Page last updated at 14:10 GMT, Saturday, 13 December 2008

Rule change call on AMs' expenses

The Senedd

A former standards watchdog has urged a change in the rules so that members of the Welsh assembly cannot buy such items as iPods using public funds.

Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne was among two AMs to claim the music players as office costs, and the affair has increased pressure on his position.

The claims, revealed in a breakdown of AMs' expenses and allowances, are permitted within the current rules.

Sir Alistair Graham said there could be a "sensible way" to change the rules.

Sir Alistair, a former chair of the committee on standards in public life at Westminster, told BBC Radio Wales that he believed any politician should be very careful what they buy using public funds.

The full list showed, among other things, that Mr Bourne and Alun Cairns, a South West Wales AM, claimed for the iPods worth a total of 398.

The vast bulk of people in this country are on modest incomes and they don't expect their taxes to be used to buy iPods
Sir Alistair Graham, former chair, committee on standards in public life at Westminster

Mr Bourne's spokesman said he used his iPod to download podcsts and to help him learn Welsh.

Among Mr Bourne's other claims was 120 for a trouser press, while Mr Cairns also claimed 250 for a vacuum cleaner.

According to BBC Welsh affairs editor Vaughan Roderick, Mr Bourne's future as Welsh Tory leader is in increasing doubt as a result of this and other issues, with more than half the 12 Conservative AMs wanting him out.

Sir Alistair said while the purchases did not break any rules, they did, in his opinion, show a lack of judgement.

"But it does show a lack of understanding of the public mood, particularly when we're facing a recession, when public funds are very tight, to be seen to be buying such things as iPods just seems such a total lack of judgement."

Asked whether politicians might use the system to boost their salaries, Sir Alistair said "that may well be, but I don't think that justifies it at all.

"The vast bulk of people in this country are on modest incomes and they don't expect their taxes to be used to buy iPods.


"People have made a deliberate choice whether to stand for office and they're expected to be highly responsible in the use of public funds."

Sir Alistair said he believed there should be a change in the rules in Wales.

An independent review is currently being carried out into AMs' pay and expenses by Sir Roger Jones, Swansea University's pro-chancellor.

A panel set up after a controversial 8.3% pay rise for AMs earlier in the year, has been gathering the views of the public.

Asked if he would change the rules for what can be claimed., Sir Alistair replied: "Yes I would. As I say, you have to think carefully about how you can do these things because if you're not careful you can set up monitoring regimes which become extremely expensive and not a sensible use of public money either.

"But I think yes you do need to change the rules so people are not allowed to use items which we would expect people to pay out of their discretionary income rather than out of public funds."

The assembly has revealed how much AMs have claimed in the past but this is the first time so much detail has been included, and more than 26,500 has been spent answering the freedom of information requests.

Labour AMs AMs Huw Lewis and Lynne Neagle, who are married to each other, claimed 22,298 between them.

Campaign website

Seven AMs claimed the full 12,000 allowed for second home expenses, and a further 12 claimed close to the limit during the 2006-07 financial year.

Labour Deputy Minister for Regeneration Leighton Andrews claimed more than 1,600 in eight months for digital and video cameras.

But Mr Andrews said: "The handheld video cameras were bought to support the online TV station Rhondda.TV, which promotes my constituency work and provides a platform for local organisations and charities.

"They were used extensively, for example, in recording footage of the Burberry workers - filming their protests, and filming interviews with celebrities who supported them like Max Boyce, Boyd Clack and Stuart Cable - which can still be found on the archive of the campaign website."

However, several AMs claimed either nothing at all, or just a few hundred pounds.

Every claim has to be signed off by the Fees Office of the Assembly Commission, and there is no suggestion that any claim is inappropriate according to the rules laid down by the assembly.

Members are entitled to allowances for second homes in Cardiff because they are away from their constituency homes during the week.

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