Thursday 7 February 2008

Honesty will put people off

I'll admit to a bit of a sigh of exasperation when I read this article on the BBC website, which reports on the claim that having to publish expenses claims will put people off entering politics;

Greater transparency over MPs' expenses could put people off standing for Parliament, Commons authorities say.

Resources boss Andrew Walker said rent, phone, food and other bills could offer a "peephole" on MPs' private lives.

I had two gut reactions to this; firstly - g
ood. Politics has far too many people already in it to make a quick buck. Money should never be what attracts a person into a career in public service, not least as it opens you to corruption from the outset. I didn't stand for election to make money, and that that's how things have remained (if you want info on how much ordinary Councillors actually earn, it's here).

Secondly, scrutiny is good. Elected politicians are paid for by the public purse, and it's only right that the public should know how that money is being spent.

The Scottish Parliament, after a few early slip-ups (step forward Henry McLeish and David McLetchie), has made it's MSPs accountable down to the bottle of milk and the newspaper through public publishing of allowances paid. If you want, you can check through every MSP in Scotland. You can find out that Wendy Alexander for reasons unknown bought several copies of the same book. You can discover (and ponder why) Pauline McNeill paid minimal rent on her West End office in the last session. It's all in there.

So why doesn't Westminster follow the Scottish Parliament's good example? When even the much maligned European Parliament has made moves recently to improve it's systems of accountability, you can see how far Westminster is lagging far behind. All moves to improve access to allowances information tend to be fiercely resisted. Why? The only plausible reason is that MPs have too much to lose financially from public disclosure of their spending.

You might wonder where I think Glasgow City Council fits in all of this. Well, we do have to at least complete a declaration of interests. Mine is here. Personally, I don't think that's enough accountability, and I believe Council should also follow the example of the Scottish Parliament.


Mark McDonald said...

Only yesterday I wrote a cheque to the Council to pay back claims I had made for a taxi and some stamps.

It may be sad but I would rather be out of pocket than face some of the misguided vitriol which comes our way over expenses.

Marco Biagi said...

She paid minimal rent because the office is donated by Brian Dempsey through a holding company registered in the name of his wife and son.

Apparently donations like that to a Parliamentary office rather than a political one don't show up with the Electoral Commission. I can't help thinking that with recent events that might be an interesting fact for certain people.