Job-sharing for AMs: a good idea?

Published 12/06/2018   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

On Wednesday 13 June Plenary has a Short Debate on Assembly Member job-sharing. The Motion, tabled by Plaid Cymru AM, Sian Gwenllian states:

Assembly Member job-sharing: Would allowing Assembly Members to job share lead to the creation of a gender-balanced Assembly and one that is more representative of the population as a whole?

The idea was raised as part of the report of the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform, A Parliament that works for Wales which was published in December 2017. The Expert Panel considered the issue as part of its examination about improving the diversity of the Assembly. The report stated that

Enabling candidates standing for the same party or as independents to stand for election on the basis of job sharing arrangements could lead to an increase in the diversity of representation within the Assembly. The flexibility to stand on the basis of job sharing could be particularly beneficial for older candidates, those with disabilities, or those with caring responsibilities.

The report identified that the “central guiding principle” for job-sharing is that that job share partners should be treated as if they are one person. This would mean, for example, that should one partner resign their seat, the other would automatically be deemed to have resigned as an Assembly Member. There would also need to be clarity and transparency around the remuneration and financial support for such a job share arrangement.

The Report recommended that:

Recommendation 11. Electoral law, Assembly procedures and the Remuneration Board’s Determination on Members’ Pay and Allowances should be changed to enable candidates to stand for election on the basis of transparent job sharing arrangements. The guiding principles of such arrangements should be that candidates clearly articulate the basis of their job sharing agreement to voters, that job sharing partners are treated as if they are one person, and that job sharing Members should give rise to no additional costs beyond those of a single Assembly Member.

Professor Rosie Campbell and Professor Sarah Childs – who job shared as a member of the expert panel - are contributors to a Fawcett Society pamphlet on job-sharing by MPs published in September 2017. In their introduction to the pamphlet they wrote:

MP job-shares might also counter the (much lamented) rise of the professional politician by allowing, for example, doctors, teachers, nurses or the scientists to become MPs whilst continuing to maintain their professional skills. Furthermore, there are risks and costs involved in standing in marginal seats, and allowing MPs to continue to pursue a career part time outside of politics might allow more people to consider standing for election. In an aging society, it would also permit the older MP to better balance work and retirement by enabling them to effectively work part-time in their later years. Or it might enable a sitting MP to stand for one Parliament as a job-share so they can take on a caring role for an elderly relative before returning full-time at a later election.

In 2012 John McDonnell MP introduced a 10 Minute Rule Bill into the House of Commons which attracted cross party support. Introducing the Bill he explored some of the practicalities of the proposal:

What would happen if one of the job sharers became a Minister and were covered by collective responsibility? A job sharer would be able to fulfil a ministerial role to the extent of the time that they had to devote to the role on a job-share basis, and in appointing Ministers the Prime Minister would take that into account. This could, and eventually would, lead to job sharing for Ministers. With regard to collective responsibility, the job sharer assuming ministerial responsibilities would naturally cast his or her half vote in line with that requirement.

However, David Nuttall MP opposed the Bill on various grounds, questioning whether it would have the desired effect on diversity and the claim that it would be cost neutral:

I am not convinced by the “two for the price of one” argument. It is hard to see how two people would not, at some point, need extra staff or office space. They would need a bigger taxpayer-funded residence in the capital or even require two separate residences in London if they represented a constituency some way away from Westminster. At the very least, there would be two sets of travel expenses.

During the 2015 General Election two Green party members who hoped to stand for Parliament on a job share basis were refused permission to challenge their rejection in the High Court. Sarah Cope and Clare Phipps submitted joint nomination papers for the General Election, but their combined candidacy was ruled as invalid by the returning officer in the constituency of Basingstoke.

The judge hearing the case, Mr Justice Wilkie, turned down their application to launch a full-scale judicial review of the returning officer’s decision.

Article by Alys Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service