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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Pay and things

I do not really want to get into a debate about the alleged 8.3% pay rise for Assembly Members, largely because there are fixed views on both sides of the argument and I do not believe that anything I say will convince anybody, but also because I am reluctant to become the unofficial spokesperson for everybody else. However, I think that it is right that I state the facts.

An independent Commission was asked to review Assembly Members' salaries in light of the additional powers and responsibilities we have taken on as a result of the Government of Wales Act 2006. They noted that in Northern Ireland MLAs receive 84% of an MP's salary, whilst Scottish MSPs are on 86%. In contrast AMs receive 76.5% of the money paid to an MP.

Having considered all the evidence they recommended that AMs pay be restructured so as to reflect the new position. As the chair of that independent review said: "the principal reason for recommending the rise was that AMs were doing a new kind of job since the Government of Wales Act 2006. They are having to look at primary legislation for the first time. That shows that Welsh assembly members are doing a bigger job with increased responsibility and complexity, more committees."

I accept that the timing may not be the best but we are not responsible for public pay policy. This change has been on the cards for some time. Personally, I have supported the position that the recommendations of independent review panels for professions such as the Police and nurses should be met in full and I would not want to make an exception here.

What is interesting in all this is the position of Plaid Cymru, if they can be said to have one. Nick Bourne is absolutely right to accuse the six refuseniks of political opportunism but even if we were to accept that they are genuine in their outrage it is becoming increasingly clear that they are not speaking for the whole of their group. The media have portrayed this row as the nationalists taking a principled stand but in reality the majority of Plaid AMs have been quiet on this issue and nine of them look like they may take the increase. They seem to be in a bit of disarray.

It is ironic too that as the party who believe most strongly in a full law-making independent Parliament, Plaid appear to be the least prepared to accept the consequences of that in terms of the cost to the taxpayer. Instead they seem content that AMs are remunerated on a lesser basis than members of other UK legislatures, effectively a Parliament on the cheap.

Paying politicians is always a controversial issue. It has not been helped by recent scandals around expense claims at Westminster. However, we are more robust in the way that we monitor expenses in Cardiff Bay and intend to take a harder line still. All AMs work a 70 hour week and deal with complex legislation and difficult political matters.

We cannot switch off our job once we have entered the sanctuary of our own home. We are often working late into the evening and most weekends. It is also a job wrought with uncertainty. We are effectively on a short-term contract, subject to the will of the electorate.

We have responsibility for ensuring that government works smoothly and spend many hours dealing with the problems and issues raised with us by our constituents. It is a job I enjoy very much and I accept that I am privileged to have the opportunity to do it. However, as with any other profession there must be a rate for the job and that rate must be set by people independent of those doing it. That is what happened this week.

Many public bodies, including some the Welsh Assembly Government is responsible for, have their running costs frozen, which means they can only pay their staff more (or pay increased fuel costs, rents and rates on buildings etc.) by shedding staff.

Can we therefore look forward to a reduction in the number of AMs, in order to give those who are left their 8%?

No, I thought not.
How brave of you to comment without leaving your name. Public sector pay policy is set by the Treasury not the Welsh Government. The decision on AMs pay was not made by the Welsh Government but by the Assembly Commission which is a separate body. Any decision on the number of AMs will be made by the UK Parliament. As I understand it the decision taken by the Commission can be contained within its existing budget because of savings elsewhere.
Peter, No Plaid AM has stated that the rise is not justified on changes of roles and responsibilities. This is about recognising that at a time when all the public sector workers in Wales are having a below inflation pay rise forced upon them, is it really acceptable to an agree a rise for AMs that is 4 times the size that they have received? You have to bear in mind that by cutting the pay of 100,000's of Welsh workers, politicians have effectively 'de-recognised' roles and responsibilities of every singly one of them.

Can you put your hand on your heart and claim that you are not a little uncomfortable, about when you next meet a room of public sector workers you represent?

As a union officer of the largest public sector union in Wales, the anger and disgust I am getting from members on this issue is a real concern to a committed devolutionist.
Peter. I thought that you are one of the commissioners and therefore would have represented the Lib Dems when this pay deal was accepted? You also failed to mention the facts that as a commissioner you may be inline for an extra increase, to go with your councillor income (which to be fair I believe you donate to your local party). You also failed to mention the wage increase for the Lib Dem Leader (a post you have in the past shown interest in) and the fact that this is being backdated meaning a one off payment to all AMs of some £5000. This seems particularly questionable.

The thing politicians fail to understand is that politicians pay is a political issue. This argument about 82% of Westminster pay is all good and well but timing this rise when everyone else are getting poor deals makes the assembly look out of touch. How can you hope to negotiate with unions about pay increases when they believe you are all hypocrites?

If I am mistaken about the role of commissioners in the decision making then I apologise but if you represented the Lib Dems when the decision was made failing to mention this on your blog shows a questionable attitude to fellow bloggers.
Ian, the fact is that Plaid are trying to portray themselves as being against the rise when in fact they are all over the shop on the issue. The fact is that the majority (Two thirds) of Plaid AMs will take the money whilst I understand that even your leader has said he supports the Commission's decision.

I accept that this is a particularly difficult time to do this but I do not think there is ever a right time. Certainly, as a union officer I would expect you to support a restructuring for your members that tackled a mismatch in differentials between them and similar workers. The equal pay issue being one such case. This is not a pay rise, it is precisely that sort of restructuring. But yes I am uncomfortable with the decision and with its consequences.

Twm, I am one of the commissioners but none of us represent our party, we act independently. Yes, there is an extra payment for commissioners which recognises that our additional workload and responsibility (managing a £40 million budget for example) is equivalent to if not more than a Committe Chair (who also get an allowance). My Councillor income is payment for the work I do in that role and yes I give it and more to my party.

The Opposition Leader's allowance is not being backdated I believe and I have no interest in claiming it or standing for leader of my party. In any case nobody can claim more than one allowance so William Graham who is both a Commissioner and Opposition Chief Whip will not benefit twice. This situation however does underline the problems of politicians deciding their own pay, which needs to change.

Yes, the increase for all AMs is being backdated to 4th May but that underlines the fact that it is part of a restructuring exercise rather than a pay increase. We have been exercising new responsibilities since then so the independent panel considered it was right that such backdating took place.

I dont accept that we are hypocrites. We have after all been open and transparent about this issue from the start. It is not us who are imposing a pay freeze on the public sector but the UK Government. Indeed I am on record as saying that the independent review recommendations for nurses and the Police should be paid in full. As I said earlier there is no good time to do this.
My first thought was the obvious one - 'methinks they doth protest too much'.

Now that I've got over that, I think I understand how you got to where you are, but the fact remains that it looks dreadful and the reputation of the Assembly, AMs and politicians will sink further. It's not clear to most of us that the Assembly has done very much for Wales, the health service remains patchy at best and the higher education sector is now firmly England's poor relation.

As to back-dating, in my public sector organisation we had an external analysis of roles etc. Re-gradings were frozen while it took place, it's taken 8 years to complete and now it has finally finished we're told there can't be back-dating because it would cost too much.
Simple question Peter. In what way is the 8.3% rise "alleged"? True the assembly commision didn't include it in the blizzard of statistics that was released to the press but the journalists worked it out and it was confirmed by the commisions secretariat. You weaken your own arguement by pretending that a rock-solid fact is somehow mearely "alleged". Straight up. Do you contest this is an 8.3% increase?
Simply that in calling it a 'pay rise' you place it in the normal realm of collective bargaining etc when in fact it has come about through a restructuring exercise which has rebalanced the differential between AMs' salary and that of MPs.
"even if we were to accept that they are genuine in their outrage..."

Why do you beleive that their "outrage" is not "genuine". Why is it that all Peter Black's actions are the product of high principle but the actions of anyone else, especialy from other parties, come from wholly negative motives.

OK, their decision is not shared by others in their group. So what?
Why is it OK for Liberal Democrats in Westminster to have differing views on the abstention ordered by Clegg but not OK for different members in Plaid Cymru to have different views on a matter?Trotting out the "one rule for the British, another rule for the Welsh" line may be consistent with British parties' line in Wales over many decades, but "longstanding" does not equate to "right".

The decisions of the six Welsh AMs not to accept the rise may break the cosy consensus in the Assembly, but hardly merits the odium that you and other British members have heaped on them.

OK, they don't want the payrise. Why does it bug you so much?

Yes AMs are on a 4 year contract but that's considerably less "short-term" than many people in the real world have to put up with.

With respect, regional AMs are, in many cases, not really subject to the will of the electorate. Your task, and that of the likes of Bethan Jenkins, Nerys Evans and Leanne Wood, is to persuade your respective party members to put you at number one on the list. That system isn't your fault, I'm not saying, but let's not kid ourselves that the elctorate have too much to do with the election of many list AMs.

When the Assembly becomes an legislature, then comparisons with other legislatures may be appropriate. Until it does then it seems an ill comparison.

David Walters
David, I do not question the principles of the six AMs concerned. I have just pointed out that there are huge public relations gains for them by acting in the way that they did, whether they are outraged or not.

Nor do I expect them to command the support of all of their group. They are perfectly entitled to have different views. My point was that they are claiming to speak on behalf of Plaid Cymru when in fact two thirds of their group appear to take a contrary view. It does not bug me. I just sought to set out some facts.

I think the argument is that the Assembly has already become a legislature that is why the review is appropriate. Relative responsibilities have little to do with method of election.
You claim 2/3rds of the Plaid group want to take the increase - on what basis? Nobody has come out in favour of the increase from Plaid except for Dafydd E speaking in his role as Presiding Officer.

You also claim AMs work 70 hours a week. If so, do you also put in 15 hours a week as a councillor? If not, you should resign from that post at once. If you do, where do you find the time to undertake party work (as opposed to constituency work), sleep, eat and buy those awful ties?
On the basis that only six of them have so far come out against it and said that they will not take the money. In the case of the other nine (or eight if you account for the PO speaking in favour) then we have no choice but interpreting silence as assent. Radio Wales also reported that Ieuan Wyn Jones had said he was in favour as well but I have not heard him say that directly.

There are 168 hours in a week you know. I am extremely well organised and manage my diary well. It will be up to the electors of Cwmbwrla Ward to determine how well I am doing my job as a Councillor, not you.

How could anybody respect your opinion when you have no taste in ties? Don't you recognise class when you see it? :-)
BBC now reports that only two Plaid AM's will take the raise - the Lord and Oscar. According to Vaughan all the others have made it clear they are not accepting it.

Seems that they were talking for the majority of their group after all.

Personally I think AM's deserve the pay rise, but even though I disagree with them it's still refreshing to see politicians refuse more money!
An interesting interpretation. As I understand it the majority are taking the money and donating most of it to charity.

If like Ieuan Wyn they are keeping 2.5% under the misappehension that this is a pay increase rather than a restructuring, then they will be getting more than twice the amount awarded to public sector workers.

That is because AMs have already had a 1.9% cost of living rise last November at the same time as the MPs.
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