Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Going Round in Family Circles

For the umpteenth time, the press have published details of which MSPs are employing members of their family. And for the umpteenth time, I'm still not sure there is any substance behind the implied cries of nepotism.

Having mulled this over each time the story 'breaks' I think there is a strong case to be made that this practice is actually a very efficient use of taxpayers' money. There are plenty of MSPs who are more articulate than me (though some clearly aren't) that could make this case but it seems they would rather just ignore the issue and hope it goes away.

That appears to be wishful thinking. So why don't these guys confront the issue head on and justify their actions. It's not as if it is a partisan issue after all - Labour and SNP MSPs appear to be equally 'culpable' at first sight - and as long as they leave this issue at the mercy of the press, it is all too easy for it to be manipulated to bring our Parliament and Democracy into disrepute.

I'm going to have a bash on their behalf anyway in the hope that it will encourage them to pick up the theme.

1. It seems to me that the most important qualification one needs to work for an MSP is to have the absolute trust of that MSP. This goes for both representative and political issues. It takes years to build up such a level of trust, therefore isn't it obvious that close family members (even spouses in some cases ;-) ) would be far better qualified on this score than anyone else?
2. Even if you don't accept that trust is the most important factor, it must be conceded that it is an important factor. If an MSP had to recruit from outwith their immediate circle of family and friends what would be the cost to the public purse and, more importantly, the cost to the MSPs constituents of a lengthy recruitment process to identify a complete stranger that might be trustworthy? What would be the cost to everyone involved of having to replace staff who turn out not to be trustworthy?
3. Why is there such a focus on family members in any case? Why is there no focus on pals or on apparatchiks who are clearly being groomed for political advancement at the taxpayers' expense?
4. With the prize of doing a decent job, especially for constituency members, being re-election the involvement of family members provides a natural incentive to go the extra mile on behalf of their boss (although see comment re spouses above ;-) ). It is certain that family members employed by an MSP would deliver better value for the taxpayer.

There is one caveat however. What I do think is wrong is for a family member (or anyone else for that matter) to be employed who is not qualified to do the job in question. Therefore, rather than stigmatise the relationship that may exist between MSP and staff why not focus on the capabilities and experience of the staff?

Why not, for instance, use whatever HR function that exists in the Scottish Parliament to have a veto over MSP staff appointments on the basis of the prospective staff member not having relevant qualifications or experience?

Maybe that would just be too sensible.

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