32. How should Members' constituency offices be paid
for? Currently, the Incidental Expenses Provision (IEP) is designed
to cover the costs of office and surgery accommodation, equipment,
supplies, services, some communications and some staff travel.
Claims against the IEP can be paid directly to suppliers by the
Department of Resources or paid by the Member and claimed back.
The Committee has already decided that such claims for more than
£25 per item must be accompanied by receipts.
33. The SSRB reported that on average Members spend
£5,000 a year on renting offices in their constituency, but
that office rental costs vary between £14 and £30 per
square foot. Some find the cost of renting in their constituency
prohibitive. We have heard from other Members that the size and
geography of their constituency requires them to have offices
in two different places. For good reason, practice varies among
Members about whether to maintain a constituency office and how
many staff to base there.
34. In their 2006 report on House of Commons Accommodation,
the Administration Committee said:
"Members need to be given clearer information
on the number of staff they can expect to accommodate at Westminster:
up to two
Control over the number of Members' staff can
best be achieved by encouraging Members to locate their staff
away from Westminster; but this will only be successful if they
can do so economically and in a way which suits their working
practices. Currently, some Members find it difficult to afford
a constituency office and are tempted to base all their staff
within the Estate. In an environment of high office rental costs,
to provide more of an equal playing field may require significant
targeted incentives. The costs of office accommodation for Members
and their staff at Westminster are met in full from the budget
for the House of Commons Administration rather than from Members'
allowances. Accommodation and related costs for staff located
in Members' constituencies might be funded in the same way: this
should be investigated."
35. The SSRB has recommended that "office
and 'surgery' lease or rental costs should be met in full up to
a maximum area of 800 square feet, this area to be reduced
by 100 square feet for each member of an MP's staff who is based
on the parliamentary estate. Before renting or leasing premises
an MP must obtain a certificate from an independent chartered
surveyor stating that the premises are suitable for the purpose
and that the cost is reasonable in relation to typical office
premises in the constituency."
Some aspects of this recommendationthe strict maximum
of 800 sq ft and reductions of 100 sq ft for each staff member
based in Westminsterhave been described by some Members
as unworkable. But there may be some merit in the idea of central
provision of constituency offices. We have asked the Department
of Resources to undertake work with professional surveyors to
advise on the practicality of implementing this recommendation.
Is the central funding of constituency officesinstead
of MPs paying for them out of the Incidental Expenses Provisiona
sensible idea in principle? If so, what needs to be done to make
it work in practice? What are the likely costs?
36. The SSRB also recommended changes in the Incidental
Expenses Provision (IEP) to cover office costs:
- that it should be renamed "Other
- that the maximum be reduced by £2,500 for
each member of an MP's staff with a workstation on the parliamentary
- that IEP should be reduced by £2,500 to
take into account the introduction of the Communication Allowance
- that, before any such reduction, the maximum
should be £13,839.
37. The recommendation to reduce the IEP by £2,500
for each member of an MP's staff who has a workstation in the
Westminster office is described by SSRB as
"seeking to make the choice of where an MP's
staff are located cost neutral. We are not seeking to influence
that choice. An MP who employs staff based in London will normally
have to pay higher salaries than for staff outside London
On the other hand, an MP who bases staff on the parliamentary
estate does not have to pay rent and other costs
this is a balanced and economically sound approach."
Is the SSRB's "cost neutral" approach
between location of staff at Westminster or in constituencies
broadly correct? Are there possible unintended consequences?
38. As with the other areas of expenditure, it remains
an option to continue the current arrangements for office costs
but with tightened rules and improved claims and audit processes.
What improvements to the operation of the Office
Costs Allowance would achieve greater transparency?
Would it be better if all allowable bills for
office expenditure were met directly by the House without any
reimbursement to Members?
Alternatively should Members have a budget for
office costs which would be subject to audit as in a small business?
13 Third Report, 2005-06, HC 1279, paras 150 and 140. Back
Recommendation 23, para 5.29. Back
para 5.31. Back