The nature of working for an MP is that you are only around for as long as they are. Because staff are employed directly by their MPs, rather than by the House or IPSA or the party or the Civil Service it’s sianara baby when your MP ceases to be one.
This is usually because he or she has failed to be re-elected in an election or by-election, but can also be because he or she has quit as a result of a scandal, been sent to jail, or died.
See our bespoke guide to scandal-based redundancy below.
But here we present the basics, which should be helpful in any redundancy situation.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
So your boss is no longer an MP. This means that they no longer need you or anyone else to support them in their parliamentary duties. For this reason, your position no longer exists, and you must be made redundant.
Your MP should write to you informing you that you will be made redundant, and giving you your notice. Technically they also need to hold a one week “consultation” period on whether they can re-deploy you within their business, but as they clearly can’t, this will be basically a paper excercise that will run alongside your notice period.
It is good practice for an employer to make sure you have any time off you need to go to interviews etc during this time.
If your MP has died, this will be a bit more complicated, as there will be no-one to notify you that you have been made redundant. The Commons Personnell and Advisory Service should be able to give you some guidance, as can the union (for members), but in the event you should also contact IPSA to ask them exactly what their procedure is.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO?
In Westminster, the name of the game is clearing out of your office as quickly as possible. Your pass will be cancelled, your PICT account deleted and your existence generally erased out of the collective memory pretty thoroughly by the authorities depressingly swiftly. You have been deposed and you are kindly requested never to darken the corridors of power with your presence ever again.
Reception can give you some confidential waste sacks into which you can place your life’s work for safe disposal; anything which your MP owns (this often includes non-bespoke stationery etc but not centrally provided IT), you can dispose of as you see fit.
Caseworkers will no longer be allowed to carry out work on their MPs’ behalf, but can use discretion in deciding how to wind things up. The Winding Up allowance can be used to send constituents letters asking whether they want their case files destroyed, returned to the constituent or passed to the new MP; or any other system that seems sensible.
Furniture and equipment in constituency offices will also have to be disposed of before the lease is given up; IPSA will give more details on how the Winding Up allowance will cover this.
Then put your pot plant in a box, make sure your favourite stapler stays away from the Oxfam pile, and leave. Your work here is done.
GETTING ANOTHER JOB
If this is a general election situation, then it is likely that there will be other MPs from your party who have just been elected, who will in theory be looking for staff who already know where the toilets are and what a statutory instrument is. If you want to work for another one, therefore, ask your MP to do you one last good turn by making some calls and pimping out your services. In a polite way, of course.
If you do get another MP job, it won’t affect your redundancy pay – it is an entirely different job, after all.
You may need to officially resign from your previous MP’s employment to take up the new position – IPSA are unlikely to pay you you both for your notice period with the first MP, and your new salary with the new MP.
WHAT WILL YOU GET?
1) Redundancy Pay
As with any redundancy situation, you will not be eligible for a redundancy payment unless you have at least two years’ continuous service with your MP. If you do, and if you are on an IPSA contract (rather than the historic Fees Office version), you will be entitled to double the statutory payment, which, according to your age, is approximately one week’s pay for every full year you have worked.
To work out what your statutory entitlement is, go to the Gov.uk calculator and double the amount it gives you. Money Advice Service, the government free money advice online resource, also has a Redundancy Calculator.
2) Pay during your Notice period
You will be paid for the duration of the notice period defined in your contract, which will start on the date that your MP notifies you that you will be made redundant.
3) Outstanding Holiday Pay/ expenses
Make sure you tell your MP any outstanding holiday days you are due or expenses that you need to claim for, in the same way you would if you were leaving normally. You won’t be able to get them back later.
HOW TO COPE WITH IT
Being made redundant is horrible, and it won’t be much fun however it happens.
Coming in to the office in the days following an election loss to find that House authorities have disconnected your phone and put a stack of packing boxes on your desk can be particularly grim.
But the key is to act as quickly as you can to work your contacts (and your MP’s) to get back in the game, outside Parliament or in it. Contact your central party HQ to put your CV on file with them and to make sure they know you are available for work, should any new MPs who are looking for someone or have anything going within the party.
Tout yourself enthusiastically to every organisation you’ve ever worked with.
And finally, savour the silver lining of getting to shred the files of any difficult constituents of yours who have written to you three times a week for the last four years in capital letters about the need for a national ferret registration scheme.
HISTORICAL SIDE NOTE
Redundancy for staff is rubbish and horrible, but in practical terms it would be difficult for Parliament to run without it.
One of the more crackpotted suggestions during the expenses scandal was that MPs’ staff should be employed by the House, because that would immediately cut the headline figure of each MPs’ expenses by around $100 000. Certain nameless MPs suggested that this would eliminate the perception that MPs were “trousering” the staffing money and at the same time cut out the furore over MPs employing their spouses and family members.
A report into the suggestion was duly compiled but roundly rejected the suggestion – not least because of the chaos it would cause on redundancy issues. If every staff member was employed by the House, none would be made redundant when their individual MP left, but would have to be reallocated a new MP – meaning, in the atermath of a general election that (for example) there could be 100 more Labour researchers than Labour MPs. They would then have to go and work for the very people they had been vigerously campaigning against and get to work promoting the policies they had been deriding.
In a rare burst of common sense, the proposal was not adopted and bag-carriers’ fates remained tied to their MPs’.
REDUNDANCY BY MISADVENTURE
A special category of redundancy is when your MP has to resign unexpectedly between elections as a result of some scandal or misdeed.
The general advice offered above still applies as with any other kind of redundancy; but the below was authored by a nameless bag carrier who experienced this first-hand and who has offered a specialised one-stop shop on what to do if it happens to you.
We all see the headlines, the talking heads and the MP making statements of regret and sorrow and after a quick check on the whereabouts of your Member, your 1st reaction is “thank god it’s not mine”
Well for a rather unfortunate number of bag carriers this nightmare can quickly become a reality. The press will quickly descend on your small constituency office and lay siege until you either bring them a cup of tea and biscuit, or a comment.
Whilst each circumstance will be unique there will be a number of common tasks that every bag carrier will need to do.
1) If you know before it is going to happen make sure you are on an IPSA contract (as opposed to a fees office contract) so you can be sure to get the maximum amount of redundancy (if you are entitled). IPSA have recently amended their standard contracts to offer staff double statutory redundancy.
2) Your MP will take paid office in the service of the crown. Due to an archaic law MPs cannot resign so must either become Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham or Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. Your MP will need to write to the Chancellor, who deals with these requests.
3) As soon as this happens IPSA will move all office expenses and staff wages on to the winding up allowance. As of writing (2012/2013) this was £53,150. This covers all costs associated with closing down both constituency and parliamentary offices (except redundancy). Any bill accrued prior to the resignation can continue to come out of normal budgets in the normal way. Any outstanding rent for your premises will also come out of this budget.
4) Each member’s staff will receive a letter from their member informing them that they are due to be made redundant. Only staff who have served over 2 years will get redundancy. Your notice will take effect from the date of the letter – notice is usually between 4 and 8 weeks (and terms are found in your contract). Constituency staff can have written into their notice letter a particular finish date as long as it is within the 2 month winding up period – this is to enable them to close down the office. Examples of these letters can be found from PAS (Commons Personnel Advice Service).
5) The parliamentary office will then have 2 weeks to clear their office out and hand back their passes.
6) The constituency staff have up to 2 months to shut down their office. During this time no casework is allowed to be done in the former Members name. Local authorities will often call asking what to do with outstanding letters and replies (we asked them to post their responses direct to the constituents). You can pass these onto local Cllrs with the constituent’s permission.
7) The by-election bandwagon will soon be rolling to your patch, with leaders and shadow ministers alike. Your party will also come to town and take away any free time you mistakenly thought you might have now you’re soon to be unemployed. You may still be under contract with your former MP so will not be able to do any political activity during your normal working hours.
8) Whilst all this happens you’ll need to write to all your active and sensitive (CSA, immigration, Housing needs etc.) casework files advising them they can collect their casework files or you will arrange confidential shredding them. If the by-election is within 2 months winding up you can postpone these letters and give active and sensitive cases the choice to pass over to the new MP.
9) With all your casework gone it’s time to sell off the office furniture (literally!) and give PICT back any supported pieces of equipment. PICT will collect all your equipment at any date you arrange (as long as it is before the by election polling day). You lose your pass and parliamentary IT account at 5pm the day before the by-election.
10) With the lease on your building up and all your utilities and the local paper subscription cancelled it’s time to move on from your life as a bag carrier. No doubt your experience and knowledge will be useful for the forthcoming by-election – but for now it’s time for a well deserved pint with your former work colleagues.
ES March 2011