acts as a legal adviser to the Chinese embassy and used some of this money to employ the son of its founder as a “policy caseworker”.

Meanwhile across the Channel, François Fillon is looking increasingly likely to flop out of the French presidential election race due to an inquiry into claims that his wife Penelope and their children were paid for bogus jobs.

What both cases show is that, in the context of today’s deep distrust of Westminster, politicians who receive taxpayer funds to employ staff must be much more open about who they employ, and what jobs they do for them.

In the UK, an MP sets up their team to fulfil their unique mix of parliamentary and constituency ambitions and receives nearly £150,000 from Ipsa to do so.

Who an MP employs in their office, and how they recruit them, is entirely up to them.

About a fifth of MPs employ a family member, most likely a spouse. This has long been a subject of debate and can diminish the public’s trust in the system.

Some MPs say that it helps keep marriages together. Critics say this is nepotism and a way of MPs boosting their income (the case of Mr Fillon illustrates this perfectly).

From my time working in a parliamentary office, I know of MPs with family members on their staff who deliver varying levels of value for money to constituents.

Names and job titles of who MPs employ is published on but how many constituents ever look at this?

One simple reform must be for all MPs to publish a list of staff members, including interns, and their full job descriptions on their website — a common practice many businesses and organisations are already doing to present themselves as open and accessible.

Publishing this information on an MP’s personal website would allow constituents to easily see who employs a family member or additional staff through private donations, as Mr Gardiner does.

Those MPs who use a small army of interns or have a high turnover of staff might also think hard about their management and leadership ethics and skills if they are constantly having to update the “My team” page of their website.

The public only hears about an MP’s staffing arrangements when journalists find something interesting to report on.

While requiring MPs to publish this information would be a small step, it would help give the public much more confidence in the staffing system.

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