How much should we pay Assembly Members?

Sandy Blair argues that the increased responsibility of Assembly Members should be reflected in their salary.

How much should we pay a Member of the National Assembly? It’s a question that is sure to generate some lively answers up and down the country, not all of which would be suitable to print here. But it is a question of fundamental importance to our democratic system that we have grappled with the UK for many years.

In the nineteenth century, the introduction of payment for Members of Parliament was one of the key reforms called for by the Chartist movement so as to enable an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.

Much more recently, of course, the debate has been coloured by the expenses scandal that so rocked Westminster and its impact on the popular view of politicians. That unfortunate period in parliamentary history was fuelled by the refusal of successive parliaments and governments to tackle the issue openly and correctly for fear of public criticism.

In Wales, we can be proud of the fact that the National Assembly took the lead in the UK and set about putting in place an independent body to take decisions about pay out of the hands of politicians well before equivalent steps were taken elsewhere.

That independent body is the National Assembly for Wales Remuneration Board. Established by legislation, our statutory duty is to provide Assembly Members with a level of remuneration which:

fairly reflects the complexity and importance of the functions which they are expected to discharge, and does not, on financial grounds, deter persons with the necessary commitment and ability from seeking election to the Assembly.

This week, we have published our salary proposals for AMs in the next Assembly. The headline proposal on which we are consulting is that the base salary of an AM should be £64,000 in 2016. After that, their pay will move in line with median earnings in Wales.  This is a significant change from the 2015 level of £54,390. So how and why have we come to that conclusion?

The job of an AM is now on a par with that of the other national parliamentarians of the UK in terms of legislative, financial and oversight responsibility. And from 2016, the role will carry even more responsibility with new authority over taxation and government borrowing and a likely further increase in the breadth of legislative competence.

The Assembly undertakes its responsibilities with far fewer Members than other parliaments in the UK and overseas and is smaller than many local authorities in Wales. Unlike the UK Parliament there is no second or revising chamber, so the burden of getting devolved legislation right for Wales falls solely on the 60 elected Members.  This requires a concentration of expertise and weight of responsibility that is not seen elsewhere.

As a result, there is no hiding place in the National Assembly: all Members carry a high degree of either executive authority or responsibility for the oversight of government. In turn, this means that the institution cannot afford to have Members who are not up to the job.

Inevitably our proposal will be portrayed by some as a pay rise for existing Members at a time when our public services are facing financial cutbacks and many people are seeing little or no growth in their earnings. My colleagues on the Board and I do not view it in that way. Our proposals are not a commentary on the performance of the Assembly or its Members – that is a matter for the electorate to judge. Rather, we have attempted to make an objective assessment of what the role of an AM in the 2016 Assembly warrants in terms of remuneration. In arriving at a figure, we approached the task from three different angles and combined the evidence from each. Our three broad considerations were:

•             to ensure that the salary properly reflects the responsibilities of AMs in the fifth Assembly and the quality of the individuals needed to discharge such a vital role;

•             the value of the total package of remuneration including both salary and pension; and

•             remuneration for comparable roles and earnings in the wider economy, particularly Wales.

It is important to stress that we did not just pluck figures out of the air, but examined a wide range of comparative data and sought external advice in addition to the Board’s own expertise. The fact that our research and analysis in respect of each of those led us to similar conclusions gives us assurance that our thinking is sound.

Our proposals on salary should be seen as part of a package of changes we are making to the remuneration of AMs. Much of the cost of the increase in the base salary, for example, is offset by savings from changes we are making to the pension scheme and to reductions in the additional salaries paid to office holders.

Clearly, many people in Wales face difficult economic circumstances at the moment and the pressure on public spending means that some will argue now is the wrong time to address this issue. But we believe that problems we face demonstrate precisely why Wales needs to attract the highest calibre people to be Members of the National Assembly. To be less bold, to set a salary that does not reflect the weight of responsibility carried or the quality of individual needed, would be to do the institution and the country a disservice in the long term.

Wales needs good governance and good government. That requires a strong, effective National Assembly. For it to be so, the individual Members of the Assembly must be exceptional in their motivation and abilities and remunerated appropriately.

We look forward to a considered and measured debate about the role of remuneration in influencing the strength and success of the Assembly that Wales will have in the future.

Sandy Blair is the Chair of the Remuneration Board of the National Assembly for Wales.

14 thoughts on “How much should we pay Assembly Members?

  1. Sure AM’s should have a good wage given the amount of work they undertake. A workload which will only get greater when the Assembly gains greater powers.

    However, if we also get more AMs then surely the pay should go down to reflect the lighter load?

    But to me they key issue which needs to be addressed is the lack of pay to their support teams (who, to be fair, do most of the donkey work). At the moment the vast majority of Researchers are employed at under £20k. If they were in the private sector they could add £10 to their wage packet for doing easier jobs with fewer responsibilities.

    As such it’s no wonder that most AMs can’t hold on to their best staff for long.

  2. Thank you, Sandy Blair, for helping to fulfil yet another yet another of the predictions of the ‘No’ campaign in 1997.

    Incidentally, who appoints this ‘Remuneration Board’? Do they serve purely for the honour or for out of pocket expenses, or are they themselves remunerated? If so, who sets the remuneration of the remunerators? How much, if anything, does all this cost? Is a sympathetic attitude to Assembly members compulsory or is, say, someone who believes in payment by results eligible for appointment?

  3. Perhaps we should adopt the Texas constitution. In Texas the legislature sits for just 140 days a year. The members of the legislature are paid 600 dollars a month and 150 dollars for every day the legislature is in session. They earn about 35000 dollars for a two year term. I can’t somehow see anyone in the Lone Star State feeling ‘belittled’. All this report has achieved is to ensure that the pay of AMs now probably becomes an issue in the next Assembly election. It really is crazy and shows how out of touch some people are. Perhaps we need someone to start a Podemos movement in Wales. You don’t have to pay money to attract the right calibre of individuals to become politicians. Just look at the life style of former President Mujica of Uruguay for a start. As for the Chartists they wanted MPs to serve one year terms with elections very year and be paid the same wage as an ordinary worker. Money alone doesn’t say anything about the quality or ability of an individual I’m afraid.

  4. It seems that the concept of reward for failure in the political class knows no bounds but then I don’t accept any of the premises upon which this proposed increase for members of a failed unnecessary legislature are based.

    This is likely to make the private sector even more angry about the disconnect than ever but I suppose anything which tends to bring the concept of the Bay Bubble snouts in the trough further into disrepute should actually be welcomed!

  5. I agree with what Jake Jones says about support staff. They are absolutely key to our ability to do our job and have made representations about this for my staff.

    In terms of what more needs to be done, I have been quite vocal about the problems caused to me when I was elected as a single parent. The choice was effectively boarding school, or two “nannies” (one day one night for at least two days a week, which makes all sorts of assumptions about home accommodation). The cost of the latter was prohibitive. There are no policies to support lone parents who are elected, and the Bangor University Research shows that the perception by the establishment is that it is taken for granted that there will be a “wife” at home who will do the caring for young children. In this day and age it is not an acceptable presumption, particularly when 25% of all parents are lone parents. When those children are of school age, and the lone parent has to spend at least two nights a week in Cardiff there simply is nothing at the moment to deal with that situation. The current position either means that you have to be so wealthy that you can afford boarding, or that as a single parent of a young child you simply can not stand for election. The alternative is that you have to neglect your constituency or region as you have to spend 5 days a week in Cardiff so you can educate your child – with all the problems that then causes for those whose constituencies are not “local” to Cardiff. The Remuneration Board really have to grasp the mettle or accept that their policies will exclude the possibility of that “voice” from the Assembly. Having failed to change the decision making of the Board in this Assembly term, I hope sincerely that I will manage to change it for those that want to follow, who might have caring responsibilities. If I did not have financial assistance from my family, even with the increased salary, after tax it would mean I would be working only to pay school fees. Whilst I accept my solution to the problem is not something that others would do – I would question what the alternatives are in that position – If the Remuneration Board is serious about ensuring equality of access then they need to recognise that they are currently excluding a whole section of society from standing for election (75% of lone parents are women), until their caring responsibilities end and their children are old enough to be left on their own.These problems are not unique to AM’s, far from it, however if you exclude that voice from your National Legislature then you are unlikely to get the policies in place that will allow things to change in wider society. As Chwarae Teg have shown the availability of affordable and reliable childcare is key to ensuring that women can achieve their potential in all sectors and sections of society in Wales, and we need to remove as many barriers as possible to ensure that our Legislature is more representative and has a wider variety of voices within it.

  6. The right-wing press love this sort of story don’t they… anything that keeps the hoi polloi’s anger and resentment targeted on the small number of people who are actually trying to help them rather than the real story of inequality and exploitation which is the astronomical wages and benefits that managers and executives earn in ‘corporate’ Britain. Of course, that’s the private sector so that’s OK and it will trickle down eventually won’t it…. Well it’s more than OK actually, it’s sacrosanct and it’s frankly heresy to suggest otherwise. Good job the oiks don’t know they’re paying for the other half’s trickling largesse through the highest wage differentials in the western world. If we keep banging AMs over the head for earning a call centre manager’s wage, perhaps the Gwerin won’t notice the gated communities and country clubs popping up everywhere to cater for the ‘blue chip’ elect? Fingers crossed eh…

  7. I shall not be standing as an AM because the pay is not good enough to put up with the witless comments you get, like those of Mr Walker. If it is such a cake-walk and the pay is so good why don’t the moaners stand for office? I agree with Jake Jones though (I think) – it is more important to increase the number of AMs than to increase their pay. The Welsh government thinks passing laws, even pointless ones, is a substitute for implementing policy so an adequate legislature is essential to scrutinize them.

  8. According to the WG website, in 2011 the salary for an AM was over £53,000 per annum. I could not find any info as to whether it has risen since then – doubt that it has reduced.
    The average salary in Wales is around £19,200.
    How can an increase on a salary of 53000 be justified? I would not say that elected representatives should be out of pocket – it is an important democratic principle that they are paid. However, in the current climate I cannot see that it is fair for AMs to have the kind of increase that Sandy Blair seems to be suggesting.

  9. The Remuneration Board is both right and wrong. It has taken a highly rational approach and sets out a strong, thorough and well-researched case for its proposals. Predictably all the emphasis in the press coverage has been on the 18 per cent increase in salary, with scarcely any mention of the reduction in pension benefits that brings the increase in the total package down to nearer 10 per cent – a halving of the cost increase. Neither is much mention made of the reduction in ministerial salaries. There is no getting away from the increase in AMs’ workload that has taken place in recent years and which is sure to continue. The proposed new salary is entirely reasonable when viewed against other jobs.

    Where the Remuneration Board is wrong is in ignoring the politics of the situation and the impact of the wider economic climate on public opinion. What is important here is not the much talked of disillusion with politics – my personal belief is that politicians are unfairly maligned – but the facts of our economic situation and what is happening to the incomes of the people who elect AMs. With so many people in Wales working in the public sector, the disparity in treatment were the proposals to be implemented would be insupportable. The immediate inclination of the political parties to look this gift horse in the mouth is rational and right. They are being good democrats in taking that view.

    Part of the problem lies in the fact that freezing the salaries of politicians for such a long period makes it inevitable that proposed hikes when they come are bound to make for difficult headlines. There needs to be a more sensible and regular incremental shift that does not seem out of kilter with what is happening in the wider world. Antoinette Sandbach also makes a very valid point concerning childcare allowances and the impact on women AMs and, potentially, on the future gender balance of the National Assembly. This was an issue that was raised in the Bangor University research that informed the Remuneration Board, and it is surprising that it offered no proposals on that front.

    Fundamentally, I agree with the comment that in the next few years it will be more important to increase the number of AMs than their salaries. That is where the investment of political capital needs to be made.

  10. Yes, I too wonder for how much longer can the vibrant popular democracy that is our post-devolution Wales rely on the sheer self-sacrifice and all out altruism of our heroic middle classes? The moment we suggest multiplying their faltering number to assist (some now so weakened they have to stand with hand on hip) or increasing their meagre reward (a great many of our AMs are now totally reliant on ugly food banks and have to take second or third jobs in all night bakeries or sordid lap danceries) , the ignorant and ungraceful “masses” are up in arms, winging and wingeing their spiteful hate and envy direct to the awful Echo or OUR OWN Radio Wales! (another inconic icon run by heroes on meagre hardtack). Where will it all end? The Porth Paris Commune? I blame the vulgar Marxism taught in our poorer comprehensives. Whatever happened to “D for Deference”?

  11. Swiss MPs are paid less than AMs. They meet for just 4 sessions a year and each session lasts for 3 weeks. Switzerland is one of he most successful countries In Europe. Perhaps the real question that needs to be asked is do we really need full time politicians?

  12. Jeff. but how many politicians does Switzerland have in total? It is a confederation with a federal government, cantons and localities and a lot of power is devolved to the lower levels. If you add up the politician hours, are they less than in other countries? Politicians in the UK are badly distributed. The House of Lords could be shrunk by a factor of five, the House of Commons, given devolution, could be shrunk by up to a quarter. Wales needs many fewer (and better) local councillors. But the National Assembly should have much the same number of members as the northern Irish Assembly, which has 108, compared with our 60.

  13. And that’s now the backstory and forward path of Welsh devolution isn’t it? If Scotland gets more powers, well WE want ’em too. The Scottish Parliament /N.Irish Assembly is X size, therefore we must match. In the endless circle game of the political class “Me too Mr!” is the slogan. No regard to analysis or actual delivery, to what difference ANY of this since 1997 has really made to the “lives of others” (surely the point?) , we are leapfrogging for the future. OUR future. How else can we be jumped up, pumped up and fully regarded on the global local “iconic” world stage ? Or even Llandaff on a wet Friday.

  14. The Assembly and its Givernment is shocking and have done very little for Wales. Our Education system is failing and the Welsh NHS is a disgrace, with the devious to amalgamate hospitals in South Wales such as what’s happened to The a royal Glamorgan is a stain on the reputation of the Nation , and is evidence of the gross mismanagement of the Senedd. I struggle to see how they justify their current salary let alone claim to be worthy of a £10,000 pay rise. I voted for devolution, but having seen the years of gross negligence it’s performance has brought, I wouldn’t support devolution or further powers being devolved to these incompetents

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