No, our Senedd isn’t an expensive waste – compared to Westminster, it’s a massive bargain

Westminster and the Senedd. Picture on the right by Richard Szwejkowski (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Ifan Morgan Jones

It’s almost inevitable that under any news article about the Welsh Assembly, at least one person will pop up to claim that it’s a waste of money and should be scrapped.

This has been complemented by a recent Facebook campaign (based out of Bristol, according to the details supplied to the website) arguing that the soon-to-be Welsh Parliament should be abolished.

Although clearly motivated by an antipathy towards the idea of Welsh self-government, the main argument repeated over and again is that the Welsh parliament is a ‘waste of money’.

As this article will show, the argument is complete nonsense.

The figure often quoted by those who want to attack the Welsh Assembly on the basis that devolution costs too much is £18bn.

However, the £18bn isn’t the cost of the the Welsh Assembly – this is money spent by the Welsh Government on Wales. It’s spent on things like the NHS, council services and education.

It sounds like a big number because it is, but within the context of the £772 billion spent by the UK Government every year it makes sense.

£18bn is about 2% of the £772bn total, and Wales is about 5% of the UK population. This expenditure is therefore fair (you could argue it should be higher) given that the Welsh Government has responsibility for some of the government’s largest running costs, like the NHS.

Those arguing that this £18bn is a waste of money are essentially arguing that the UK Government should spend less money on Wales. That Wales’ public services should be allowed to decline.

 

Costs

So what’s the real cost of having our own parliament?

The budget for the entire Welsh Assembly, including staff, Assembly Members, building maintenance and everything else, is a total of £58m.

Again, this seems like a large number. But what those who harp on about the costs of the Welsh Assembly never mention is how this is dwarfed by the comparably massive cost of Westminster, which is half a billion a year.

Take the House of Commons which, with its 650 members, cost the taxpayer £428.3m in 2018. The cost of MPs’ salaries and expenses alone came to £181.6m, according to the Institute for Government.

But even the costs of the House of Commons pales in comparison to the massive cost of the House of Lords, which is completely out of proportion to its usefulness as an institution.

There are over 800 members in the House of Lords, and each one costs taxpayers an average of £83,000 – that’s £67.9million in total.

The entire running cost of the institution in 2018 was just a single decimal point short of £100m, according to the Institute for Government.

Moreover, the House of Lords is hugely wasteful. Despite peers being able to collect £300 a day just for turning up, only around 300 of these contribute with any regularity.

In 2017, the Electoral Reform Society released a report on the cost of the House of Lords, and the results were eye-popping:

  • 33 completely inactive peers picked up £462,510 in tax-free expenses – claiming an average of £746 per vote.
  • Daily allowance and travel costs for the 2016-17 session came to over £19 million.
  • 455 Lords claimed more than the average take home pay of full-time employees during the 2016/17 session – despite the house sitting for just 141 days.

Of course, you’ll seldom hear the so-called ‘anti-elite’ politicians call the House of Lords a waste of money, because so many would actually like to end up in ermine.

But even the costs of running the House of Commons and Lords do not take into account the cost of upkeep of the Palace of Westminster, which houses them.

£5.6bn – that’s £5,600,000,000 – is going to be spent over the next few years just to keep the building itself in a good condition.

The cost of running the Welsh Assembly for a year is 1% of that.

Small

In this context, the massive sums spent on the 1,450 members of the House of Commons and Lords puts the work undertaken by the just 60 members of the Welsh Assembly into some perspective.

At the end of the day, the cost of our own Welsh parliament is a bargain compared with the huge (and arguably rather wasteful) cost of Westminster.

And it would seem to be to be a very small price to pay for politicians who have matters related to Wales front and centre in their minds.

If we are seriously looking for a layer of government to abolish, the House of Lords would be a good place to start. And the House of Commons could be reduced in size too.

But what would scrapping the Senedd gain? Putting the power for health, education, the environment and council services back into the hands of Westminster, where the £58m saved would be a drop in the ocean.

And the £18bn currently spent on Wales would also all be in the hands of UK Government ministers, to be spent on whatever they wanted.

And at a time when £17.6bn is being spent on Crossrail, and £30bn on HS2, does anyone seriously believe Wales would get its fair share of that money?

If anyone is in any doubt, the answer is no.

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IanAnn Owenconvention.cymruJonathan GammondPenderyn Recent comment authors
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Gareth Thomas
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Gareth Thomas

Excellent and very useful article. Thank you

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Abolitionists exist inside and outside Wales. Some of us inside Wales can be rightly critical of the progress, or lack of it, so far after 20 years. Failure to perform is seldom a good excuse for junking the whole thing otherwise Westminster, Brussels and most other seats of government would be gone or replaced by now. The supremacist ranters who only recognise “value” when it originates in London will always be howling at any sort of devolved structure. Currently some of them are posturing behind “Free England” slogans in some fake desire to be “rid of” Wales, Scotland and N.Ireland… Read more »

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Absolutely right about the below-par performance of the Senedd, while pointing out the need to defend it from those across the border who wish to restore the satus quo ante. An increasing number of Welsh people are arriving at the conclusion that a second-rate devolution run by Labour forelock-tuggers is better than no devolution at all, but that independence would be better than even a first-rate devolution.

pete
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pete

Its a waste of money and should be scrapped, it only got through by 3000 votes on less than a 50% turnout. Abolish the welsh assembly

Jason Evans
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Jason Evans

Is that it, have you got no facts or a counter argument, just a rather empty comment, did you even attempt to read the article. You’ve probably heard before *Pete continuously fails to apply worthwhile effort. He must try harder !”

Joanne Davies
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Joanne Davies

By that metric, do you want to scrap Brexit too?

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Citing “waste of money” you might look at real horrors like Westminster ( both houses), royalty, and sundry vanity projects like HS2, Crossrail, Trident ….. but no objection cos they have an Union Jack stamp on them somewhere.

Gaynor
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Gaynor

Abolish an unelected PM first then yeah? Never understand why people want less demovracy

Penderyn
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Penderyn

You didnt even read the article….well done …. Scrap Westminster and House of Lords…..it doesnt have a clue about how Wales is run

Neil Bellis
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Neil Bellis

Surely a better measurement would be the cost to tax payer per member rather than the total cost of the institutions? Based on the figures in the article the cost per member of the Senedd (including upkeep of the buildings) would be about £966k per member. For the HoC+HoL + upkeep of Westminster it is about £4.2million per member, although the vast majority of that number is made up of the upkeep of the Palace of Westminster. If you take that out the cost per member is about £365k. Whilst there is clearly massive waste in the HoL the main… Read more »

Evan Bayton
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Evan Bayton

Try getting the cost and budget out of the London Assembly. I failed to get any useable comparison when I was trying to compare the cost of the Welsh and London assemblies. The House of Lords needs to be reduced to an elected Senate of 250 members maximum. The a House of Commons needs to be reduced to about 400 members especially if regional assemblies are introduced in England. Issues like the famous West Lothian Question need to be sorted out. Wales is in the interesting position of having an assembly without (unlike Scotland and NI) being considered a country… Read more »

convention.cymru
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convention.cymru

Before we get an Act to legally set up Wales we should hold a Constitutional Convention. Welsh people elected to discuss what sort of Act we want. And who passes it, Cardiff or Westminster? Would be huge boost for Wales. The Convention could discuss a couple of useful issues. The problem with the Welsh Assembly is that it needs more powers to be credible as a State/National body. So increase the powers to those of North Carolina (say) a US State. The other thing is that, even with more powers, the Assembly could be cheaper and better. If we elected… Read more »

Ann Owen
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Ann Owen

I heard this type of suggestion on Politics Wales yesterday morning! Rubbish! Wales is a nation of the UK NOT a mayoral city-region or US-type state. We don’t need an elected governor to govern us, no personality politics thanks! We’re taking the next step of moving from an Assembly to a Parliament, and we now need ALL the levers of government (not limited US state powers) to get to grips with making life better for our people – sort out problems of child poverty, low wages, health and social care, ageing population, outward migration of our young people, the challenge… Read more »

Jonathan Gammond
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Jonathan Gammond

£58 m for a population of 3 million or £428 million for a population of around 70 million, one could argue for ever about the costs of democracy. We should remember that other systems of government are far more expensive; the main difference being that the fees are transparent in democracies whereas they are hidden away in foreign bank accounts and pad out brown envelopes under the table in countries that don’t have benefits of being a liberal democracy. I’d rather pay the costs of being represented than endure the costs of not being involved at all.

Ian
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Ian

The Assembly can still WASTE a couple of HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS on changing the name especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic instead that money should go to the NHS