Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Someone should really tell them that the world is still watching

I am somewhat surprised to hear the news that senior officials at the Palace of Westminster have been rewarded with rather chunky pay rises. I have, in the recent past, been somewhat critical of the Fees Office of the House of Commons, which appears to have had a policy of agreeing any claim that crossed its desk.

However, there is no way to make this look good. It may be that the pay rise awarded to Andrew Walker is perfectly justified, although 9% is really rather in excess of the Government's declared 2% limit. However, in a now much more cynical and suspicious world, there will be very few people willing to stand up in his defence. There will be those on the more paranoid fringes who will suggest that it represents a pay-off for his silence (and wouldn't we all like to hear what he has to say?), and others who will conclude that the public sector operates to a rather different set of rules to the rest of society (don't start me on that point...). And to some extent, the latter group would be correct.

The great irony is that, whilst the expenses system itself was clearly flawed, staff in the Fees Office were hitting the targets set for them. and are due to be rewarded for doing so. This merely goes to show, once again, that targets distort behaviour. If you reward someone for processing 99% of claims within a certain period of time, you encourage speed over accuracy, action over scrutiny. No wonder so few claims appear to have been challenged!

However, someone has made this decision. It might be too much to ask them to justify it, but they might want to look at the criteria for rewarding success next time...

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