Political pay in UK: Take allowances into account

Dear Ms Indranee Rajah,

I refer to the 19 Jan 2012 Straits Times report of your speech in parliament.

You said when citing UK ministerial salaries, a whole host of allowances specified in the Green Book should also be included. That may not be the right thing to do. For example, the Green Book spells out the eligibility criteria for additional accommodation claims as:

– overnight stays in London when main home is in constituency
– overnight stays in constituency when main home is in London
– when main home is neither in London or constituency

In other words, this claim arises from the huge commuting distances between British constituency and parliament. For example, a Scottish MP whose main home is in Scotland would have to stay in a hotel in London to attend parliament. The claims for such expenses do not go into the pockets of the British MP but are expended over the course of his work. It is therefore not right to include them as part of the British MP’s salary. Singapore MPs have no need for such claims because Singapore is so small and MPs can easily drive to and from parliament everyday. Imagine if Singapore were to remain in Malaysia and MPs have to travel up to KL to attend parliament, would they not incur additional accommodation expenses? Would they not want to claim such expenses?

Similarly, while British MPs have to pay for their offices, Singapore MPs don’t have to. Or at least PAP MPs don’t have to because meet-the-people’s session venues are provided for cheaply by the HDB through the PAP Community Foundation. While British MPs have to hire people to help them run their offices, Singapore MPs get plenty of help from the grassroots who in turn derive other benefits like priority in school enrolment. British MPs also have to incur higher costs travelling greater distances to attend parliament. All these are additional costs that British MPs face that Singapore MPs don’t. It would be unfair to include them as part of British MP salary.

You also remarked that British allowance claims are totally opaque because we have no idea how much they add up to. Actually, we do know how much they add up to. We can even download their details here: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/members-allowances/house-of-commons/house-of-commons-scheme-guides/hocallowances07/unformatted-data-for-200910-and-201011/. The breakdown of most expense categories are clearly listed, MP by MP. While it is true that claims are susceptible to abuse, the fault lies not with claims itself but with the approval and monitoring process. The recent online publishing of British MP claims will help to reduce cases of abuse. There is also a guideline that can be downloaded here: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-information-office/fymp/m05.pdf.

The £5.8 million UK taxpayers paid for MP’s food when spread over 650 MPs and over 12 months is £744 per MP per month. The table below shows that even if we add food costs and the maximum that the British MP can claim to the British cabinet minister’s salary, the amount is still far less than £1 million.

Annual Monthly
Cabinet minister’s salary £134,565 £11,214
Staffing expenditure £103,812 £8,651
Administrative and office expenditure £22,393 £1,866
Additional accomodation expenditure £24,222 £2,019
London costs allowance £7,500 £625
Winding up expenditure (assume amortised over 5 years) £42,068 £3,506
Communications expenditure £10,400 £867
Food £8,923 £744
Total £320,229 £26,686

If British people are up in arms over food and claims expenditure that total up to £185,664, would they be happier if their cabinet ministers were paid £1 million instead?


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