Parliament is in a right old mess. Because Theresa May can’t guarantee winning any votes she is too scared to bring legislation to the House. When she does there’s high drama, at other times we go weeks without even voting on anything!
So day-to-day power in the Commons has shifted away from the chamber and out towards committees. ‘Select committee’ are groups of MP’s who are elected by MP’s and each committee has the power to scrutinise and challenge an area of policy for our country. We can summon witnesses like a court can, we make formal recommendations to government on how to change policy, and we can investigate any issue out in wider society too.
I’ve been elected twice onto the select committee that scrutinises business, industrial strategy, and all aspects of energy production and consumption. It’s really hard work but I love it. Each meeting lasts for three hours, we sometimes meet several times a week and we often do visits around the country or to other countries to listen and learn.
It was our committee that brought Mike Ashley from Sports Direct to heel and made him accountable for the abuses happening within his company. As a result he converted 20,000 zero-hours contracts to permanent ones. We also did a report into energy price rip-off and follow-up work that led to the energy price cap. So even though it’s more low-key than standing up and having a go in the chamber, select committees are an amazing way to get things done.
Take this for an example. Over the summer I grew increasingly concerned about decisions being taken at the top of Royal Mail. They had just appointed a new CEO but decided to pay him a £5.8m advance to buy him out of his existing contract….which happened to be with another company within the same group! On top of this he wasn’t even going to be domiciled in the UK, he is going to live in Zurich.
I raised this with our amazing committee chair, Rachel Reeves, and the rest of the committee and they wanted to take a closer look as part of our inquiry into executive pay. We had the director of Royal Mail in to scrutinise the appointment, and she admitted, finally, that she didn’t even consider another candidate for the job! The board didn’t even explore how better value for money could be achieved, didn’t speak to head hunters to see if there might be a better candidate out there.
Later in the exchange I accused the Royal Mail board of going weak at the knees over a powerful CEO but ignoring the views and needs of shareholders and staff. Rachel later found out that they didn’t pay UK tax on the £5.8m, which would have paid for 250 frontline postal workers.
I also have a personal reason to take this seriously as my brother is a postman in Brighton and I knew he’d be watching very closely (he was!).
You can see why I love being on this committee. I learn a huge amount about different areas of life and the policies that affect us all. And I also get to stand up to the powers-that-be who make decisions that affect so many of us. I always do it knowing that I’m representing you and channelling our desire as a community for a better, fairer system. It’s a privilege I take really seriously.
In the coming weeks I’ll share a bit more of the work from the select committee because we often uncover things that are surprising, shocking…or just interesting!
Please let me know what you think? Do you think my questions were fair? Would you have done it differently? I’m keen to know!