Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The key question about Caroline Spelman

Michael Crick presented another piece about Caroline Spelman on Newsnight last night.

The key question is:

Was the nanny paid the full market rate for the hours she did as the family's nanny ?

If the answer to that question is "yes" then there is not a matter of impropriety here.

There may be a matter of incompetent management in that the nanny was not fully tasked for the 30 hours she did of "secretarial work" per week. There may be some issue about Ms Spelman being potentially misleading in that she said she employed the nanny for secretarial duties for a "short term period" between 1997 and 1998, whereas it transpires that this may have been a longer period between 1997 and 1999.

Crick made a great fuss of the fact that the secretarial work is supposed to have taken place in Kent, whereas Spelman's constituency is in the Midlands. Crick helpfully showed us a little map, several times, to point this out.

Well actually, you can do secretarial work in Kent for a constituency in the Midlands if you are regularly receiving the mail, much of which, for an MP, gets sent to the House of Commons anyway.

But, overall, if the nanny was paid for 30 hours secretarial work per week and also paid the market rate for x hours of nanny work, then bully for her. She may have been knackered at the end of week, or she may have been under-worked as a secretary - in which case that is a case of weak management - not impropriety. Mrs Spelman would not have gained in anyway.

If, on the other hand, the nanny was being paid under the market rate for her child supervision work, or doing unpaid hours as a nanny, then that is another matter and would, of course, mean that there is cause for complaint.

And I note that Newsnight have written: "The Conservative Party says she did the childcare for no pay but received free accommodation, use of a car and meals. "

This does suggest that there is a case to be investigated and that the argument could pivot on a reasonable interpretation of "market rate" for childcare services. A nanny would normally have free accommodation and meals on top of their wages. And "use of a car" could conceivably be worth very little.

The going rate these days for a nanny is £300-400 net a week.

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