Friday, 7 March 2008

Setting the rate for the job

To misquote someone very wise, if the answer is to pay politicians more, it must be a very strange question.

The furore over the inflation-busting increase for AMs was inevitable, and completely predictable; but that is true whenever politicians vote themselves a pay rise, and however large the rise. They knew what the response would be, and decided to go ahead anyway. Blowing the political froth away for a moment, is there a justification?

The two arguments put forward are firstly that AMs are now working harder because the Assembly has more powers, and secondly that there is a need to attract a better quality of AM; both arguments which the Western Mail editorial rehearses eloquently this morning. Do they stand up to scrutiny?

Certainly, the Assembly has more powers now, and is likely to be gaining more as more LCOs are passed, and that in turn means that the Assembly as a whole has more responsibility. But the changed situation under the latest Act also sees a clearer split between the Executive and the Legislature under which it is at least possible to argue that back-bench AMs actually have less influence now than they did previously.

Are they working ‘harder’? I don’t know how those of us outside the institution can ever properly judge that. Much of the work they do, in representing their constituents, is largely unseen by most of us (and likely to be extremely variable between the best and the worst as well). It is probably unfair (although entirely natural) for us to judge their performance solely on the basis of what we see them do in plenary sessions. But it would help their case not insignificantly if people could see that they were actually debating sensibly instead of playing silly games.

I am convinced that increasing the number of AM’s to 80 to deal with the changed situation, as recommended by Richard, is a sensible way forward. Presumably those who argue that they need an increase for working harder now would then accept a decrease as the workload was shared amongst a higher number?

Will paying them more attract a better standard of AM? I see little basis for supporting this argument. The brightest and best in Welsh society can still earn far more in other occupations, and are unlikely to be attracted to become politicians solely on the basis of the money. Although there is a potential argument that some may be deterred by low pay, I just don’t see the argument that high pay will attract them. In any event, do we really want people who are there because they can earn more by being an AM than they could in any other walk of life? (Although those even more cynical than I might argue that we already have a number of those - and still would have even if the pay was halved).

More importantly, how exactly does the electoral process ensure that able people win anyway? Some constituencies are so safe for one or other party that the proverbial donkey would still win, no matter how many able people the other parties in the same seat may put up. ‘Ability’ is only a criterion (and not necessarily the one which determines the outcome at that) in internal party selections; the elections themselves are more to do with tribalism.

We do need a way of fixing the pay of our politicians which doesn’t involve them in having to vote on their own pay. But having fixed it once, why not then link all increases to the average increase in public sector pay, so that they gain from – or lose by – the increases which other public sector workers receive?

PS – some are suggesting that, if Plaid AM's are opposed to the rise, they should refuse to accept it. I have my doubts about this. In the first place, it seems to turn a general issue about politicians' pay into a more personalised one, and in the second place, it looks like gesture politics. Some MPs have in the past refused to accept increases, but I wonder how long that refusal lasts in practice before they quietly accept the rise. Gesture politics is no substitute for a proper resolution to the issue.

9 comments:

Normal Mouth said...

And yet a gesture is what PC appear to be basing their objection on; the notion that AMs should not be seen to be increasing their pay while others have to make to with less.

Ceredig said...

Norm,

If it is simply a question of not being seen to be increasing their pay, then I'd have to agree with you. I thought some at least were saying that there is no justification for any rise beyond hwat other public sector workers are getting, which is a more honest stance. Tying politicians' increases into the average public sector increase seems to me to be inherently more sensible than leaving them to vote for their own rises.

What I'm unclear about is how to set the starting point - how to measure the value and worth of the job. It it were based on public esteem it would be a lot lower, and if it were based on the self-esteem of the incumbents, it would be a lot higher. I'm sceptical about the 'increased workload' argument, and I simply don't buy the one about attracting higher quality people.

Compared to the average wage in Wales, it's a nice little earner, and seeing that there's no shortage of applicants, the default position of simply applying an inflation increase each year surely has to be better than continually arguing for more.

What's really surprising is that so few of them seem to have anticipated the almost universal reaction to what they are proposing. That lack of a simple reality check is perhaps the most damaging aspect.

a former believer said...

so if AM's knew about the storm that would break over thier heads about pay, why oh why do they react like headless chickens and run for cover instead if fighting thier corner.

Until they sort themselves out and handle this tyoe of thing like grow ups they deserve the backlash that comes thier way, it does nothing for the image of the National Assembly or AM's.

Ceredig said...

Former Believer,

That's a good question. An even better one is why they set up an 'independant review' in the first place. It was obvious that the outcome would be an upwards adjustment beyond inflation, and they all knew that it was a year in which public sector settlements would be tight. And they did it straight after an election as well...

Interestingly, quite a few of those claiming that they are 'working harder' now weren't even members until the last election - so how would they know?

Draig said...

I'm sorry but as soon as I hear the word "independent" I reach for my gun.

Around 7 years ago Cardiff City Council under Russell Goodwage set up an "independent" panel to look into Councillors pay. As expected the panel ruled in favour of huge pay rises for goodwage and his Labour cronies. It caused a huge outcry in the city.

Later came about that Chair of the panel sat on the board of a local leisure centre - along with two of the councillors he'd awarded the rise to!

Wales - if it wasn't for the crap weather you could be lookin at Sicily.

a former believer said...

you make a good point point and raise good questions Ceredig maybe those in power would like to answer both of our points?

They have known about the 'extra powers' since the 2006 Wales Act, maybe they should have been dropping subtle hints even at that stage to soften the blow, but that would mean WAG and the Asembly getting its act together.

Ceredig said...

Draig,

I think the comparison with Sicily might be just a little strong; it's a good deal less violent here.

The so-called 'independant' review in Cardiff to which you refer is no different in essence from what happens in the boardrooms of the largest companies. The directors appoint their chums as 'independant' non-executive directors to set their pay, and then reciprocate. That's how fatcats get fat.

Former believer,

Somehow I doubt that 'those in power' will find the time or the inclination to read my humble scribbings; let alone respond.

I agree; if they wanted to argue that extra powers means extra pay, then it would have been more honest to have done so before the last election, rather then immediately afterwards. There's something very unseemly about people fighting for election to the Assembly in full knowledge of the powers and salary and then backdating their increase to the date of their election on the basis of having to 'work harder'. Poor dabs.

Incidentally, Miserable Old Fart (if I knew how to put links in comments, I'd put one in here. I'm afraid that I'm somewhat technically-challenged at times)comes up with a better justification for the pay rise than any of the AM's themselves have so far managed.

I stll disagree, but it's a good argument. But I really don't see why the salaries of our AM's should be in any way linked to those of MP's at all; it's an entirely spurious idea. We have a nascent Welsh parliament, which is seeking to grow in stature and powers - why on earth set salaries by reference to another legislature as opposed to setting them on the basis of what is fair and reasonable in an entirely Welsh context?

hafod said...

You're right of course, there shouldn't be a link between the MPs and AMs' pay. The logic of that is that an 8.3% uplift for AMs should see an 8.3% fall for MPs... imagine the squealing in Wminster if that happened!
What's so difficult with us paying them a good wage - say £35,000 would put them in the top 10-15% in Wales. If any AMs squeal, then we know they're not there for the public service and we also know £47,000 plus generous expenses hasn't attracted the top quality.
On top of that, the Assembly could buy a block of 60 flats in the Bay so each AM has somewhere to stay while in Cardiff. At a stroke the £12,000 allowance is abolished and no AM profits from having a second home in Cardiff paid for from public funds.

Anonymous said...

Normal Mouth,

I believe it unwise to criticise Plaid AMs for refusing the rise, when all your Labour AMs are keeping their heads down whilst at the same time claiming to be the friends of the workers. Perhaps this claim excludes public sector workers?