Mr Andrew Mackay and Ms Julie Kirkbride - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents

67.  Letter to the Commissioner from Mr Ian Kirkbride, 11 March 2010

I write in response to your letter of 17th February.

[Comments which the witness asked not to be included and which have not been taken into account in this inquiry]

In response to the particulars of your letter ...

Statements by my sister:

I generally concur with the statements my sister has made and which you outline in your opening paragraphs.

Questions 1 & 2

I have never found it necessary to maintain a formal diary. As such I am unable to give a figure for the number of nights I have been at the constituency property, either when my sister or her son were there, or on the occasions I might have been there alone. Few of us are capable of remembering in detail events which have been a routine part of life going back over five years or more. As such any estimate would be a complete guess with all the inaccuracies that would involve.

What I can relate is the normal pattern of my movements over that period.

I would plan to be at the constituency property most weekends (typically Friday to Sunday) when my sister and her son were expected to be there. This was a standing arrangement. When my sister and her son were planning to be there during parliamentary recesses we would make arrangements, in so far as possible with any other obligations I may have during the week, for me to be there to cover childcare for my nephew.

I was also usually flexible enough to be able to be in London as needed to look after my nephew if for example his parents were going to be away and they wanted someone older to support their au pair. I would frequently drive my nephew up to the constituency home after school on Friday so that my sister could go early and spend more time on her parliamentary duties there.

I am self-employed and therefore had an irregular work pattern taking me to London and all over the country. However, I am very close to my family and care not only for my nephew but also my elderly mother who lives in [name of town] in a property of which I am a joint owner.

When my nephew and I were in the constituency property my main purpose was to look after him and free up my sister for her constituency duties.

On the occasions when I was alone in the property I was there at the express wish of my sister to help her in the performance of her parliamentary and constituency obligations. I had offered to help her with any IT needs on a wholly voluntary basis since my work was in IT, networking, lecturing and training.

I maintained my sister's website and she would often leave photographs with me as she departed for London at the end of the weekend so that I could update it. I also offered technical support to her staff and if I was doing this on Monday morning for example, it might make sense to stay the night before. I would help her secretaries with any IT problems, computer glitches, networking issues and the like. I made myself available on the end of a phone for them. I would teach or help them with the electoral roll database we maintained. I would teach or help them with various software programs as needed.

For my own efficiency I would try as far as possible to do any and all of this around the weekend when I needed to be in Bromsgrove to look after my nephew.

Question 3

This issue goes back to the year 2001. I am self employed. With questions raised over IR35 my accountant was encouraging me to form a company. I was not convinced but reluctantly told him to go ahead.

My accountant did all the paperwork and did not consult me. At the time, I had given him the Bromsgrove postal address for any time-sensitive contact as I was elsewhere working during the week but knew that I was likely to be in Bromsgrove most weekends. I have only been told in the last year that the form asks for your usual residential address. Had I been aware of that I would have been able to give a different address.

The company was registered in February 2001. It was never used. I saw no reason to change my self employed status. It remained a dormant company with my accountant filing the annual paperwork. I don't believe I saw any paperwork again until my accountant missed a filing deadline for dormant companies (he'd forgotten about it too!) and there was a penalty. I immediately closed the company. I applied to close in November 2004 and it was finalised in April 2005. As my sister has said, HMRC accepted it was a dormant company, never used, never had any employees and never had any liability for tax.

I did no business in the Bromsgrove area and I did not work out of the constituency property at any time. Setting up the company was a mistake. Having it held against me would compound that.

Question 4

I believe I have part answered this question in Q1 & Q2 above. There was no regular pattern of stay in London. My sister had a series of au pairs and an agreed work pattern. There were times when my sister and her MP husband would be away from home, or there was some school event when they felt it would be appropriate for the au pair to have some adult backup. There were times when the au pair went home for extended holiday periods and times when the au pair fell ill or had personal commitments. Where I could fit it into my other commitments, I agreed to help. Au pairs tended to leave in early July and arrive in late September and there was often a need for childcare for parts of that period too.

Question 5

I have never been in the position of having to identify a main home. I am a part owner of the property in [name of town] where my mother lives, where I have my own bedroom, keep my clothes, store my personal things and receive post. I have served on the management committee of the building for some ten years, being chairman for about six. I would consider this my main home although my schedule means I spend a limited amount of my time there. As a single person with no family of my own my work and lifestyle for some thirty plus years has been one of planes, cars and hotels.

I have always been a very visible "Uncle Ian" in Bromsgrove. Where possible we have taken my nephew to many constituency events where I kept an eye on him while my sister socialised. Many people have assumed I was her husband. It does not surprise me that people also assumed I lived there.

Question 6

Shortly after my nephew was born and while I was helping out it was clear to me that my sister would have difficulty when she was alone in the constituency with her child. Although I was busy much of the working week I was generally free at weekends and I offered to give her a guarantee of a babysitter in the constituency at the weekend. [Comments which the witness asked not to be included and which have not been taken into account in this inquiry] It was therefore a standing arrangement. As time went by, babysitter became child minder.

I had seen the difficulty of juggling nannies, of changes of schedule, of nannies cancelling, of events running over time, of getting nanny taxis and the headache that added to organising a weekend in the constituency. An ad hoc arrangement for childcare was exactly what an MP did not want as it meant a constant distraction each week as to the arrangements for the weekend. I took that burden off my sister. My flexibility being single and our sibling relationship removed most of those obstacles and it seemed to be an ideal and eminently sensible arrangement.

The arrangement worked well and there was a mutual desire for it to continue in parliamentary recesses but then it had to work around my schedule. However the pace of work was more relaxed in a recess and if I could not help then it was often possible for my sister to take her son with her or easier to find someone else to cover since it tended to be during daylight hours only.

[Comments which the witness asked not to be included and which have not been taken into account in this inquiry]

My sister, being married to another MP with constituency obligations of his own, was effectively a single mother MP. She could not have the customary support of her husband when she was undertaking her parliamentary duties.

A single MP with a child needs a lot of quality support and backup if she is to do a good job in her constituency. I was that guaranteed reliable backup. The communication and understanding between siblings beats that of any childminder. She could be sure her son had the best of care. I lost count of the number of times someone said to me "I don't know what Julie would do without you". Everyone has said she was an excellent constituency MP and I like to think I played some part in that.

[Comments which the witness asked not to be included and which have not been taken into account in this inquiry]

11 March 2010

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