Shock Brown move on MPs’ expenses may halt the gravy trains

In a neat and radical pre-Budget diversion, Gordon Brown ( through Commons leader Harriet Harman) has announced his own swingeing interim reforms for MPs’ allowances. There’ll be rows over the proposed replacement for a second homes allowance, a flat rate daily attendance allowance. But the main longer term issue is the basic salary level which is too low and which rising expenses were designed to redress before they ran out of control.

Two big time bombs for Northern Ireland. One “ We will ask the Committee on Standards in Public Life to look at the circumstances applying in Northern Ireland before final application of the flat rate allowance for MPs representing Northern Ireland. As the flat rate allowances will be “based on actual attendance at Westminster on parliamentary and government business or the business of the Opposition frontbenches,” this means an end to Sinn Fein allowances if it means anything. Or can they squeeze through by claiming they do “parliamentary business” without actually attending Parliament? If not, this would be the first reverse they‘ve suffered at Westminster since 2001.

The other bombshell relates to staffing and should hit the local political dynasties .

MPs’ Staff. In future all staff appointed by MPs without exception should become direct employees of the House of Commons, which would become centrally responsible for their employment terms and conditions, their contracts, and the payment of their salaries within the limit allowed – and will have the right to make an independent assessment of such contracts. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is examining the rules governing employment of spouses or other relatives.

Again if this means anything it should mean a degree of open competition for MPs’ support jobs, thus undermining jobs for the kids. The absence of job interviews for NI Assembly jobs is a scandal, violating the whole spirit of Fair Employment. It should be brought into line with the rest of the public sector. Next week’s Commons vote and speeches on the new clampdown should be fascinating, I can’t wait to hear what the First Minister will say.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London