Washminster

Washminster
Washminster

Friday, 9 December 2011

How much does a Parliamentary Question cost?

As a former Organisation & Methods Analyst, I approach giving a figure with a certain amount of trepidation. Costing involves calculations based on certain assumptions. It needs to take into account the costs of the individual(s) involved's time to do the work and the costs of the infrastructure needed for the task to be accomplished. I used to be horrified when colleagues would propose "savings" of millions of pounds based on eliminating a handful of steps in a procedure carried out in all our branches. The savings were illusory - the employees worked the same hours and received the same annual income - AND new costs might arise from not doing those steps, or from new steps or procedures which might become necessary. Risks of things going wrong might arise - but the bland claim of "savings" was still made. (and when I was a Councillor, I found that the same thing happened - claims of savings were made - but the inevitable costs (and few of them were truly 'unforeseeable consequences') were not mentioned.

So do take with a pinch of salt the claims that the average cost of written answers is £149 and £410 for an oral question. The figures include an element which would be paid whether there were few or many questions.

But, however the cost is calculated, it is true that dealing with and answering questions is expensive. Whoever said that democracy and accountability comes cheaply. We would be better concentrating upon the quality (in terms of usefulness of the information provided and scrutiny achieved) than on relatively meaningless headline "costs".

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