Friday, February 19, 2010

In defence of MPs salaries

Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph points out some interesting information about public sector expenditure.

As always, the most juicy bits are the salaries. In transport for London (TfL), for example there are 231 people are paid more than £100,000. The UK Treasury has 21.

Meanwhile it may be worth remembering that an MP has a salary of £64,766.

The Chief Executive of Shrewsbury Council earned £335,000 last year. The Head of TfL earned £494,884

It may be worth recalling that the Prime Minister earned £197,689.

Although I think "Sir" Nicholas Winterton has been one of the more egregious expenses cheats, and a pompous ass to boot, the media shit storm about his annoyance at losing his free first class rail travel seems a bit overdone. After all first class rail travel is a privilege that is extended to all officers in the army above the rank of Major.

MPs have become every one's whipping post, but at least 80% of them try to do a good job in not particularly great working conditions and actually quite poor remuneration, when one considers the rest of the public sector.

I, for one, hope that the new Parliament resents the outrageous larding of public sector pay and conditions so much that this is where they start the bonfire of the public sector vanities.


Matthew Huntbach said...

My wife recently decided to buy an "Oyster card", a thing provided by TfL which enables you to pre-pay for travel in London and which has just been extended to cover where we live in south-east London, served by overground rail rather than the underground network.

Well, the information provided on this, and the on-line system used to purchase one was appalling. We still have not got a straight answer from anyone on exactly how the charging system works. Every employee you ask at a counter gives you a different answer. The literature is just so badly written. The web-site is worse. As just a simple example, you are supposed to register your card, but the literature calls this process by one name in one place, by another name in another place, and the web-site calls it by a third name, and has such a tiny non-obvious link to how you do it that we spent ages trying to work out how to do it. This is just one example of bad design. The only reason I have not written a letter of complaint to TfL, is that the simple process of buying an Oyster card from them has amassed a dossier of bad practices on which I could write a whole dissertation. I haven't had time to sit down and write to them all that I want to write to them. I am looking at this from my professional role as an educator in IT, so I do have some professional knowledge in good communication and things like design of human interfaces. If a student of mine produced a website as bad as TfL's Oyster card site, I'd give that student a very low grade.

All this to say - TfL employ 231 people on a salary of over £100,000 yet they can't employ anyone who van design a decent website, or employ a little bit of general common sense and customer know-how to pick up all the things wrong with their website which I did in just an hour or so of using it.

I'd be happy to do the job of pointing out what is wrong with their website and suggesting improvements to it for half of £100,000, which would still be more than I get paid as a university lecturer with 20 years experience.

Anonymous said...

Although salaries of £300K plus for a local authority chief executive do seem excessive - in no way does a backbench MP merit a salary signiificantly higher than they are getting. They just don't have the responsibility. Neither do they need to put in years of study as do doctors - whose salaries seem to be a frequent aspiration for MPs.

I do think it is wrong that a local authority chief executive is paid more than the prime minister - I think the PM should be paid a higher salary than he gets now.

I'm also not in favour of doing away totally with MPs 2nd homes expenses/allowance in favour of paying all MPs a higher salary. That is a stupid idea which would make MPs not needing a 2nd home intrinsically better off than their peers.

KelvinKid said...

I would be a lot more impressed with your condemnation of public sector salaries if you had compared them to comparable jobs in the private sector.

Cicero said...

KelvinKid- The private sector generates wealth and whether we use one or another firm and thus subscribe to the directors pay is optional. Meanwhile public sector pay comes out of our pockets whether we wish it or not and is generally not performance related. Private sector pay is a matter for private shareholders. Public sector pay has fallen through the recession: public sector pay has continued to rise.

Matthew- I do think your points are absolutely on the money.

Anonymous- I do think we should be more thoughtful and less angry about Parliament

Dr Kevin said...

i would be interested to know how you measure the fact that 80% of MP's do a good job ?

is that statistic verfiable in any way ?

Cicero said...

Dr Kevin, well I think Yes, but as always it depends on what you are measuring. If you go to you can find a series of objective measures: amount of casework, speed in answering queries, questions asked and so on. The message seems quite clear to me that most MPS put in long hours both in their constituencies and at the House of Commons. Most of them are pretty tireless in seeking to improve the lot of their constituents. It is even true that most of them did not so much cheat in their expenses as were caught out by complicated rules- and the amounts of money involved were a few hundred not tens of thousands.
Where they do cheat or are lazy or useless, they should be punished, but our electoral system does not allow choices between candidates of the same party so in a "safe seat" it is next to impossible to get rid of them. Funnily enough the most disgraceful behaviour of MPs is almost entirely amongst MPs in safe seats- I don't think that is co-incidence