I announced to the chamber at the previous SPCB question time in March 2020 that there would be a review during this parliamentary session of the staff cost provision. Following that, the Presiding Officer wrote to business managers on 13 May 2020, and a memo was issued by SPCB members to their parliamentary group members on 14 May. That included the report and recommendations arising from the review of the reimbursement of members’ expenses scheme, as well as the agreed terms of reference for the review of the staff cost provision as commissioned by the SPCB. The remit for the staff cost provision review, along with the report of the wider review of the members’ expenses scheme, are available on the SPCB pages of the Parliament’s website.
The review is on-going, and the SPCB expects to consider its findings later in the autumn. If, following that consideration, any changes to the staff cost provision are recommended, those will be subject to a resolution of the Parliament. The SPCB expects that to take place towards the end of the current session in order that any changes could be introduced from the beginning of the next session in May 2021.
As was highlighted earlier, there is no doubt that there has been substantial growth both in the number of queries that members’ offices have received during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the complexity of those queries. I pay tribute to all parties’ staff for their work in serving our constituents.
The pandemic has also highlighted the need for members to have capable, experienced staff who are able to assist them with such queries and to support them in scrutinising legislation and Government activity in the Parliament. Therefore it is essential that the staff cost provision review is carried out timeously and comes to an appropriate conclusion. There must also be sufficient transparency around it. The GMB union has raised with me its concern about the lack of consultation with trade unions and with those in the workplace.
What is the process for the review? Will the SPCB set out a clear plan for engaging not only with members but with staff representatives and trade unions?
I thank James Kelly, who, perhaps prompted by Bill Kidd’s earlier remarks, has rightly pointed out the substantial increase not just in the number of questions but in the complexity of the issues that members’ staff are having to deal with. That situation is very much informing the current review. It is considering not just the scale or the level of the provision but the way in which job descriptions and roles are defined, both to provide the flexibility that members quite clearly need and to reflect the changing nature of the roles themselves.
I also thank Mr Kelly for his involvement in the review. A number of members have committed to being interviewed as part of it. I encourage Bill Kidd and any other member with an interest to make their interest known to the Scottish Parliament information centre so that it can involve them. Following a survey of members’ staff, interviews are also taking place with individuals among them.
The involvement of trade unions has been raised previously. Ultimately, members are the employers of their staff, so the review needs to take into consideration the views of both members and those staff. I am sure that the concerns that the GMB has made known to the SPCB in writing will be reflected through the interview and survey process.
We cannot lose sight of the fact that the ultimate responsibility will fall to members, but we must ensure that the staff cost provision provides them with the wherewithal to employ the staff they need if they are to perform their roles on behalf of their constituents.