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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Who pays the piper

I think I have a knack for upsetting my fellow AMs. After this article in today's Western Mail I am not expecting any favours:

Last night Peter Black, the Liberal Democrat chair of the Assembly's education committee who is also a member of the Shadow Commission that will oversee the legislative side of the body from next May, said, "My personal view is that the current AM salary is about right for the responsibilities that the Assembly currently has. I don't think there should be an automatic increase simply because we shall be increasing our powers next May.

"It is still uncertain how much more work will be involved when the new powers come in. I certainly don't think it is likely that the Assembly will be hitting the ground running with a lot of legislative proposals. The new standing orders are likely to require a fair bit of scrutiny before proposals are even sent to Westminster, and I would also expect Peter Hain to interpret the kind of proposals that would be acceptable quite narrowly.

"My view is that we should wait and see how the new powers work out in practice before there is any question of giving AMs a pay rise based on the acquisition of the new powers."

This has been my view for some time and it is what I told the Senior Salaries Review Board when they were collecting evidence for the last review. I know that it is not the view of a number of AMs, who are actually quite militant on the issue of their own pay and conditions.
I don't think it's helpful to conduct this debate in terms of salaries. Far more significant given the new powers and the importance of effective scrutiny in a body composed of just 60 members is the staffing allowance. There is a strong argument for incresing AMs basic staffing allowance from 2.5 full time equivalent to 3.5, which is the level MPs recieve funding for. How much you lot get paid is unimportant. Whether you have the back-up to scrutinise Assembly Measures effectively is critical.
I was pondering last night that if there really is £40k per MP knocking around it would be odd to pay it to MPs themselves when it could pay for more staff support.
Surely AMs should be paid more than MPs? They already seem to work all the hours God sends - the Assembly sits twice a week - and some still find time to blog abour their hard work too? Perhaps Welsh MPs should take a pay cut now they have so little to do after devolution?
I agree with Welsh Spin on the point of the staffing allowance. 2.5 FTE staff simply isn’t enough to be able to carry out all the functions required – casework, political research, speechwriting, media & press work, legislative scrutiny, and all the rest of it.

AM’s would also be in a better position to retain and employ “high calibre” staff with the appropriate qualifications if they had more money to pay their staff.
I hold an unfashionable view as I believe that, in principle, politicians should be paid well for the often difficult job that they do. However, this is tempered by a firm belief that our elected representatives should represent value for money. Sadly, the majority of AMs do not. There are AMs in all parties who are hopelessly out of their depth, and many would struggle to hold their own as backbench county councillors.

This in itself leads to another question; should we be transferring power to Wales at all given the chronic shortage of talent in the Welsh Legislature? Again, in principal yes, but the realist in me is screaming no.

With one or two very able and notable exceptions, can we realistically expect the National Assembly as a whole to be capable of scrutinising the increased level of detail that extra powers will entail? I fear not.
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