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.
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.
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.