Senedd Members who continue to serve as councillors struggling to do both jobs, data suggests
Members of the Senedd who also serve as county councillors are struggling to fulfil both commitments, research by Nation.Cymru shows after one Senedd Member was forced to apologise for “moonlighting”.
A law banning ‘double-jobbing’ was passed by the Senedd last year but an exception means MSs with two elected roles can keep both until the local elections scheduled for May 2022.
There are currently 13 MSs who hold ‘dual mandates’ – 10 Conservative, two Plaid Cymru and one Labour – and our analysis of local authority attendance records found the vast majority of them have missed more Council meetings since taking their seat in the Senedd.
Conservative South Wales-Central MS Joel James has the worst council attendance record since May, followed by Conservative Brecon and Radnorshire MS James Evans. Conservative Vale of Clwyd MS Gareth Davies and Labour North Wales MS Carolyn Thomas are in joint third.
Joel James, who is also a member of the Rhondda Cynon Taf local authority, has attended 27% of the council meetings he was expected to attend between May 8 and December 15 this year, compared to 62% of meetings over the same period in 2020. James has sent apologies for 16 meetings since May, including three which Council records show he missed due to “work commitments”.
Shortly after being elected, Joel James downplayed a potential conflict, telling WalesOnline: “Most councillors have other jobs. I previously worked as a school librarian and had no real issues, and I don’t really imagine any going forward.”
Carolyn Thomas accounts for the biggest change in attendance – the Labour MS had a 100% attendance record during the whole of 2020, according to Flintshire County Council records. But since being elected she has missed three of the seven meetings she was expected to attend (57%), including one for which she did not send apologies.
Responding, Carolyn Thomas told Nation.Cymru: “Flintshire County Council meetings are on a Tuesday afternoon at the same time as plenary. I catch up on ward issues in the evening with emails, phone calls during the day in between meetings, and I help residents and support local events at the weekend.
“I have been a County Councillor for 14 years, and it’s unfair to judge me on the last year before standing down since becoming an MS. I am not taking the remuneration.”
Only Conservative South Wales East MS Laura Jones bucks the trend. Her council attendance for the whole of 2019 was just 52%, which increased to 73% in 2020 despite her re-entering the Senedd in July that year to replace the late Mohammad Asghar. She has attended 100% of meetings in 2021.
Our analysis does not include two MSs who are also councillors. Conservative South Wales Central MS and Vale of Glamorgan Councillor Andrew RT Davies was forced to take a break from work in October due to ill health, while there is no updated attendance data available for Conservative Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MS and Pembrokeshire County Councillor Sam Kurtz.
Plaid Cymru MS for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Mabon ap Gwynfor, resigned as a councillor in August, saying: “I believe it’s impossible for me to complete my duties as a councillor and an MS effectively, and it would be unfair on the residents of my community were I to continue as a councillor.”
|% attendance May 8 – December 15 2020
|% attendance May 8 – December 15 2021
|Joel James (Con)
|James Evans (Con)
|Carolyn Thomas (Lab)
|Gareth Davies (Con)
|Heledd Fychan (PC)
|Tom Giffard (Con)
|Altaf Hussein (Con)
|Peter Fox (Con)
|Sam Rowlands (Con)
|Cefin Campbell (PC)
|Laura Jones (Con)
The findings come days after Conservative MS Gareth Davies apologised to Presiding Officer Elin Jones for breaking Senedd rules by taking part in virtual Denbighshire council meetings from his office in Cardiff Bay.
It followed a complaint by Plaid Cymru Denbighshire councillor Paul Pennington, who wrote: “Apart from misusing his time and resources in the Senedd, he is making a mockery of the people who expect him to represent them.
“If he wants the pay, he should work at the job. It is usually the honourable thing for a councillor to step down if he takes higher office. That does not seem to be the case with two-jobs Cllr Gareth Davies MS.”
A Conservative spokesperson said Davies was “not fully aware of the rules” as a new member of the Senedd and added: “Like other recently elected members who were also county councillors, he’s committed to see out his term which finishes next May, rather than inflict a costly by-election worth thousands of pounds on the taxpayer. Gareth is also donating his councillor salary to charitable causes.”
Senedd members receive a basic salary of £70,6261 while all Welsh councillors are eligible for an allowance of £14,218.
According to the Senedd’s register of interests, currently only Conservative MS Peter Fox has asked not to be paid his councillor’s allowance while Sam Kurtz’s entry states his councillor’s salary is “donated to local groups, charities and organisations”.
The Senedd and Elections Act passed by the Senedd last year disqualified councillors from being members of the Senedd at the same time unless they’ve been elected to the Senedd within 372 days of the next scheduled local authority election or they’ve been elected to a council within 372 days of the next scheduled Senedd election.
It means the current cohort of councillors and MSs will all have to stand down in May 22, while future councillors elected to the Senedd will have just over a year before having to stand down from one of the roles.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.