Remote working a casualty of the MP expenses furore

One of the sad side-points to this week’s revelations about MPs expenses is that a remote worker is seen as not an appropriate employee. At a time when flexible working of all kinds is supporting companies through the recession as well as providing a better work/life balance for countless employees and freelancers, it’s amazing that no-one has challenged the perception that MP Julie Kirkbride was wrong to employ a remote worker to deal with constituency correspondence. The fact that the remote worker is Ms Kirkbride’s sister has also muddied the waters (I would also query whether there is anything really wrong with that, but I’d better stick to my main point).

Remote working – i.e. having an employee connected via IT to an office but not actually based in that office – is a partial or full option for many types of jobs these days, and surely should be encouraged. Such employment can provide a real income for parents, carers, those with disabilities and those who live in remote rural areas where local jobs are scarce. It can give the individual more time to spend on other aspects of their lives, reduce stress and improve quality of life. It saves the employer money on accommodation and associated costs and gives them access to a much wider pool of experienced and efficient workers. It can even boost recruitment and retention of staff. And it saves the environment for all of us by reducing the number of travellers on the roads.

So in what way is Ms Kirkbride’s choice of a remote worker to do some of her constituency admin work a bad decision?

There are many lamentable aspects to the MP expenses debacle and no doubt that official encouragement to exploit the system has made the behaviour of many otherwise incorruptible public servants extremely questionable. But the benefits of remote working are not something that should be overlooked because of it.