Why pay MPs to play the property market?

WHENEVER the subject of MPs' pay finds its way into the headlines, it is seldom long before one or other among them declares - with an unavoidable hint of pomposity - that he (or, rather more occasionally, she) could be earning more in the private sector.

WHENEVER the subject of MPs' pay finds its way into the headlines, it is seldom long before one or other among them declares - with an unavoidable hint of pomposity - that he (or, rather more occasionally, she) could be earning more in the private sector.

Often, usually perhaps, such claims are valid and it is, goodness only knows, in everyone's interests for Parliament to attract people of high calibre.

That there are also a few MPs who would probably struggle to earn anything like their current salaries in the “real world” is also true.

But one of the unfortunate things about the current controversy over MPs expenses claims is that it has embroiled not only members of all parties but also members of all abilities, such has been the culture of excess in recent years.


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Within the private sector, the era of claiming “expenses” without receipts is pretty much a thing of the past - not just because employers are keen, for obvious commercial reasons, to prevent abuse of the system but also (and perhaps even more) because HM Revenue & Customs isn't prepared to have the wool pulled over its eyes when it comes to taxable “benefits in kind”.

The fact that MPs are shielded from, and in some cases completely out of touch with, the realities which are part and parcel of everyday life for most working people is perhaps even more damaging to their image than way so many of them appear to have used the expenses system to maximum advantage.

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Given the manner in which “second home” designations have been switched for the purposes of making additional cost claims, and the nature of many of the items claimed for, the almost universal defence offered up by MPs that their claims were “within the rules” is beside the point.

And even where claims have plainly been entirely within the rules (such as they are) one is sometimes left wondering how the rules came to be dreamed up in the first place. Why, for example, is food classed as an “additional” expense? If an MP has dinner at his London home he presumably doesn't also dine in his constituency.

The new rules which, it seems, will now be drawn up will need to be far more robust, as will the process of authorising claims under them.

But is there not, perhaps, an even cheaper solution? Why not build a few suitable apartment blocks to accommodate MPs who need an additional home?

Remove the opportunity for MPs to play the London property market with taxpayers' money, and you remove much of the incentive to milk the system in the first place.

And, of course, to ensure the efficiency of the operation, the job could be given to the private sector.

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