Jake Berry is Member of Parliament for Rossendale and Darwen. Follow Jake on Twitter.
2012 is for many reasons going to be a defining year for our country. This summer we must have on display our national pride and remind the world that Great Britain remains great despite the tarnish of last year’s riots.
We should not be tempted, despite the tough economic times, to hold an austerity Olympics or for that matter diminish Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee in any way. However, austerity will reach into all parts of our society to pay for our national year of fun.
The Palace of Westminster should not be immune from this and we must continue to seek ways of reducing the cost of Parliament and MPs. In December this year, a leaked report on the future use of the Houses of Parliament stated we are “in an age of austerity where Parliament needs to sweat its assets” suggesting the Terrace could become an exclusive club, charging businesses £2000 a year to sip Champagne by the Thames.
Other proposals include using the House of Commons logo commercially clearly demonstrating the potency of the brand of the Mother of all Parliaments.
With the Olympics in town some London Hotels are charging £7,000 for one night in their top suite. These ultra exclusive London enclaves are prized for their security, privacy and locations. One similarly exclusive bolthole in central London is Speaker John Bercow’s taxpayer-funded mansion in the grounds of the House of Commons. In order to get value for money for the taxpayer I suggest turning the Speaker’s house into a small luxury hotel for the period of the Olympics. It is impossible to put a price on a night in Speakers House but a conservative estimate, ranking it with top London Hotels, could see an income of in excess of half a million pounds during this period.
Unlike the Prime Minster, whose job is 24/7, 365 days of the year, the Speaker works within Parliament. During recess he will surely be in his Buckinghamshire Constituency serving his electorate. In fact, MPs have been given an extra week’s holiday this year to ensure they don’t get caught up in the Olympic traffic.
Many MPs are starting to question if the Speaker, who is paid £146,000 per year, requires a taxpayer-funded grace and favour home within the grounds of the House of Commons.
In 2003 the Speaker of the House of Lords gave up this privilege partially in recognition of the shorter sitting hours. This followed the scandal of the Lords Speaker’s Apartment being refurbished with hand printed wall paper at £300 per roll. The work ultimately cost the taxpayer £650,000 and demonstrated the worst excesses of the Blair years. This gilded residence is now largely offices and a visitor’s centre.
Now the House of Commons uses new family-friendly hours, it rarely sits beyond 10pm. The Speaker like many other MPs could live away from Parliament. The ‘flat above the shop’ is most appropriate for “Open All Hours” and changes to the Parliamentary day make it superfluous.
The Speaker, ultimately has said he would like to see Parliament a move to a nine to five working day. This change would make the on-site presence of a Speaker moribund.