Pay rise will go ahead insists Ipsa
Published 12/12/2013 | 01:01
The regulator behind plans to give MPs an 11% pay rise insisted the hike will go ahead despite intense pressure from David Cameron to "think again".
Salaries will go up from the current level of £66,000 to £74,000 after the general election in 2015 under proposals announced by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).
But the move has prompted widespread condemnation and both the Prime Minister and Labour leader Ed Miliband have issued thinly veiled threats that the watchdog faces abolition if it presses ahead with the reforms.
Mr Cameron told BBC WM: "This isn't a final recommendation. They should think again and I very much hope they do. I don't rule out, and I don't think anyone rules out, taking action if they don't modify this proposal."
A one-off pay increase at a time of public sector wage restraint was "not on", he added.
Ipsa has insisted that the costs of the pay rise will be offset because pensions will be curbed and other benefits trimmed to ensure the overall changes are cost-neutral.
PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka said that showed the organisation has not "grasped what is happening in the real world" while the TaxPayers' Alliance said the organisation had demonstrated it was "not fit for purpose".
Ipsa chairman Sir Ian Kennedy remained defiant amid the onslaught of criticism and insisted the "package as a whole has significant support from the public".
Responding to hints that Ipsa could be abolished if it refuses to think again about the rise, he told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "There's a bit of history here. There are political leaders in the past refusing to accept the recommendations of bodies they have set up on salary and then doing things in other ways to supplement that and thereby laid disaster and we had the expenses scandal.
"Three years ago, when we introduced our reform of the expenses system, we saw the same howls of 'How can you do that? That is improper! We may have to do something about it!' Three years on, that expenses system works very well and is seen to be fair and transparent."
According to research carried out by ComRes for Ipsa in September, 66% of the public thought that the figure of £74,000 was too high, compared with 24% who thought it was about right and 4% too low.
When it was explained that the pay increase was being offset by trimming back expenses and pensions, 58% thought it was too generous, 28% about right and 3% not generous enough.
None of the party leaders is believed to have responded personally to Ipsa's consultation, although a Government response did warn that the rise was "well in excess of the awards for the rest of the public sector".
Mr Miliband pledged to block the hike if Labour takes power at the next election and echoed the Prime Minister's threat that he is considering "all the options available to us" to make sure that happens.
He said: "I want to be clear with the public, I don't think it's right that MPs should get this pay rise at a time when nurses, teachers, people in the private sector are going through a pay squeeze and facing incredibly difficult economic circumstances. I think it will just undermine trust in politics further.
"I'm determined that this pay rise does not go ahead if there's a Labour government.
"The independent body charged with this are just wrong."
He added: "I'm looking at all the options available to us with one purpose in mind - a purpose I'm determined to achieve, that this rise does not go ahead. So we will make sure it doesn't happen if there's a Labour government because I don't think the public will accept it and I understand why the public won't accept it."
Both the Parliametary Labour Party (PLP) and Tory backbench 1922 Committee declined to express a view on the level of pay, stressing Ipsa's independence.
But the 1922 Committee called for all MPs leaving the Commons to be handed a resettlement grant of six months' salary, rather than the rate of two weeks for every year served proposed by Ipsa.
The PLP also suggested that politicians who stand down voluntarily should be eligible for the payoffs, instead of just those defeated at an election.
Both groups said members should still be able to claim £15 for dinner when the Commons sits later than 7.30pm.
The watchdog rejected the appeals.
Many MPs and candidates for 2015 have already said they will not accept the salary increase but Ipsa has made it clear that it will pay the sums into their bank accounts regardless.