Liberal Hero of the Week #54: Sir Ian Kennedy, Chief Executive of IPSA

by Stephen Tall on December 13, 2013

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero ian kennedy

Sir Ian Kennedy

Chief Executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)
Reason: for sticking to his guns with a clear, independent report that makes MPs’ pay transparent and costs the public nothing extra

Should MPs set their own pay? I think we can safely file that one under John Rentoul’s list of Questions To Which The Answer Is No (#QTWTAIN). There are two risks with it, neither of them good. Either MPs will vote themselves unjustifiably inflated pay rises which are resented by the public. Or they will hair-shirtedly refuse any pay increases to curry favour with the voters, and leave us with a parliament comprising only those who can afford it or those who couldn’t earn it any other way.

It’s because MPs are conflicted – a mix of self-serving and self-sacrificing individuals, just like any other profession – that the decision was wrested from them among much public anger over the abuse by a minority of MPs of their expenses. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) was set up in 2009 and given the responsibility for setting the level of MPs’ salaries the following year.

IPSA has come up with a revenue-neutral settlement that will see MPs’ pay get a one-off uplift from £65k to £74k and increases thereafter to be pegged to average earnings. This will be paid for by cutting back on MPs’ gold-plated pensions and perks. In short, it’s a one-off re-setting of MPs’ remuneration which makes it far more transparent to the public what MPs are actually being paid.

That’s a good thing, but it’s not why I think Sir Ian and IPSA are Liberal Heroes this week. It’s the process they’ve followed which I think deserves recognition. Here’s Sir Ian’s statement yesterday explaining how IPSA had gone about coming up with its recommendations:

But how did we reach this decision? In short, after carrying out the most wide-ranging and authoritative review of MPs’ remuneration ever undertaken. We considered this issue from every angle. We looked at international comparisons (which you can see in the chart below), comparisons with other jobs, historical trends, indexes against average earnings, and of course, all of the weighty research conducted on this issue in the past including by the SSRB and Sir John Baker. In addition to that, we conducted two formal public consultations and online discussions, surveys, focus groups and received thousands of responses.

Read the comments below-the-line of Sir Ian’s statement and it’s clear this won’t please all the public. (“IPSA has carried out TWO Public Consultations? Which public has been consulted? I certainly have not been and nor has anybody I know.”) But IPSA’s diligent process – after all, they knew their recommendations would be scrutinised and controversial – is the right one, as is their determination at a time of public spending restraint to make sure we tax-payers pay nothing more for our MPs than we do already.

Predictably, the cowardy custard political leaders – with three pairs of eyes anxiously wincing at the media reaction – have sought to disown IPSA’s recommendations… thereby proving exactly why an independent body was set up in the first place. It’s done the job it was set up to do. If the response of the public and politicians alike is to over-rule it, then let’s change IPSA’s name to something that more accurately reflects what we want. How about the ‘Don’t Ever Give MPs a Pay Rise & Still Resent Them Body’? It would, at least, be honest.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.