Outrage in Britain over sharp payrise plan for MPs

LONDON (AFP) - British lawmakers should be handed a 9.3 per cent payrise, a report recommended on Thursday, sparking an instant outcry from austerity-hit Britons.

Parliament's independent expenses watchdog recommended that MPs' pay should rise 6,000 euros to 74,000 euros (S$121,834) in 2015.

While the figure is almost three times the average British salary of 26,500 euros, supporters of the pay hike argue that Parliament needs to attract top-quality candidates and that its members work long hours.

But the plan stirred anger amongst public sector workers, who are limited to one-per cent pay rises until 2015-16 as part of government spending cuts aimed at reducing Britain's huge deficit.

Trade unions immediately called for a matching payrise, while several MPs expressed their annoyance at the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) watchdog for exposing them to another public backlash.

Public trust in politicians plummeted after a parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009 that saw several lawmakers jailed for fraud.

The payrise announcement came as prosecutors said former Europe minister Denis MacShane is to be charged with false accounting over his expenses claims.

Prime Minister David Cameron's office said he was strongly opposed to the proposed pay rise.

"The prime minister's view is that the cost of politics should not be going up, it should come down," his spokesman said.

The proposals are open to public consultation and IPSA is expected to announce a final deal in a few months' time.

Matthew Sinclair, head of the TaxPayers' Alliance pressure group, said: "The idea of hiking MPs' pay when everyone else has been suffering such a squeeze on their earnings is totally unpalatable.

"MPs do an important job and work hard, but they already earn nearly three times the national average and more than most of their European counterparts."

IPSA has argued that it is planning to offset the wage hike with a clampdown on MPs' expense allowances - including the amount they can spend on dinners and taxis - and curbs on their pensions.

The total bill for the taxpayer will only go up by 500,000 euros when the changes come into force after the next general election in May 2015, the watchdog said.

After the 9.3-per cent payrise, MPs' salaries would rise annually in line with average British earnings.

"I recognise some will just concentrate on the salary, rather than the package as a whole, and say it's too high; others that it's too low," IPSA chairman Ian Kennedy said.

"There is no easy way forward on this. We have put together a package of reforms which we think is fair and which ends the anomalies of the past."

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