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IPSA blog > Month of ideas > Posts > Professor David Haslam CBE


May 31
Professor David Haslam CBE

What’s so special about Members of Parliament? Why do their salaries and pensions cause so much controversy? After all, the answer should be relatively straightforward – we shouldn’t pay them so little that talented people are discouraged from standing for election, and we shouldn’t pay them so much that the public resents their income.

But the job of being an MP can be potentially hugely challenging, requiring a range of skills across a wide sector. Most MPs work long and anti-social hours, with potentially little in the way of job security. Most MPs that I have worked with have been driven by a genuine desire to make a difference. Many are remarkably bright people who could earn much more in the private sector – but had chosen not to.

And then it all gets complicated by perceptions – perceptions that being an MP, and in particular being a minister, is a shoe-in for a highly lucrative private sector role when the political work is done.

Many employees have performance related pay. On one level, MPs actually have the ultimate in performance related pay - if they don’t do what their constituents want, they lose their job. But this is simplistic – after all more MPs lose their jobs because their constituents don’t like the Prime Minister than because the constituents don’t like the MP –it is performance related, just not the recipient’s performance.

And whatever system is chosen, some people will complain. An ideal scenario would come up with a system that the public see as fair and that MPs see as fair. Much dissent arises from the fact that MPs are seen as being their own pay negotiators, voting on their own pay awards, often at a time when they are encouraging everyone else to exhibit restraint in the national interest.

So, to solve this, there would be real logic in linking MP’s pay and pensions to the pay of another public sector group. This is important public sector work and should be treated accordingly. So which group should we choose? Doctors? Doctors are still trusted, valued, and respected – but to become a consultant requires around 12 years training – much more than the training required to become an MP. Is this a fair comparison? The average basic salary of a hospital consultant is between £74,504 and £100,446 per year.

How about teachers? The average pay for a secondary school head teacher ranges between £49k and £112k though a few earn very much more. Maybe there is a simple solution. Tie the average MP’s pay and pension arrangements to a midpoint between a senior doctor and a senior teacher – all three are in the public sector.  Or choose another bundle of public sector workers as the comparator. There should be public debate about which workers this might be, but the principle would be sound, logical, and would not need constant revision.

Though I suspect that more of the public would be even more interested in ensuring that citizens standing for election had done something in their lives other than politics. But that is quite another issue.



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