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Saturday, October 11, 2003

Furniture blues

The whole chamber was puzzled on Wednesday by a suggestion by Conservative leader, Nick Bourne, that part of the cost of the new Assembly building included buying furniture for the homes of AMs and Civil Servants. On the face of it the idea is preposterous if only because it would never get past the scrutiny of the press, never mind the Auditor General. We should not forget though, that as part of the allowances for Assembly Members, those who live a certain distance from Cardiff are permitted to use public money to buy a home in Cardiff and to furnish it. This is a provision I have never taken advantage of as on principle I do not consider it a good use of public money when I am able to commute fairly comfortably from Swansea. If I need to stay overnight in a hotel then I will, but this is usually only once a week, if that. In many instances the purchase of a home in Cardiff for a particular Assembly Member in this way, can actually save money, especially when that member may need to stay over for three or four nights a week due to the demands of the job and the distance of his or her constituency from Cardiff. It also follows the usual practice of Westminster. Like Westminster, however, there is no limit on the profit that can be accumulated on such a home by an Assembly Member. This can lead to the value of these homes exceeding the original purchase price by six figures, a benefit that may apply equally to members of Nick Bourne's Tory group as well as to all the others. Perhaps it is time for the Assembly to build a clawback clause into the allowances so that if a member should profit excessively on the sale of a Cardiff home, in which the mortgage has been paid from public money, they should be forced to share that excess with the Exchequer.

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