Bigger Senedd and job-sharing backed by (short-handed) Committee

(Title Image: Senedd Cymru via Twitter)

Senedd Committee on Electoral Reform
Senedd Reform: The Next Steps (pdf)
Published: 10th September 2020

  • Committee with members from only two parties (Labour and Plaid Cymru) recommends the Senedd expands by up to 30 members, elected by single-transferrable vote (STV).
  • Boundary review of Senedd electoral regions and constituencies “should happen regardless of any electoral reforms”.
  • Parties should introduce measures to ensure gender balance before next year’s Senedd election.
  • Job-sharing should be allowed if explained openly to the electorate and the cost is the same as a single MS.

“We believe that the people of Wales would be better served by a Senedd which has the right number of Members. A larger Senedd would be cost-effective, as Members would be better able to hold the Welsh Government to account for its spending and decisions, and pass better legislation, as well as helping people across Wales with their problems.”
– Committee Chair, Dawn Bowden MS (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)

Building capacity

There are several long-standing problems blamed on the current size and shape of the Senedd, namely a large number of MSs who are also members of the government, issues caused by MSs sitting on more than one committee and the impact having a small number of legislators has on the Senedd’s ability to properly hold the government to account.

Many suggestions that don’t resort to wider electoral reform – such as limiting the number of government MSs, increasing the number of support staff, or rejigging committees to make better use of them – were either said to have already been attempted or are impractical.

The Committee backed the McAllister Review’s recommendations that single-transferrable vote (STV) – where candidates are ranked in order of preference – is introduced for Senedd elections, subject to a review of constituency boundaries (which the Committee believes should happen regardless of electoral reform). It’s hoped STV from multi-member constituencies will deal with the current “two-tier” system of constituency and regional MSs (given the large number of defections of regional list members this term) and put all MSs on equal standing.

 

A more diverse Siambr

There was broad support for measures to improve diversity. The Committee was told of a range of barriers to standing for election from ranging from childcare responsibilities, additional costs associated with disability, stereotypes and abuse.

Based on demographics, in a properly-representative 90-member Senedd, just over half of members would be women, 19 members would have disabilities, 6 members would come from non-white/BAME backgrounds and more than a third would be aged under 44.

To deal with the immediate issue of under-representation by certain groups, the Committee recommended political parties ensure their candidate selection process leads to as gender-balanced a Senedd as possible after next year’s election.

They also recommended that job-sharing – despite a measure of public opposition (52% opposed job-sharing in the McAllister Review’s public consultation) – should be permitted in the future subject to appropriate changes to electoral law and Remuneration Board recommendations. Job-sharing would need to be clearly explained to the electorate and be completely transparent, with both partners treated as one person politically and on cost grounds.

The Committee also supports an access to elected office fund, a mentoring programme for people interested in running for the Senedd, as well as a requirement for parties standing for election to the Senedd to publish diversity and inclusion strategies.

They didn’t rule out diversity quotas for characteristics other than gender, believing a Sixth Senedd committee should consider it in more detail.

The Committee also recommended that a citizens’ assembly should be set up to take into account the public’s views before any electoral reform legislation is introduced.

Any future legislation on electoral reform would require a two-thirds majority in the Senedd (support from 40 MSs) and, therefore, broad cross-party support. The earliest point by which reforms could happen is 2026 and it’s estimated the reforms would cost anything up to £12.9million a year – though scrutiny would only need to be improved by the value of 0.17% of the Welsh budget to pay for itself.

Depending on the outcome of next year’s Senedd election, reaching a cross-party consensus may prove difficult. The Conservatives refused to engage with the committee’s work, while the Brexit Party withdrew David Rowlands during the process.

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