'The Stoning of Maria M': The Urgent Requirement for Internal Systems Innovation in Parliament

I have to say that I felt dreadfully sorry for Maria Miller during the recent vicious public 'stoning' over her expenses.

I have to say that I felt dreadfully sorry for Maria Miller during the recent vicious public 'stoning' over her expenses.

Having worked as a management accountant, spent a year studying ACCA and undertaken financial systems design projects, it has always astounded me that such a complicated and disorganised expense system existed in Parliament. And in my opinion, the so-called expenses scandal was quite simply a symptom of the haphazard shape and function of the wider organisation - in fact Parliament should really be referred to as a 'disorganisation'.

One of the reasons I gave up accountancy was that it isn't always an exact science - in fact it is often subjective as to how values are reflected and interpreted across systems. And I found it frustrating attempting to remember those differences. Therefore when the expense scandal first broke, I was annoyed at how outsiders seemed to be encouraged to take MPs' expense claims at face value - and seemingly all for the sake of creating a national drama. In other words, you really would have had to have studied financial systems or au fait with Parliament's culture to fully grasp that this was a catastrophic systems failure, rather than the fault of individual MPs. For instance, I am now a headhunter and based on 9 years experience I know that MPs' salaries are ridiculously low in relation to the competencies and experience required. And based on my accounting knowledge, I also know that given the opportunity, employees tend to 'claim to death' in relatively low-paid environments - that's just the way it is. And they may also be driven to manipulate the rules to their advantage - 'car sharing' whilst claiming for individual journeys is a typical example. This could be due to a rebellion against feelings of deprivation, or it may be due to severe personal financial stress. In fact, I can remember reading of such perils of poorly constructed financial systems during my business studies. But crucially those books took the view that it was the organisation's problem and that it should simply take more pride in how it treated its employees by introducing decent financial systems and reward processes. In other words, good systems and their managers take into account the reality of human behavior and thus seek to maintain the welfare of their users.

Furthermore, poor financial and remuneration systems will usually go hand in hand with poor information systems. And in such confusing environments, it is naturally easy to misinterpret rules. And over time, that high level of confusion tends to beget 'sub-cultures' of unwritten rules - in other words, employees in those environments behave no differently to children subject to inconsistent parenting. And worst still and by their very essence, 'disorganisations' disregard their employees' health and safety, and thus stress levels will be unnecessarily high due to overwork and general mess. And as judgment and attention to detail decrease in relation to stress levels, I believe that MPs were perfect victims of a catastrophic systems failure of this nature.

Bearing in mind I had to re-read and re-read and re-read Maria Miller's so-called 'expense crimes', then I'm not surprised she slipped up. To me the system was utter, utter garbage in its design - in fact I've NEVER seen anything like it in my entire career. I am also absolutely astounded as to why Ms Miller has been criticised for defending herself - since there is no HR facility, then she'd jolly well have to, wouldn't she? I mean she'd hardly be much of an MP if she turned the other cheek - defending a position is a crucial skill in Parliament, right?

Finally, taking into consideration the personal and professional risks this HR-less 'Parliamentary disorganisation' continues to pose to MPs, then instead of condemning each other, they should collectively demand a complete analysis and overhaul of every single aspect of the structure and processes to which they are exposed. They should also demand the introduction of a proper HR, learning development and control infrastructure which is of a standard suitable to an organisation responsible for the strategic operation of the UK.


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