Monday, July 06, 2009

The Sir Roger Jones Report

Today, Sir Roger Jones handed his report to the Assembly Commission. It concerns the allowances and expenses that his panel believes should be available to Assembly Members. In my opinion, most of the recommendations are sensible, a few less so but acceptable, with one or two which make no sense at all. But the necessity of restoring public faith in politics is so great, that I would vote in favour on the whole package, warts and all, if I were currently an AM myself. I've picked out what I see as the most significant recommendations;

1) AMs should have to produce receipt/documentary evidence to support every claim (Fundamentally important).

2) The salary link between MPs and AMs should be ended. (Sensible, and welcome in principle. But won't make much practical difference, because any body setting AM's salaries will have not much else to draw comparison with).

3) An external Independent Review Board should be established. (Cannot argue with this, bearing in mind how the public feels. But be little different from current Senior Salaries and Review Board).

4) Changes in pensions and payments to departing AMs are proposed. (Need more time to consider this).

5) From 2011, new members should only be allowed 'Resettlement' allowance if they are defeated - not if they retire. (This could well discourage sitting members in safe seats from standing down, and could lead to candidates standing who do not really want to win).

6) Claims for Mortgage Interest costs should be banned. (This is a kneejerk recommendation which will lead to increased costs if the Assembly takes on the role of landlord. It also challenges the family friendly principle - more a politician's base than a family home. But cannot be resisted. Don't agree with it though).

7) 35 AMs living closest to Cardiff should be able to claim for 20 overnights per annum, at £95 per night plus £20 for dinner. (Sensible - if they want to upgrade, they can pay the difference themselves).

8) The same 35 AMs should be able to claim £25 per night if staying with a friend instead. (Sensible).

9) The current £30.65 flat rate allowance for staying away from home should be abolished (Sensible).

10) The Assembly should provide 'suitable' accommodation, furnished to a 'modern' standard within 5 miles of the Senedd for the 25 AMs living furthest from Cardiff (This seems most unwise to me - and I expect it to prove very costly. But don't quite know what it means).

11) Lyn Neagle and Huw Lewis be considered as one person in respect of accommodation support (Sensible).

12 No claims for furniture or fittings (Sensible, since they are to be provided by the Assembly anyway!).

13 Assembly Members should be allowed to claim for utility bills, council tax, broadband, and TV licence to second homes. (Reasonable).

14) Any office rented from constituency parties, Trade Unions, etc. should be on the basis of a valuation agreed by an Assembly approved independent valuer (Sensible).

15) No family members to be employed (Regrettable, non family friendly measure - but sensible in the circumstances. Will lead to a poorer service from some AMs. Would have completely changed the way I worked, ending my effective 8.00 am - 11.00 pm office availability).

16) One week induction course. (Totally demeaning. Cannot think of anything worse. Enough to put me off altogether).

17) Training budget to be increased for AMs and staff. (Sensible)

I think I've picked out the most significant recommendations. Comments in italics are my initial reactions. Let me know what you think.


Anonymous said...

The non-employment of family members one is understandable because of abuses (more at Westminster than the assembly) but can you really ban people from falling in love and forming relationships? What happens if an AM forms a relationship with a member of his/her staff. Is the staff member sacked?

Glyn Davies said...

anon - I should think so. A ban is a ban. I suppose there will have to be rules about what constitutes a relationship - an odd kiss, a full blown affair but from seperate houses, or setting up house together.

jb said...


Your synopsis says "Any office rented from constituency parties, Trade Unions, etc. should be on the basis of a valuation agreed by an Assembly approved independent valuer"

You asy sensible, I would agree except where the constituency party sends members both to the assembly and Westminster, which must be the rule rather than the exception.

We have seen recently the abuse of this, albeit within the rules, in Montgomeryshire. Whatever solution is accepted it MUST cover both.

Anonymous said...

mostly good stuff in the report, but think your comments are valid also.

do find it amusing that sir roger was in charge of this though, as chair of the wda he oversaw some real abuse both in what the staff were allowed to do, but also what the board did at the end is nothing short of scandalous and shows the welsh media up to be inept in th extreme. one day i'll illucidate

Glyn Davies said...

JB - I thought the channelling of over £30k of taxpayer's money into the Liberal Democrat Office in Montgomeryshire was out of order. Surprised it has not received greater publicity locally. At least the BBC gave a good run.

Anon - As I posted, I would not feel able to argue any points. Following the unreasonable behaviour of some politicians, particularly at Westminster, I do not believe that the public will want to hear anything but support for every proposal. Even though I just do not agree with some of the suggestions, I would vote in favour of the whole package. Cannot see how the AMs can do anything else.

Jeff Jones said...

The report is full of sensible suggestions which will at least start to restore the reputation of politics and politicians in Wales. Roger Jones's comments on the media for those who know him were not unexpected but at the same time they were refreshing. The last few months has sadly been a disaster for democracy. Compared to the UK Parliament Assembly expenses were always in the Southern League. Having said that some of the expenses claims were still indenfensible. Members who lived less than hour from Cardiff should never have been allowed to claim for a second home. The decision that the Assembly should rent accommodation is very sensible. It also looks absurd thta some claim thousands for food and yet others including my own AM Janice Gregory have claimed nothing. As for the employment of relatives I suggested that in a public meeting before the Assembly was set up to the John Elfed Jones committee. Assembly researchers and staff should also be selected by open competition to ensure that they have the corret qualifications. All in all yesterday was a major step forward for Welsh politcs and all the members of Roger Jones's commmittee especially Dafydd Wigley should be congratulated on a job well done.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is concentrating on how this report effects the AM's.

What about the Staff???

There is a lot of stuff in this report that radically effects the staff and their working conditions which needs to be taken into account before pushing this through.

a view from the glen said...

I cannot agree with AM's claiming for council tax and utilities why should the tax payer pay for this. I have not read one argument from the political elite to change my view.

Glyn Davies said...

Jeff - I'm with you on most of this, and would feel no option but sign up to the recommendations. But I really cannot see why it is acceptable to claim for rental on a house chosen by officials rather than mortgage interest on a property chosen by a member (assuming the cost is the same). It just seems anti - ownership. I suppose I've never lived in a rented house, and in fact wouldn't. For the first six months I was an AM, I commuted between Montgomeryshire and Cardiff - but had to stop because it was effecting my health. For me, the effect of this change would be to minimise the amount of time I spent in Cardiff, in favour of working in the constituency.

Anon - You are right. It could be that a lot less staff are employed in the future - by MPs anyway. I think the public would prefer their politicians to minimise costs, rather than maximise effectiveness in the current climate. An MP who has not employed any stall is lauded as being an example to be followed.

AVFTG - Fair enough. Its an opinion. There's less of a case to claim Council Tax and utility bills than mortgage interest, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

It's not just the number of staff it's they way they want them employed. How would you feel if your Assembly staff member also worked for another AM and had access to to both of your inboxes!!! Where does the loyalty lie??

Anonymous said...

But aren't you being a bit anti-rent Glyn? There's a LOT of Welsh people who have grown up in rented accommodation. The stigma that sometimes attaches to that comes from not having a decent market of rented housing/flats. Most privately rented housing/flats in Wales are buy-to-let affairs, small landlords. Contrast that with other countries where large private companies own entire complexes rented out as apartments and rented housing units, which enable workers and families to live close to their workplace.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - I would not share an employee with anyone. Would prefer to employ no-one at all, and cut my cloth accordingly.

Anon 2 - I suppoae I am anti rent. I've never rented in my life, (except on holiday) and do not intend to. My choice, which I would expect to be pandered to in any way by the taxpayer. Just that I cannot see why the State should discriminate in favour of one sort of tenure and against another for no obvious reason.

Anonymous said...

... perhaps because one has been exploited to the extent that it has the smell of personal enrichment.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - No-one supports exploitation. There has been no concern whatsoever expressed about AM's mortgage interest payments. The criticism has been of the way the Additional Costs Allowance has been used to make unreasonable purchases of TVs, settees, beds etc - which quite properly will now be stopped. And I missed a 'not' from my last response!

Anonymous said...

I don't see any logic in your statement, "Just that I cannot see why the State should discriminate in favour of one sort of tenure and against another for no obvious reason."

The 'state' already discriminates against those who rent - they don't get a tax benefit for renting, e.g., an apartment. The state bias for mortgages is such that it caused a price collapse when two tax breaks were reduced to one under Lawson's tenure.

More recently the government worked to keep interest rates so low on mortgages that house prices escalated to fantastic levels, followed by the price collapse we see now. So I don't agree with you on this score Glyn - the government bias has been such that it has twisted the market place resulting in boom/bust cycles linked to interest rates (and formely to tax breaks on mortgage interest, "2 into 1").

Now we are seeing the result of Gordon Brown's experiment with disconnecting risk and price (interest rate) by keeping interest rates artificially low and encouraging mortgage lenders to lend in an environment characterized with little oversight and government pushing for lending relaxation - mortgage lenders started to give out 100% mortgages and even organized crime got into the act with layers of real estate, quantity surveyors, and solicitors essentially working together to sell over valued properties to naive first time buyers anxious to get onto the escalating property ladder.

Very little has been published about these worrying scams - hundreds of millions have been siphoned off by selling cheap properties over-valued to first time buyers. There is a reason why Building Socities are losing their AAA status - they have, in part, loans on properties that bear little relation to their actual value - some due to 'natural negative equity', but also related to organized crime with two victims: the unfortunate buyer and the lender that lent the mortgage on the over-valued property.

Pete Roberts said...

I find it interesting you support the F+F deal 8) but not the meal allowance when away from home 9).

Both of these are standard T+Cs for central government officers.
Certainly they have to go for an AM in Cardiff with paid home as they are able to prepare a meal, but if this were a blanket ban as inferred and it transferred into the civil service This week I would be £75 out of pocket in resturant bills where if I were home I would have spent about £10 for the three meals I would have cooked.

In escence good intent poor execution and a dangerous precedent

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - Interesting comment, but I do not think it relates to the point at issue. For me the point is 'ownership'. I would prefer to own a hovel than rent a palace. If I were to become an MP or an I would not rent from the state under any circumstances. Wouldn't be able to sleep at night.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - Fair point. I suppose the difference will be the limitations in relation to number of nights and who qualifies. I should add that my 'support' should be read as 'accepting that the current circumstances demand'. The one aspect of all this that I dislike is the dismissive attitude towards people who have had the 'ba**' to stand for election, and have won the support of the people (though list members cannot claim this of course) especially when coming from people who have never stood for election in their lives. If AMs are treated like kids starting primary school, don't be surprised if that's who apply for the job.

Bore Drgigid said...

Still banging on about the Arsembly I see.

Anonymous said...

Glyn> your own party has added a footnote to the rent/buy debate - see today's article in the Telegraph: "Tory about-turn on council houses".

"The Conservatives are preparing to unleash a new era of council house-building, in a radical shift that would undo 30 years of right-wing thinking."

"Tory leaders are convinced housing is an area where they can outflank the government. Under Labour, the number of households on waiting lists has nearly doubled in 12 years to 1.8 million."

The reality for many families in Wales is their inability to afford to buy out of reach accommdation.

While an individual can live in a hovel of their own choosing instead of, e.g., a council house, for families with children this is not an option.

Also, adults looking after elderly parents - they can't put their elderly relatives at the end of their lives through hell by living in a hovel.

There are even farmers who rent, I'm sure they would prefer to own the fields they rent, but for some that is not an option.