Welsh political job-share 'possibility' under new powers

By Rachel Flint
BBC News

image captionThe Wales Act gives the Welsh Assembly power to change its name to the Welsh Parliament

Electoral rule changes could be explored to allow assembly members to job-share, the Assembly Commission has said.

Campaigners said the move, a first for politics in the UK, would attract more women and disabled people to politics.

The Assembly Commission said job-sharing was a "possibility" under new powers.

The Electoral Commission said no joint candidacies were allowed in any UK elections under current law.

Sarah Rees, of the Women's Equality Party, said Wales should be the first to make the change, with the assembly encouraging flexible working by "leading by example".

The assembly will have powers to set its own elections, under changes being brought in under the 2017 Wales Act, which devolves more responsibilities from Westminster to Cardiff.

Currently 24 out of the 60 AMs in the Senedd are women, while no information is collected on how many AMs are classed as disabled.

image captionClare Phipps and Sarah Cope had wanted to job-share their candidacy for being an MP

If they had been elected, the pair would have split the job 50/50 and have shared a vote in the Commons.

No job-shares have taken place in the Northern Ireland Assembly or Scottish Parliament, the devolved administrations confirmed.

Once the Wales Act comes fully into force, Welsh ministers will have power over the timing of elections, the law on eligibility to vote and over the electoral system.

But in order to make changes to the voting system, including the number of AMs for each seat or region, new legislation would need to be passed by a "super-majority" - at least two-thirds of AMs - in the Senedd.

image captionSarah Reese, chairwoman of the South Wales branch of the Women's Equality Party, said the Welsh Government should "lead by example"

Mother-of-two Mrs Rees, who stood as a candidate for the last assembly election, said there was no reason why Wales could not be the first in the UK to bring in political job-shares.

She said there were arrangements in Australia, New Zealand and Iceland for flexible working.

"I think Wales has got the power and I think it would be great for us to move forward and have shared candidacies," she said.

"You have people in very powerful positions able to do job shares, why can't we do it in government?

"It would give you the ability to have a very high-powered job and make decisions that reflect the society we live in, at the same time as looking after your family.

"If the Welsh Government can't do it themselves, why should any other business?"

media captionLabour AM Rhianon Passmore said any changes to rules in the assembly must work for constituents

Labour AM for Islwyn and mother-of-four Rhianon Passmore said job-sharing would have to be looked at "very carefully" to make sure it was right for constituents.

"It would be a huge stride for the public to accept, I think people are very used to having their singular member... but I think if we can start introducing the concepts and ideas of what is seen to be best practice in other walks of public life, then I think that can only be a good thing," she said.

UKIP AM for South West Wales, Caroline Jones, said: "Job sharing is a very interesting concept which I am broadly supportive of as an assembly commissioner, and an idea which requires further exploration into its possibilities prior to implementation."

'Attracting people to the job'

Chief Executive of Disability Wales Rhian Davies said "more creative solutions" were needed to encourage disabled people into politics.

"It would enable people to manage their impairments around the demands of political life and would benefit constituents by having decision-makers and influencers who have a much better understanding of how policies can find more appropriate solutions to social issues," she said.

An assembly spokeswoman said it would have "competence to act on a range of additional matters" under the Wales Act, including the "possibility of job sharing in elected office".

The Welsh Government said: "We are taking steps to identify and address barriers to participation and encourage a more diverse pool of decision-makers into public life and public appointments."

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