East meets Westminster: Want better MPs? Dig deeper ...

David Cameron and Nick Clegg finally agree on something - MPs should not get a pay hike

David Cameron and Nick Clegg finally agree on something - MPs should not get a pay hike - Credit: PA

What follows may well prove unpopular: MPs do not get paid enough, writes Richard Porritt.

Let’s crunch the numbers.

MPs have seen their salaries rise steadily over the past decade, even though they did the right thing in the past two years and put a freeze on increases while the rest of the country struggled.

The basic pay for an MP is now £66,396 a year - compared to a salary of £56,358 10 years ago and £43,860 at the time of the 1997 general election. By next April it will creep beyond the £67,000 mark.

Many people will scream “I wish I earned that kind of money” and that is understandable of course – Almost £70,000 a year is a good salary in almost anyone’s book.

There is more as well. Under Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) rules MPs from outside the London area can claim up to £20,100 for the cost of renting a property in the capital.

And of course, MPs can claim travel expenses for journeys conducted in connection with their parliamentary duties.

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Oh and London area MPs and those who do not claim any accommodation allowance can claim a London area living payment of up to £5,090, depending on where they live.

As far as actual money in their pockets that is where it ends unless they join select committees or get promotions – but Ipsa are apparently going to suggest MPs should get an even bigger pay rise in the near future.

There are other costs to the public purse associated with MPs – each one gets up to £137,200 a year in staffing costs (£144,000 in London) and £22,750 in office costs (£25,350 in London).

There are also one-off payments of up to £6,000 for new MPs to start up their constituency office and winding-up expenses of £53,350 (£56,450 in London) when they leave Parliament.

These are the kinds of figures that have prompted petitions this week to once again freeze MPs’ pay packets. The likelihood is that public pressure and the frowns of all three main parties – who are opposed to any further pay hikes – will leave Ipsa’s recommendations dead in the water before they are even published.

And it is understandable that party leaders do not want to be seen to be backing pay increases when they are demanding public sector workers take smaller (if any) rises. And the reaction was predictable from the public when the news of the potential for more cash for MPs was raised - outrage.

But it is easier for party leaders - they get paid a lot more already and are somewhat pampered. They do not get their hands quite as dirty as regular members.

Liberal Democrat leader - and son of a millionaire banker - Nick Clegg is adamant that no MPs should be getting big pay hikes.

Earlier this week he said: “Speaking for myself I would certainly seek to do whatever I can to make sure that either this decision is not taken in the first place - but that’s out of my hands - but, secondly, if were to be taken, not to take that pay increase.”

Mr Cameron - widely believed to be a millionaire - added: “Whatever Ipsa recommends we can’t see the cost of politics or Westminster going up.

“We should see the cost of Westminster go down.”

But take the rank and file - the general public do not know the hours, blood, sweat and tears they put in.

An average MP can expect to work more than 12 hours each day - so do a lot of people in a lot of professions. But more often than not those days stretch to 15 hours and beyond. And they are always on call.

At the end of that gruelling week they will more likely than not have to travel a good distance to where their family live before seeing and hearing from the electorate face-to-face - and rightly so. But listening and trying to help with every problem from legal battles to blocked drains must be tiresome.

And it is tricky for MPs to let their hair down. Many an MP has ended up conducting impromptu surgeries in pubs and restaurants on Saturday evening when they have been recognised by a tired and emotional constituent with a grievance,

And then of course there is the job security - or lack there of. Once every five years or so you risk losing it all. Some might say that if an MP has been performing well they will keep winning but in the fickle world of politics that is often not the case. When the nation takes against a party or a leader hard-working backbench MPs that might have had little or nothing to do with the policies that have so irked the public can get the boot.

Being an MP is hard work and the conditions and expectations are unlike any other job. But the real reason they should get more money is to attract the right kind of candidate, and here their has to be a fine balance.

The decision to become a politician should not be financial alone. It should be about wanting to serve and make a difference for the good of the country.

If MPs’ pay hit such levels that candidates emerged because of the financial rewards Westminster would be even more corrupt than it ever has been - politicians main, initial motivation must never be about money.

But if the wage is too low - which it currently is - the really excellent candidates will instead chose the private sector.

Parliament should be made up of a mixture of people - not just those who are monied enough not to worry about wages, or those chasing big bucks. That is way the level of remuneration is such a tricky issue.

And politically it is always going to be tough for any party to justify handing out big pay increases because the electorate will not quite understand the level of commitment and expertise that goes into the role. In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher attempt to side-step the growing calls for pay rises for increasingly stressed MPs by introducing an expenses scheme. Sadly, as Westminster found out in 2009, this was rather open to abuse.

If MPs were to be paid in-line with other executive roles the standard of politics would undoubtedly rise.