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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Tories in the First Division

The Western Mail reports today the Tory Assembly leader, Nick Bourne, has been accused of wasting taxpayers' money after it emerged he had tabled 135 written questions to Ministers in a week - at a cost of £22,545. Apparently, this is the equivalent to the weekly wage of a Premiership footballer. I think I am going to start work on my ball skills straight away.

Both parties seem to have a point in this row. Labour whip, Karen Sinclair, is right that some of the questions that have been asked by Mr. Bourne are purely factual and could have been dealt with by way of an enquiry in the members' research service. However, Nick Bourne is right too that he is there to scrutinise and to use the systems set up for him to do so.

It is worth noting that the estimate of £22,545 is based on an average cost for each question. Some would cost much less to answer, others more. Nevertheless this is the price of democracy and forms part of the overall cost of the Welsh Assembly. It is not all cost. A specific Welsh agenda is being forged with real benefits for the people of Wales. Part of that is the transparency and accountability of which Nick Bourne's questions form a part.

What we must not allow to happen is for that openness to be lost in the face of barracking from a scrutiny-adverse Labour Assembly Government on the basis of cost, especially when the model being used is one devised by them in the late 1990s.
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