The Big Society – In Action

How has my MP, Robert Buckland, demonstrated the virtues espoused by David Cameron and his ‘big Society’ project? Well, he did some volunteering for three days in April this year, as reported in the local press. Not only that, but in addition to his MP role he also undertakes some court recorder work. This sounds quite impressive, yes? Volunteering and, by sitting as a Crown Court Recorder, offering a (in his own words) “public service, and I make no apology whatsoever for doing it for only a few days in the year”.

Well, I for one am not impressed. Actually that implies indifference. I’m not indifferent – I’m distinctly unimpressed.

An MP’s salary is £65,738 per year. Incidentally, in 2010, the median earnings of full time employees was £538 (that’s for men – £439 for women) a week. That equates to £27,969 a year – so less than half of what an MP earns. For a three day period, an MP therefore earns roughly £760.

Asked whether he chose to give up his MP’s salary as MP for those three days? No.

Volunteering is great. I have a huge amount of respect for people that give up their valuable time in order to do something brilliant for vulnerable people or society at large – for no reward other than it feels good and right. An online dictionary describes volunteering as ‘A person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task’. Mr Buckland was rewarded with his usual salary: it was not done ‘freely’.

So if this wasn’t volunteering, what was it? Easy: it was a PR stunt.

Wait a minute though! None of the other ‘volunteers’ taking part gave up their salary either! but how many of them are asking the public to engage in volunteering work so we can sack all of the people doing valuable paid work? While you ponder the question, find me a volunteer that’s able to claim £250 a day. I won’t wait while you search.

Now, by quoting an MP’s salary above and contrasting it to the median wage, I wasn’t seeking to attack an MP’s salary. I think it’s an incredibly difficult and busy job – they should get every penny. No – I was aiming to demonstrate that losing three days salary for an MP is a hell of a lot easier for the ‘person on the street’. If an MP is unwilling to do it, why should median wage earners? More importantly, why should minimum wage earners?

Let’s now consider the Court Recorder work.

According to Mr Buckland’s Register of Interests, on the 18th, 19th and 20th of April this year, records show a payment of £1,299 from the Ministry of Justice for this work. That’s £433 a day, and would equate to a six figure salary if engaged with full time. To add insult this was within a week or two of his ‘volunteering’. Not only did he claim his salary for these three days; he then went on to earn another grand doing something other than his MP job! How is this right?

So he’s moonlighting and not doing the job he was elected to do – I find it frustrating that we have a part time MP, but the thing that really makes me angry? That the efforts of genuine volunteers are belittled by him taking his salary and claiming he’s all ‘big Society’, the implication being that we should all be doing it. After hearing Francis Maude’s atrocious answer to ‘what volunteering do you do?’ on Radio 4 a few weeks back, it’s all beginning to stink of utter hypocrisy.