Inflation, fuel prices and a looming cost of living crisis: it's a grim economic outlook for many out there. Fortunately, MPs are doing their bit to help, namely by giving extra cash handouts to the staffers in the offices. Steerpike has spotted that almost a million pounds – £951,000 – was shelled out in 'reward and recognition' payments last year, according to the 2020/21 figures from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).
A follow up request from Mr S has established the identity of the most generous bosses in parliament, with Sir Keir Starmer in the top ten of the 352 MPs who sanctioned such payments last year. Top of the pile was mother of the House, Harriet Harman, with £6,775 in total payments to staff, followed by Jess Phillips in the silver medal position on £6,655 and Andrew Mitchell taking the bronze with £6,550. Fifth-most generous was Richard Burgon, who demonstrated his socialist credentials by lavishing £6,200 on his staff, while ninth-placed Sir Keir authorised £5,590. His Lib Dem counterpart Sir Ed Davey finished twelfth with £4,500 in payments.
At the other end of the scale, Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and Jacob Rees-Mogg were among those Cabinet ministers who didn't spend a penny on such bonuses. Of the 22 ministers attending Cabinet, only two – Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Brandon Lewis – sanctioned such payments, with £3,550 and £2,750 respectively. Labour MPs are clearly either the most generous bosses or those most likely to splash the taxpayer cash (delete as appropriate) with 20 of the top 30 biggest spendthrifts on the green benches those who wear a red rosette. Still not all of the Starmer army take that view: shadow energy minister Olivia Blake gave the lowest bonus of just £20 to her staff last year.
While Mr S expects those staffers with generous bosses to be toasting them and spending their wares in the Red Lion, not all welcomed the figures discovered by Steerpike. John O'Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance raised concerns about such bonuses. He told Mr S:
'The electorate expects politicians to stay grounded and keep costs under control, particularly as the Covid pandemic saw many MPs and their staff work from home. With taxpayers facing a cost of living crisis, limiting unnecessary bonuses would be a welcome way for MPs to show their constituents they're keeping spending down.'
Some MPs moan to Steerpike that such sums are one of the only ways to keep parliamentary assistants from seeking better-paid posts in the private sector. Few know the perils of high staff turnover better than those toiling in the office of Emily Thornberry. For there appears to be something of a staffing crisis in the Shadow Attorney General's office as this week no less than three separate posts were advertised in her team. This in an office which, er, last month boasted just six employees, according to the parliamentary register.
If half of the posts in her team are vacant, Mr S wonders if the £500 Thornberry sanctioned in bonuses will be enough to keep those left.