Two Scottish MPs among almost 100 who employ close family members

Two Scottish MPs are among almost 100 parliamentarians who employ a close family member on their staff – despite rules banning new MPs from recruiting their own relatives.

Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford lists his step-son John O’Leary as a member of his team on the MPs’ register of interests. He is employed as a senior case worker, registered on 3 June 2015.

Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara employs his wife Catherine as an office manager, registered on 19 January 2016.

There is no suggestion that either SNP MP has broken any rules.

In fact, around one in eight parliamentarians employ their partner, spouse, child or even a parent at taxpayers’ expense. That is despite a rule change introduced in 2017 to prevent new MPs from hiring any close relatives.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) announced then that no funding would be provided to pay a wage to “connected parties”, which effectively bans new MPs from recruiting staff from their own family.

However, that rule change does not prevent MPs who won their seat before 2017 and who already employed a family member from continuing to do so.

According to the MPs’ register of interests, there are 86 politicians who currently employ a partner, spouse or other relative in roles such as office manager, secretary, parliamentary assistant or researcher.

That works out as 13% of MPs in the House of Commons.

Almost two thirds of them (63%) are Conservatives. A total of 55 Tory MPs employ a spouse, partner, child or parent; compared to 25 Labour politicians.

That means 15% of Conservative MPs and 13% of Labour MPs employ a family member.

There are also four DUP and two SNP MPs who keep a close relative on their team.

Some of the roles can be quite lucrative, according to pay ranges published by IPSA. For example an office manager could command a wage of up to £48,360, assuming they were based in London, or up to £45,552 elsewhere.

A senior case worker can expect a wage of up to £42,046 and a senior parliamentary assistant up to £51,207.

Since May 2010, MPs have only been allowed to keep one member of their family on the payroll; although staff already recruited before then were allowed to keep their jobs.

The majority of the MPs have preferred to have their husband, wife or partner working for them.

Currently, 64 MPs pay a spouse’s wage out of the public purse, while another 10 employ their own partner.

There are also two MPs’ sons, three daughters, one step-son and one step-daughter working in the corridors of power. Meanwhile, one MP employs their own brother and three have recruited sisters.

There is even one MP who recruited his mother and another who is boss to his own father. Both parents work as office managers.

Among the most high profile MPs to recruit a family member is Nadine Dorries – who has herself railed against nepotism at the BBC.

Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, employs her daughter as a senior parliamentary assistant.

Other prominent MPs who employ a family member include Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 committee, Prisons Minister Robert Buckland, former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, Simon Hart, Secretary of State for Wales and Speaker Lindsay Hoyle.

A spokesperson for IPSA said: “Since 2017, MPs have not been able to employ connected parties.

“We acknowledge the great work carried out by connected parties but their recruitment is out of step with modern working practices.

“MPs should follow a recruitment process that is transparent and encourages diversity.”

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