Brexit aside, one of the important issues to be addressed by the next Parliament, will be responding to the independent inquiry into the Bullying and Harassment of MPs’ Parliamentary Staff. The report from Dame Laura Cox, published last year, found a “disturbing” and “pervasive” culture in Westminster, and that bullying, and harassment of staff is a “significant problem” that has been “accepted for too long”.
The new intake of MPs has a chance to start afresh and implement some of the recommendations made in the Inquiry Report. Dame Laura stopped short of recommending that MPs staff should be centrally employed but recommended that measures to ensure good HR practice are followed. Most organisations would shudder at the thought of employing staff without these measures in place, but this only highlights the unique relationship between an MP and their staff.
When new MPs arrive in Westminster, there is no induction period to get settled or time to ease in to learning the new role. They are summoned to a series of appointments – meet the whip, collect the pass, complete mountains of paperwork for the security team, quick briefings on Chamber etiquette. Almost no thought is given to the fact that MPs will shortly become the ‘Chief Executive’ of their own office and have a team of five or more (sometimes very junior) staff to manage.
Some MPs will be lucky enough to pick up staff with Parliamentary experience, to help get them started, but as the Inquiry reported:
“Unless newly elected MPs appoint staff quickly, they are at a considerable disadvantage in carrying out their Parliamentary functions. Their constituents will suffer. But until they properly understand what the job will involve, appointing the right staff to assist them doing that job is incredibly difficult.
“The speed with which Members feel that they need to appoint staff, combined with the lack of requirements for a fair and transparent procedure creates a risk of poor decisions being made in relation to appointments.”
Most MPs and staff come to work in Westminster with aspirations to achieve change and serve their constituents; very few would rank HR as a priority. With staff budgets also limited, MPs will find it hard to recruit an experienced Manager to take responsibility of staff management and training; most would rather recruit a more senior Researcher or Chief of Staff better able to steer them through Parliamentary procedures.
The conclusion come to by Dame Laura was that MPs offices must be required to adhere to the same employment standards as other public sector bodies, and the “near complete freedom to operate” as they have been doing, must stop. It was proposed that a central HR Department be created to support MPs to be good employers. This is a welcome step, but it still requires the MP to undertake the work themselves in the first place. Hive Support has been created because, through years of experience, we understand the pressures on MPs and their staff and we know the working relationships in these offices are unique.
By outsourcing recruitment and HR functions, we can ensure that an MP is meeting the requirements of modern employment practices and meeting the recommendations of the Inquiry. We will offer an independent, professional service to provide bespoke support to MPs and their staff – through fair and open recruitment services, supervision to support staff with stresses, training issues and personnel needs, and regular appraisals and exit interviews. These tasks are unlikely to be handled ably in-house, when the workload of an MPs office already exhausts the limits of the staffing budget. Our service provides value for money and continuity of approach and will ensure Parliament can move forward from the allegations of bullying that have dogged it for so long.