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Standard consultation response to copy and email to IPSA
Below is a standard email to the IPSA consultation we have prepared for you. This is a summary of our much larger response which is available here (attach PDF). For those of you who are short on time, you can copy and paste it straight into an email with the subject title ‘Consultation Response’ addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org
For those of you with a bit more time or who have more complex issues with IPSA, it would be great if you could add your own comments to personalise the message. In particular, we would be grateful if members could emphasise our comments on the publication of salary details, the separate maternity/paternity/adoptive care budget and restoring “check-off” for trade union subscriptions. These are IPSA proposals that reflect arguments the union branch has made in previous consultations.
IPSA are more likely to take notice of the branch’s overall submission if they can see that it is supported by a large number of MPs’ staff. Our submissions will be competing for attention with hundreds of others so a large number of emails from our members would make a real difference.
Insert your name
Insert your contact details/email address
Dear Sir Ian Kennedy,
I am responding to IPSA’s annual review of the MPs’ expenses scheme to let you know how your scheme has affected the working practices of MPs’ staff like myself and to suggest positive changes for a revised scheme.
The staffing budget limit needs to rise
·A survey by the Unite Parliamentary Staff Branch found that of those surveyed who processed claims under the old system, 70% spent less than an hour a week on this task. Under the new IPSA scheme only 8% spend so little time; 58% spend 3 hours or more a week, and 26% spend more than 5 hours each week processing claims. The cost of these staff-hours should be included when calculating the cost of the new expenses system, since this labour is paid for out of public funds.
· The current £109,548 budget represents a real-term reduction from the budget that existed before IPSA took over, mainly because of the inclusion of employer pension contributions. IPSA previously stated that the two budgets are not comparable because costs that used to be allocated to this budget have now been removed, such as translation and cleaning services. But this argument does not hold up – a House of Commons written answer in September 2010 shows the budget was not widely used to claim for these items. The removal of these areas does not leave more capacity in the staff budget for the majority of MPs. Employer pension contributions should be transferred back into a central budget held by IPSA.
·IPSA based its budget staffing limit on the 2007 recommendation of the Senior Salaries Review Board (SSRB), specified as the mid-point of 3.5 full-time members of staff per MP. This figure is now outdated and does not reflect the growing casework generated by email. The SSRB should conduct a fresh review, as the basis for calculating the budget should be more like 4.5 staff per MP.
· Unite’s survey shows that half of the respondents reported reductions in hours worked or paid positions in their office since IPSA took over, while 34 respondents stated that there had been redundancies in their office. The staffing budget is clearly not enough and the limit must go up.
Pay grades need to be reviewed and reformed
·There is pay disparity within MPs’ offices as a result of the IPSA scheme that is creating tension amongst some staff. IPSA introduced pay scales that started higher and ended lower than pre-May 2010, and as a result, new staff may earn more than staff who may have worked for their MP for some years in the same jobs. There must be a levelling up so that no member of staff is employed at below the pay scales that IPSA now advocates.
·There is currently no room for career progression in the IPSA pay scales. As the current staff budget is based on mid-point salaries, there are specific problems in offices which contain long-time staff. There needs to be a “concertina” style of budget that could expand to reflect more expensive long-term staff and then contract after they leave.
Performance-related bonuses for MPs’ staff should be re-instated with safeguards
· IPSA says that it banned bonuses to safeguard against any abuse of staffing expenditure, in particular relating to MPs who employ family members. However no evidence of widespread abuse of this kind emerged during the expenses scandal.
·For many low-paid staff, no reward for hard work has been available for the past year because of the ban bonuses. Staff regularly work long hours beyond their contracted hours, and few apply for overtime.
·Other workers in the public sector, who are also funded by the public purse, are not subject to such as ban. Some kind of performance-related monetary reward should be available to MPs to give staff to reward hard work, with necessary safeguards such as a cap as a percentage of pay.
IPSA should continue to approve all contracts and pay
·IPSA should continue to approve all contracts and pay variations, as this is the best security against poor employers trying to set worse conditions for their staff.
Action needs to be taken to fund interns properly and prevent exploitation
·IPSA’s original consultation recognised that “interns are employees, and relevant employment legislation will apply, such as the National Minimum Wage”, but no steps have been taken to ensure this.
·IPSA is perpetuating a system whereby only people from a wealthy background have the ability to intern in Parliament, which is a pre-requisite for the majority of paid jobs with MPs
·IPSA should establish a separate Interns Fund that could pay for an MP to employ interns at the Living Wage or London Living Wage for a set period of time, for example six months of the year.
IPSA should create a separate central budget for maternity, paternity and adoptive care payments
·Widespread offence was caused by the designation of these payments as “contingencies”, as well as the qualifying criteria that seemed to apply to these payments – “whether the Member could reasonably have been expected to take any action to avoid the circumstances which gave rise to the expenditure or liability”.
·This appeared to make the employment of female staff less attractive to MPs, with clear equalities implications that could well have forced legal action.
·It is good that IPSA has taken on board Unite’s demand for a separate, guaranteed budget to eliminate these concerns – this is a positive and necessary step forward. This budget must come from central funds and be exempt from the qualifiers that apply to the contingency budget.
·IPSA’s decision to remove the salary supplement for new staff of MPs of £8 per day towards the cost of childcare, and instead allow a salary sacrifice scheme, has had a negative impact on staff with children. This supplement should be reinstated for new staff and expenditure should come from a central budget rather than the staffing budget to avoid making it more expensive for MPs to employ someone with children.
IPSA should only publish the total staffing expenditure – this gives enough transparency
·Most staff are against IPSA’s recent proposal to publish individual salaries in five thousand pound bands alongside job descriptions for good reasons.
·We work in small teams and most staff would be immediately identifiable from this information. Publication would surely breach Data Protection law. Many staff are also front-line workers and could be open to abuse from constituents if their salaries were disclosed.
·The full staffing expenditure will already be published and that provides transparency for the public. IPSA is also an independent body and the public will be satisfied that salaries fall within the pay scales you have set before being paid.
IPSA should reinstate ‘check off’ trade union subscriptions
·It is good that IPSA is proposing to restore the “check-off” for trade union subscriptions to be paid through payroll. This never should have been removed as it is a standard feature of any payroll system.
IPSA should take immediate steps to improve HR support for staff and recognise the trade union
·There is no currently no personnel or human resources advice available for staff of MPs from either IPSA or the House. Unite’s survey showed that 52% of respondents have needed personnel advice or support since the election. This is an area that is currently lost in the cracks between IPSA and the House and you must come to an agreement as to who will now provide support.
·The grievance and disciplinary procedures in standard IPSA contracts are inadequate. It is not right or fair that any dispute between an MP and their staff will be considered and adjudicated by the MP themselves, as will any appeal without any recourse to any independent person. There is no other organisation where these procedures would be considered acceptable. This needs to be addressed urgently – IPSA needs to include provision for a third party to hear disputes and grievances.
·There are many areas where it looks like IPSA is the employer, not the MPs. Although MPs are able to recruit and fire their staff, IPSA sets pay scales, budgets that determine terms and conditions, prohibits bonuses, limits the discretion of MPs and issues P45 forms with IPSA listed as the employer. MPs are basically line managers; IPSA is our de facto employer and so should recognise the Unite Parliamentary Staff branch for the purposes of collective bargaining. If you are not willing to do this, staff would be better served by being centralised under the house authorities, as MPs voted in 2009.
I hope you will take these points I have raised onboard and amend the MPs’ Expenses scheme to improve conditions for MPs’ staff, who had nothing to do with the expenses scandal but are being unfairly penalised for it under the current scheme.