I completely agree. Such things are part of our role, but I do not think they are treated seriously. We are seen as legislators and caseworkers, but our duty as an employer is seen as an expenses add-on. Until that is seen as a crucial part of our role, for which we need training on how to support our staff, including junior members of staff, a culture of staff welfare will not be created.
That brings me to my point about how we support MPs. I have been a MP for over four years. This is not a criticism of the Whips Office in any way—I do not think this is necessarily their job—but in that time, I have never had anyone sit down and ask me what my strengths and weaknesses are and what interests I have in policy. I have had health problems this year and I can get a slip any day of the week, but sometimes it would be nice for someone to sit down with me and say, “Can we give you extra support?” There is not the culture in this place to look after Members of Parliament, and that filters through to their staff. If we are dealing with a problem at the point at which it has become harassment, bullying or a sexual problem in the workplace, it is too late. We need to change the culture overall, and that starts with us looking after one another.
I come from an NHS background where training was ingrained in us. We all found that the fire training and so on was not what we wanted to be doing, but we had to do it; it was mandatory. Even as a bank nurse now, when I do shifts in the NHS, I get learning and development phoning me up to say, “You are not registered for your mandatory training. You will not be able to do any bank shifts until you have done it for this year.” I get HR telling me, “Your registration is due for renewal.” I have people checking on me.
We are busy people and we do not have someone to oversee what happens. That is exactly what is in the report. It says that we should have a body responsible to oversee us that can say, “Do you know your staff appraisals are overdue? Have you had those conversations with them? Have you looked at their annual leave? Are they taking their annual leave, or are you working them so hard that they feel that they cannot ask for it? Are they taking too much annual leave? Is there a problem with health and wellbeing?” We have no one.
We all know what it is like as busy MPs. I am just a Back Bencher—I do not have any other responsibilities—and I struggle to sit down with my staff every few months to go through some of the issues that they have. I absolutely agree, therefore, with the report’s recommendations that we need uniform policies and procedures, so that every MP’s office is the same; that assistance is provided with recruitment; that there is proactive contact with MPs’ staff; and that probationary periods are checked, because they can just go on indefinitely, with people on temporary contracts when they should be employed in substantive posts. We should ensure that appraisals are in place, because these are talented people. They are often graduates of universities, who could be getting good jobs anywhere else, but they can get stuck working as a caseworker, not getting a pay rise or staff development, which is absolutely criminal. Why? Because as MPs—as their employers—we are not there to support them.
There are lots of recommendations in the report that I strongly support, but I go back the point made by the former Leader of the House that when training has been provided—I know that the training on valuing people only started a few months ago—very few of us take up the offer. I think there needs to be more publicity around it. This week, we had a very good email from the Clerk of the House of Commons about the Valuing Everyone training, Members’ HR support, the health and wellbeing service, the sexual misconduct advisory service, the bullying and harassment reporting hotline and the employee assistance programme. There are great measures in place, but I put my hand on my heart and say that I have used none of them, and I have told my staff about none of them. If we do not read our own emails and act on them, no one oversees whether we use those crucial services.
I conclude by saying that I completely agree with the report. I believe we should have autonomy over our staffing, but we need support to be able to support our employees properly. I do not think we recognise how much is expected of MPs. We are members of probably one of the most hated professions in the country, and sometimes we need to give ourselves a break. We may be great constituency caseworkers or fabulous legislators, but there is no shame in saying that we are not sure how to employ people or how to look after those we employ. I urge everyone to read the recommendations, and to ensure that we and our staff take up the training and support that is available.