Friday, April 10, 2009

Second Homes for Politicians

I realise this is a post which will receive scant sympathy. But its been irritating me ever since I read the article in today's Telegraph which informs us that the Leader of the Liberal Democrats proposes that MPs should not be allowed to use their allowances to buy second homes - particularly since he claimed £23,000 for his own second home last year (according to the Telegraph that is). Lets consider this in a rational, logical way - though I do accept that the levels of inventiveness with which allowances have been used may have taken the issue beyond rational consideration.

Now what seems reasonable? To me its where a politician's constituency is sufficiently far from the relevant 'parliament' to make commuting impractical. In such cases, financial support should be given to help with the additional unavoidable cost. It also seems reasonable to me that a politician living within commuting distance should not be eligible. The total of the financial support should equate to the cheapest way of accessing what is deemed to be 'reasonable' accommodation. The cheapest way would probably be the use of hotels - and I reckon a 'mid-standard' hotel should be the benchmark. Whatever figure is decided, I cannot see any reason why a politician should not be free to use that 'allowance' to pay for a hotel, pay rent for accommodation, or pay the mortgage interest on a flat. Personally, I detest staying in hotels or in beds that others have slept in - so I would prefer to rent or buy a property which would be a family home, if I were to find myself facing such a situation.

We can all see that there is a serious problem at the moment - which has to be addressed. Its destroying what respect there was for politicians. But it should be addressed by dealing directly with the problem. The allowance should be restricted to what most of us thought it was - help with accommodation near the relevant 'parliament' for those who cannot commute. Some of the arrangements we've been made aware of over the last few weeks have astounded me. And then being told that they are within the rules has astounded me even more. The rules need changing. In addition, every payment should be made public, and based on the production of a receipt. Problem solved.

What I would find objectionable is that a position be created where politicians who live near London, Cardiff or Edinburgh should, in effect, be receiving higher remuneration that those who live beyond commuting distance - and it would be considerably higher if a flat rate salary were to be paid. I also see a problem with requiring any 'profit' made on a purchased property to be handed back. It could work, but to be fair, there would have to be some complex system of assessing inflation during the period of ownership. And what about losses incurred on a property - the one-way bet doesn't seem very fair.

Anyway, I've posted this blog, expecting disagreement, but hoping for rational debate and reasoned argument. And I didn't post it deliberately on Good Friday, when most people have gone on holiday for Easter, hoping that no-one would notice. That's another expenses trick that I strongly disapprove of.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Glyn Davies said...

Anon - Sorry but had to delete your comment. The same point has been raised with me several times before - but I do not know it to be true, so it could be libellous.

Jeff Jones said...

As usual the Swedes have a sensible system. Second homes in Stockholm for MPs who live outside the capital are provided rent free.The Swedish Parliament owns about 250 apartments. It would be easy in the present housing market for both the UK parliament and the Assembly,for example, to set up a similar system. I can think of a site in Cardiff where a former client has already got planning permission for such a complex. Those who live outside the government apartments In Sweden receive a very small flat rate compensation figure.All Swedish MPs have to use the cheapest form of travel and it has to be booked through the parliamentary travel office. The ideas for reform are there if only MPs have the courage to adopt them. At the same time in an age of devolution we also have to have a sensible debate regarding the number of MPs that are required. There is an interesting contribution by Ken Baker in the Telegraph on this. Althougn how his suggestion for just 29 MPs for Wales would go down I don't know!