Saturday, November 7, 2009

"But what good came of it at last?"

As every schoolchild ought to know but probably does not, that is a line from Robert Southey's The Battle of Blenheim. These are the closing lines of the poem:

"But what good came of it at last?"
Quoth little Peterkin.
"Why, that I cannot tell," said he,
"But 'twas a famous victory."

We are all supposed to be celebrating a great victory in the battle over the MPs' expenses and the Taxpayers' Alliance is, indeed, doing so. The establishment of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and their participating in it (as listed a little way down here) is considered to be a great success in the fight against dishonesty and power-grabbing.

Indeed, they proudly announce that many of their suggestions have been adopted, which is why, one assumes that they are the only right-wing organization (or so they say) to have been asked to participate in the implementation panel of this latest of quangos.

So it is this really such a famous victory? I beg leave to doubt. The TPA has been conducting a robust campaign against quangos, unaccountable organizations, high salaries in the public sector. Well, what is the IPSA but an unaccountable organization that seems to have an open-ended view of how much it will cost.

In this list of Frequently Asked Questions on the official IPSA website, we read the following proud announcement:
How independent is the IPSA?

The IPSA is an independent body. The Chair, Members and Commissioner for Parliamentary Investigations of the IPSA are appointed through an independent, rigorous, fair and open competition.

Sounds wonderful until we realize what that means. It is independent from any accountable body - i.e. it is completely unaccountable.

How will those appointments be made?
The posts of Chair and Members of IPSA were openly advertised in September, and candidates are being considered through an independent and open competition, run by a panel chaired by the Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland. MPs have had and will have no involvement in that part of the process.

All those considered to be appointable are put forward to the Speaker who then decides who to appoint. The Speaker’s preferred candidates for each post is then put forward to the Speaker’s Committee, and the Committee is asked to agree them. At the conclusion of this process, the House of Commons will be asked to approve IPSA’s membership, including the chair. They will not be able to cherry-pick from a list of candidates. This is the same process as has been followed for appointments to other roles where independence is paramount – for instance that of the membership of the Electoral Commission.
I call that only relatively open as the appointment is made somewhat opaquely. But the biggest problem here that this appointed and unaccountable body will be running various aspects of the House of Commons, the elected body. What we are seeing is the last vestiges of any power being taken away from that body and being given to a quango. From now on, MPs will not be able to run their own financial affairs any more than they can legislate on most matters. Is this really a famous victory? Why does the TPA think so? Why is it involved in this organization?

Then there is the question of payment, left open for the time being. From those FAQs:
How much will IPSA cost?

The IPSA is under a statutory duty to aim to do things efficiently and cost-effectively. Implementation of IPSA is still at an early stage, with various options being developed. It is too early to say how much IPSA will cost to run as this will depend on decisions which have not been taken. The main cost of IPSA will be the allowances scheme itself and the salaries of MPs.
Yes, well, they all talk about that statutory obligation and not running an expensive operation but somehow the costs mount up. Let us have a look how we are doing so far:
What will the Chair earn? And what will be the arrangements for his or her expenses?

Details of remuneration were made public in the advertisements for the post - £700 per day plus reasonable expenses incurred. It is expected the Chair will work 3 days a week initially, reducing to 1 day a week, and capped at £100,000 for the first year.
That's just the start. We go on to some other insignificant expenses:
When will the IPSA Chair and members be appointed?

The Speaker’s Committee for the IPSA has ratified the Speaker’s nomination of Professor Sir Ian Kennedy (PDF 11Kb) to be the Chair of IPSA. We expect that an announcement on the Members will follow shortly afterwards.

What is the role of the Interim Chief Executive?

The interim Chief Executive will take forward the IPSA implementation programme, working with the Chair and Members on appointment. The ICE will be the accounting officer for the IPSA implementation programme and for the IPSA until a permanent Chief Executive is appointed.

Who is the interim Chief Executive?

Andrew McDonald took up post on 14 September 2009. Andrew McDonald was previously the chief executive of Government Skills, the Sector Skills Council for central government and the Armed Forces. He has been a civil servant for the past twenty years and has undertaken a range of policy and operational roles including the delivery of a construction project, leading a new agency at its start-up and running the constitutional reform programme.

How much does the Interim Chief Executive earn?

The post of Interim Chief Executive is paid in the range £105,000 – £115,000 per annum. This was benchmarked against similar public sector roles and the salary compares favourably.

The post of permanent Chief Executive can only be appointed after the appointment of the IPSA, and will be subject to fair and open competition.
You will be glad to know that they will be publishing their expenses "on a rolling basis".

Somehow, it seems entirely appropriate that the new Chairman of this new quango should be a friend of Alistair Campbell's.

No comments:

Post a Comment