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MSP Staff Cost Provision

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th March 2020.

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Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

3. To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body when it will make a decision regarding the level of members of the Scottish Parliament allowances for staff for 2020-21. (S5O-04190)

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

With your indulgence, Presiding Officer, I will take a little time to respond to Mr Neil’s question in the hope of helping to answer questions that other members have lodged.

The corporate body met this morning, as planned. Among other issues, we discussed the annual uprating of the staff cost provision. I can announce that, with effect from 1 April, the provision will be uprated by 2.96 per cent.

There is an important distinction between MSPs and the SPCB when it comes to employment matters. It is the corporate body’s responsibility, under the terms of the members’ expenses scheme, to uprate the staff cost provision, which members then use to employ and pay their staff. The SPCB is not the employer in this relationship and it is for individual MSPs to budget for their staff salaries and the cost-of-living award.

The SPCB must uprate the scheme by 1 April each year, having regard to such indices as it considers appropriate. Members will be aware that we have previously used ASHE—the annual survey of hours and earnings—which is retrospectively based on the pay of public sector workers in Scotland. However, members might also be aware that that annual index is currently 1.4 per cent, which is below the current rate of inflation and what we might expect by way of growth for public sector wages in Scotland.

This morning, we agreed that a more appropriate mechanism for the coming year and future years would be to use the average of ASHE and the average weekly earnings index. Both of those indices are wage related and, taken together, will better reflect wider pay conditions in the public sector. The corporate body agreed that that combined use of indices, which results in a 2.96 per cent uplift to the staff cost provision, was fair and affordable.

I would like to move on the wider issue of the overall staff cost provision. The corporate body noted with interest the increase announced yesterday by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to the staff cost provision for members of the House of Commons, which is uplifting it by £21,000 per member. At the start of this session, the SPCB increased the overall staff cost provision by £30,000 per member, in recognition of the increased powers of this Parliament.

As members will be aware, as a matter of good practice, the corporate body has been reviewing the provisions in the current members’ expenses scheme ahead of the next session. As part of that review, the SPCB has committed to reviewing the overall staff cost provision. It will do so in the current session, with a view to implementing any changes at the start of session 6.

I apologise for that slightly more involved response, but I hope that the additional detail and content have been helpful to both Mr Neil and other colleagues who, understandably, have an interest in the issue.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I hope that we can have short supplementary questions after that full statement.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I draw the corporate body’s attention to the fact that our staff are the worst-paid staff and our staff allowances are the worst of any Parliament in the United Kingdom. The 13.9 per cent increase at Westminster now means that there is a huge differential between what MPs get and what MSPs get. We owe it to our staff to look after them and make sure that they get fair treatment.

The Westminster rise is based on what other people get in similar jobs throughout the UK. I ask the corporate body to fundamentally review the situation, because it is unacceptable that our staff continue to be so badly paid compared to other staff who are doing equivalent jobs in the rest of the country.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I thank Mr Neil for his supplementary question, and I would not distance myself at all from the sentiment that he expresses. That is why, at the start of this session, there was an attempt to uplift the amount that is available through the staff cost provision to reflect the additional workload for members and their staff. We are going through the process that I outlined, with a view to putting in place, at the start of session 6, a system that should reflect that additional workload and the expectations that, as Mr Neil rightly said, we place on our staff. We owe them a duty of care in that regard.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I associate myself with Alex Neil’s remarks and say that I am delighted that the corporate body has recognised the unfairness of differential pay rises for staff in the Parliament this year. I welcome the pay uprating of 2.96 per cent.

I also thank the GMB for its intervention

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

No—I am afraid that you have to ask a question.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

No, you should be asking the question—

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

In terms of the future review, will the corporate body—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

No—the question that is on the paper, please.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Oh. I thought that you were dispensing with that when you grouped them.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That is a chatty way to address the issue, and I do not know if I quite approve of it. Ms Baillie, start again. We will wipe the slate clean. Begin.