Money talks

Phil Parry considers the costs of a ‘transparent’ Welsh Assembly and Government.

Good Government costs money.

In a devolved Wales with key decisions over big ticket items like Health and Education by politicians whose wages we pay, this fact is more important than ever.

It can only become more critical too, as an increasing number of elections to key posts approach.

We have already had one referendum over Scottish independence, and all of us are to be offered a chance to vote in another one, on whether we should stay in, or leave the European Union.

Organising these elections costs a lot of money.

Thankfully we are not yet in the position of the US. There, the Presidential elections will cost billions of dollars.

It is reckoned everyone will have spent almost $10 billion dollars by the end.

Hillary Clinton, if she receives the nomination, is likely to have spent about $2 billion. Jeb Bush, the brother, and son of Presidents and once the front-runner for the Republican nomination, may have forked out almost $2 billion too.

These figures dwarf previous contests. They are almost twice as much as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each spent in 2012.

Transparency in Government too costs money, but is no less important.

I say again – it is worth repeating – we pay the politicians’ wages, so they should do what we ask.

This is one of the reasons why it is so disturbing they are planning to change the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA).

A review of how well the act is working, will report soon and the members of the committee looking at it is stuffed with people who are not noted for supporting the idea of giving information out about Government.Speaking as a journalist you may well say I have a vested interest in this, and I can only plead guilty. The key problem is not the information itself, but making it relevant.

The plain fact is that people are only concerned with getting on with their lives – their jobs, the families healthcare and the education of their children. We all know that politics has an important bearing on all these issues, but for many people it cannot be seen. They only see politicians arguing. This is borne out by figures The Eye have secured.

According to statistics revealed through an FoIA request, Senedd TV cost £40,681 in 2014/15 and secured only 17,026 ‘users’. The TV channel is broadcast over the internet and television and has been revamped in a bid to allow voters to see senior Welsh politicians at work. Internet television screenings are shown on the Assembly’s own website, which broadcasts about 35 hours of content each week in English and Welsh.

This piece gained more ‘hits’ on our website than any story we have reported. The TaxPayers Alliance were, unusually perhaps, measured in their response. They said it was important to keep these costs under control, but it is also vital to have transparency and see how our politicians are working.

Their campaign manager, Harry Davis,said:  “It is important that taxpayers are able to see what their elected representatives are doing so that they can then hold them to account. Of course the costs of initiatives such as Senedd TV need to be monitored and kept under control, but public access to Assembly debates is a vital part of the democratic process.”

They are absolutely right but it is a delicate balance to strike.

One of the central themes of the devolution debate in 1997, was how much a new institution would cost. But it will cost, and is continuing to do so, to govern ourselves. We need institutions like Senedd TV, and we need transparency to see how our politicians are spending our money.

The challenge for politicians remains how to make issues relevant to people’s daily lives.

Phil Parry is Editor of The Eye investigative website.

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