High pay for public servants must always be fully explained

Morning View
Morning View

As our reports on pages eight and nine today show, there is considerable public disquiet about the 10 per cent rise in the pay of MPs.

No wonder there is such concern.

Much of the population is now feeling the effects of austerity. They have heard about Britain’s huge overall debt and the need to make savings. They have heard about the need to reform overly generous pensions, in order to prevent future generations being over-burdened providing for such provision in an era of rapidly rising life expectancy.

And they have heard about the need to curb welfare expenditure. Yet now they see MPs getting a hefty rise.

In fact there are compelling arguments for the rise, but it is MPs themselves who helped put themselves in this awkward position. Now, as in the past, they publicly insist that above-inflation rises for MPs are unacceptable, rather than explaining why they think that they are worth such salaries.

In the past they, and successive governments, acquiesced in a system in which MPs topped up their salaries with expenses to ensure the lifestyle to which they thought they were entitled. Now such outrageous abuse has been exposed and pay and expenses are more transparent. This rise in MPs’ pay goes alongside an appropriate curbing of their expenses.

However, the old system meant that MPs fell behind equivalent senior public professionals. Why as a society do we think that GPs are worth around £100,000 a year, so much more than MPs who represent on average 100,000 people?

MPs, as Naomi Long and Rev William McCrea and countless others before them found, have appalling job security. They do a crucial job, they are our legislators, and their attendance at Westminster is monitored. They should be paid as much as physicians, and held to an equivalent standard.

In the meantime, the government is right to insist that generously paid doctors work much more at weekends. This is the era in which we live: transparency, everyone pulling their weight, and high pay only when it can be justified.