Farewell finance

Patrica Hewitt: Collecting a 'golden goodbye'?

LOVE ’em or hate ’em, the Tax-Payers Alliance do seem to be onto something with their moan today about the size of ‘golden goodbye’ resettlement grants paid to MPs as they exited Westminster at the recent election.

The TPA says the cash was paid out whether MPs were ousted by the electorate or decided to step down of their own accord.

The final bill, according to their calculations, to the public for the end of service payments amount to more than £10 million.

Now when you follow up on TPA stories, there is the occasional whine from press offices in different levels of government that it sometimes fuddles up the statistics after throwing in blanket Freedom of Information requests. But their familiar green spreadsheets usually cause a stir.

And in terms of familiar names from north London, the TPA claims today:

* Sion Simon (Lab), a former Primrose Hiller now linked to being a future Mayor of Birmingham, is entitled to £32,383 resettlement  grant.

* James Purnell (Lab), a man loved by the Islington Labour Party who used to live in King’s Cross, can have the same amount: £32, 383

* Dawn Butler (Lab), beaten by Lib Dem Sarah Teather in Brent, is also listed for £32,383

* Sir Keith Hill (Lab) – him from the housing debate in Camden a few years ago – is entitled to a bit more: £54,403

But among the local names on the list that will no doubt cause the most grinding of teeth by the TPA’s biggest sympathisers are two who featured in the Dispatches guns for hire investigation:

* Former health secretary Patricia Hewitt, who lives in Camden Town, is apparently entitled to walk away with £54,403

and * Stephen Byers, who lives in Hampstead, is down on the list for £64,766.

Grrrrrrrrr says John O’Connell from the TPA:”This vast sum of money will be frustrating for taxpayers, particularly after the expenses scandal. MPs should be aware that they are entering a contract with a fixed term – if they’re voted out it’s the end of the contract, not a redundancy. Besides, most of the MPs receiving this payment stood down voluntarily.”

Of course, in the time MPs are in Parliament they are not usually honing vocational skills and it has been argued they are disadvantaged in the job market when they come out as a result. But there are benefits too: natural networking opportunities and close experience of how Britain ticks. Their next stop out of Westminster is not usually the queue at the job centre and the idea of an election representing the signing of a fixed term contract is compelling.

But just don’t mention ‘golden goodbyes’ to Karen Buck, the Labour MP over in Regent’s Park and Westminster North – who many thought would herself be collecting a resettlement grant until she summoned an almighty and frankly impressive defence of her seat in Parliament from the threat of Tory Joanne Cash. When it was suggested that the scheme should be scrapped earlier in the year, she wrote to the Independent Parliament Standards Authority asking them to apply the brakes.

“The removal of any resettlement grant for sitting members will place real pressures on those without personal resources; those middle/ late middle age and those with long service who have little prospect of returning to a career that they left for Parliament,” Ms Buck wrote.

Later, she told Jamie Welham at  the West End Extra that, after her words had been digested as greed and self-interest by national newspapers, she wished she hadn’t have bothered: For me this is about a principle. I am not motivated by money in the slightest and I think the term ‘golden goodbye’ is ridiculous. If resettlement grants are scrapped it will put people off from entering politics, and politics will solely be for the wealthy. We don’t have a vote on it and we don’t have a say on it but we are entitled to have a view about it. I wish I had never even bothered.”

So, hands up. Who thinks removing resettlement  grants will put people off entering politics? You won’t see many raising their arms down at the TPA offices.

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