Gosh, the AMs expenses story has dominated the headlines, hasn’t it? I was travelling to a meeting today, and Nick Bourne AM was on the radio trying to defend his ipod claim for about half an hour on a Radio Wales chat show. Not an easy task when everyone seems to be out to get you!
I’m not going to even start commenting on what individual AMs have claimed, because there’s plenty of journalists and bloggers out there who will do that for you. What I will say is that I hope that the independent review of AMs allowances will stop this furore from happening ever again in relation to expenses.
Yes, AMs should use their judgement when purchasing items from their office allowances, but the rules in the future will have to state much more clearly what AMs can and cannot claim. I wasn’t told what I should claim and shouldn’t claim when I was first elected. I was advised by a few colleagues, but that was all. I used my discretion, and more or less thought ‘What would the public be happy with AMs claiming, within reason?’
Obviously there are people out there who have no time at all for what we do- fair enough, but others are much more sympathetic, and realise that like any other employer, we have to spend some money making sure our offices are safe, and provide for its upkeep. There is nothing wrong in doing this, but the problems arise when the press delve in to the realm of the issue of items claimed that have tenuous links to our work as AMs.
Personally, I think that things such as televisions or essential office items should be bought in stock by the Assembly Commission so that they are retained even when an AM loses his or her seat, or stands down. I am using televisions as an example as most AMs ( apart from me it seems!) have them in their office at the Assembly so that staff can watch what we say in plenary to take note of for writing a press release, or for picking up on statements from Ministers. We don’t need to be able to keep these televisions after we leave the Assembly in my opinion, and it would stop AMs from claiming extortionate items.
I also think that we should be moving to release the claims on a much more regular basis as they do in Scotland. I am convinced that this will keep AMs on their toes, and that it will make us more open as an institution. I can see why people are angry at some of the items that have been claimed through the public purse, but I also believe that in this instance, the allowances issue has been used against Nick Bourne to reflect a deeper dissatisfaction in his group with his role as leader. I believe that if his group are unhappy with his leadership of the Tories in Wales, then they should not use this issue to seek his downfall- at least have the dignity to do it on a matter of principle or policy.
I am willing to defend my claims. Glyn Davies, the former Tory AM seems to be getting a little touchy about AMs failing to come out publicly and defend themselves. At the end of the day, AMs are not doing anything that is outside the guidelines at the moment. I am sure the rules will change, and I too see a need for them to change- and that AMs who have been criticised in the press will learn from this experience.