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AMs spend PS3.5m on employing own family.

Byline: WILL HAYWARD Social Affairs Correspondent will.hayward@walesonline.co.uk

THE shocking amount of money Welsh Assembly Members have paid their own family has been revealed.

An Echo investigation has found that over the past decade around PS3.5m has been paid to the family members of AMs from the public purse.

The investigation, which followed a story in May about which AMs employ family members, also found the practice has become significantly more common in recent years.

A series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and information in the public domain demonstrates there are currently 17 AMs employing their own or other members' families.

Four AMs are employing their husband or wife in the highest possible wage band from the public purse. This means their spouses are paid between PS33,542 and PS40,972 year.

They are Mark Reckless, leader of The Brexit Party in the Welsh Assembly, Brexit Party AM Caroline Jones, Labour AM Dawn Bowden and Ukip's Neil Hamilton.

Now in his third political party, Mr Reckless has employed his wife Catorina Reckless as a senior advisor for 37 hours (previously 29.6) a week, earning up to PS40,972 since December 2016.

Mrs Jones has employed her husband Alun Williams as a community caseworker earning up to PS40,972 for 37.5 hours a week since 2017.

Ms Bowden has employed her husband Martin Eaglestone as a senior advisor on 37 hours a week, earning up to PS40,972 since September 2017.

Mr Hamilton has employed his wife Christine Hamilton as a senior advisor (previously PA) for 37 hours a week, earning up to PS40,972 since May 2016.

The number of AMs choosing to pay their family from the public purse has increased several times over in the last decade.

In 2008 there was as few as five family members employed by AMs. By 2018 that had risen to 21.

It is has proved impossible to get an exact figure of the number of family members employed by AMs in 2008 because in response to our FOI, the Welsh Assembly would only give us the number of staff in each band. This means that if a member of staff moved between bands over the year, they would be counted twice.

Also, if there were fewer than three people in a band, it would just say "less than three". This was "due to GDPR". This means that in 2008, the best we can say is that between five and seven family members were employed by AMs.

Of all the parties in the Assembly the party with the highest percentage of its AMs choosing to employ their family is the Brexit Party.

Three of their four AMs employ family members all in the highest or second highest wage bands.

The Brexit Party's David Rowlands AM employs both his wife and daughter. Mr Rowlands had previously left his daughter off the list of employees and subsequently blamed one of his aides for the oversight.

This means that the Brexit Party employs as many family members as it has AMs.

More than half of the Tory AMs in the Assembly employ family members.

Both the current leader Paul Davies and the previous leader Andrew RT Davies employ members of AMs' families.

Paul Davies employs two members of other members' families and RT Davies employs his wife Julia on a band one salary (up to PS35,182). She has been in the post since 2007.

The other Tory AMs who employ family members are Darren Millar, Mark Isherwood, Janet Finch-Saunders, Angela Burns and Mohammad Asghar.

One of UKIP's two AMs, Mr Hamilton, employs family members.

Labour AMs employ more family members that any other party with eight - however this is a much smaller figure relative to the total number of AMs the party has (29). They are Rebecca Evans, who employs two, Dawn Bowden, First Minister Mark Drakeford, John Griffiths, Julie James, David Rees, Jack Sargeant and Joyce Watson.

Plaid Cymru has a rule that no Plaid AM can employ a family member. This lost them an AM in 2009 when Mr Asghar defected from them to the Tories after he was told he could not employ his daughter as a press officer.

Due to the way the data was provided under FOI laws, it is impossible to put an exact figure on how much will have been spent over the last decade. However it is possible to give an estimate.

By calculating how many staff were in each band and what the middle value of that particular band was that year, we have come up with an estimate of that roughly PS3.5m of public money has been given to the family members of AMs over the last 10 years.

It is important to not this does not account for some people being part time, double counting when people move bands, the difference between financial years as calender years.

The figure could be lower but it could also be considerably higher. For instance if everyone was paid near the top of their bands the figure is close to PS4m.

The idea is not to give an exact number but roughly contextualise the issue.

In May, the Echo approached all of the AMs employing family members and asked if they would tell us how much they were choosing to pay them. Every single one declined.

Before our investigation, AMs did not even have to say what pay band their loved ones fell within.

This put the Assembly behind Westminster as family members employed by MPs do have their salary bands published.

However, since our story in May, the renumeration board has consulted and agreed to introduce further provisions which it believes "will improve the transparency and accountability of AM's employing family members".

CAPTION(S):

Clockwise from top left, AMs Neil Hamilton, Mark Reckless, Dawn Bowden and Caroline Jones all employ family members
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 12, 2019
Words:983
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