Thursday, 3 November 2011

The tricky subject of politicians pay.

Any politician or commentator looking for a nice safe position to take won’t ever go far wrong attacking the pay & perks afforded to elected representatives. More so than any other public sector employees, politicians salaries, expenses and any freebies they may get are scrutinised and, for the most part, condemned as excessive, unwarranted & distasteful in the current climate (though I’d argue if it’s distasteful, the financial climate is irrelevant). Often the condemnation ticks all those boxes and people can really go to town on the issue.

I, however, tend to take the rather unpopular view that, contrary to popular opinion, most of our politicians are underpaid and yes, I am including MPs in that statement. I don’t particularly care if MLAs, MPs or Councillors enjoy the hospitality of the MTV European Music Awards. I certainly have no issue with them claiming expenses for genuine out of pocket expenditure.

My reasoning: Expectations. I expect my representatives to be a cut above. I expect them to be leaders in their field. I expect them to serve their constituents with a dedication unmatched. Why on earth would I expect all this but not expect them to be well compensated for it? More to point; why would you?

When you set a salary for a role, you consider the role and not the individual and the role of legislator is surely one of the most important in the public sector so why would we want to devalue the role by attaching a less than commensurate salary? Of course, in reality many of our politicians are simply inadequate or incompetent and the expectations of the position are not being met.

In other type of employment this underperformance is addressed by either taking measures to bring the employee up to standard or replacing the employee. Only in the field of politics is it deemed appropriate that the people who were responsible for choosing the employee abdicate that responsibility and call for lower wages, less perks and attack the employee for earning the agreed salary. What logic is in play when people call for measures to devalue the role instead of simply finding a better candidate?

The recent review of MLAs pay at Stormont unsurprisingly returned a verdict that our MLAs should receive a pay rise. It was unsurprising not because that’s what MLAs wanted – in fact, they had no input into the report, it was entirely independent – but because those reviewing the pay applied the correct logic: what should someone fulfilling the demands of this role receive.

Anyone who doubts that being either a full time MLA/MP or even a part time Councillor is not a demanding role needs to shadow one for a week. There is a never ending list of demands placed on these individuals who nearly all do the role through a burning desire to serve their constituents and create better conditions for us all. They do it under constant, mostly biased, & often unfair scrutiny from the media and their peers. They face more criticism in a month than most people would expect to face in a year. Are they effective? Not always, but that, frankly, has little to with their salary. Do we think that knocking their pay down will suddenly spur them into effective work methodology? 

There has been plenty of sniping over elected representatives receiving tickets to the MTV EMAs or the free Snow Patrol concert at Belfast City Hall. So what? It is elected representatives who ultimately make the decisions that bring events like this to the area, why would you not want them to enjoy their success and why would you not want other politicians others to witness first hand just how important these events are for the region?

It is perfectly understandable, especially if you are unemployed and facing real financial uncertainty, to feel aggrieved at those who enjoy reasonable salaries from the public purse. However, your recourse is to make them work for their money or replace them with someone who will, it is not to devalue the role so much that no one with the skills or desire required can afford to take it on.

No comments:

Post a Comment