IN these austere times of falling incomes and a spiralling cost of living, many people have had to take second jobs to help balance the family budget.

But when MPs, who are paid a basic salary of £66,396, take a second job, eyebrows are raised.

By most people’s standards, MPs have no financial need to take work on the side.

And, more significantly, does having additional paid employment affect their performance – or even pose a possible conflict of interest?

The issue came into the spotlight when the Echo revealed how south Essex MP James Duddridge works a day a month for a finance firm, for £500 a day.

This sparked criticism on the Echo website and, predictably, from political opponents.

Perhaps one explanation for the public outrage about politicians’ second jobs is the undefined workload of an MP.

They don’t clock in and out in the same way as many workers do and attendance at Parliament varies greatly between members.

On the other hand, it is far from a nine to five job. Debates and meetings often run into the evening and politicians continue to help constituents at weekends and during Parliamentary recess.

Mr Duddridge, MP for Rochford and Southend East, who worked in banking before standing for Parliament, sees nothing wrong with his £500-aday second job advising a Liverpool-based financial firm.

He reckons he spends 65 hours a week working as an MP. He says having a role outside the “Westminster bubble” helps him serve constituents better.

The Tory MP is also a director of charity the Grow Movement, which gives free business advice to African entrepreneurs.

He said: “Parliament is stronger when MPs have outside interests.

“One of the products of the expenses scandal was that people didn’t want career politicians.”

So do other south Essex MPs have second jobs?

Stephen Metcalfe, Tory MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock, does not have a second job. However, he is a shareholder in Aysgarth Properties and Metloc Printers.

John Baron, MP for Basildon and Billericay, draws on his experience as an investment banker to write a monthly column in the Financial Times’ Investors Chronicle magazine.

He donates the £500 fee to charity. He says the column only takes him an hour to write.

He said: “I do those at the weekend, so it doesn’t impact on my work as an MP.

“With the broader issue, I have little trouble with MPs undertaking second jobs.

“Being an MP isn’t a typical job. You can be in at 8am and still be in the House of Commons at 10pm.

“If we want Parliament to be representative and to rebut the criticism that MPs are out of touch, having MPs that are in touch with certain professions could be a good thing – provided the right balance is achieved and they remember their first duty is to their constituents.”

The Caravan Club pays David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, between £5,000 and £10,000 a year as a Parliamentary advisor, which involves speaking up for caravan owners in Parliament.

The club expects an estimated 100 hoursayear work in return, which at roughly one day a month.

He has regularly championed the Caravan Club’s cause in Parliament, for example calling for caravan sites to provided for the Olympic Games last year.

Mr Amess declares the Caravan Club interest in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and makes no secret of it in Parliament.

Some MPs get paid extra as they climb the promotion lader in Parliament.

Rayleigh and Wickford MP Mark Francois, who is seen as a political high-flyer, receives an extra £33,002 for his role as a defence minister.

Mr Duddridge gets £14,728 on top of his MP’s salary as chairman of the regulatory reform committee.

Rebecca Harris, Tory MP for Castle Point, who has no second job, has no problem with colleagues earning extra cash.

She said: “I don’t have a second job...apart from being a mother of a seven-year-old.

“I know a number of very good MPs who have second jobs and I think as long as their constituents feel they work hard to represent them and their area well and that they declare all they do, that it shouldn’t be a problem.

“Of course if you are a Government minister that is quite a major second job on top of their constituency work, but I have never heard of their constituencies suffering.

“A lot of hard working people have two jobs and I think if MPs do a few hours in business, law or medicine, for example, it could actually help them keep in better touch with how the politics they discuss and vote on in Westminster is reflected on the ground in those areas.”

Mr Amess and Mr Francois were unavailable for comment.