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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Has Neil McEvoy hit too close to the bone?

Plaid Cymru's leader in Cardiff Council has been suspended by the party after posting comments on Twitter and Facebook that implied that certain organisations were "complicit" in child abuse for apparantly helping mothers breach court orders regarding access to children.

It's not as if he hasn't said something along these lines before. It's there in black and white in a
Wales Home article back in July 2010. Why has it suddenly taken 18 months for McEvoy's views to make headlines?

Now I wouldn't exactly call myself a fan of Neil McEvoy - he does seem prone to foot-in-mouth incidents. The caustic nature of his remarks and subsequent suspension has overshadowed the big issue here.

On those wider issues, he's right.

The only thing he has to apologise for, is being offensive when describing illegal activity. The family court system in
EnglandandWales is shambolic and - forgive me before I burn my boxers - discriminatory against men.

There are plenty of fathers out there who are utterly useless, violent and don't deserve children. Just because
they don't want anything to do with their kids, it doesn't mean those who do want to play a productive role in bringing up their sons and daughters have to be tarred with the same brush.

Charities and the third sector shouldn't be exempt from criticism just because they do undoubted good work to protect women and children from abuse. If they break the law, they (and other charities) should be held to account. There is no "ends justify the means" defence to denying
good fathers access to their children. If it's true and Neil McEvoy can back up his claims (I presume he can or he's going to look very, very silly), then it's illegal, and the practice needs to stop.

Just because children might be let down by both parents or one parent, it doesn't mean the judicial system and the voluntary bodies there to protect them have to let them down too. It's quite right that abuse against women and children is stamped out, however men increasingly need champions for our causes as well - especially in health, family law and domestic abuse.

Politicians that are quick to line up and condemn Neil McEvoy's comments would do well to remember that.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Saving the Welsh press

(Owen: I have to say my heart isn't in it to write new blogs at the moment, but due to some of the content I have to make it clear that this was written before Sunday's news.)

I've been critical of the Western Mail in the past, but it's still the best source of detailed Welsh political and economic news. It's closure or "downgrade" would be a sad loss to Welsh civic life.

However, the print media as a whole is in decline and it's an even worse situation for (so-called) "regional" and local titles. Even the Scottish print press - which Wales has often looked enviously at - has seen significant circulation falls. News is now instant and online. Consumers no longer have the patience to make do with a single source produced once a day - and in many cases - don't want to pay for it either.

Many may point the finger at blogs, but all bloggers do is provide commentary on what the "old media" report. Blogs are no substitute for quality journalism. I don't believe bloggers are trying to muscle in on that territory, or plagiarise journalists work, just provide alternative viewpoints, analysis and - ideally - provide extra exposure for journalists stories.

In Wales the situation is typically grim. Wales has always lacked a proper "national" media unlike Scotland, and attempts to create such usually end in failure for a number of reasons. Sometimes commercial, like losing the independent ITV licence or job cuts at Media Wales. Sometimes political and cultural, like a national media that is largely Welsh medium in focus and people simply voting with their wallets.

News on Welsh NHS changes might be important to the Welsh public, but you can't beat a two page spread of Kim Kardashian's arse in the Daily Mail to turn heads. The only way you can get Welsh news high up in the "British" press is either a human tragedy, a story along the lines of "those wacky Welsh and their foreign ways" or something far more banal.

Andrew RT Davies growing a dodgy mullet, Kirsty Williams getting flesh tube earrings or a Labour backbencher grinning through the stages of putrefaction at a really bad Carwyn Jones quip and nobody noticing until the following Tuesday. That sort of thing.

What can we do about it?

Bethan Jenkins AM (Plaid, South Wales West) - who's a member of the Assembly's task and finish group on the future of the Welsh media - suggested on Wales Home a few days ago that one possible "radical" solution would be to take Media Wales into public ownership, before handing it over to a not-for-profit journalist co-op.

A not-for-profit/co-op model for Media Wales? A good idea that's definitely worthy of investigation. However, evidence submitted to the group showed that Media Wales was making a tidy profit for Trinity Mirror despite the plunging circulation. A co-op type model is usually wheeled out only when a business is commercially unsustainable or unviable. But in this case, it might be a necessity.

Some sort of state subsidy is also worthy of discussing. I'll look at that further down.

Public ownership of a newspaper? No. No. No.

I don't want to go off on a tangent, but this is a perfect illustration of the Plaid Paradox. A perfectly reasonable solution to a problem becomes overshadowed by a suggestion that sounds "radical" but in reality is ill thought through. Electable, then unelectable, at the same time.

Wales might be left-leaning, but if a certain tendency within Plaid think that we want to live like The Smurfs, they need to loosen the keffiyah, put down the bong and Zillah Eisenstein and actually take a look around.

We like buying pointless crap. We generally like choice. We're some of the worst when it comes to conspicuous consumption. We're fine with publicly owned services, but I think most of us will draw the line at a publicly owned newspaper – even if it's temporary.

Surely it's easy to understand why a suggestion that the main newspaper holding the Welsh Government to account should be owned by the Welsh Government isn't going down too well.

At least Bethan Jenkins has stood up and said something about the market failing the Welsh media and prompted some debate. Perhaps good can come out of it after all.

The state can help – but how?

I might not - personally - believe that the state should be within bargepole distance of the print media, but there are certainly ways the state can help without needing to take over newspapers.

Norway is ranked joint number 1 in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index, yet it operates a form of subsidy for its press managed by the Norwegian Media Authority. It was introduced in the 1960s after fears the Norwegian press was going through such a decline that freedom of speech and institutional accountability were at risk. Subsidy is given to newspapers that don't have the largest circulation in their respective areas, but also for press research and minority languages like Sami.

Technically the Welsh Government already does something similar to this.

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) asked a question to Housing and Heritage Minister Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) a few weeks ago about Golwg 360.

Golwg360 is an online Welsh language "newspaper" subsidised indirectly via the Welsh Books Council to the tune of £200,000. It's attracting approximately 1million page visits a year. Golwg 360 is owned by private company Golwg Newydd - its sister company producing the Golwg magazine.

Some ideas for strengthening the Welsh press

  • Use the Welsh Books Council as a conduit for government press support. It would be independent of government interference and could have a new remit similar to that of the Norwegian Media Authority.
  • Use subsidy (via the "beefed up" Welsh Books Council) to increase the plurality of Welsh media online and via mobile devices – including the creation of new English-language and bilingual "online newspapers".
  • Start a round of "bidding" , and grant subsidy to (for arguments sake, an initial four) bids with the best case – the criteria can be decided independently by a panel of media experts. These new outlets should be expected to be run on a commercial basis and wean themselves off the subsidy as much as possible.
  • The Welsh Government can help with publicity, but that should be the extent of their involvement. For example, giving these new "publications" preferential access to ministers, AMs and news briefings.
  • Make new media and social media a key part of the curriculum at Cardiff School of Journalism.

Specifically relating to Media Wales and other existing print media:
  • Encourage a new model of ownership for Media Wales. Options on the table should include cooperative and not-for-profit status to ensure Media Wales can survive as a stand-alone business.
  • Work with Media Wales and Trinity Mirror to massively overhaul and update their online and mobile presence. The Walesonline website is incredibly dated and difficult to navigate for example.
  • The Western Mail and Wales on Sunday should become a high-quality "broadsheets", perhaps justifying a very high quality – on a par with the Observer or The Times - weekly edition.
  • Media Wales should consider launching a national free-sheet or national tabloid perhaps based on the South Wales Echo or Daily Post "brands".
  • At least one of the bigger non-Trinity Mirror owned Welsh publications (i.e. The Western Telegraph, South Wales Evening Post, South Wales Argus) should be encouraged to "go national" – either online or in print form (see general ideas above) to encourage competition and plurality.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Gary Speed 1969-2011

I was going to post an "Independence Minutiae" blog today but that can wait due to the - to be frank - utterly devastating and shocking news that Wales football manager and Premier League legend Gary Speed has died.

I'm not going to speculate on how or why.

Utterly shocking. I'm speechless. He was only 42.


UPDATE 29/11/2011

S4C's Sgorio tribute to Gary Speed is now on Clic for the next few weeks. English subtitles are available by clicking the "S" in the player.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Labour and Lib Dems agree budget deal

As I predicted last week, Labour and the Lib Dems have broken the deadlock to agree a budget that will now surely pass the Assembly.

The deal includes:

  • An extra £20million for the "Pupil Deprivation Grant".
  • A £38.9million economic stimulus package over the next two years to be spent on capital investment in schools, skills, and an increase in funding for the Arbed energy efficiency scheme.
  • Any consequentials resulting from the UK Government's Autumn Statement will be discussed between the two leaders.

On the surface of it, it looks as though Kirsty Williams has sold herself short. It will only become interesting if we know the scale of any of those possible consequentials from the Chancellor next week. Carwyn Jones and Kirsty Williams really must be hoping for something significant.

If there are substantial sums of money involved, particularly capital investment, then it might be enough to stave off the inevitable backlash on the economy from Plaid Cymru. Ieuan Wyn Jones has an open goal here.

If the Welsh Government think this tinkering really will "ensure jobs and growth can be delivered" then we're in deeper trouble than I thought.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

At last! The sensible argument against Team GB

At least it's a Welshman that's come out and said it.......

World hurdling champion Dai Greene is quoted on BBC Wales as saying:
"I don't think the football team should be there in the first place. I hope that those big names don't overshadow those people who have trained for four years to be there for that one moment. These guys have four to five weeks off in the summer then become an Olympian. It does seem a little bit out of place.
These guys want to win Premierships, Champions League trophies and World Cup medals. They don't grow up wanting to be an Olympic champion, they want to be the best in football. The crowning glory in football isn't being Olympic champion so I don't think their sport should necessarily be involved - or at least at a professional level."

Thank you Dai.

The "threat" to national teams independent status is the eye-catching reason for opposition to Team GB, but the best reason against it is far simpler.

The Olympics are about "being the best". It's supposed to be the pinnacle for sports that don't have an important or clearly defined World Championship. It's something those pushing Team GB have conveniently forgotten.

Olympic football is a redundant sideshow that players like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey are far too good to play in. It's an under-23 competition that only South American and African countries have ever put any hard effort into trying to win in modern Olympics, and will be completely overshadowed by the European Championships. I'd be surprised if either Tottenham or Arsenal even release Bale and Ramsey, in what will be the late preparation period for the 2012-13 Premier League season.

There are several Olympic sports that the UK has never competed competitively in. Team GB have cobbled together makeshift teams for sports like basketball, handball and of course football, because they don't want to "lose face" as hosts.

If I were - for example, a German - I'd consider playing against a British handball team on the biggest sporting stage an insult.

I'd also be furious if I were a British athlete, whose silver medal has been taken off the back pages, because Team GB have drawn with Cameroon Under-23s thanks to a David Beckham assist.

Obviously from my perspective, it would be ideal if there were a Welsh Olympic team. However, I don't begrudge Welsh athletes competing under the Union flag in events like athletics or cycling. That's the way they've always done it (Commonwealth games aside) and for them it's the highlight of their career.

Let's not take anything away from them for the sake of saving Seb Coe's blushes.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Back on track - Network Rail's long overdue "devolution" to Wales

Network Rail, the company responsible for rail infrastructure in England, Scotland and Wales, has finally created a new all-Wales division. They announced the move many months ago off the back of the Department for Transport's McNulty Report, which suggested "devolution and decentralisation" to improve efficiency. This week, the First Minister formally launched their new operation near Cardiff Central station.

Why is this such an important development?

Railways have been partially devolved to the Assembly since 2005. Network Rail decisions - like those relating to station refurbishments or other major railway improvements - were still made on an EnglandandWales basis. The Assembly did have some influence over the railways, such as funding the Arriva Trains franchise and providing money to "improve services."

In all honesty, it was a bit of a dog's dinner. The Third Assembly's Enterprise & Learning Committee report into future railway infrastructure in Wales found:
  • Stations like Cardiff Central were not being prioritised in a way that acknowledged their "major role" or passenger numbers.
  • Network Rail had no idea how much they actually spent on railways in Wales - only estimates.
  • The UK Government thought it was "unacceptable" to devolve Network Rail to Wales because too many services shared infrastructure and cross-border services. Transport Scotland didn't see this as an issue in their own arrangement.
  • The majority of witnesses to the inquiry supported further devolution of the railways to the Assembly.
  • Scotland was able to spend "several hundred million pounds" on rail infrastructure because of it's block grant allocation and rail devolution, Wales "didn't have that luxury".

Now that Network Rail will make decisions in Wales, it gives the Assembly much greater clout in prioritising schemes. It also means that there is - at last - a joined up system for running Welsh railway infrastructure. Hopefully, it'll lead to many big improvements in the next few years a lot quicker than they otherwise would have on an EnglandandWales basis such as:
  • Station improvements to Cardiff Central and Queen Street Stations
  • Electrification of the south Wales main line to Swansea
  • Possible future electrification of the Valley Lines and north wales mainline
  • Capacity improvements around Cardiff & Newport
  • A rail service between Ebbw Vale and Newport
  • Reopening the Aberdare-Hirwaun line and line from Gaerwen to Llangefni (or Amlwch) to passengers
  • Redoubling of track between Llanelli and Swansea
  • More frequent services in west Wales

There is, however, a big catch. Although the decision making is now devolved, the Network Rail budget isn't, and currently, around 3% of Network Rail funding is spent on the Welsh rail network (which includes a chunk of England's) - around 2% lower than the Welsh UK population share. Scotland, however, does receive it's population share, and has used the money to carry out some significant improvements to the Scottish rail network.

Part of that "missing" 2% will be used by the UK Government to fund projects like Crossrail, Reading Station redevelopment and electrifying rail lines to Blackpool (while electification to Swansea is moving at a slow pace).

I believe that this could be because within EnglandandWales funding has been dependant on the length on the network/route miles and not on passenger numbers or national/regional population share. With Network Rail devolved, the next piece in the puzzle is to devolve the budget in line with Scotland.

Welsh railways are back on track perhaps, but not going anywhere fast just yet.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Assembly Budget Deadlock - Who will blink first?

Carwyn, Andrew, Ieuan and Kirsty -budget negotiations continue with no sign of agreement yet

He might not have a magic pot of money. He might be struggling to pass his government's budget. However Carwyn Jones checked his wallet and £38.9million fell out.

Realistically, £38.9million isn't going to go very far, and unlikely to satisfy any of the opposition parties - unless some extra slack is found from the existing budget, perhaps running up to tens of millions of pounds – if not more than that.

The Conservatives are focusing on health, Plaid Cymru have focused on the economy, while the Liberal Democrats have focused on schools. Three big issues in Welsh politics, and a big headache for Labour. Labour can only realistically choose one and it's going to leave them open to attack by the rejected two that Labour are neglecting "their" areas.

Lets start with the non-starter. I don't see any way that Labour would try (or even be seen to try) and "do a deal" with the Evil Tories©. Andrew Davies took up the mantle of the NHS with some gusto before he became Conservative leader, but even then he didn't make it clear what services he would cut to fund his plans and he flubbed it. It might leave an open goal for him in future Senedd debates but Labour should survive that.

The Conservatives simply aren't trusted with the NHS – their Achilles' Heel in Wales - especially with what's currently happening in England. What's surprised me most is that he hasn't called for a Council Tax freeze in Wales, which is how this "magic" £38.9million came down the M4 in the first place.

Plaid Cymru are targeting Labour's economic plans - arguably the best target politically. Plaid's proposals are probably going to require the most radical rethink of the budget. That's something Jane Hutt might not have time, or permission to do. If there were to be a significant change in capital spending then it might see Labour's manifesto pledges evaporate. I think there are only two things that can happen for Plaid back the budget - a watered down Build for Wales, or a coalition once Plaid have elected a new leader.

I don't see either happening, however Gareth Hughes's hunch is that Labour can do a deal with Plaid.

The Welsh Government's move to set up two business funds worth a combined £55million could be seen as an attempt to deal with some issues raised by Plaid - perhaps even placate them - even if it's just a short-term fix.

Plaid will have to spell out in detail what they would cut and what they would do budget-wise. If they can do that with some credibility, then they'll be on to a winner. If, however, they just harangue the Welsh Government from the sidelines, then to the sidelines they shall remain. Unfortunately I can only see the latter, but perhaps I'm doing them a discourtesy.

My hunch is that the party most likely to reach a deal with Labour are the Liberal Democrats. That £38.9million would go some way to achieving their "pupil premium" manifesto pledge, even if only a small slice of it is used as a pilot scheme. They won't need to go into coalition with Labour, but it might make it more likely. Labour won't want a repeat of this every year until 2016, and a coalition would provide a very convenient opportunity for a cabinet reshuffle.

If Labour did that though, then it might hand a huge advantage to Plaid, who are probably going to come out of this process as "winners" one way or another. Education might very well have been a key issue during the election, but with the ongoing depressing economic news it's the economy - which Plaid have visibly pummelled Labour on at late - that's going to be centre stage.

Once Labour's centralisation plans for the NHS come into play, then the Tories, many of whom represent rural constituencies likely to be affected by this, will be able to get stuck in too.

Brinkmanship? Or grown up multi-party democracy with a minority government? You can make your own mind up.

However I'm fairly confident there'll be a budget passed on December 6th and it's likely to be Kirsty Williams smiling at the end of it.

We've been in this situation before. Dim problem.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Cardiff's illiberal approach to combating alcohol-related crime

LOL!..........sorry.......FOR SHAME!
Cardiff's saturation zones policy doesn't extend to transvestites.
(Pic: Maciej Dacowicz via

Cardiff Council and South Wales Police (SWP) are taking strong measures to curb alcohol-related crime in and around Cardiff city centre.

Cardiff Council and SWP are using "saturation zones" in certain streets to limit the numbers of alcohol licences permitted. The idea is that if the number of venues selling alcohol is capped, then alcohol-related crime would fall. In the last week or two a businessman planning to bring several derelict buildings into use on St Mary Street as nightclubs (suggesting 200 jobs would be created) has had his application thrown into doubt because it contravened this "saturation zone" policy.

In addition, SWP are pushing for venues in Cardiff city centre to scan the fingerprints and take the photo /scan driving licence of patrons to create a database that could be used to identify troublemakers. SWP are also are pushing for participation in the scheme to eventually become a mandatory licencing requirement.

Saturation Zones

In practically every single town or city in the UK, there will be a street (or streets) which become notorious for fights or assorted rowdiness. "Saturation" of takeaways and pubs/clubs right next door to each other is undoubtedly a factor in alcohol-related disorder - I don't dispute that.

According to the Home Office crime maps these are the numbers of recorded crimes on each of Cardiff city centre's main "drinking" streets in September 2011:
  • St Mary Street -60
  • Caroline Street -56
  • Greyfriars Road/Crockherbtown -92
  • Mill Lane -41

So an average of around 62 recorded crimes a month per street. Many won't be alcohol-related (like thefts) and the bulk of which I'm guessing will be on Friday and Saturday nights, peaking during "events" in the city centre. I'll leave you to make your own minds up if these are manageable figures for the police or not.

I don't believe it's good planning policy to prejudice applications based on their use or set quotas for streets. All that will happen in the trouble will be spread over a wider area - especially if particular venues are problem ones and simply relocate to another part of the city.

I'm sure we've all seen the notorious photos by Polish photographer Maciej Dakowicz of Cardiff city centre at night. However embarrassing it is for the city, or Cardiff Council's vain attempt to create some sort of "highbrow/cosmopolitan" night economy, the hard fact is that the Welsh, English and Scottish can't handle their drink. Swapping Walkabout for few upmarket wine bars won't change the scenes of drunken debauchery which we have a sense of humour about find horrifying.


I'm staggered that the Liberal Democrats or Plaid Cymru (the ruling Cardiff Council coalition) would support this considering both parties previous opposition to ID Cards and the DNA register. In fairness it's a Lib Dem Councillor (Ed Bridges) who's raised the issue. Considering he's also chair of the licensing committee, it seems unlikely that SWP will get their way.

I don't believe that this is a massive erosion of civil liberties, but I do think it's a presumption of guilt towards anyone who goes into a venue in Cardiff. Saturation Zones or fingerprinting wouldn't prevent crimes like the brutal attack on a 19-year old in Cardiff the other week.

I don't understand why licensees would willingly sign up to this.

There's a saying "don't go into a pub with a flat roof". Another saying that could join it is "don't go into a nightclub with a fingerprint scanner".

It's a big neon sign saying "Criminals R Us" or more morbidly "poor fire safety".

Pubs and clubs in Bridgend and Porthcawl have a system where they are linked by walkie talkie (Nite Net) and can notify each other (and the police) instantly of any potential troublemakers/trouble making. It also means that troublemakers can be barred across town centres with every venue knowing who they are. Monthly meetings are held by participating clubs and pubs with the police to coordinate the scheme and raise issues.

Although there would clearly be logistical challenges doing this in Cardiff (or Swansea's Wind Street), is this just too "low tech" and too "common sense" for Cardiff Council and SWP?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Welsh Government's white paper on organ donation

Wales currently has high rates of organ donation, but 51
people still died waiting for a transplant in the last year.
(Pic : The Guardian)
It's been a rough week for them, so I think it's time I cut the Welsh Government some slack and focus on one of their boldest (and potentially controversial) moves - probably in the history of devolved government in Wales.

The Welsh Government published a white paper on Tuesday outlining their plans for a new law on organ donation. They are seeking views in a consultation that will end on January 31st 2012.


51 people died waiting for an organ transplant in Wales for 2010/11. Although record numbers of people in Wales donated organs last year (83), the Welsh Government hopes that a presumed consent law would boost organ donation rates by as much as 25% and reduce unnecessary suffering.

In a rare bit of good news in the Western Mail, Wales currently has the highest organ donation rate of the home nations and one of the highest organ donation rates in Europe (behind the likes of Spain). However donation rates for hearts in particular have fallen consistently over the last 20 years.

What's proposed?

A "soft opt out system" – whereby consent for organ donation would be presumed upon death unless the person opted out of the organ donation register when alive.

Doctors would still look at the organ donor register (options listed below) to see if the deceased has wished to donate their organs, and would still seek the family views. The wishes of the deceased would be the overriding consideration. Consulting the family would make the families and medical professionals aware of unregistered objections and possible problems with transplanted organs (i.e lifestyle/behaviour issues).

The law would apply to:
  • Anyone over 18 who lives and dies in Wales.
  • Anyone over 18 who has lived in Wales for a certain length of time (the length of which is to be consulted).

The law would not apply to:
  • Anyone under 18.
  • Anyone over 18 who lives in Wales but dies elsewhere.
  • Anyone over 18 who doesn't have the capacity to understand the donation law or make a decision
  • Tourists and other visitors (anyone who doesn't ordinarily live in Wales).
  • Unidentified bodies

There are four proposed options for the new organ donor register:
  1. Separate registers for objectors and non-objectors
  2. A register only of those who have not objected
  3. A register of only whose who have objected
  4. No register, but an objection listed via the person's GP

A person would be able to opt out: "any and all methods put in place to enable an individual to make a confidential objection to donation in an easy and accessible manner". It would also "enable an individual to opt-out of donating all organs and tissues, or to opt-out of donating some organs or tissues."

Myths and rumours

It's time a few myths and rumours were scotched now. There won't be:

  • State ownership of the body – relatives would still be consulted as currently.
  • Organ harvesting – the transplantation procedures would remain exactly the same, donated organs would go to those who need them not automatically taken from every single dead person in Wales.
  • Sale of organs by the NHS – to suggest such is undeniably crass but I've already heard it/read it. Lesley Griffiths should stamp this ugly one out right now.
  • Donation to science – donated organs/tissues would only be used in transplant not stored for dissection, teaching or research. The dead won't end up in a Gunter von Hagens exhibition. The new law wouldn't change the procedures for donating bodies/organs/tissues to science either.

What are the arguments against?

There's clearly a liberty issue here – should the state have rights over the body after death? The good work to boost organ donation rates in Wales might be undermined if the system loses public confidence or makes people uncomfortable.

There are also moral and ethical questions – should organ donation be purely a gift? Would presumed consent violate religious beliefs about what should be done after death?

In my personal opinion because of the "soft opt-out" system proposed, controversy will be limited as long as the system for "opting-out" is well publicised and transparent.

If the Welsh Government had gone for a "hard opt-out" system – where consent would be presumed without consulting with relatives (unless the deceased had opted out) – then even liberal-minded people like myself would likely oppose the new law and it would be even more controversial.

No other pitfalls in sight?

On paper there shouldn't be any major constitutional or legal issues arising from this, though Alan Trench at Devolution Matters explores it in a bit more detail. Things are clearly a lot more complicated than appear.

Only xenotransplantation (transplantation between different species) is a reserved matter to Westminster if you go by the Scotland Act.

Transplantation requires consent as stipulated in the Human Tissues Act 2004, and under the proposed "soft" opt out system consent would still be sought.

Also, there's no sign that presumed consent would violate the Human Rights Act 1998 or the European Convention of Human Rights. Considering presumed consent is already used in several mainland European nations already, this was a given.

The only issues I can see arising are religious and ethical listed earlier, but the white paper does indicate that the Welsh Government would take personal/religious beliefs into account and are actively seeking such views for the consultation.

For students of politics, medicine or law, the Senedd debates in plenary and committee on this one could be worth watching....

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Carwyn clobbered on the economy

Well it was gloves off in the Senedd at First Minister's Questions yesterday.

Carwyn Jones found himself and his government's record under attack from three directions - probably with an eye on budget negotiations - but suffered a particularly harsh attack from Ieuan Wyn Jones over Labour's handling of the Welsh economy.

Labour have pointed to several examples of their commitment to capital spending, but as IWJ quite rightly pointed out, a large chunk of these projects have been completed or were announced by the previous Welsh Government. There's been little action on the economy and nothing but doom, gloom and finger pointing.

The First Minister correctly said that the Welsh Government doesn't have a bottomless pit of cash. He doesn't have a magic wand to fix all of our economic problems either. It's Labour's lack of ambition, vision and increasingly action that's going to come back and haunt him and the party.

May's election was a good one to lose on many levels. It's going to be Labour ministers making the cuts in Wales and it's increasingly going to be Labour ministers taking the blame for the stagnant Welsh economy. People are beginning to recognise Carwyn Jones, Edwina Hart, Lesley Griffiths, Leighton Andrews and Carl Sargeant and are starting to form opinions about them. It won't be long until some of Labour's election manifesto promises - such as an extra 500 PCSO's - seem lacklustre.

But hey that's what we voted for, right?

New schools and hospitals are not "infrastructure investments". They might be to Labour (and Plaid) but it's improved transport, energy infrastructure, research & development and business development that leads to economic growth. Labour (and again to a certain extent Plaid) are not making any distinction between social/public service investments and the things the economy – especially the private sector – need to restore confidence, provide jobs and wean Wales off seeing the public sector as the fallback position in good and bad times.

It should be done in downturns to temporarily boost the economy. But the Welsh Government needs to create the right conditions to enable growth, not be the growth.

Carwyn Jones accused Plaid of not having any big economic ideas of their own. But they did – Build for Wales – pounced upon by opposition parties as unworkable. It might very well have been, but at least they made the effort.

The Liberal Democrats have supported a Welsh Stock Exchange since the idea was mooted, in addition to business rate reforms. The Conservatives always have ideas on the economy – often stupidly ignored because of political tribalism.

Ieuan Wyn Jones was an imperfect Economy Minister, but in government he put infrastructure (especially transport) and a more self-sufficient Welsh private sector (loans replacing grants) at the heart of economic policy. IWJ "got it", but his crime was being too slow.

Andrew Davies, IWJ and Kirsty Williams might not be in coalition, but with convincing three-pronged attacks they can certainly cause headaches for the Welsh Government and we saw a glimpse of what the next five years are going to be like on Tuesday.

Labour 0 – Opposition 3

Man of the Match - Ieuan Wyn Jones

If this Welsh Government don't make bold and wide-ranging attempts to turn around the Welsh economy – likely to be the primary concern of the electorate for the next decade - then Carwyn Jones, still one of the good guys in politics despite Tuesday's outbursts, might be in deep trouble.

Things just got a whole lot more uncomfortable for Labour. Perhaps that's what we've been crying out for in Wales.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Together for Health - Labour's latest 5-year plan for the Welsh NHS

This isn't the first time a Welsh Government has promised a "world class" NHS and Health Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), unveiled the latest five-year plan/vision to boost NHS performance.

To call it a "plan" is over-egging it a little. It's more like a rallying call or a rather grand ministerial statement. There's more promises of "delivery" that Carwyn Jones has said would be at the heart of his government. There's more promises of "sustainability" too, while accepting there are clear problems down the line such as an aging population, budget pressures and difficulties in recruiting the right staff.

There's an acknowledgement that the general public need to take better care of themselves and that some specialist services need to be centralised.

Lesley Griffiths accused Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion) and Plaid Cymru of scaremongering over "downgrading hospitals", but Lesley's trying to dodge the issue. If services are to be centralised from several hospitals to one or two then the services at those several hospitals have clearly been downgraded in most people's definitions. Elin Jones is correct and isn't scaremongering at all, just telling the truth.

Before I'm accused of being partisan, in my opinion the Welsh Government's policy on centralisation is correct too. This blog isn't a criticism of Lesley Griffiths, the new vision, or trumpeting Elin Jones or Plaid in any way shape or form – quite the opposite.

Centralisation makes sense in many cases. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with "downgrading" certain functions at district hospitals, or redefining district hospitals role, or providing more care at (or closer to) home instead of general hospitals - if it can improve the quality of patient care and patient outcomes.

Wales is overly reliant on hospitals to provide rudimentary and long-term care (like managing illnesses such as diabetes and arthritis) at the expense of district hospitals and primary care centres. If we really want a world class NHS, we're going to need world class centres of excellence. This means that our larger hospitals are going to have to focus more on highly specialist, critical and expert care, while our district hospitals might lose such services but in turn become far more important in managing treatment and recovery.

"None (district hospitals) will be downgraded" is bollocks. There'll be clear "winners and losers" from this process, but in the end, I don't believe patients will be losers - despite the inevitable psychological threat "downgrading" poses.

She doesn't need to shirk debate to justify it, as long as she puts across a good enough case. She can call it what it is – downgrading - she's in charge after all.

Lesley Griffiths has arguably the toughest job in Welsh politics. As soon as "downgrading" is out in the public domain by any means other than her own mouth - and local councillors start getting in on the action - she's toast. She needs to be honest and up front now, not when the first services are centralised. Being Health Minister isn't one of these roles where you can pretend to be everybody's friend.

The general public rightly criticise politicians for not telling it like it is. Why are the Welsh Government afraid of defending their own policies properly?