The confluence of several stories, all on the theme of money, how much we ‘earn’ and how we use it seems to have arisen this week. Yesterday I heard Stuart Gulliver, CEO of HSBC telling us that he put his bonus into Swiss and Panamanian non HSBC banks simply to avoid any prospect of his colleagues in Hong Kong and Switzerland from knowing how much he ‘earned’. This of course makes no sense in the context of the finances of a public listed company which I presume publishes the pay of its CEO and other senior executives. It is however hard to separate out this tax related story from the impact of HSBC on Government policy through the work of Stephen Green and the work of HSBC to assist clients in minimising or even avoiding their tax bills.
Then there was the interview with Mark Harper, the Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions who told yesterdays Today Programme that he was firmly of the view that Government Ministers had no place in determining how Pensioners spent their [state benefits] in the context of wealthy pensioners still receiving bus passes and winter fuel allowances. This is a Minister in the same Government that has previously been determined to ensure that the state benefits of working age people are only used to pay for certain necessities, and not for drink or cigarettes, even proposing that people receive vouchers rather than hard cash. I may be alone but I do know Pensioners who smoke, who drink and who bet, relying in all of these cases on their state benefits to do so. I agree with Mark Harper, Government Ministers should stick to their brief, which is not trying to micro-manage what people do with their income.
Finally we have two MPs, both well known and very experienced being caught out in a scam which led to them appearing to be willing to use their experience and reputation and indeed in different ways, Parliamentary privilege to improve their income. According to some reports at least one of these two men receives around half a Million pounds annually, of which the state is funding around half of the sum. Indeed to claim that an MP cannot survive on £67,000 when the expenses claimed are nearly 3 times that sum is not being entirely honest. There are local reports that Sir Malcolm does not even hold constituency surgeries which would seem to be one of the areas where many MPs would expect to incur costs by employing case workers and other office staff to ensure that constituency issues are addressed. If all MPs and Lords are to receive the same income for their work, it is surely time for us to set a clearer set of expectations for these important and powerful individuals, whose power and influence arises primarily as a result of our votes for them, not in principle as a result of their personal qualities.
Is it too much to ask our incoming future Government to get a grip on their own spending of our money and the work ethic of MPs and Lords, to be consistent with the way in which they discuss and treat state benefits irrespective of the age and the voting prospects of the people concerned and ensure that in their dealings with business, that they do not appear to have one approach for big businesses that have ‘unclear’ tax policies, and another for smaller businesses whose work really does create jobs and whose voice is rarely heard in public debates?