I have used that service, and its staff do provide a fantastic service. The point is that as an MP we have to approach them and know that their services are available. I recommend them to any MP because they are fantastic, but they are not available to staff. When I was working in the hospital and I had an issue, I could go to the HR department whether I was a team leader or an ordinary member of the team. That is the difference. Our staff do not have access to that wonderful support, advice and experience which could make a huge difference. The report recommends that they do have access to it.
I agree with my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller that MPs should remain as 650 small individual businesses, but changes do need to be made. We are treated as if we have autonomy over our staff, but there are some subtle things in the way that stop us. For example, I have a south-east constituency and my staff budget—it is not an expense, it is a budget—is £11,000 less than that for a London MP. Some of my staff live in London and some live in the south-east, which is as expensive as London. Some have to commute to London, spending £4,000 or £5,000 to do so. As I have £11,000 less in my budget, I cannot pay them as much or I cannot take on an extra member of staff. My small team, which does the casework and everything else that other staff members do, is under extra pressure from day one because they have the same workload as a London MP but without the same financial recognition. How is it fair that from day one the staff of non-London MPs already feel the pressure of being in a smaller team or of being less valued financially, while doing exactly the same work?
I have an office manager to whom I delegate responsibility for looking after some of the other members of the team: taking on appraisals, looking at staff leave, conducting staff training and working with them. Most of my staff work in the constituency office. They do not work in Parliament, so they cannot nip to the office next door in Norman Shaw North and say, “I have a difficult case; can we get some advice on it?” They are completely isolated as a team, and my office manager has the responsibility for looking after them. We have had members of the public come into the office in tears because we are the last port of call when the jobcentre has let them down, when they cannot get their housing benefit or when they have been made homeless on a Friday evening. They often land in tears in my office, and my staff, many of whom have just left university and do not have a huge amount of life experience, have to pick up the pieces.
Ultimately, I am responsible for my staff, but I am not there every day of the week. My office manager has to support them as a team. What training and support is available for those staff? I cannot do it all as their employer, so it is incumbent on the House of Commons to help MPs to provide that support for their staff—whether that means the senior staff who are delegated to look after them or the junior staff who have to do some very difficult work on a daily basis.