Should AMs be allowed to moonlight as councillors?

(Title Image: Barry & District News)

Former Conservative leader in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), is standing to fill a vacancy left by a Tory councillor in the Vale of Glamorgan, who resigned over the proposed closure of a village school.

Andrew has spoken out strongly in favour of retaining  village schools in the Senedd chamber; there’s no reason to doubt his sincerity.

However, on a number of occasions we’ve been told how AMs work a 60-hour week and lack time and resources to effectively scrutinise the Welsh Government – all used as an argument in favour of increasing the number of AMs and their salaries.

The rules changed a few years ago which prevented AMs from being an AM and MP at the same time, but AMs are still allowed to moonlight as both an AM and a councillor – the only present example being Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central), though previous high-profile double-jobbers include Lib Dem Peter Black and Plaid Cymru’s Lindsay Whittle.

A number of AMs who were councillors when elected/re-elected in 2016 have since stood down from their respective local authorities including Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly), Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn), Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) and Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery).

It’s clearly going out of fashion and there’ve been calls from the Electoral Reform Society to end it, while local government reforms which will end the practice have so far stalled.

Double-jobbing (officially known as dual mandate) cheapens the work of the Senedd and the work of councillors. Those who do it might well be workaholics, but it also gives the impression that both roles are much easier and don’t take up as much time as we’re being told.

While the role of local councillor has diminished somewhat since officers have gradually taken many executive functions from them, it’s still an important apprenticeship in politics.

Double-jobbing could be considered a political equivalent of bed-blocking in hospitals. Every seat occupied by someone who doesn’t really need to be there is a seat denied to someone as a crucial first step on the road to a more senior elected office.

In some cases, it could deny someone from an under-represented group an opportunity. It doesn’t send out the best message on diversity in local government when middle-aged men who already hold political office elbow their way to the front.

Hogging seats and refusing to budge, or taking up a seat when you’ve already got a way to influence decisions and hold power to account, is selfish and surely more likely to lead to doing two jobs half-heartedly that doing one job well.

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