I am a retired HR director, having worked in commercial and public sectors for more years than I care to mention. The one thing that hits me when there are ‘scandals’ in Westminster is the seemingly total lack of employment rules and good governance for the people who work there. I keep telling myself that there must surely be rules and regulations in place and then an incident crops up like the latest scandal involving Chris Pincher and I am left scratching my head in disbelief.
Parliament is a workplace
If there is one thing that Westminster needs is the acceptance that the Palace of Westminster and its adjacent offices is indeed a ‘workplace’ and not an exclusive ‘club’ inhabited by a privileged few.
There are not a ‘few’ MPs. There are 650 of them and, even more mind blowing, 767 sitting members in the House of Lords, which means there are 1,417 people active in the Houses of Parliament. Add to that the various levels of staff and aides and the number of people actually working in that revered place must be at least 3,000.
It must be clear to most people that these are workplaces, and workplaces of this size to be efficient and decent places to work, must have a comprehensive set of rules so that individuals know how they should behave. Recent scandals confirm that some people don’t know and don’t even think about behaviour at their place of work.
Parliament should be a place that is respected and sets an example to other organisations in how to respect others.
Agreed standards of behaviour
This is not to suggest that rules should in any way inhibit political beliefs or the ability to seek change and question authority. Nor should they be a basis for ‘jobsworth’ activity or a home to overbearing bureaucracy but all workplaces are better when people in them understand and cooperate with agreed standards of behaviour.
It just doesn’t feel that parliament is a place that is like any organised and regulated workplace that most people in good organisations will recognise, and that in itself is a weakness for the lawmaking centre of the UK. Those who make the laws we all operate under will be more knowledgeable and less out of touch if they themselves are working to standards our best companies use for their own regulation – and indeed to meet the legal requirements set by parliament.
Policies and grievance procedures?
Are there policies in place for bullying and harassment? What about a drug and alcohol policy? If there is a childcare policy, who monitors it and ensures it is applied fairly? Is there a stated health and safety policy? Are there grievance procedures for the various categories of employees? Who monitors these policies? How can all these policies be applied to everyone in the political corridors of Westminster?
There are so many areas that the parliamentary authorities and political parties need to give time to and address professionally to bring that great institution into the real world.
I haven’t mentioned an expenses policy but every good organisation has clear and understandable expenses rules and guidelines and details of who monitors and checks expense claims. After the Daily Telegraph’s exposure of MPs’ expenses almost 15 years ago, it seems there is greater awareness of excessive claims but then, like many others, I find it incredible that Nadim Zahawi who is on a minister’s salary and being paid an additional salary for work outside of parliament claims 89p for a stapler, 63p for pens, 53p for a hole punch and 31p for paper clips!
Who employs whom?
Talk of another reform of expense rules will of course raise the issue of salaries again, but perhaps these and the weird rules on living accommodation that also raise questions amongst the electorate, should be properly tackled. A good financial director and HR director would be able to do just that in other organisations.
A key area to be addressed in setting and monitoring people policies in Westminster is the employment status of those working there. MPs for example are, I understand, regarded as self employed, selected for their role by their constituents who can also sack them. They are paid from the public purse at a salary determined by an independent body and paid through a parliamentary payroll.
So who is the employing authority? Who employs the staff in their offices? Do they have contracts of employment? What is their grievance procedure?
Mysterious far off world
All these things may seem mundane but are essential for a normalised structure that the majority of the electorate would recognise as similar to their workplace and not some mysterious far off world of politics.
If our parliamentary institutions want to become respected and not written off under the general heading of ‘looking after themselves’, significant reform is needed and these are just some of the areas that need tackling.
It really is time for a wholesale reform to modernise Westminster – and ‘people policies’ need to be at the forefront of that reform.