The Robinson family business

At last the Robinsons. We know the big picture but there are a couple of embarrassing details. Peter and Iris Robinson who have always spend most of their time in Northern Ireland are a high maintenance couple. Along with two children, they resemble a family business, an SME ( a small or medium enterprise).

Mr Robinson, the MP for East Belfast who has also been the First Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly since June last year, and his wife, the MP for Strangford, received a total of £571,939 in 2007-08 in salaries and expenses from jobs in Westminster and Northern Ireland.

Mostly, this is not news, apart from the odd juicy detail of the food bills and the uniform submission of claims. But we mustn’t force the business parallels too far; Peter and Iris wife are separately elected MPs and MLAs. They got there than by merit and public support, though Peter’s reputation no doubt helped Iris’s career after she had supported him loyally down the years behind the scenes. But the temptation to create a Robinson dynasty should be resisted.

Behind the costs are the issues of double jobbing and the family dynasties. I’m in a minority in supporting some dual membership of the Commons and the devolved assemblies to help build up a small devolution caucus at Westminster. But the parties should frown on family dynasties. What is there about DUP politicians in particular that needs family members to feel secure? Given the pressure on the Paisleys father and son, the Robinsons, Dodds and other juniors should resist the temptation to leave the back office. If not, party selection and wider public opinion should make it doubly difficult for them to enter the public arena.
Daily Telegraph extract

As well as their MPs salaries, they each receive a separate salary for sitting in Stormont. Mr Robinson is paid £71,434 as First Minister and £43,101 for being an assembly member. He employs his daughter Rebekah as his office manager and son Gareth as his parliamentary assistant. Both are listed with their parents on the electoral roll at their flat. Mr Robinson, who has been an MP since 1979, took out a Northern Bank loan to buy the flat near the Thames Barrier after his wife joined him in Parliament in 2001. The couple also have homes in Belfast and Florida.

Mr Robinson, responding on behalf of himself and his wife, said the double claim for the £1,223 bill was “an innocent mistake”.

The temptation for MP couples to work the system must be even greater than the singles. The Robinsons seem to have exceeded the single additional costs allowances but do not appear to have doubled claimed for their shared flat. In the present atmosphere, for any husband and wife team to have done that could yet be curtains, so to speak

Compare the Robinsons with the previously exposed Nicholas and Ann Winterton.
Ann and Alan Keen claimed almost the full double allowances on flats 10 miles apart

Cabinet couple Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper flipped twice but have already been cleared of wrongdoing because they paid capital gains and genuinely moved their young family.

Andrew Mackay is the only MP so far to be punished for husband and wife claims.

Mr Mackay has used his second homes allowance to claim more than £1,000 a month in mortgage interest payments on their joint flat near Westminster.However, his wife Julie McBride used her additional costs allowance to claim over £900 a month on paying off the home loan for their family home near her constituency.

So difficult for family teams to manage this expenses business, isn’t it?

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