Trevor Eames of the Solihull Ratepayers' Association gives us the lowdown on this public meeting:
"While I found the overall arrangements, presentation and meeting content were quite good and balanced the attendance was not in my opinion representative of public opinion in that there was a considerable bias in feeling the MPs were misrepresented and the problems and excesses were more attributable to the system in the Fees Office than the individuals.
There were only about 30 people registered to attend and arriving early I had a quick perusal of the badges which indicated many were from a University or public sector background. Only some 17 actually turned up on Friday.
The Administrator was Debbie Adams plus Jamie Rubbi-Clarke from ipsa. They explained something of the background situation and the intended role of ipsa currently dealing independently of Parliament with expenses but moving into determining salary later.
It was indicated we would deal with certain key aspects of their proposals and options as a Focus Group in separate working groups and they would report back our views. They were not expecting a consensus and recorded views in some detail and reasoning used.
On Accommodation – I felt a majority felt Mortgage Interest should continue to be allowed to fund the second home and a minority favoured the rent option. They felt safeguards could prevent future abuse although I made some progress highlighting how easy it would be to abuse the system.
On London Zones 1-6 Constituencies being excluded I think we got more support for extending this and using different criteria especially journey times comparable to private sector employment.
Travel – produced a clear majority in favour of First Class Travel to facilitate a better work environment while travelling.
Caring Responsibility provision funding for partners and children with both Travel and Accommodation was on balance felt to be reasonable. It seemed a number of people felt action was needed to ensure the opportunity to be an MP should be more inclusive.
I pointed out that the practical role and duties of an MP precluded also being a primary carer of either sex and it would not be considered reasonable for an employer to meet the costs of a family home for employees working away from home 4 nights a week.
On employing family members the vote went a. Not at all 2 votes. b. New Recruitment process with safeguards 9 votes. c. Allow some or all of MPs appointments be made without open competition 6 votes. They were generally against purchasing services from family members.
There was a general feeling that MPs were a special case
It was indicated that as of Friday only approx. 2,000 responses had so far been made to the online consultation process but they hoped the final figure would be nearer 4,000 by the closing date of 11th February.
We were provided with a nice hot buffet and they did offer to pay travelling expenses to the meeting but I don’t know if anyone claimed them.
I did put across the TPA views which were broadly supported by Solihull Ratepayers Association and got some support especially from an activist who worked for a Labour MP. She wouldn’t identify (she had complained about his expenses and work practices) but she did confirm that many of the reported abuses were both true, well known & widespread and had quite a bit to say privately about family staff members dumping work on volunteers and junior employees".
Secretary – Solihull Ratepayers Association