Expenses: Making MPs digital
The independent body responsible for regulating MPs’ expenditure has revealed that it is moving politicians’ expenses into the 21st century with the adoption of Dutch vendor Unit4.
Since coming into being in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has processed 1.1m expense claims, all of which are published every two months on its website.
Created to oversee and regulate MPs’ expenses (along with their salaries and pensions), the organisation’s efficiency is hampered by having to deal only in hard copies. This week IPSA announced that over the next year it will employ the services of Unit4’s Business World On! finance, expenses, HR and payroll software on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to make it easier for MPs to manage their business costs and expenses.
But how will the regulatory body cope with powerful and potentially stroppy end users, some of whom may resent the intrusion while others the shift in technology? Will October’s roll-out be a digital dream or a networked nightmare?
Speaking to AccountingWEB about the transition, IPSA chief executive Marcial Boo admitted that the move might have its challenges.
“We have 650 very independent-minded people we need to work with”, he said. “But the reason for doing this is to support MPs by giving them the tools to do their jobs better and to regulate them.”
Before the planned go-live date in October 2017 IPSA plans to spend six months engaging every single MP’s office to make sure each of the 4,000-plus potential stakeholders understand the system and how it can be used.
Part of the reason for the change is to bring MPs’ expenses in line with the world of business, and many of their constituents who use digital tools to submit claims will be watching closely, particularly when it comes round to legislating for the government’s Making Tax Digital initiative.
“We want to make sure that like all organisations we deal with expenses in a modern and efficient way,” said Boo, “so MPs spend less time making expense claims and we spend less time processing them. Our job is to safeguard public money and we have a duty to represent as good value for money for the public.”
Speed up the process
Boo explained that it is also about speeding things up, with the efficiencies created by the new system allowing the board to decide if they want to increase the frequency of expense postings on their website, with the ultimate aim of complete transparency in near real time a possibility.
As IPSA was created “in a bit of a hurry”, as Boo puts it, separate systems for payroll, pensions, expenses were “thrown together”. Over the years the organisation has developed a way of transferring data from one system to another, but much of the promised automation and many of the efficiencies will happen because the body has an integrated rather than separate system.
“After the first parliament we decided to take stock and look at how we perform our functions. We currently have a hard copy environment for MPs expenditure. New system will enable us to receive information electronically so this will speed up the process.”
Clear audit trail
Commenting on the announcement Derren Nisbet, managing director of Unit4 UK and Ireland, said that by automating so much of their administration, MPs “will have much more time to focus on Parliamentary business”.
“There will be a very clear audit trail”, continued Nisbet, “enabled by digital, allowing the UK to maintain its place as a world-leader in the independent and cost-effective regulation of politicians’ business costs.”
The system is due to go live in October 2017, and AccountingWEB will be checking in with IPSA shortly afterwards to see how the implementation is going.