Karl McCartney MP: Why I've questioned the role of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority
Many times in life, we have to make decisions that we might live to regret – or look back on and be glad that we stood up for something we believed in.
I believe in free speech. On many occasions I have stuck by and supported my constituents who are under pressure from organisations and bureaucracies that negatively impact on their lives.
These organisations provide immense frustration and unwieldy power over them as individuals and they feel they have little hope of affecting reasonable and common sense changes to that relationship or processes that impact on them and their families so harshly.
Last Wednesday morning I was told by a third party that if I did not desist from exposing the frankly scandalous charge that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) costs the taxpayer to administer MPs' expenses, then the organisation would make sure, through FOI requests or other means, that three comments I had made on my IPSA claim forms would be made public.
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For an elected Member of Parliament to be confronted with such a threat from a non-elected civil servant was unexpected. I am not proud that my frustration led me to making such comments, and I have apologised fully, but the context in which they were made should be known before the judgement on my actions is reached.
Many Members of Parliament have had, and after two-and-a-half years still have, ongoing issues with IPSA. We would much rather spend our time getting on with the job we were elected to do rather than dealing with the bureaucracy that surrounds IPSA.
In my case, for five months after being elected as a Member of Parliament, a large sum of money, which included salaries for my staff, had been withheld for no good reason other than their incompetence.
The people I employ had helped me hit the ground running and deal with a heavy workload on behalf of the people of Lincoln who had elected me.
They had mortgages to pay and living to do with their families. So did I. Such delays in payments still occur today. No Member of Parliament wants to worry about their allowances and expenses, they just want to be able to do the job they were elected to do.
At this unexpected meeting last Wednesday I was then told the content of three comments that IPSA had noted.
While admitting I had made them, I pointed out that some were made over 18 months ago, and I was surprised that IPSA had not raised any concerns directly with me at the time they were made.
It is worth noting that all three comments were made in response to specific comments from IPSA employees on my claim forms that they spuriously delayed.
Subsequently, all these claims have been paid to me. I have never submitted a "dodgy" claim and I have never had to pay any monies back to IPSA.
It seems an "untouchables" attitude pervades at IPSA – along with an incompetent and unsympathetic culture, clearly demonstrated on the one occasion when I did meet a senior management team member in June 2011.
His attitude was one, it seems, that permeates many at IPSA – you are all rich and can afford it, and we do not answer to anyone. His parting shot was a surprise to me: "When we go down to the pub on a Friday night, our mates tell us we need to screw you lot into the floor – and that's what we are going to do." I did not make that shocking statement by a senior IPSA employee public at the time. Perhaps I should have.
I made a decision last week that I would not be silenced and bullied. By standing up the following day, Thursday, to ask a business question on IPSA, I was willing to take the consequences of them making public my comments.
They decided to publish their chief executive's letter to me, with no Freedom of Information request having been made, nor any regard to the Data Protection Act, nor professional management processes being followed in 18 months.
In my Parliamentary Question I truthfully pointed out that no organisation, charity or business would allow their finance department to budget a cost per employee of c.£10,000 pa. to process individual allowance and expense claims.
Instead of dealing with such a serious issue, the IPSA chief executive chose to attempt to smear me. The letter he sent me had not appeared on the IPSA website before media stories appeared.
Obviously, the three communication officers (cost to the taxpayer: c.£95k each) pro-actively "sold-in" the story to the media and e-mailed the letter that I eventually received electronically in my office.
I will continue to stick up for myself, my colleagues and for the taxpayer, in my dealings with IPSA, who should effectively administer the expenses and allowances of Members of Parliament and their staff. Once they manage that brief competently, maybe they can then come back and lecture us on their moral crusade.