Can Wales afford to not have more AMs? Improving Welsh Government delivery and representation

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A report calling for more Assembly Members has been published this month causing extensive debate within Cardiff Bay and beyond.

The report from the Expert Panel on Assembly Reform entitled: A Parliament that Works for Wales, has recommended a number of reforms aimed at making improvements to the Welsh legislature, particularly as its powers continue to increase.  The headline recommendation is for an increase in the number of AMs from 60  - to 80 or 90, which it is said would give the Assembly greater capacity to pass laws and scrutinise the Welsh Government.

The recommendation comes amid some concerns that AMs are over-stretched and with the Assembly’s powers due to increase including responsibility for Welsh taxes, the calls for more AMs has been welcomed by Pontypridd AM Mick Antoniw, who told BBC Radio Wales: "We have got many assembly members who are working 50, 60, 70 hours [a week]," while Swansea East AM Mike Hedges was reported as saying he "wasn't convinced" by calls for more AMs, and that smaller assembly committees "could achieve the same improvement in scrutiny".

Money is always the leveller and the crux of the debate following the release of the report is the financing of extra AMs, at an annual cost of at least £6m, and we will no doubt hear much about value for money ahead of the Assembly deciding if to implement the changes by the next election.

Other recommendations include:

  • Pair the 40 constituencies to create 20, each with 4 or 5 members.
  • A gender quota system to boost the number of female AMs
  • Allowing two people to stand so they can job-share being an AM
  • Replacing the current ‘first-past-the-post’ voting system with single transferable vote
  • Reducing the age of voting to 16 years

Although it would seem sensible for the Welsh Government to look to make any changes in advance of the next Assembly elections in 2021, it appears Welsh Labour is in no rush to progress any potentially controversial changes in the near future, having stated that it won’t take a decision  before its conference in spring 2019, making it appear unlikely that a 2021 deadline will be met.