A couple of posts ago I stepped in front of Huw Lewis and Lynne Neagle and suggested people back off them a bit about the expenses. Well, one AM seems to be getting no criticism at all for his expenses, even though his worries me more than most.
Step forward Mr Leighton Andrews, AM for Rhondda. Now a quick look at his expenses shows him to be very reasonable in his claims. There's no TV, no sofa, no curtains and certainly no Pyrex bowl. In fact all there is is mortgage payment on his second home along with Council tax and bills for the same. It comes to a total of something over £7k - well underneath the maximum allowances.
So what bugs me about Leighton's claims? Well, firstly think of why AM's get an allowance for a second home...
AM's are elected from constituencies all over Wales, many of which are too far from Cardiff for it to be reasonable for them to commute. They therefore get help in having a home in Cardiff for them to stay in when they're working in the Capital. For the other 3 or 4 days of the week they return home to their constituency, do the surgeries and live their family life.
Although the Rhondda is only 40 minutes from Cardiff there's plenty of AM's who live closer and still claim the allowance (that's you Mike German) so it wouldn't be fair to single Leighton out for that. The problem is, if he didn't have the second home allowance then I don't think Leighton would have to commute at all.
Leighton Andrews was born and raised in Cardiff (and Barry). Until 1997 he was head of public affairs at the BBC, in Cardiff. Between 1997 and his election in 2003 he was a Journalism Lecturer, in Cardiff. His wife is the director of BT Wales based, that's right, in Cardiff. Leighton Andrews doesn't seem to live in the Rhondda, before he was elected he lived in Cardiff and since election that doesn't seem to have changed. Of course he does have an address in the Rhondda, you don't get to be a candidate without such an address, but it's not his home, his home is the one we pay for in Cardiff.
So what you might ask? What's the difference between us paying for a flat in Cardiff when an AM lives at home and paying for a house in Cardiff where he lives full time? Well the difference is twofold. Firstly the point of expenses is to pay for somewhere to stay when an AM is away from home, not for their family home - the cost of which should come out of their wage like everyone else. Secondly, when Leighton visits the Rhondda to do his surgeries (according to his blog -twice in June and twice in July) the Hen Ferchetan hears that his usual preference is to commute from Cardiff and return to his family home that night. If anyone happens to see Mr Andrews soon, do ask him how many times has he slept in his Rhondda "home" since the last election? Could it really be less than 5?
So while most AM's seem to be spending our money on a place to live when in Cardiff, Leighton seems to be spending it on having an address in Rhondda to make him eligible for election there. Wouldn't it be cheaper for us to rent him a P.O. Box or something?!
Edit: An anon correctly notes that you do not have to have an address in a constituency to be eligible to stand - candidates usually make sure they have one to avoid damaging allegations of being parachuted in. An anon being helpful = now that's a first!