I fully understand why people are uneasy about elected representatives employing family members. The system has been seriously abused in the past, most notably in 2008 when it emerged that Tory MP Derek Conway had employed both his sons as assistants while they were full-time students, and that there was no evidence that either of them had actually undertaken any work. This revelation was the forerunner of the 2009 expenses scandal, which brought to light a whole range of expenses abuses, and is why, quite rightly, there are now strict rules and intense scrutiny around employing family members, and why there is now have an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority that analyses all staff recruitment and expenses.
During my time as an MP all my staff went through an interview process, had set contracts and quarterly performance reviews and, as I am sure visitors to the office will have noted, worked extremely hard for me and for the constituency. A fifth of all MPs elected in 2015 employed a family member and there are structures in place to ensure fairness and transparency. All my staff recruitment has been done in full compliance with the regulations set down by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
It is common practice in many sectors for children to follow a parent in a whole range of other careers – children of nurses become nurses, children of joiners become joiners and often family members work in the same organisation – there is nothing sinister about this. My own observations are that a parent’s employment can have an impact on the family and either ignite an interest in a particular field [or in some cases it does the opposite and puts family members off] - in my circumstances this was no 9-5 job – being an MP means work and scrutiny 24/7, 365 days a year, therefore my children lived and breathed this world with me. I was pleased that members of my own family became sufficiently interested in politics that they have sought to work in this area. But what is not known – because no one ever asked – before Shannon started work with me she was a volunteer in the office for nearly a year, where she undertook the same duties as paid staff for absolutely no payment. She then applied for a position when it came up – she was interviewed along with 8 other people and genuinely was the best candidate. It may be worth noting that I encouraged the whole team to be involved in interviewing – as they were the ones working with the person and it was a team decision who got hired. At that time of this vacancy one of the candidates, who did not have the required experience, was offered a volunteer position which they accepted, and they also went on to be hired when another vacancy arose. During the 2 years I provided more than a dozen young people with the opportunity to volunteering in the office.
One last point, being an MP can be a lonely and isolated life so having a family member working for you can be an advantage – you can trust them implicitly and are on call with you night and day. This was a distinct disadvantage for Kieran and Shannon who would often say to me “would you call another member of staff at this time of night to talk about work?”.
I acted transparently at all times and within the guidelines and once again it is a pity here was no such scrutiny prior to 2015 when MPs were actually exploiting the system.