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Friday, October 15, 2004

The price of democracy

The Welsh Assembly has published the cost of maintaining 60 AMs for the first time. In the last financial year it was £6.2 million. I have been pressing for some time for this information to be published. After all we are a public body committed to transparency and we should have nothing to hide.

The size of the figure may shock some people but it shouldn't. This is not money that has been pocketed by AMs. Much of it is used to employ staff, to run offices and to reimburse legitimate, documented expenses. It is the price of having a democracy. I am sure that a dictatorship may be cheaper but then dictators do have a habit of opening Swiss bank accounts and squirrelling away large chunks of state assets for their own use.

This figure will be put into perspective of course, by the publication today of the cost of MPs. This is also a first and already the Leader of the House of Commons is calling for understanding. This is the last thing he is going to get, though there is no reason why he should not seek it. I predict that MPs will prove to be significantly more expensive than AMs.

The Welsh Assembly has been under the magnifying glass since it was formed. We have not been able to burp without the act making headlines. By comparison the MPs, many of whose practices we have mirrored, have got off lightly. All that may change today and that is how it should be. If we are to scrutinise the cost of democracy in public then all bodies and all elected representatives should be included. Perhaps then we might be able to have a rational debate about the advantages of giving the Assembly real powers to justify its existence, subsequently reducing the number of MPs as in Scotland, and giving the public some value for money through the consequent savings.

Are you suggesting that either the Assembly has no "real powers" or that its existence is not justified?

Or was it just a throw away line of nonsense you hoped nobody would dare question you on?

If you think distributing £10 billion of public money is not a real power then I suggest you resign and make way for somebody who does.
Actually it is £12 billion or thereabouts. The distribution of this money is a function not a legislative power as recommended by the Richard Commission. The Assembly does have limited powers and they were best utilised during the Liberal Democrat-Labour Partnership Government in a way that very much justified the existence of the Assembly. However in terms of real power, that is what is needed to constitute a proper devolved Parliament on a par with Scotland, then it is certainly lacking.

If you understood the situation in Wales then you would appreciate that my comment was neither a throwaway line nor a nonsense. There is a clear case for the Assembly to have the sort of powers advocated by the Richard Commission and I will continue to campaign for it whilst at the same time pushing the Labour Assembly Government to use the secondary powers we do have to maximum effect for the benefit of the people of Wales.
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