Anyone who has worked in Comp & Ben must surely have some sympathy with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. You know how these things go. You are given your brief, you define and agree your criteria, you go off and do your research and you present your report. And then you are told you’ve got the wrong answer.
It’s not that your methods were wrong or your data poorly researched. You chose the right benchmarks, used the right sample sizes and did everything by the book. Your assessment of the market pay for the job is statistically robust and anyone else doing a similar study would come up with a similar result. But it’s still wrong.
Because, as ever, politics is as important as statistics. For example, the CIO might have very good reasons for paying Fred £10k above the market rate. He’s well out of his depth with some of the new technological developments and his right-hand man is the only thing standing between him and boardroom humiliation. The CFO, on the other hand, doesn’t want to pay Freda any more than she is already getting. She gets on his nerves and he’s hoping she will leave. In both cases, your independent research was supposed to prove the case for doing what the boss wanted. When it doesn’t, well, you were clearly wrong, weren’t you?
The creation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is a fine example of something you often see in organisations. Data, research, expertise and independence are used as a way of avoiding difficult conversations. After all, if you can point to some data or advice from an independent expert, then you can’t be blamed entirely for the decision. Hey, I’d love to give you a pay rise, Bob, but market data says no!
IPSA was set up so that MPs could avoid the embarrassment of being pilloried by the press every year about their salaries. Contract the decision out to a panel of experts and you can just shrug off any criticism. Hey, nothing to do with us, we’re just paying what the research tells us we have to.
I haven’t seen the IPSA report. As far as I can tell it hasn’t been made public yet. But nothing I have read suggests they did anything other than a well researched study based on the brief they had been given. MPs’ pay is falling behind that of other comparable jobs (or as close to comparable as you can get), the gap between leaders’ and backbenchers’ pay is widening and a lot of MPs are not happy about it. But politics will have the final say. A £10,000 pay rise would cause a media firestorm and public outrage so, despite IPSA’s hard (and no doubt expensive) work, its recommendations will probably be watered down.
It’s sounds fine in theory but there is something a bit naive about this faith in independent experts. It’s as though there is a right answer out there somewhere and if we only applied a bit of science we would discover it. When it comes to dealing with people, though, and especially when it comes to their pay and benefits, there is rarely a right answer. In the end, somebody always has to make a call.