I’ve been unable to find a comparable table for salaries in Wales alone. But given that we know salaries in Wales are lower on average than those across the UK as a whole, I think we can conclude that they might actually be in about the 92nd or 93rd percentile now, and that the proposals put forward last week would take them up to the 95th or 96th, if we restrict our comparison to Wales. The question which follows will be a very simple one for most people: do we believe that AMs need to be paid more than 95% of the population of Wales?
The reaction of the political parties and politicians has been cautious; another way of saying that they haven’t ruled it out. There have been some statements prefaced with weasel words along the lines of “at a time of austerity, it’s a bad idea”. That is of course just a coded way of saying “this is a jolly good idea, but the timing is all wrong”.
Two reasons in particular have been advanced in support of the proposed increase, neatly summed up by the Chair of the Remuneration Board in point 1 of his article for the IWA, where he described the decision as “Setting a salary which reflects the responsibilities on AMs in the Fifth Assembly and which encourages the best candidates to put themselves forward for selection (by the parties) and election (by the public)”.
Taking the first part of that, about reflecting the “responsibilities on AMs”, the implication of needing to pay them more than 95% of the rest of us is that they must be carrying more responsibility than 95% of the population. Leaving aside the ministers (who are actually responsible for running things and taking decisions), what direct responsibility for anything do AMs actually carry? And how has that responsibility been measured, assessed, and compared to others in order to get to such a result?
As for the second part, who decides who are the “best candidates”, and on what basis? Is it really true that only those who won’t even apply unless they are paid more than 95% of the rest of us are of the necessary calibre to do the job? And what is the quality control process which ensures that salaries paid to attract the best candidates don’t end up merely rewarding the indolent and greedy? Only a tiny proportion of the electorate make any attempt to assess the ‘ability’ of the candidates placed before them when they’re deciding how to vote. Most simply vote for the party label. That isn’t going to change any time soon.
The words ‘responsibility’ and ‘ability’ are easy to bandy about, but a great deal harder to define, either in absolute terms or in relative terms. But they’re used in ways which suggest that everyone knows and understands what is being discussed. That avoids asking the difficult questions.
Ultimately, there are two ideological constructs at work here, which have been inadequately challenged or considered in arriving at a conclusion, even if we could define responsibility and ability to everyone’s satisfaction. They are:
1. That people ought to be paid according to the level of responsibility that they hold, and
2. That people are driven in their choices by personal financial gain, and won’t apply their ability to any task unless the rewards are high enough.
But the first really isn’t the only possible way of organising rewards, and the second really isn’t the only conceivable motivation to drive people. If we want a paradigm shift in the way our society is run (and I certainly do), then accepting the ideological constructs of the current paradigm and applying them to those charged with making legislative changes is a spectacularly poor way to set about it.