Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Cardiff Green Investment Bank Bid - Enough's enough

A dunce's cap is casting a broad shadow over Wales
and the Welsh economy.
(Pic : Modified from Webbaviation.co.uk)

Ultimately, politicians and civil servants are ordinary people just going about their business. Although I'm probably being naïve , they usually have our interests at heart. It's an incredibly tough job, and from time to time, they should be afforded a bit of slack. Not everything is a catastrophe or a disgrace.

I can't think of many, if any, AMs I dislike.
They seem like a nice bunch, generally hard-working and approachable. On the whole, I'm proud to have them represent us and the fledgling Welsh democracy. Obvious exceptions aside, I don't buy into the hyperbole that political parties that don't share my views are "the enemy." It's only politics after all.

The nicey-nicey stops there though. We all make mistakes. Politicians and civil servants are human, they should be allowed to make mistakes too. However, there's a fine line between a mistake and ineptitude.

This is probably the point the wheels come off this blog, but certain things need to be said. Maybe I'm just looking for an excuse to throw my toys out of the pram to enable an "exit".

Although it's obvious that I'm aiming this at Welsh Labour, it applies equally to any party that has ambitions of being in government here, and could probably be expanded to include parties who have been in power.

Instead of thinking of this as a partisan piece, consider it the concerns of an ordinary, increasingly angry, Welsh voter.

Cardiff's Green Investment Bank Bid

Cardiff bid to be the location of the Westminster Government's "Green Investment Bank" (GIB), along with other cities across the UK. It'll be an arms-length financial institution, initially capitalised with £3billion. It's hoped the GIB will go some way to help the UK Government attract the sort of investment needed to help meet its environmental targets.

Cardiff's bid - our capital, with ambitions of being a "major European city", led by a council leader who has a fetish for the word "international" - fell at the first hurdle.

Cardiff exited at the same stage as Bicester, Stoke, Torbay and Durham.

There were inevitable cries from Business Minister Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower) that this was "disappointing news", describing Cardiff's bid as "robust." Last week, however, the UK Department for Business & Skills released the bid documents. You can read Cardiff's via A Change of Personnel, who's been pretty damning of it, as has BBC Wales' Vaughan Roderick on Twitter and others.

As far as I'm concerned, the bid is a must-read for anyone with even the slightest interest in Welsh politics. Actually take a look. See how the Welsh Government and civil service handled this for yourselves.

I couldn't quite believe what I was reading. Wow.

Some people may criticise Vince Cable's decision to publish the bids, but he's done Wales a great service here. It's a bit like getting told a bad exam mark in front of the class – if you feel humiliated, then at least there's motivation to do better the next time.

Remember, this is a bid for a bank, capitalised with £3billion. It's not a "Sprechen Sie Sprockets" FDI, branch factory pitch. It was supposed to be a bid for an institution that could become a major player in finance over the next few decades.

Much of the initial negative reaction to the bid focused on grammar and spelling mistakes. I'm not a hypocrite. I hold my hands up and say the grammar here leaves much to be desired sometimes. Grammar isn't important though. It's much, much worse than that.

Besides, I don't get money to do this. I'm not going to get a public sector pension out of this, and I don't have a portfolio with hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers money at stake. Perhaps that's for the best, because if I had overseen something as amateurish as this bid, a P45 would be the honourable way out.

  • There's all the usual cliched guff about Cardiff (Europe's youngest capital etc.) that could've been cut and paste from any Cardiff Council press release of the last ten years.
  • Significant chunks of the bid read like a student Geography project. You're bombarded with numbers that haven't been put into any proper context. It's not an easy read - not because it's on an intellectual plane above the lay person - but because its so poorly presented. Just compare it with Bristol's bid. As one of my old primary school teachers would say – "slapdash!"
  • It heavily trumpets the Cardiff CBD/enterprise zone, but proposed locating the GIB (temporarily) in 3 Capital Waterside (it's actually 3 Assembly Square), which as far as I know, is outside the enterprise zone.
  • 3 Assembly Square is a partially occupied 66,000sqft building. Later, the report acknowledges that only up to 75 jobs would be created – or 880sqft a worker. There's open plan offices and then there's that.
  • There's a cringe-worthy graphic of Cardiff's "national and international" flight connections – which includes exotic destinations like Jersey and Aberdeen. There are only passing mentions of links to London and Europe. Bank. Capitalised with £3billion. Just a reminder.
  • Some of the bid reads as though the Welsh Government expected Welsh businesses to exclusively benefit from the GIB, citing "up to £50billion of energy projects in Wales over the next 10 years".
  • There's unnecessarily detailed profiles of Welsh infrastructure companies, environmental companies as well as Welsh university environmental research projects.
  • There are a few examples of "imago bureaucratica" - process and implementation matrices reminiscent of your typically impenetrable Welsh local authority report.
  • There's a call for the bid criteria to be expanded/changed. That's rather pretentious, isn't it? However well-intentioned it was.
  • The bid cites Cardiff's low wages compared to other UK cities as a "cost effectiveness consideration", describing it as "compelling". Thanks for helping us in the race to the bottom. Thanks for, seemingly, taking pride in Cardiff's comparatively low wages. Though to be fair, other bids did the same thing. Unsurprisingly, the successful bidders were from two of the UK's most expensive cities with highly remunerated workforces– Edinburgh and London. There's a reason for that. Peanuts and monkeys.
  • Only a few of the testimonials had anything to do with the GIB. Most seem to be related to recruiting and retaining people. You would expect to be able to do that. It's not exactly the best message to be sending out.
  • Adrian Clark is quoted twice in the testimonials - and yes he's the same person in each case as far as I can tell.

At least the cover is good – Cardiff Bay on a sunny day, with that Magic Roundabout-style ride in front of the Pierhead Building. Yeah, I think that just about sums it up.

We're fortunate, in a back-handed way, that Cardiff was never really a front-runner for this. It was always either going to go to Edinburgh or remain entirely in London. That decision makes sense on many levels.

However, if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing right.

The Bigger Picture - Why this is bad

We don't get to see many bids the Welsh Government put forward for things like this, but it does make you wonder about the quality of the civil service and how these processes are managed. Was the prospect of a major financial institution basing itself in Cardiff not important enough for the Welsh Government & civil service to take seriously?

You remind yourself of all the "disappointing news" down the years. You wonder if this is the level we're at. You wonder how often that Wales' low wages have been described as "compelling." You wonder if this is the standard of case made for things like the electrification of the Valley Lines or energy projects.

I remind myself of all the times I've had to stick up for the "WAG" - online and offline - and wish I hadn't bothered.

I just feel let down and more than a little embarrassed.

We have so many economic problems here. We have so many issues that haven't been addressed properly for the best part of a century. For "our" Welsh Government and civil service to do something as half-arsed as this is soul-crushingly depressing.

This is a monumental cock up – not for what it was, but for what it represents.

It's a symptom of a wider illness and malaise in Cathays Park. It not only reflects badly on the Welsh Government, but the entire machinery by which Wales aims to attract investment. It should be a watershed and a real kick up the backside, but why do I suspect that we'll be back here again at some point in the near future.

They can fall back to the position of "whoopsy daisy" - moaning about fate, coalition cuts and such. However, the very minimum we should expect from our public servants is that they have a bit of pride in their work. That goes for ministers as much as the mandarins.

All of us should be demanding better, but we accept mediocrity because, for some reason, it's what we feel we deserve in Wales. We're so used to it now, we don't bat our eyelids when something like this happens, we shrug and then continue to wonder why everything is terrible.

It's partially our fault as members of the public. We let people get away with pulling stunts like this because they stick "Welsh" before their name, or their job title, or because they wear the right colour rosette. We're far too nice sometimes. You're not supposed to support our governments as you would the national rugby team

We've built a wall in our minds and we willingly live on the wrong side of it - as though it's something to be proud of. We're gluttons for punishment and self-flagellation. We constantly argue over the same points again and again and again, fighting invisible enemies and strawmen. It's like noticing a hangnail when your body is riddled with tumours.

We're absolutely mad, aren't we? Absolutely stark raving bonkers.

How long, as a nation, are we going to continue to put up with this bullshit?

If you make a genuine mistake, hold your hands up and I'm sure we'll be forgiving. Learn from it.

If you feel you're in over your head in your role, ask for that extra bit of help you need. Don't hide behind your pride, you're dealing with our livelihoods here. Do the extra study, put in the hours - that's all we ask.

Don't use politics as an excuse not to do anything. It doesn't matter if it's one of those "baby-eating Tories", or "separatists", offering to help you out. If it even hints at possibly having a beneficial impact – swallow your pride and reach out.

You might be a Labour government, but as soon as your backside hits a cabinet chair, you're there to work for Wales - not the party, and not Ed Miliband. Stop fretting over what the unions or NEC will think. Think for yourselves. Own yourselves and own your job. Don't consider yourself the subordinate to anybody in London. We have problems now, and we can't wait until 2016 for the two Eds to hold your hand - if they even get that far.

If you don't put in the effort, hide or hunker down, shirk your responsibilities or pass the buck – whether it's down the M4, to a colleague, or hiding behind one of these ridiculous Welsh bureaucratic implementation frameworks – then cheerio! You are the problem and one day, you will be found out.

Two words - Fianna Fáil. We'll get fed up with it at some point. You'll get the liberal democracy equivalent of a lynching. No amount of "delivery statistics", freebies, third sector backers or psudo-nationalist posturing will save you. It doesn't matter how well-intentioned you are, or whether your heart is in the right place, you'll deserve it.

You'll deserve it for taking our votes for granted and using your position to entrench mediocrity.

You'll deserve it for all those people out there who are earning less that they otherwise would - or have been denied the opportunity of a well-paying job - because you make the case that low wages are "compelling."

You'll deserve it because you were playing politics - scoring points for, and against, other politicians and parties – who, in all probability, don't cry themselves to sleep wondering whether their decisions are going down well in Wales or not.

One of the reasons we have devolution is so we can turn around problems here by ourselves. What we need is a bit of elbow grease and some willpower. A bit of effort and work ethic. An unrelenting commitment to see Wales prosper. I don't doubt that Welsh ministers an civil servants have it, but any semblance of attainment or success is invisible.

It's easier to keep telling us why you can't do something - because you don't have X power or you don't have X budget. Perhaps you should focus on what you can do. No idea should be written off if it could make Wales a better place. Trying and failing is better than not trying at all.

Get the little things right by all means, but the big things matter too. All I'm seeing is fudge, after bungle, after excuse, after apathy. You've made a lot of good noises recently, but it always seems to be a case of one step forward, two steps back. This isn't because of any vast conspiracy, or the constitution or circumstances outside of your control. Welsh Labour - pull your socks up.

You can turn it around. You have the opportunity and chance to do so.

Do it. The Hoff is warming up in front of the wall, and although there's only a tiny, geeky rabble in front if it baring sledgehammers at the moment, more will come.

I'm not talking about those whose argument extends to inflatable pink pigs, Welsh language paranoia or desecrating the Chartists memory.

I'm talking about people up and down the country who back devolution and see Welsh ministers and Welsh civil servants doing perceivably sweet-FA to improve our lot - passing off reports like this as "robust" when it would shame a first-year undergraduate. Lose our goodwill towards you, continue to hide behind excuses or pride or politics, and you're finished - regardless of the colour of your rosette.

It might take decades, in all likelihood it won't even involve independence, but one day, one glorious day, a change is gonna come. Oh yes it will.

Perhaps, deep down, that's the main reason I support independence. Not because of patriotism or self-determination, but because it's the ultimate change from the status quo - and you always have to start with the status quo when trying to address serious problems.

You'll have no where to hide. There'll be no Westminster bwci bo to blame. You won't be able to point fingers at anyone and everyone will be pointing fingers at you. You'll be exposed, chewed up, ripped up and dissected in a way that you never will have before. It'll be probable, though not impossible, that you'll never, ever be able to get away with anything like this ever again. That goes for all parties.

I can't wait.

Ideally, within days of that bid becoming public, there should've been a steady stream of people walking out of Cathays Park and the Welsh Government's Treforest bunker, carrying boxes with their lucky desk gonk on top. Do not pass go, do not moan to your union reps, do not collect your severance pay - down the job centre with you.

AWEMA was strike one. This is strike two. Another one – and with some inevitability there'll be another dropped bollock between now and May 2016 - and Carwyn will have to make some serious changes, to both his cabinet and the civil service.

But does he have the guts to do so? Are any of us putting enough pressure on the powers that be to change?

As you might have gathered from the tone of this "rant", a message needs to be sent to the civil service and Welsh ministers that this standard of work is unacceptable.

Carwyn, you're probably never going to read this, but please:

Rip the whole stinking lot up and start again.


  1. Not bad!

    Not quite what the yanks would call "kicking ass and taking names" but not far off!

  2. "Ideally, within days of that bid becoming public, there should've been a steady stream of people walking out of Cathays Park and the Welsh Government's Treforest bunker, carrying boxes with their lucky desk gonk on top. Do not pass go, do not moan to your union reps, do not collect your severance pay - down the job centre with you."

    Not going to happen! the Welsh media is virtually non existant, and apart from the tiny minority of people who read political blogs, most people in Wales are blissfully unaware of a problem. They will happily re-elect Labour because thay are labour and blame everything bad on the Tories. And as for being poor? Well 'we're only Welsh but'

  3. During the 1997 referendum campaign one of the more popular reasons I heard for voting NO was that- "we in Wales did not posses the brains to rule ourselves".

    Now seeing the intellectually challenged shower of 3rd rate politicians we've been landed with, I have to reluctantly admit they may well have had a valid point.

  4. This is one of the most sobering articles I have read on Welsh politics for a long time. Sadly, I also see such mind numbing ineptitude in Local Government where I work. It is not that there is not real talent there, but the system almost discourages ability and encourages certain individuals who are incapable, often corrupt and frequently bullies (to hide their incompetence).

    As depressing as the reality this article exposes is, it also re-charges my batteries in trying to do something about it. This is a blog I shall follow with great interest from now on and I am grateful for your honesty, however uncomfortable it makes me feel.

  5. an excellent post and thanks for the link.

    It's no surprise it was the Tories and Lib Dems who went after this and you can't blame them, but where were Plaid Cymru AM's on this today especially as Jonathan Edwards MP was very critical on Twitter over the weekend, the Opposition needs to work together.

    On the wider point sadly i'm not shocked by these revelations anymore and agree we see another car crash from the WG before long, the biggest problem Welsh politics has always been the lack of scrutiny and accountability. Whether its AM's and journalist not fully holding Minister's to account, or AM's not asking probing questions in Committee's, or Civil Society not rocking the boat or the ever dwindling media unable to keeping tabs on events - it's depressingly familiar, but Vaughan Roderick deserves credit for getting the ball rolling.

    As much as i hate to say it, I campaigned back in 97 for a Yes vote to create the Assembly and have often since wondered what was the point, because i can't see anything ever changing, but more power to you and others who still believe, change wont happen without a fight that's for sure.

  6. A very good article and identifies many of the problems but draws the wrong conclusions.

    "All of us should be demanding better, but we accept mediocrity because, for some reason, it's what we feel we deserve in Wales. We're so used to it now, we don't bat our eyelids when something like this happens, we shrug and then continue to wonder why everything is terrible."

    WE or many of us don't accept mediocrity but it is what we forecast we would get with a yes vote in 1997. Look at it last year they got a yes, give us the tools do do the job they said, what have they done with those tools???.

    They are now talking about a legal system, for gawd's sake they have (and always did have) the tools to do the job, USE THEM, why don't they fix the things they have broken, I'll tell you why , because they haven't a clue.

    The alternative meaning of WAG is Welsh Amateur Gravytrain and amateur is so true, yes rip it all up and go, all of you.

    WAG is just an extra unnecessary expensive layer of governance, they have robbed essential services to fund madcap schemes and nation building , reminds me of Nero and Rome.

    BTW it still is officially WAG (not the grandiose WG), and will be until the 2006 act is changed.

  7. Labour = Fianna Fail 50 years of dining out on the battles of the 1920s and 1930s. But at least Fianna Fail managed to build miles of decent roads, airports, new rail track. Labour havn't even done that.

    They rely on an essentially ethnic vote and keep getting in. They really don't care.

    Their incompetence is matched by the institutional anti Welshness of much of the civil service which has failed to build a confident Welsh response to our problems because they don't like Welshies.

    Funny that the seperatist, narrow minded nationalists Scottish government is so much more successful than the fawning Welsh Labour govt.

  8. This is what happens to a nation that gives all its key public posts to a linguistic minority.

    Greetings from London.

  9. 'This is what happens to a nation that gives all its key public posts to a linguistic minority. '

    This blog deserves better than this. Please go to a site where others trolls hnag about.

  10. "This is what happens to a nation that gives all its key public posts to a linguistic minority."

    Exactly, allowing ou civil service to be dominated by rejects who speak Estuary English has been a disaster for Wales.

  11. The really annoying thing is that since it has been announced that Public Sector workers are paid 18% more than in the private sector (on average) I have been defending them, pointing out that this simply reflects low private sector pay rather than high public pay.

    Now I discover that are some to those very same public sector workers responsible for producing this rubbish - its not even incompetent, they simply collectively couldn't be bothered - and what is worse that they market low wages in the rest of the economy as a good thing. I almost wish I hadn't bothered.

  12. I don't think there's been a more upfront, but intelligent take on the state of Welsh politics, without being hysterical like the true Wales lot or gogwatch. It's good that a nationalist has finally come out and said this. We have to do better than this but people will keep voting Labour blissfully.


  13. They couldn't even manage to type out the correct web site address for the Government that they represent .

    Excerpt from the last page of the failed bid. Spot the typo and weep.

    For further information
    Malcolm Davies
    Business Development Manager,
    Financial & Professional Services,
    Welsh Government,
    Business, Enterprise, Technology & Science,
    QED Centre,
    Treforest Estate,
    Pontypridd, CF37 5YR
    Tel: +44 (0)7967 357163
    E-Mail: malcolm.davies2@wales.gsi.gov.uk
    Web: www.cymru.go.uk

  14. Don't know how much of this is purely the Con Lib Govt in Westminster having a swipe at the Labour Assembly in Cardiff and thus giving most of the trolls on here some easy targets; or is it a sign that we truly are not capable of delivering a quality Government for the people of Wales.

    I have always maintained that it will take time but the Old Labour party still holds so much sway in parts of South Wales and it may only be as a result of Leanne Wood's new challenge to the old guard that will wake the b.tards up; good luck to her.

    We as a people need to take ownership of these issues; isn't that what democracy is about.

    As an asside the chances of any major bank being allowed to venture outside London and the home counties is NILL; watch the result when it is published. What the hell's a Green bank anyway other than a load of marketing b.shite.

    1. What are you talking about when you say there is a NIL chance of the bank being outside of London/Home Counties area?
      The bid went to Edinburgh not London. The results have been published - why the hell do you think we're commenting on the WG's incompetant bid?

      If you read what people are commenting upon (and they are not trolls so don't make cheap jibes) you will indeed see that they are generally concurring with your broad notion that 'we as a people need to take ownership of these issues'.

  15. Oh dear. So why exactly are we not all standing as local councillors, AMs and MPs to show us how it's done - whether as party political candidates or as Independents. We elect others to these difficult jobs because we are too willing to sit on the sidelines criticising instead of getting out there and helping. I'll also need a bit more empirical evidence than one incompetent application for business we were never going to be given to demonstrate how badly everything is being done and how much better everything could be done. If you look for positives you will find them (and not just from Welsh Labour). Ditto negatives. Our Assembly (all parties) has done and is doing some great things for the people of Wales in ways that Westminster would never do. Unfortunately money runs our Country as it does every other Country in the Union, Europe, World. And we are poorer in resources than many so our choices are more constrained. Get up off your arses and help whichever 'party' you believe can do the best and/or better job. You might find that AMs and Civil Servants are doing an even tougher job even better than you think.

    1. The empirical evidence that you require can be found by analysing our annual GDP figures relative to the rest of both the UK and the wider EU regions. You can pick any years' figures at random. The general decline in the figures will unfortunately be evident whichever period you choose.

  16. The trouble is that only a few people read blogs so, as someone commented previously, nobody seems to be aware of the problems in Wales - and they are huge.

    To the pathetic example of Cardiff 'International' airport, which is an absolute disgrace, you can add: the state of education in Wales, which with a few exceptions, is appalling as is the Welsh transport infrastructure in general, the lack of a contemporary cultural identity and most of all a total fear of stepping out of line politically. There is no dynamic, creative thrust in Welsh political, educational and administrative life - the same people inhabit closed, incompetent and backward looking institutions - it is really depressing.

    I point to the proposed Severn Barrage which was a unique opportunity for everybody in Wales to get behind a brilliant sustainable project benefiting everybody. I can't recall a single politician backing it, not a peep from the environmentalists apart from a mention of birds, hardly a ripple in the media. Instead we are going to get 2 more nuclear power stations within a radius of 25 miles of large population centres in Wales and the West. One accident will destroy everything - people, the environment everything.

    Wales is like the Co operative movement - brilliant at arranging funerals but absolutely inept and incompetent in retailing and marketing.

  17. Let's face it. People in government generally are not great at marketing. Whilst many are good people, if you work for an entity that is a monopistic supplier of goods and services, well, the idea of actually having to market and promote your region or institution is just not in your DNA.