Our Time: Tue 16 Jul 2024 16:24

Guidance to avoid use of taxpayer-funded staff resources for party political campaigning

In light of recent claims being scrutinised by IPSA and potentially the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, we hope our free guidance will be helpful to avoid repeated instances.

Use of Staff

Although the recently-reported claims relate to use of an IPSA-funded office for party political activities, including leaflet printing, we believe a much bigger issue surrounds use of staff resources, so our guidance starts here.

Volunteer Time

Your staff are entitled to also be volunteers on your campaign, but they must do this on their own time, never on ‘taxpayer time’. Presently, in many MP offices, this is managed by informal arrangements, with staff opting to self-declare when they are on volunteer time and when they are on taxpayer time. This arrangement is not sufficient and risks investigation.

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The evidence that will be used in any investigation will include timestamped emails and WhatsApp messages to demonstrate that a member of staff was carrying out party political campaign activities during the working day, in conflict with the hours and working pattern governed by their contract of employment.

To avoid falling foul of rules, Members of Parliament and their office management staff should put in place two simple records.

TOIL (Time Off in Lieu) Log

Whenever a member of staff is doing additional Parliamentary work outside of their normal hours, this should be recorded in a TOIL log, stating the date and time of the additional work. This could include a number of hours spent with you in the constituency supporting your surgery or visits on a Saturday for instance – but only if the member of staff is not ordinarily contracted to work on a Saturday, and only where the contract of employment allows for TOIL rather than paid overtime for instance.

Your office should establish a clear TOIL policy, which should cover:

  • How much TOIL an employee can build up over a month, quarter or year and what happens at the end of the period i.e. how many hours roll over and how many will be lost if not taken.
  • When staff are permitted to take TOIL – such as during recess only, or at any time of the year.
  • The circumstances that differentiate TOIL and paid overtime and who can authorise each.
  • How TOIL logs should be kept.
  • What happens if an employee leaves with a bank of TOIL.

Volunteer Time Log

Your staff should also log any hours they provide as a volunteer on a Volunteer Time Log, stating the date, time and duration of any day volunteer activities.

It is a good idea to keep a log of volunteer time in general, even if not all volunteers will use it. It’s a great way to count and compare volunteer activities but also acts as a handy list of people to thank later.

Where the volunteer activity takes place outside of regular working hours the activity simply should be recorded.

Where the activity takes place during normal working hours, there should be a matching request to take time off work, which should be formally sanctioned by the Member of Parliament or their Office Manager before the leave takes place. Records of the request and its acceptance should be kept.

Use of Office

Most MPs and their staff will have read the IPSA guidance on office costs, which starts with:

“The office costs budget is provided to meet the costs of renting, equipping and running MPs’ constituency offices, surgeries, and other activities which support their parliamentary functions, where these costs are not covered by other budgets under the Scheme”

15th Edition

It continues to define what will NOT be covered as:

  • alcoholic drinks;
  • stationery provided by the House of Commons;
  • newsletters;
  • funding of any material, other than websites, that contains a party-political logo or emblem;
  • personal accountancy or tax advice.

The two most likely to cause issues is newsletters and material carrying a party-political logo or emblem. These should be funded by the MP personally, or by their political association.

Sub-letting

If you have your political association share your constituency office, for example, this should be governed by a commercial agreement.

Where MPs grant a licence or give permission to any other person to use the constituency office or any part of it (such as a subletting arrangement), a fee must be charged which reflects an appropriate proportion of the rent and other costs incurred. The fee must be remitted to IPSA in its entirety.

Further guidance is available at https://www.ipsaonline.org.uk/

Conclusion

By deploying clear and transparent record-keeping, wrapped by a TOIL policy, you should be able to avoid controversy about use of staffing resources for party political purposes, whilst maintaining the ability of your staff to support you in ‘volunteer mode’, which will be more clearly defined.

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