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Monday, May 25, 2015

Rejecting the conclusions of the independent remuneration board

I have been away for the last four days at the Hay Festival and so have been largely out of touch with the real world. It is the first proper break I have had since Christmas.

Whilst I have been away it seems that another group of people have emerged as being out of touch with the real world. The Welsh Assembly's Remuneration Board is independent of Assembly Members, they have the power to make decisions on our pay, expenses and support staff without any reference to us or the Welsh electorate.

Whatever the justification for their decision to award Assembly Members an 18%, £10,000 a year pay rise, it is indefensible in the current climate. Many thousands of families have had to tighten their belts as a result of the economic downturn, many workers have had to take on extra responsibilities for no extra pay as their companies and public service employers lay off staff and many people have lost their jobs.

I met representatives of the board on a number of occasions and made clear my and my group's opposition to this rise. The Welsh Liberal Democrats group made similar representations. They were ignored.

What is interesting is some of the other detail of the determination of the remuneration board. They have quite rightly reduced the very generous pensions that Assembly Members enjoy but they have also changed the resources available to Assembly Groups. In the case of the Welsh Liberal Democrats that will mean that we will have £50,000 less to employ staff if we return with the same number of AMs after the 2016 elections.

The consequence of that will be that we will have less researchers to help us to prepare and properly scrutinise complex and important legislation. We might have to make staff redundant.

In all conscience I cannot accept this rise. Instead I will use the money to try and keep those staff in their job and to increase my support of local charities.
The Welsh taxpayer doesn't give you money to hand over to charity Peter. It could be said that any AM doing this might justifiably be accused of buying votes and as for handing it over to Lib Dem central to employ staff that amounts to much the same thing. you're just using weasel words in order to appear as a good egg and don't think that the Welsh taxpayer doesn't realise that.

If you wish to make a principled stand then just refuse the money, it's quite simple to do, just say no.

As regards the losing £50,000 if the lib dems return the same number of AM's then I wouldn't worry too much about that or the pay rise as you won't be there to worry about it anyway.
My understanding is that if I don't take the money I will still have to pay tax on it. That means that I would be paying £4,000 plus for not taking the money. I will check the position and if I am wrong and that there is no penalty involved then I will just not take the money.

There is no buying votes involved with charitable contributions. I do not publicise who I give to and nor would I start doing so.

As for the employment of staff these are not 'Lib Dem central' staff, they are employed by the Welsh Assembly to support Assembly Members in their work and are not permitted to carry out political work. There is no party contribution involved.

These staff support us in scrutinising government and legislation and I would want to avoid redundancies if I could.

As for not getting elected well if I am not returned then this will not be an issue.
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