Sir Roger Jones certainly P***ed in the fat on Dragon's Eye this week, when he said that some members of the National Assembly for Wales do not give value for money - or words to that effect. Sir Roger is currently chairing a committee looking into AM's expenses. Anyway, BBC Wales asked me to 'guest' on the Richard Evans phone-in yesterday. Mai Davies was standing in for Richard. I knew I'd have to be on sharp form because my fellow guest was Mark Wallace of the Taxpayer's Alliance - and not many callers were going to be on my side. I was ready for 45 minutes of abuse. And that's a bit how it was - but all reasonably polite. John informed us that he thought the whole lot "should be flattened". I'll cover a few of the issues raised.
Most callers were highly critical of the 8.3% increase in an AM's basic salary, which applied from May 2007. I didn't agree with them. An AM's salary is based on a percentage of an MP's salary, based on relative responsibility, and independently assessed. From May '07, AM's were given new limited law making powers, which inevitably resulted in an increase - nothing to do with inflation. I did say that, in my opinion, there had been a 'political' case for phasing in the increase, because that is what was happened to some public sector workers at the time. Some AMs, very sensibly did this. I did condemn those 'responsibility' increases which were slipped in under the cover of the 8.3% row, and which had not been independently recommended. This was a genuine pork barrel outrage, and not one caller raised it. I blame the media for this. It was sloppy and lazy to stoke up a conflagration about the wholly proper and logical 8.3% increase, while virtually ignoring the unjustified 'responsibility' payments, simply because they were more difficult to report.
Two callers were outraged by the 'Communications Allowance'. I shared their disgust as far as this legalised abuse is concerned - but pointed out that it only applies to MPs - and my party wants to ban what is, in my opinion, the spending of taxpayer's money for political purposes. Its one of this blogger's hobby horses. Easy one for me.
Several callers didn't agree with what is called the 'second homes' allowance. Fair enough, I said. That's what Sir Roger and his committee is looking at. It may be that in future it will be restricted to those AMs who live a long way from Cardiff - say over an hour. We will see. A few seemed to like the idea of the National Assembly buying apartments and allowing AMs to live in them during their term of election. I really cannot see the logic here. What on earth is the difference between the taxpayer spending a certain sum on providing accommodation directly, or allowing an AM to spend the same amount on somewhere of their own choosing? What's the betting that some AM would be claiming a 'responsibility' allowance for 'accommodation management'. And just imagine the rows about who lives where. The petty arguments about allocating offices now are bad enough. One caller thought AMs should stay in a property that costs £30 per night. If Sir Roger was listening, perhaps that's what he'll recommend.
Most callers, plus Mark Wallace thought the salary should be halved - to approx. £25,000. I should have been pleased with this. Since I would be happy to do the job for that amount, it would be advantageous to pay so little that the job would only appeal to those who had other means, and those starting out in employment. It would remove a lot of the competition. I had the feeling that if current pay was £25,000, callers would have wanted it halved to £12,500!
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