Monday 11 May 2009

Woolas gaffe betrays the chippy Labour entitlement culture

When I lived in a corrupt African country one of our ongoing battles was to explain to staff that the 24 days of "sick pay" available were a maximum, a contractual cap upon compensation and not an automatic holiday entitlement. To take a "sick day" when you are well is dishonest, and you would be sanctioned for it. To the newly globalised employees of what was previously a (British) civil service culture this was a shock. No matter how much we emphasised it, explained it, gave generous holidays and pay, sent doctors out to care for those reporting sick - a hard core never really got the hang of it. To them, the limit on sick pay (which appears in almost every UK employment contract) was an allowance - a form of entitlement which they could either "use or lose" in each employment year. Needless to say, they were the worst employees in a more general sense and they didn't last long.

I thought I had left his behind until I heard Phil Woolas on Radio Four this morning offering this explanation of why the (apparently misguided) public are so angry:

We have an allowance system that some people see as an expense system

My blood is boiling. Mr Woolas that is exactly what you do not have. You have an expense system which covers expenses wholly, neccesarily and exclusively incurred in the course of performing your parliamentary duties up to a maximum allowance of £24K per year, or whatever the relevant figure is. You do not understand the rules of the system you have been abusing. If you havent incurred the expense under the rules, you do not even begin to submit a claim. The "allowance" is a maximum, not an aspiration.

It is not independent auditors (at further expense to the taxpayers) that we require to sort out the system - it is a basic standard of honesty and integrity amongst each person who submits a claim. It isn't rocket science, and it occurs every day in every company up and down the land. They don't announce to shareholders that they are going to employ a whole new set of auditors to keep the employees honest - they just employ honest people. And fire those who are found to behave otherwise.

But I guess if a Cabinet minister does not even understand the rules within which he claims he is acting then the problem goes much deeper than expenses. At least Mr Woolas had the decency to apologise for what he had done:

- "I am sorry if I have caused embarassing headlines".

He said. What a dissapointing day.

1 comment:

passinthru said...

The sick leave analogy is spot on.

Also spot on was La Widdie on C4 News: Either the expenses are in order, in which case why pay them back? Or the expenses are out of order, in which case why are these people still in office?