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Gripes and grumbles

Mark D'Arcy | 16:21 UK time, Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Sir Ian Kennedy, Chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards AuthorityCommenting on the post below, Johnlbell asks if when I talk about MPs grappling with organisational chores, I mean that they're beavering away to neuter ISPA, the parliamentary ethics watchdog. No. I mean they're sorting out mundane details about offices and computers and which committees, if any, they want to serve on.

But that is not to say that MPs have learned to love IPSA. Quite the reverse. You can hardly venture into Westminster without hearing new complaints about its alleged bureaucracy, inflexibility and absurdity from indignant parliamentarians. And the departure of the interim operations manager for IPSA, Nigel Gooding, who said he was quitting what he called "a challenging work environment" for "the sake of my health and sanity" gives some idea of the tsunami of angst washing around the whole issue of Commons expenses.

A particular bone of contention is that the pensions and national insurance costs of staff members now have to be met from within their individual staffing allowances, rather than being paid directly by the Commons authorities - which has the effect of reducing the number of staff MPs can afford to take on. There's talk of MPs being expected to meet sometimes extensive start-up costs from their own pockets and then claim them back, which requires the act of faith that IPSA will ultimately agree to cough up. Some, it is said, have been offered loans by IPSA.

Some of the wilder tales may turn out to be urban myths - but the growing fury of MPs is undeniable. And the key point is that the fury does not result from a frustrated sense of entitlement to duck islands, porn films or moat clearing. The most vehement complaints are about the sheer difficulty of extracting the funding needed to provide the service their constituents expect. (Any politician mad enough to make indefensible claims after the revelations of recent years would deserve their inevitable fate...)

Tomorrow (Wednesday) the Labour backbencher David Winnick has obtained a Westminster Hall debate on "Government Policy on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority". It should be a lorra lorra laffs, unless, that is, you are the minister who will reply...

It could be Nick Clegg, since the Deputy Prime Minister has been awarded responsibility for IPSA, but normally these kinds of debates are answered by less exalted figures. And in any case the default answer to questions on IPSA is that it is an independent body in which they do not interfere.

Even so, I anticipate 90 minutes of rumbustious discussion, with plenty of angry contributions from the legion of the aggrieved, culminating in a minister looking all innocent and disclaiming any responsibility as everyone else snorts in derision. Should be fun...


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