Cardiff Bay with the Pierhead Building in the middle, Cardiff, Wales. Source: grahamwell (via Flickr).
Public Services

Cutting the cost of politics

Last week, BBC Wales published a story regarding the resettlement grant paid to twenty representatives who left office at the Senedd election in May, writes Chris Harries.

These individuals received a combined total of £632,000 after either choosing not to stand for re-election or failed in their bid for re-election.

The resettlement grant is among the worst excess of the political class. Decided by an independent panel, yet the payment jars against the remit of representing value for money for the taxpayer. To the casual observer, such payment represents zero value to the taxpayer.

To highlight this reality is not to personally attack individuals but the system itself. On the base salary of £67,649, you would think that individuals would have the means and disposable income to be in a position to be able to put aside money for the period of transition from public life. Having received a salary and pension whilst in office, why should the taxpayer be responsible for an additional payment to politicians when they leave office?

In terms of transparency, knowledge of the resettlement grant is largely confined to the politically active. On the Senedd website, the page on the subject of Members pay and expenses do not mention this generous parting gift from the taxpayer. If it were not for the Freedom of Information request from BBC Wales, we would be unaware of the amounts paid to the departing representatives. The absence of transparency is somewhat revealing if this payment is not reasonable and palatable to the taxpayer then why is it kept from them?

This payment fuels the impression that the political class are a class apart from the wider public. In terms of perception, politicians should be mindful of alienating the public and heed the experience of the Westminster expenses scandal and the disconnect that fostered. As with expenses, some will state that the system permits the payment yet that does not make such payments acceptable to the public. 

Some seek to justify this payment on the grounds of the lack of job security. Yet, the evidence is at odds with this, with every Senedd lasting the full term. Few taxpayers would enjoy such a level of employment security, such justification lacks merit. 

Others defend the payment as a form of redundancy pay. This argument grates as you would expect elected officials to seek office out of a sense of public duty. Compared to the public, our elected representatives receive a most generous remuneration package as the median salary in Wales is £28,100. To consider the role as a mere job ignores the reality that representatives are effectively answerable to no one but themselves until election time. 

To oppose this resettlement grant is to stand up for the taxpayer.

The Welsh Conservatives talked last year of a change in direction and about cutting the cost of government itself. Now the party must lead the way and advocate cutting the cost of politics. To do this would not only save the taxpayer money but also build faith with the public. 

Chris Harries is a Welsh Conservative party activist

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