Saturday, December 06, 2008

Are Assembly Members 'Value for money'?

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!

Comments that include profane language will not be allowed!


sheila from berriew said...

You have to face it Glyn - the lack of value for money AM that Sir Roger is talking about are our Regional AMs. That group of people who can do what they like, say what they like, safe in the knowledge that democracy will not shift them. Safe in the knowledge they will NEVER face the day of reckoning with the voters.

I know you will defend them Glyn - but please be frank, Regional AMs are indefensible.

They are accountable to no one and they bring politics in Wales into disrepute.

It also has to be said - and this is no coincidence - that the most prolific Welsh politician bloggers, are all Regional AMs.

Peter Black and Bethan Jenkins and particular.

Peter Black seemingly does nothing else apart from blog and post comments on other blogs - all at the taxpayers expense.

It is obviously, Sir Roger has had enough of this and is onto them. I believe he will add the increasing pressure to get rid of this group of hanger-ons and soon.

It is a disgrace that constituency AMs - all of whom work hard on behalf of the people who elected them - are faced with a group of people who basically get away with doing nothing!

If Black and Jenkins had constituents to look after and tend to until the next polling day, they would not have time to blog! They use it as an excuse to get profile - but they actually achieve nothing for ordinary people as they dont represent ordinary people - they represent an intangible and irrelevant 'region' of Wales.

Get rid of them of them once and for all, I say! They are a drain on the tax-payer and I for one am sick of them - give democracy back to the people!

Glyn Davies said...

Sheila - I half agree with you. Even though I was a regional AM for Mid and West Wales, I was never a supporter of the Proportional Representation system. Personally, I've always preferred 'First-past-the-post'. But democracy does shift them - at least it shifted me!!

But I don't agree about difference in workload. I reckon that I worked as hard as any other AM. Peter Black is also a very hard working AM. Neither do I agree about blogging. I think you'll find that Peter bloggs befor emost people are up in the morning. And I rarely blogged before ten at night.

But on your basic point - I'd be very happy to return to first-past-the-post, and have said publicly that I would never again stand as a regional candidate, because of the disconnection I found between me and the voters during an election.

Kairdiff west Kid said...

Sheila seems to be commenting on any blogs she can find attacking Black and Jenkins.
I think Sheila ought to stop lying - in what way Sheila do they do 'nothing'? Please support or prove that or we will ask you to take a lie-detector test!
Please stop smearing people. Or at least give some proof to back up your smears. Address the issues and back up your points, or go back to your pit of resentment and let the rest of us discuss things intelligently.

kairdiff west kid said...

I should also add that regional lists and a degree of PR is accepted throughout Europe, but apparently for people like Sheila it's an affront to democracy to have people elected on proportionate basis.
Glyn was a regional Am, and a damn good one - and you're either blinkkered, stupid or rude to attack regional Ams in such an ignorant way on the blog of someone who was an exemplary one.
The Western Mail did an assessment of the worst performing AMs last year, and every one of the them was a constituency AM - most we in fact Labour. Many of the best were regionals.
I would also appreciate if on these talk shows and opinion rants people pointed out that MPs do less work, get 5 times more, and are much less transparent abotu their expenses than AMs.
I hope Sir Roger addresses that.
The constant smearing of Assembly members and their work is getting pretty desperate and unpleasant. It's also often reliant on lies.

Paul said...

"...and have said publicly that I would never again stand as a regional candidate, because of the disconnection I found between me and the voters during an election."

Then why did you stand THREE times on the list? In 2007 you had the choice between Montgomeryshire and Mid & West and you opted for the 'safer' Mid & West seat

Frank H Little said...

Does Sheila realise that if FPTP had been in operation for the first Assembly elections, then the Conservatives would have had just one AM, one third of the Liberal Democrat roster? Both would have been dwarfed by the massive Labour over-representation.

That would have been a travesty, and I write as one who hopes never again to see a majority Conservative government.

Of course, there are proportional systems which maintain the constituency link while minimising the power of party central offices.

Naturally I endorse your estimation of Peter Black, and would add that the Assembly is the less for your absence.

Glyn Davies said...

KWK - Well, that's teling you Sheila!!

Paul - Not quite sure what point you are trying to make. I fought three Assembly elections, contesting the Montgomeryshire constituency on the first two ocassions. Last time, I was not allowed to. I wanted to continue representing all the people across Mid and West Wales I'd been representing for the previous eight years. But I hated the election, which left me as no more than a bit part in my party's appeal to voters. Even if I'd been returned, I would never have contested an election where I was not asking people to vote for me again. I should also add that I always thought that if I'd stood for Montgomeryshire, I'd have had a chance of being elected, something which I will be putting to the test at the next General Election.

Frank - The only way in which you are right that there would have been just one Tory AM is if there were only forty AMs in total. If boundaries had been redrawn to create sixty constituencies, I believe we would have won several seats. But we will never know.

sheila from berriew said...

What Kaidiff West Kid lacks in intelligence, he more than adequately makes up for in bile. Cough it up KWK. You will feel so much better. I hope your anger management treatment works out well for you. I just pray you don't come to Berriew for it. You are one nasty piece of work.

Glyn - I note you did not contradict my view that Sir Roger will be tageting Regional AMs in his review - they are undoubteldy the group of people who do not deliver VFM. You are right - you can rid of them. However, you get of one to be replaced by another sadly. Get rid of them all I say and let's get democracy back in our lives.

Only the Lib Dems support them - and why? If we got rid of top-up, consolation prize AMs, they would only have three AMs in the whole of Wales - three more than they deserve in my mind!

Imagine an Assembly without Peter Black and Eleanor Burnham? Wonderful! Get rid of them!

IP_Man said...

I don't think Assembly members are value for money when they come out with empty rhetoric. For example: “We want to transform lives and provide the opportunity for everyone, irrespective of background, wealth, language or health to participate fully in all aspects of society as confident and complete citizens.”

How is the WAG going to fund the delivery of such fine promises – yes – HOW?

How when the Welsh Assembly Government ("WAG") is overseeing a Welsh economy that is ... where? Oh, next to the plughole - an economy so underperforming it has the lowest GVA per head of population in the UK.

What is the WAG doing about it? Oh, coming out with documents full of nice words with no chance of substantial delivery because Wales lacks a substantial economy to deliver WAG’s promises.

The WAG is increasingly detaching itself from reality.

But there are solutions to hand that go beyond the band-aids of public/tax payer funded handouts.

Wales has a HUGE research base as defined by its many universities, but Wales has a LOW registered patent rate. So low one university a fraction of the size of all the universities in Wales combined yet produces nearly 10 times as many registered patents. There is a university in a former third world state that outperforms the biggest and most research orientated university in Wales.

WAGs response? Well, do nothing substantial, come out with flowery words that ape paper-thin concern, and above all else, be nothing in terms of harnessing the HUGE potential of Welsh IP.

PS Kairdiff west Kid> Peter Black deserves to be attacked after the stunt he pulled in his criticising a senior for the way he used his limbs. The Welsh Lib Dem Party has not helped itself by not condemning outright Peter Black's outrageous disgusting commentary.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Glyn Davies said...

Sheila - Blimey, you don't beat about the bush. I don't mind as long as you keep it clean.

I don't think the issue you speak of form part of Sir Roger's recommendations. We will have to wait and see. One problem for you is tha if we were to move away from the current system of election, it would almost certainly be to another form of proportional representation - which would probaly mean none of the AMs being directly elected - at least in the way we're used to.

IP Man - Peter Black is catching it in comments today. After some thought I deleted one from Christopher Wood, which was quite vicious. I accept that many were offended by comments that Peter made about John MaCain's jerky arm movements, but I don't want my site to become a location to attack others. Sorry about that.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

That's OK Glyn. When my Welsh father lost his job and moved to London in search of work, I ended up in what was initially a tough school in London, it grew less tough as I got to know it and lost my Welsh accent. But I had my fair share of unwanted attention and after a while noticed that some boys were getting unwanted attention in the form of being picked on. I just couldn't stand by when a boy got called names or was tortured with, e.g. a sharp compass. I would put myself in the line of fire. Peter Black didn’t use a compass, but his sharp words were disgusting.

kairdiff west kid said...

There's a law of diminishing returns that governs all discussions with people like Sheila, but I'll pop back into the cyber-discussion to ask her to furnish proof or evidence in support of her bileful smears against individual AMs.
Because for now I'm afraid she sounds like someone caught out lying.

Kairdiff west kid said...

I have no brief for Peter Black, by the way, and his comments on McCain were stupid. But that's a far cry from being evidence f the laziness of regional AMs, I think you'll agree. I don;t like the Lib Dems and I don;t see their point, but you'll also note that Black is a councillor as well as an AM, and that he doesn;t claim a good deal of his councillor's perks. He has a capacity for work that is enviable and though he blogs like an obsessive geek, he does his job and only an idiot would accuse him of laziness (as we've seen...).
I don;t mind discussing AMs value for money. I'd like also to discuss MPs value for money: they cost 5 times more, do less, attend around 50% of votes, take longer holidays and have allowances which are both opaque (as in not transparent) and frighteningly high. They also, many of them, tried to wriggle out of declarng expenses on the grounds of 'data protection'!
If we cut 5 or 8 MPs we could have a Welsh Assembly with an extra 20 AMs, dealing with extended devolved powers.
It wouldn;t take much to do a damn sight better job of running Wales than Westminster has done in the last 25 years, frankly.
If we're going to have the debate about who's worth what then let's look right across the board.
It might also help people like Sheila arm themselves with facts rather than smears, and thereby help them to contribute to debates with the advantage of facts if not insight.

Glyn Davies said...

Christopher - I didn't like the words Peter used either, and keep at it by all means. But I think Peter is a hard working public figure and this blog wants tt move on (as they say).

Cardiff WK - At least she's got an opinion, even if you disagree with it. You make a fair point about relative costs, but it should be pointed out that MP's pay is about 125% of an AM's pay - even if thetotal cost of maintaining an MP is much more than an AM. The reason people tend to pick on AMs is that many do not agree that the Assembly should exist at all. And at the last General Election, Conservative Party policy was to consider an option to reduce the number of MPs.

KWK said...

Well Glyn, if you think that having an opinion is better than either defending it or properly sustaining it with facts, then I expect your cup runneth over with Sheila's comments.

"And at the last General Election, Conservative Party policy was to consider an option to reduce the number of MPs.' Maybe, but you know they won;'t actually do it because the Assembly has served it purpose for Tories in Wales: it's seen them through tough times, given them a leg up, helped launch a few AMs on 'proper' Westminster ladders, and it's time to kick it away again.

That's why I've actually got quite a lot of time for your beleaguered (regional!) AM and leader Nick Bourne. He's not afraid to support more powers and to challenge the lies that come from the True-Wales clan.

I know some people are full of vicious smears against AMs because they don;t think there should be an Assembly. That's why I'm arguing that those people should be challenged to justify the massive costs and general quality of Westminster MPs too. I'm all for extending this debate to take in other areas of governance.

What I won;t do is tell lies and smears about individuals and then hide when the time comes to back them up, as all too many people who comment on blogs do.

My God what's happening to me? In one evening I've stuck up for a Lib Dem and said something good about a Tory. Terrifying.

Frank H Little said...

It is a misreading of the Liberal Democrat position to say that we favour additional member systems. Our drive has always been for STV in multi-member constituencies, as has worked in the Republic of Ireland for two generations. But, faced with the choice between limited proportionality (and remember that the top-up ratios chosen for Wales still over-represent Labour) and no proportionality at all, we accepted the least bad option.

Plaid must be at least as grateful for the system as any other party.

And I do not accept the criticism of Eleanor Burnham.