I'm the Hen Ferchetan. This is my take on the world through the eyes of Wales. While mostly about Welsh politics (that most famous of dour topics!) I try to scatter some humour around, but I doubt anyone but me will find it funny! Have a read, and if it bores you then feel free to never come back!

Friday, 15 August 2008

Home Sweet Home

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!


Anonymous said...

AMs / candidates don't need to live in their constituency to be eligible to stand. In fact, they don't even need to live in Wales. As long as they live somewhere in the UK, and are not otherwise disqualified, then they can stand. And I seem to remember that there have been candidates from outside Wales in previous elections.

An address in the constituency is handy to give the impression that they live locally, but is not essential.

BTW, I think you're a little unfair to Leighton here. I don't believe that he's the only AM for whom we are effectively paying for their first or primary home rather than their second home. It would be interesting to see how many nights each of them spent in their 'first' and 'second' homes.

Hen Ferchetan said...

I alwaus thought an address in the constituency wa a must, at least for an MP? It's still a must to be elected though, one of the most damaging attacks a rival uses is "parachuted in".

There may well be other AM's in a similar position to Leighton - he's just the only one I know of. If anyone knows of another AM that we're paying for their first home - do name them here!

Al Iguana said...

what gets me is, the people of the Rhondda are very much a erm.. tribe. A close community. Why they voted for someone who isn't actually from their community, who doesn't live there, strikes me as very odd. I guess they're voting by party not person or something.

Anonymous said...

"I always thought an address in the constituency was a must, at least for an MP?"

No, no need at all; they only need to be UK residents, and not otherwise disqualified. There have even been cases (none in Wales as far as I am aware) where MP's have never had an address in the constituency which they have represented for many years.

"It's still a must to be elected though"

Not in a safe seat, no. A little research would reveal that there are elected politicians who have no address other than an office in the constituency / region which they represent. And I believe that there are even more politicians who had no address at all in the constituency/ region which they represent until after being elected.

But - does it matter? I don't think it does; what matters is how effective the politician is at representing his constituents. I'd much sooner have an effective representative living elsewhere than an ineffective one living next door.

The issue isn't about where they live; it's about what they claim. If someone (such as Leighton, but he's not the only one) lived and worked in Cardiff before being elected, and continued to do so after being elected, why should the taxpayer end up paying for the home for which they were paying previously? That's the real scandal with the 'second' homes business. If they subsequently acquire a 'second' home in their constituency, then I can see an argument for paying rental on that, provided it is actually used sufficiently frequently, but not for simply taking over the mortgage payments on their principal home.

But I cannot imagine any of our politiicans being honest enough to admit that their constituency address is actually their 'second' home, despite the fact that there are a number for whom that is almost certainly true.