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Monday, March 09, 2020

Ending the Welsh Assembly gravy train?

It appears that for the Welsh Conservatives, ending the 'Welsh Assembly gravy train' is their equivalent of Trump draining the swamp. Except that in Trump's case he has actually widened and deepened that swamp with his own brand of politics.

Nevertheless, I expect that the Welsh Tory's pledge to cut the cost of politics by reducing the number of ministers, freezing the Commission budget and ruling out any increase in the number of politicians will have have some resonance with voters. It is not good enough just to condemn them out-of-hand for gesture politics, though this is undoubtedly what it is, we have to make the case as to why they are wrong.

Actually, I have a lot of sympathy for reducing the number of Ministers. Sometimes it seems as if the First Minister is just trying to build up the payroll vote so as to secure his own position within the Labour group. Though in building coalitions it is inevitable that positions have to be offered to other parties and this means that we may need the maximum-allowed number of ministers.

On limiting the Commission's budget and keeping AM numbers as they are, that will inevitably hamper the whole Welsh agenda. It will mean less resource and fewer opportunities to scrutinise Welsh Ministers and legislation, and as a result we will have poorer decision-making and inadequate laws.

The one item that is missing from the Tory agenda is abolishing the practice whereby Assembly Members employ members of their own or other members' families. That is something that was picked up fairly quickly by Wales-On-Line.

They have pointed out that there are seventeen Assembly Members and seven Welsh MPs who currently employ members of their own families at the public's expense. This practice is banned in Westminster. It wasn't banned in the Assembly until recently. However, a loophole in the Assembly rules means that if a family member is already in post they can stay until 2026:

More than half of the Tory AMs in the Assembly employ family members.

Both the current leader Paul Davies and the previous leader Andrew RT Davies employ members of AMs' families.

Paul Davies employs two members of other members' families and RT Davies employs his wife Julia on a band one salary (up to £35,182). She has been in the post since 2007.

South Wales East Conservative AM Mohammad Asghar has employed his wife Firdaus as a caseworker on 22.2 hours a week since April 2013. His daughter Natasha as senior communications officer for 10 hours a week.

And it is not just the Conservatives doing it:

Of all the parties in the Assembly the party with the highest percentage of its AMs choosing to employ their family is the Brexit Party.

Three of their four AMs employ family members all in the highest or second highest wage bands.

The Brexit Party's David Rowlands AM employs both his wife and daughter. Freemason Rowlands had previously left his daughter off the list of employees and subsequently blamed one of his aides for the oversight.

Labour AMs employ more family members that any other party with eight - however this is a much smaller figure relative to the total number of AMs the party has (29).

Plaid have banned the practice - which was the catalyst for Mohammad Asghar leaving - and they have accused the Tories of a populist play for power.

The website provides some examples of what these family members are being paid:

Last year a Wales-On-line investigation found that some AMs were paying their families the highest possible wage band from the public purse with wages up to £40,972 a year.

They were:

Mark Reckless AM (Leader of The Brexit Party in the Welsh Assembly) - Mr Reckless has employed his wife Catorina Reckless as a senior advisor for 37 hours (previously 29.6) a week, earning up to £40,972 since December 2016.

Caroline Jones AM (Brexit Party) - Has employed her husband Alun Williams as a community caseworker earning up to £40,972 for 37.5 hours a week since 2017.

Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP) - Has employed his wife Christine Hamilton as a senior advisor (previously PA) for 37 hours a week, earning up to £40,972 since May 2016.

Dawn Bowden AM - Labour - Ms Bowden has employed her husband Martin Eaglestone as a senior advisor on 37 hours a week, earning up to £40,972 since September 2017.

Of course when the Tories were asked about this, they declined to comment. Are they in favour of reform only when it is convenient? Is this really just meaningless rhetoric?
How likely is it that the Welsh Tories would keep their leader's pledge if they were in government?
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