The Guardian reports that more than 100 Parliamentary staffers received redundancy payments just before the 2015 General Election, due to their bosses retiring from the Commons, but were then re-employed in virtually the same roles only two months later by new MPs. The average redundancy payout was £7,400 with a total of £925,000 of tax-payers' money being spent.
At first flush, we have every right to be appalled by such spending - especially in this 'age of austerity'. A quick glance below the line reveals dozens of readers outraged that nearly a million pounds was spent on what is effectively a revolving door - with allegations of corruption flowing back and forth.
But the real issue here is status of MP's staff - often referred to as "researchers". As each MP is technically self-employed and runs their own office, each MP hires their own staff and employs those people independently. Therefore, when an MP retires, a redundancy situation automatically will arise - the employer (that is, the MP) is effectively closing down its business - in effect, ceasing to carry on business for the purposes of which the researcher was employed (as per section 139(1)(i) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. Because of the independent nature of MPs as individuals, this means that the researcher becomes redundant even if they will, in fact, keep working in the same role for the new incumbent.
So, for example, Bob Baggins is MP for the fictional constituency of Trumpton, a very safe Grey Part seat. He employs Jimmy James as his researcher. Bob decides, after 40 years in the House, to stand down at the next election in 2020. The Grey Party selects Maggie Mags, a long-serving local activist and friend of Bob, to be the next candidate for Trumpton. Bob recommends Jimmy as a researcher and suggests that Maggie keeps Jimmy. Maggie agrees. When the election is called, Bob loses his role as MP (by virtue of retirement) and, consequently, Jimmy becomes redundant. He is then employed in an entirely new role by Maggie the moment she wins the election. Regardless of the facts that: (a) Jimmy is doing exactly the same work before and after the election - providing research services for the MP for Trumpton; (b) Jimmy's re-employment with Maggie was determined prior to the election; and (c) it was a virtual certainty that Jimmy would be re-employed in the same role given the safeness of the seat; Jimmy has, in fact, ended one job and started a new one.
So Jimmy is entitled to a statutory redundancy payment ("SRP") - as is any employee who is made redundant after two or more years' service with the same employer.
Now, a quick fix to this might be to exclude Parliamentary staff from the statutory SRP regime. But that hardly seems fair. Part of the reasoning behind SRP is to provide compensation for loss of the role, stability and any accrued rights (such as, crucially, the right to unfair dismissal protection). Furthermore, why should some employees be denied their redundancy rights simply due to who they work for?
A far more sensible solution would be to formalise the employment of Parliamentary staffers. MPs could still be involved in their recruitment (and quite rightly so - as would any manager with direct responsibility for an employee), but instead Parliament itself could employ staffers. This would come with a wealth of benefits for researchers, such as improving job stability and ensuring that continuity of service could be honoured even when a researcher moves to work for a different MP. It would also doubtless benefit the tax payer, ensuring that there was a level of independence between the MP and his/her staffer - something it seems might be sorely needed in light of The Telegraph's reports this morning that MPs who employ family members tend to pay those family members more than other staff.
Dozens of MPs’ staff were given nearly £1m in redundancy payments prior to the general election just weeks before returning to another publicly funded job, the expenses watchdog has disclosed. [...] In each case, the staff member was made redundant as a result of their employer standing down or losing their seat at the election and entered into a new employment with a different MP within two months of their prior employment ending.