Good news for romping MPs. They can hire their girlfriend or boyfriend as assistants on taxpayer cash as long as they do not live together, the expenses watchdog finally admitted last night.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) was supposed to have clamped down on MPs hiring their loved ones, a practice that has cost taxpayers millions of pounds each year.
Campaigners had warned over the ‘public’s concerns about nepotism and the potential abuse of public money’, when nearly a quarter of MPs employed a spouse or family member.
Announcing tough new rules in June 2017, Ipsa said employing ‘connected parties’ was ‘out of step with modern employment practice’ – and banned it.
Peter Bone, Tory MP for Wellingborough, confirmed his new relationship to Helen Harrison (pictured) in January 2018, four months after she started working in his parliamentary office
But in a generous move, the watchdog allowed those existing staff members who enter relationships to continue working under their MPs for another two years when they would have to be replaced by someone actually qualified.
However, it turns out that the ban only applies to an MP employing partners they are living with.
So a randy MP can still employ their lover as long as they are not co-habiting, which must come as a great relief to commitment-phobe parliamentarians and a shock to the taxpayer.
Furthermore, my enquiries show the pathetic watchdog can’t even enforce this lenient rule properly.
Take Peter Bone, Tory MP for Wellingborough, who left his wife for a physiotherapist-turned-Tory-councillor.
Bone confirmed his new relationship to Helen Harrison in January 2018, four months after she started working in his parliamentary office and following an article about their comings and goings from his taxpayer-funded flat.
So why did she continue to work in his office for three and a half years after that – she only stepped down last month?
So a randy MP can still employ their lover as long as they are not co-habiting, which must come as a great relief to commitment-phobe parliamentarians and a shock to the taxpayer. Pictured: Matt Hancock and aide Gina Coladangelo in 2019
It turns out the loved-up pair did not meet Ipsa’s ‘connected parties’ threshold until they had moved in together in April 2019 and the MP declared the relationship’s progression.
But why wasn’t her employment contract terminated in April 2021? At first Harrison told me she had stepped down to spend more time as a councillor.
But what about those extra months on the public payroll? Harrison then replied that she had come to an ‘arrangement’ with Ipsa.
The watchdog had claimed back in 2017 that the new regime would be more ‘transparent’ and showed it by refusing to explain its position on Bone and Harrison unless I made a Freedom of Information request, which takes weeks and often yields little.
Several rounds of emails later and Ipsa finally admitted it had granted a ‘short extension’ for Bone by allowing his employment of Harrison to continue beyond the two-year limit. But why?
It was on account of the ‘busy summer parliamentary term’, the watchdog replied.
To which I say, what’s the point of Ipsa if it can’t even enforce its own lenient rules?
As Parliament returns this week to pre-Covid days, more or less, not all MPs are keen to get back to the Chamber for this democracy business.
I’m told that some of the newbies have been holding ‘lively discussions’ with their whips to try to get out of having to stay for late- night votes.
One seasoned MP full of generational disdain for the 2019 intake’s lack of stamina said they’ve been ‘a little reluctant’ to give up Working From Home for late-night sessions in Parliament, not the pub.
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