Sunday, 17 August 2008

The Price of Welsh Lib Dem AMs

I'm not generally given to denigrating our AMs, because I'm well aware of the massive workload they have and how much they punch above their weight in the chamber.

However, this report from the BBC earlier this week makes sickening reading. The hysteria over politicians' allowances travelled quickly from London to Wales, as the view that the Assembly is a 'waste of money' is unfortunately prevalent among members of the public across the principality. Indeed, it's a telling fact that before the 2007 elections, ITV carted out that smug moo Sian Lloyd and got her to present a series of programmes entitled What Has The Assembly Ever Done For Us? - this is how much the Assembly as an institution is resented. The Beeb put in a Freedom of Information request to get the detailed expenses breakdown for each AM, and I have to say I'm shocked at the results.

Conservative AMs: Total claimed: £93,730. Average claimed: £7,810
Labour AMs: Total claimed: £121,977. Average claim: £4,691
Lib Dems AMs: Total claimed: £55,321. Average claim: £9,220
Plaid Cymru AMs: Total claim: £129,936. Average claim: £8,662
Source: Assembly Commission figures for 2007-2008

Mike German was even named as one of the highest claimants, despite the fact he lives only seventeen miles from the Senedd. For heaven's sake, Mike! How many people in the region you represent do you suppose are commuting into Cardiff and claiming at most a measly mileage allowance and more often nothing at all from their employers for doing so? You aren't doing yourself or the rest of us campaigning for the party in Wales ANY favours electorally by feathering your nest this way. We are meant to be the champions of fairness, and this is patently unfair. We're meant to be the party most in favour of devolution, but this will deepen the negative feelings toward another expensive level of government. We, the party activists, are meant to be able to go out and tell people on the doorstep in 2011 (and before) that our AMs will be the ones sticking up best for the good taxpayers of Wales, and YOU ARE RIPPING THEM OFF!

I have to say I've agonised and bitten my nails before posting this, and waited for some kind of mitigation or response to come from our people for a few days, but it won't wait any longer. There hasn't even been anything from Peter Black since his swipe at the Tories when they published their (almost as ludicrous) expenses claims in full a week before the report came out - though he as ever is the most open of our AMs and had already published a defence of his use of the allowance three weeks ago. I'm angry, and I want answers - why are our AMs claiming so much more public money than those from other parties?

edited at 17:26pm to include information submitted in the comments


Peter Blacks Cat said...

well done . My daddy does not like mike german

Peter Black said...

The reason why the Welsh Liberal Democrat AMs have higher average is both statistical and geographical. All three of the other parties have a number of AMs who live within the area where you cannot claim for a second home or have a significant number who do not claim because they are cabinet members or for other reasons. Out of the six AMs we have only one who falls in that category and three (or 50%) who live far enough away to be fully justified in claiming the full allowance. The figures you quote are averages and do not reflect the true picture. When you are in a bigger group then the divider that is used is greater and that brings the average down. Nice cat picture above by the way.

Jennie said...

Despite agreeing with what Peter Black said, you still have a point, especially about Mr German.

Steph Ashley said...

Peter: I take your point and did in fact consider that Eleanor Burnham, for example, lives so far away she could do nothing else but claim the full allowance. But let's say Mike German claimed £12000, for round figures. If you take that off the total and divide by six again you get somewhere not far above a £7200 average. Which would have put us in second place behind Labour, who as you say have their figures artificially pushed down by the number of cabinet ministers and M4 corridor members.

So two questions remain for me: 1) What justification can be provided for Mike's hubris with public money? and 2) When are we going to see any kind of public statement from the Welsh Lib Dems or the Assembly group detailing who spent what and why?

Peter Black said...

Mike, can defend himself. That is not my job, anymore than it is my job to justify the actions of the other 58 AMs.

Not sure what statement you want off the Welsh Lib Dem Group. The details of who spent what is already public. The 'why' is a matter for individuals not the group and that applies to all parties.

I have published my own justification in comments to this post.

Steph Ashley said...

Peter: So you have, and well, too. Apologies for the gap in my memory, and I will edit my original post accordingly. I wasn't suggesting that you yourself should run around defending the other members of the group, sorry if you got that impression.

I do still think that there needs to be some kind of official rebuttal to the media reporting of the figures, though. We were very lucky that the headline was so lenient - it could just as easily have been focussed entirely on our party claiming the highest expenses on average despite being the smallest group. And I would love for Mike to defend himself, though I doubt it will happen. If only all our politicians were as much of an open book to the grass roots membership and the public at large as you are!

Alwyn ap Huw said...

None of the AM's have fiddled anything - they have claimed what they are entitled to claim within the rules.

There may be an argument for changing the rules (I understand that an independent review is imminent), but criticising Mike German and others for doing nothing wrong is a bit a bit daft.

Steph Ashley said...

Alwyn: just because they are entitled to claim extra public money under the rules doesn't mean they should. I'm entitled under the law to do all sorts of things which I would consider morally wrong and I have no problem abstaining from those activities. And I believe it is morally wrong to claim more than you actually need to from a publicly funded expenses kitty.

I never suggested that AMs were 'fiddling' or doing anything that was against the law or the rules. But within the rules does not always equate to right, and in this case my view is that while Mike German was certainly acting within the rules, he was also absolutely wrong.

Peter Blacks Cat said...

steph stood up to peter..kicki n the bollocks when you see him girl..go girl!

Anonymous said...

"why are our AMs claiming so much more public money than those from other parties?"

They are not! its quite simple really. Oly one of our AMs live within the exempt zone while three plaid, four tories and seven Labour AMs do the same.

If you think about it, this massively skews the average. I'm all for standing up against the party leadership, but feel you should have mentioned this fact.

Anonymous said...

If the Assembly allows claims up to £12500 and you think that's wrong, Ms Ashley, contact the Assembly and suggest they should change their system.

If you wish to criticise an individual AM, try contacting that AM directly. I find putting criticisms on this kind of site a cowardly thing to do.

Jennie said...

Anonymous, if you had read the post you would see that she HAS contacted the people in question and garnered no response.

Rhetoric Innes said...

Shes not cowardly mr. anonymous,
steph is just expressing herself.
Thats what blogs are for.

Steph Ashley said...

Dear anonymous trolls: despite the fact my friends have got here first to tell you you're talking utter crap, allow me to direct you to the crux of the post, where I point out that the one thing that skews the average more than any other was Mike German deciding he wants to milk everything he can get out of his post and claiming the full allowance despite living around the corner.

And for the record, given that I have put my name to this public statement of what i think of the situation, I reckon it's the opposite of cowardly. If I was being cowardly I'd post anonymously. Oh look, that's what you did.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 1 here, I didn't call anyone cowardly.

Mike German didn't skew the figures, 8 other AMs claimed more than him, many of whom live just as close as he does to the Assembly.

All I was saying is that your post seems to make out that the Lib Dems are somehow worse than the other parties. They are not.Again, the thing that skews the figures is the fact that we have the smallest proportion of our AMs living in the internal zone.

As I said before, Mike's claims are embarrassing but no worse than any of the other parties record on this and I think you should reflect that in your article.

By the way, re anonymous posting, some people have to post anonymously for a variety of reasons but I think it is still possible to contribute constructively to the debate as I hope you agree I am doing here. If you don't, then why not block anonymous posting?

Steph Ashley said...

Hello anonymous 1. It would be a lot easier to identify you (not as in out you, just as in differentiate you from the sort of people who just want to have a go) if you used a pseudonym. Please consider it, as you're right, you are a lot more reasonable in your contribution to discussion than others.

It is unfortunate that the figures are not calculated to give an average of all members of each party that are outside the exclusion zone or cabinet positions. But they are what they are, and Mike German really is in large part responsible for our poor showing - if he had stayed at his home and not claimed so much in additional expenses, or to put it another way if he had bothered putting his hand in his own pocket to cover some of his personal costs out of his not inconsiderable party-group-leader salary, our group's average would have been second best, not overall worst. In fact he was on the Six o'Clock news for this issue just as our members in the RCT local party were pushing leaflets through the door in a close-run by-election campaign. Very helpful! I'm not sure the story didn't contribute to their disappointment.

And looking at the eight members who claimed more than him, no they clearly don't live just as near to Cardiff as Mike. The two others who claimed large amounts in our own party group live in Newtown and Wrexham. I don't have as much of a bone to pick with them - obviously if you live that far away from where you work, help towards costs of staying away from home are necessary. It's sad for them that people who live close enough to get home in half an hour are taking advantage of the system, and giving them and all politicians a bad name.

Finally, I'd say don't assume I have any great influence or that it will harm the Liberal Democrats if I grumble about them very occasionally among the heaps of praise that you'll generally find on this page. This is a personal blog and I and my opinions are of very little consequence. Calling this posting an 'article' is giving it more credence than it deserves, really!