On April 1st, MPs are set to receive a pay rise – a pay rise that is above the 1 per cent public-sector rise threshold currently in place. This rise will bring the base salary of an MP to £76,011, classing MPs as some of the highest earners in the country.
Which brings into even sharper relief the series of expense stories that are currently making the headlines.
Multi-millionaires Jeremy Hunt and Philip Hammond were found to be claiming 70p for parking and paying back £1.65 for over-claiming on milk and bottled water respectively. The ongoing investigation into the House of Lords, where members had been accused in some cases of entering the building, signing in to get their £300 daily allowance and then leaving, was dropped to avoid a ‘press storm’. And the Conservative party were fined £70,000 – the biggest party fine to date – for failing to disclose six-figure sums of money being spent during the general election.
It’s a topic that I’ve addressed before, but there are only so many times that you can say that the expenses members of parliament need to follow the same rules as those in the private sector. What strikes me as the real issue, is the way in which MPs need to file and submit these expenses. This is important for reasons twofold.
Firstly, how can we expect to analyse the spending of government if we have to sift through 16,000 line IPSA spreadsheets ever quarter, which contain the barest minimum in details for many of their entries. With the advanced way that data can be stored and sorted in the blink of an eye nowadays, the fact that the archaic spreadsheet is still being used really does seem ludicrous.
And secondly, how can we expect the people, tasked with running vital aspects of the country, to sit down after hours and file away for stationary and mileage (as an example, the official IPSA mileage submission document runs to a little over four pages). In the run-up to the budget, I doubt that Philip Hammond was working a basic nine to five working day, or that he was deliberately trying to rip off the British public to the tune of £1.65.
If we are to both gain the insight needed and allow MPs to work on the core components of their critical roles, then the expense process needs to be fundamentally reformed. Automation is a core component of this for a large amount of the private sector, and by employing this kind of technology surely many of the issues that arise with MPs would be reduced.
There are a host of technologies that can aid the process. Automated mileage trackers would stop the need for submissions of a few pounds for car trips, along with the claims over the years which have been found to be fraudulent. Optical character recognition is also built into mobile apps which can automatically build an expense report from pictures of receipts, reduce incorrectly added figures and also maintains a digital store of the receipts as evidence.
These are technologies that are readily available today, so it seems crazy that this kind of technology has not been rolled out to government. After all, MPs are paid to carry out a vital public service, not to waste their time filling in paperwork. It’s high time that the technology available to both hold MPs accountable and help them reduce these archaic processes is implemented.
Dafydd Llewellyn is the MD of UK SMB, Concur, an employee spend management company that was acquired by SAP for around $8.3 billion in 2013.