Saturday, March 08, 2008

What a Bl****y Shambles.

What an appalling public relations cock-up. Probably the worst managed announcement by any tier of Government that I can recall. Its done great damage to the public's view of devolution and the National Assembly. I realise that I'm inviting public ridicule and condemnation by acknowledging that there is a case for the 8.3% increase in Assembly Members basic salaries. Here goes.

In 1999, an AM,'s salary was 74.3% of an MP's salary. It was less than the salary paid to a member of the Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly - because the responsibility vested in the role was less. Last May, new constitutional arrangements were put in place in Wales as a product of the second Government of Wales Act, which created the capacity for the National Assembly to pass new law (following passage of Legislative Competence Orders). It was inevitable that from last May, the proportion of an MP's salary that would be paid to an AM would increase. I was asked about this during the Assembly election campaign last year. I told people that I thought it would be around 80% (its actually 82%). What happened yesterday, was exactly what I told people would happen. Problem is that almost no-one realises that, in principle, law making power was transferred to Cardiff Bay last May.

There is no reason other than the above for the massive increase announced yesterday. The decision to offer other reasons has been a disaster. I could not believe what my ears were telling me when I heard talk of AMs "working harder"- a phrase which could not be better designed to inflame public sector workers and almost everyone else who is also "working harder". AMs will not be 'working harder' but will be doing a somewhat different job, with greater responsibilty since last May. And then there is the equally irrelevant assertion that AMs will be attending more committees. This may be true, but so what. This is not a change in responsibility at all.

How different things are from when I first became involved in public life. When I first became the District Councillor for Berriew in 1976, I attended Council Meetings for free. It was possible to claim £13 -00 for each meeting, but several of us didn't claim it. Public service was our purpose. Today, the equivalent councillor is being paid over £10,000 per annum (pensionable). The Chairman is paid getting on for £30,000 - compared with the £13.00 a meeting I claimed during the 3 years that I served as Chairman in the 1980's. Now that public service is no longer regarded as its own reward, the various salaries have to be measured against each other. I do think an AMs salary should be set at the percentage independently recommended, even if its a bit higher than I'd expected. As it happens, I do think the whole level of salary is too high, but if an MP's salary remains at its current level, an AM's salary follows automatically.

Yesterday was a day of despair for those of us who want the Assembly to be a success. And there is plenty more opportunity for negative headlines. No-body's mentioned the huge allowances which will be paid to members of the Commission - which is no more than the equivalent of the House Committee that was, which used not to attract any extra when I did the job. There will also be huge new payments to the Party whips, another job which was unpaid until May, and which was much more difficult before May. And Chairman's allowances have shot up as well. I can see the tap of public anger drip, drip, dripping for a while yet. It may even be that there may be some backing down. We shall see.

And finally, I have to comment on the willingness of AMs to argue the case in public. Yesterday, Radio Wales rang me at about 11.30, asking me to appear on Richard Evans' programme at 12.00. My immediate response was "Why don't you ask one of the current AMs". I received confirmation of what I already knew. No-one was available. This is not good enough. A politician's salary is paid for by the taxpayer, and the recipient should be willing to defend the level at which it is set. I've never had much time for politicians who dive under the desk whenever there is a whiff of cordite in the air. Yesterday was a very bad day for devolution - and it shouldn't have been.

21 comments:

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Perhaps I have such a low opinion of WAG and its crass inability to manage one of Wales’s vital assets: WIP (Welsh Intellectual Property) that frankly, I am not surprised if WAG shows the public how much it deserves, to borrow your words, "ridicule and condemnation".

If Welsh voters are prepared to put up with such a startling, but accurate, display of incompetence than I guess there is little hope for Wales over the next 8 years, which added to the past 8 years of WAG 'leadership' will put Wales into the "Laurel and Hardy" ballpark. Actually, isn't that where Wales is right now?

Glanyrafon said...

Glyn,

I happen to agree that the AMs get this pay rise - in terms of comparability to MPs and to allow them to remain focussed on their work.

However everyone I have discussed it with, even my own wife, is absolutely furious. I didn't quite grasp how you thought it should have been handled to manage this public reaction. As it stands I suspect the AMs are probably correct to stay out of the firing line and wait for the furore to die down. Cynical I know but politics can be so at times.

Jeff Jones said...

Glyn, When I became a Mid Glamorgan County Councillor in 1981 I had to put 2 forms into my employer West Glamorgan CC. I worked as a teacher at the time. One form was for leave of absence and the other was to have my attendance allowance deducted from my salary. Effectively I received nowt as a councillor and I had a young family and a mortgage to pay for. One week because of my teaching and political commitments my two young daughters did not see me from Sunday night until Friday. When I moved to the FE sector I taught for 2 nights a week in order to get more time off for Council work. On those two days I would leave home at 7.30 and return at 9.30 in the night often to phone calls from constituents . If there was a meeting in North Wales I would drive up and back in the same day. Of course those were the good old days when we did it because we believed that it was a privelege to serve. As one of my older miner colleagues always used to say to me 'You chose to serve'. He would often come to County Hall after working nights in the local pit. Another colleague who was a bus inspector would start work early in the morning and then go to County hall and then return to work to complete is shift at 11 o clock at night. Real heroes who weren't interest one bit in monetary reward. All they were interested in was trying to improve the lives of their fellow citizens.

Stuart Rendel said...

Your use of the word responsibility is an interesting one. If you argue that politicians should be paid on the basis of reponsibilities then councillors should get less today than you received as a councillor in the 1980s. Effectively they no longer set the local tax because of the fear of capping. Their policy options are also circumscribed by national and regional government. As I've argued before we have local adnministration not local government. Ironically of course in some authorites the Leader and the cabinet will also have an automatic increase because their salaries are linked to those of AMs. The AMs have opened up a can of worms with this one. The press will crawl all over the claim to be working harder. It's easy just use the FOI Act to find how many complaints various politicians send to their local council, for example. In most areas of Wales you will still find that it the local MP who is way in front. The press will also start to look at the relatives employed and the accommodation paid for by the taxpayer for AMs who live within easy travel distance of the Bay. I know at least one AM who uses the generous holidays to fly off to the holiday home in the States. All of this will now come under the microscope of public scrutiny. As for the referendum those such as the MPs who want a 'no' vote must be laughing their heads off. In the traditional Labour areas of South Wales which have never really been pro devolution you will either find an active 'no' campaign or Labour members who will do nothing.

Glyn Davies said...

christopher and Glanyrafon - I have spoken to almost 100 people about this issue, together with an hours worth of calls on yesterday's BBC phone in. Almost everyone is 'furious'.

It is almost always best to be entirely open about these controversial issues. The only acceptable reason (because it is the truth) that should have been given for this increase was that since May, the role of an Assembly Member has involved new responsibilities. The idea that the workload has increased or that AMs are working harder is not relevant, and is an insult to others. I also disagree strongly with the theory that is best to 'stay out of the firing line and wait for the furore to die down'. Politicians deserve what they get if they are not prepared to answer for what they say and dod, because it is said and done on behalf of all of us.

Jeff - Seems like we share experiences here.

Stuart - You are raising several issues, which while tangentially connect are away from the main point. I have accepted that Councillors should be paid, because the position should be open to all, and not just those who can afford it. But the salaries are too high, and many of the Councillors now see themselves more like officers. Its also the case that if the 'commercial' rate for the job is paid, the normal rules of productivity which apply in the commercial world should apply - which means a lot less councilllors. I also rather approve of the press crawling over allowances of politicains. thats what they arevthere for. And I agree that this has been a disaster for the Assembly. I hope that there will be some serious debate, starting on Monday. about what to do about it. I just hope that it doesn't involve any further claims that AMs are working harder.

Anonymous said...

the role of an Assembly Member has involved new responsibilities

Not really. The new Act, by abolishing the corporate status of the Assembly, has, if anything, given indibidual mebers even less power than the small amount they enjoyed previously.

Logically, Welsh ministers should get a pay increase but ordinary members a pay cut.

Peter Black said...

Just for the record Glyn I had my mobile switched off from 10.30am to 2.30pm yesterday as I was with the Queen. It was only when I switched it back on that I got messages asking me to appear on Richard Evans's show. Too late.

I have now blogged on the issue but I am reluctant to bear the brunt of the criticism for everybody else. The PO has also been in the media defending the decision. I agree with you on responsibility. It is that which is the determining factor not workload.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn> I want Wales to be VIBRANT, to be a smart country on top of its game but after eight years of Welsh Assembly ‘Government’ (WAG) and we have a Welsh schools system that compares unfavourably against former under resourced East European countries (re: recent OECD published figures), a Welsh economy with serious structural problems; a Wales that is the poorest region in the UK; a Wales dependent on billions of additional funding provided from the UK Treasury and Europe (as reported in Professor Dylan Jones-Evans article “‘Ostrich’ ministers ignoring true state of economy”, Western Mail, Feb 16, 2008). WAG has finally run out of excuses and its Ministers have turned into Ostrich Ministers.

Peter> it doesn't bother me that some AMs such as yourself get a good rise in pay. Some AMs such as yourself work VERY HARD. I have nothing but admiration for hard working AMs. You deserve a rise.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn, I've just noticed that I inadvertently addressed a recent post to you - please feel free to delete it.

Yes, I understand that "Almost everyone is 'furious'." I take a bit of a longer term view of things. I don't mind the inevitable 'cock-up' - any institution can have one of those from time to time, but WAG ministers have simply run out of excuses and I believe Prof. Dylan Jones Evans is right when he talks about "Ostrich ministers".

Professor Dylan Jones-Evans sums it up like this, "Rather than being the dragon economy, it would seem that the Assembly is quickly making us the ostrich economy, with ministers carefully selecting small ‘victories’ out of a miasma of statistics whilst burying their heads firmly in the sand to ignore the real hard evidence of low investment, low R&D spend and low productivity." (Quote from a recent article in icWales: "‘Ostrich’ ministers ignoring true state of economy"; Feb 16, 2008, Western Mail).

prasit said...

"Peter Black said...
Just for the record Glyn I had my mobile switched off from 10.30am to 2.30pm yesterday as I was with the Queen. It was only when I switched it back on that I got messages asking me to appear on Richard Evans's show. Too late. "

Which queen was he with I wonder?

Glyn Davies said...

anon - Not sure what to make of this comment, or that I follow your logic. We both seem to accept that the role of Assembly Members has changed since May. Personally, I don't feel able to judge whether and how much the percentage of MPs salsry should be paid to Assembly Members in future. I thought it would increase to about 80% but I think it is best left to independent assessment.

Peter - I'd rather assumed that all the political parties had decided not to put antone up for interview. Pleased to here that this was not the case in your case. I thought your post on this issue was a good one.

christopher - Governments can only get away with playing games with statistics to portray a false picture for so long. In the end ostriches will come home to roost.

prasit - Don't really know why I approved your comment. I have no idea what it means!

Prasit said...

You like having me around really!

Anonymous said...

Glyn. I am wondering how many of the Assembly Members have taken a pay cut after thay have been elected? Certainly, Nick Bourne must have done in leving his jibs as deputy principal of Swansea Institute but how many others?

lexington said...

according to the increasingly repellent elis thomas, assembly members should get more money because they "oversee the assembly budget" of £16 bn. That is paperclip money in whitehall terms. given that mps oversee a budget of several hundred billion, on elis thomas's logic, they should be paid a few hundred grand each.

Glyn Davies said...

prasit - actually, I do. Any blog is improved if comments disagree and challenge the posts. There isn't enough of it, which is why I publish everything unless I think it will cause real offence.

anon - very few, in my opinion. Of course all the MPs who moved from Westminster to Cardiff Bay were taking a cut. For people in private business (such as myself) its difficult to know, because profitability varies anyway, and so does the number and competence of those brought in to cover what I'd have been doing.

lexington - I strongly disagree with the idea that the salary increase can be justified by the size of the budget under the control of AMs. Its this sort of misguided (in my opinion) attempt to justify it that has caused so much of a public outcry. The only justification is that since May, the job is deemed by independent assessment to carry greater responsibility.

lexington said...

The only justification is that since May, the job is deemed by independent assessment to carry greater responsibility.

so was the job of MPs, but they displayed restraint.

Glyn Davies said...

lexington - I'm not sure that you are right here. Independent assessment recommended that MP's salary should rise by two and a half percent (I believe) and its right to say that MPs showed great and responsible restraint by limiting their increase to 1.9%. But this was just the 'normal' annual uprating after taking comparison factors into account. The AM increase was a reflection of the primary law - making role that was incorporated in the new constitution brought in by the new Government of Wales Act which took effect last May - and the inevitable reassessment of the % of an MPs salary that is appropriate for an AM. Of course the AMs could decide not to accept all, or none of this increase. I'm not defending the decision, just trying to explain why! I do think that the public's negative reaction should make AMs think carefully about this.

Anonymous said...

they are overpaid second raters. it's disgusting.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Not a surprise this, but icWales has posed the question, "Money for Nothing?" (Matt Withers, Wales on Sunday, March 9, 2008 - sounds like the song of the same title by Dire Straits).

Imho, the article lacked an investigative edge and so fell flat. Not necessarily the fault of the reporter. Recent cut backs might mean less time for going out and getting more down to earth facts.

As an aside to the merits (good or bad) regarding the 8.3% increase in Assembly Members basic salaries, I wonder what the newspaper journalists think when they interview WAG politicians in plush offices on magnificent salaries.

Glyn Davies said...

Lord Elis Thomas was on the Politics Show today and took a better line than he did last week. I didn't see much new is Matt's article either. I've been really surprised that journalists haven't picked up omn the fact that half the Assembly Members are now on hugely increased salaries on top of the 8.3% because of the new 'responsibility allowances' that are being paid.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

I think the news journalists at the Western Mail and Echo had better watch out on at least two accounts: (1) the owner might, for a variety of reasons, decide to move from Thomson House to an out of town location; and (2) journalists' reputations may be harmed because they are forced to spend less time on doing background on news stories.

I think journalists who have won awards and have personal reputation to protect might decide now is a good time to move to another newspaper outside Wales before their journalistic integrities are compromised further. I smell the blood of an Englishman deal going down (borrowed from ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’). Sorry Alan, but there it is.

On the up side, Cardiff's tallest building might go up on the former Thomson House site somewhat akin to the former site of the Chicago Sun Times (formerly owned by one Conrad Black who has just entered a Federal ‘slop house’ where his penchant for working through the night and enjoying the finer points of good food and the company of beautiful people will be somewhat diminished).

As an aside, I can highly recommend Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods” where, inter alia, Jack is a giant killer, but the ending is more like real life. For example, the giant’s mother runs around stamping on the play’s characters when she learns her son has been killed. There’s a great duet, “Agony”. Some very good looking women in it and, to be fair, men too. DEFINITELY NOT FOR CHILDREN.