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Friday, 29 June 2012

Carwyn's splitting atoms again

It isn't only goggles that do nothing.
Our devolved government's pretty good at that too!

In today's Daily Post, the First Minister attacks Welsh independence as a threat to nuclear jobs on Anglesey, citing Scottish examples as a warning. He's quoted as saying:
"They (nuclear submarine/Trident) are jobs that would be lost to Scotland as a result of independence as indeed there would be jobs lost to Wales, such for example Wylfa B.

"We will back Wylfa B and the people that work there and the communities that are supported. We know Plaid Cymru would abandon them.

"....I suspect there are many other jobs like those at Faslane that would be lost because of independence.

"If you look at Wales the same case applies with Wylfa B. Plaid Cymru say they wouldn't back the 600 people who work there. We will."

Now there's consistency here. The Welsh Government have made it quite clear that they support the construction of Wylfa B, and it's mentioned as part of their energy strategy published back in February (linked below). Plaid Cymru are officially opposed to nuclear power, and leader Leanne Wood has spoken out against Wylfa B.

However, the picture is much more muddied that that. As you probably know, Horizon dropped their bid to construct Wylfa B, perhaps in part because of Germany's decision to phase out nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster last year.

A few new players have expressed an interest – and although I'm not a fan of nuclear power, objectively Wylfa is in many ways perfect – but nothing appears to have come from it yet. The UK Government have since said that they are still "committed to developing the site", but that came across as stalling to me, or reassurance, just like their promises with regard rail electrification.

There are other energy schemes on Anglesey, much closer to fruition that Wylfa B – a new biomass plant near the former Anglesey Aluminium plant and onshore wind farms for example.

Specific mentions of the number of jobs created at Wylfa B in the First Minister's Energy Wales : A Low Carbon Transition:

"Horizon estimates 5,000 construction jobs at peak and around 800 direct jobs in operation over its lifespan."

So that's 5,000 temporary jobs, which will be gone once Wylfa B is built, and a net-gain of 200 jobs with regard operation of the site. Also, Wylfa B will need to be decommissioned itself at some point down the line. To put things in perspective, more net jobs have been announced today at a cinema/retail development in Flintshire – and not a nuclear reactor or WMD in sight. Though I agree that any move to bring "highly skilled" jobs to Wales should be welcomed, albeit not under these circumstances.

These jobs could easily vanish if the UK Government doesn't find anyone willing to build Wylfa B in the first place. It has nothing to do with independence.

Nuclear power is a costly business, but at least the Welsh Government are honest enough to have said in their report that they see this as a way to "make up ground" in any energy production fall as a result of a transition to low-carbon energy production.

Judging by the nominal amounts of energy Wales produces compared to consumption, it doesn't really have that much use to us. Wylfa B would be, in essence, one of the World's most expensive back up generators, because there hasn't been any long-term energy planning by Westminster for 40 years.

Wales has an opportunity to do something different. Devolution and all that? Oh no, hang on....

Mentions of "Anglesey", "Wylfa" and "nuclear" in the Welsh Government's Programme for Government:

Why's that?

Well as much as "we" support Wylfa B, "we" don't want control of energy projects above 100MW.

"We" actually back decisions taken by the UK Coalition Government - and energy companies = to put back-up generators in our back garden that "we" don't really need.

"We" won't have that much of a say in it, apart from perhaps some supporting services like training and some influence over associated infrastructure.

"We" can't possibly back Wylfa. "We" only do what we're told.

Sustainable development at the heart of Welsh Government policy?

Yeah, right. Keep telling yourselves that.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Business Rates Wales Review

The report suggests that changes to Non Domestic Rates could
encourage trade back into Welsh town centres. Will it work?
(Pic : Bridgend Council)

In what could be considered to be a follow-up to my post in April, "Council Tax in Wales - Are the poor paying more?", Business Minister Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower) recently released a report on the future of business rates (Non Domestic Rates) in Wales. An anonymous commentator in the last blog said that Prof. Brian Morgan of Cardiff Metropolitan University was "looking into it", and this is the result.

What are non-domestic rates?

I'm going to partially repeat what I said in the other blog here, but it's necessary for clarity.

Non-domestic rates (NDR) are local taxes levied largely on businesses, based on a "rateable value" of business properties, which is multiplied by a "multiplier" to determine the NDR bill. The provisional "multiplier" for 2012-13 is/was 42.5p, so for a business with a rateable value of £10,000 - the provisional NDR bill would be £4,520 – payable in instalments over the year.

There are "rate relief" schemes that help ease the burden, for small businesses in particular, with low rateable values. It can reduce the bill by as much as 50%, or even 100% for small post offices.

NDR in Scotland is fully devolved, while in Wales, as the report says:
"....resources from rates are partly dependent on Barnett formula consequentials from the distribution of business rates in England."

Non-domestic rates are put into a central kitty, held in the Welsh Consolidated Fund at Westminster, and redistributed back to Welsh local authorities based on a formula, made up of various criteria, including population, relative deprivation and demographics. It forms a large part of the Welsh Government's annual local authority settlement and is estimated in the report to total around £1billion per year.

What does the report recommend?

The report made 19 headline recommendations. The stand-out ones are:
  • NDR should be considered for devolution to Wales within the remit of the Silk Commission.
  • The Welsh Government should enable local authorities to retain most of the business rate income, with the Welsh Government adjusting the local authority grant to take account of "needs".
  • Properties with a rateable value not exceeding £6000 should be exempt from NDR when they are part of a combined business-residential building.
  • The Welsh Government should introduce a targeted rate relief scheme for enterprise zones
  • A "number of options" should be taken to "level the playing field" between town centres and out-of town retail parks, including the creation of "Business Improvement Districts".
  • A recommendation against introducing a "Tesco Tax"/Large Retailer Levy because Wales' economy is "more interconnected with England" and it could drive mobile investment away.
  • Incentivise local authorities to "properly enforce" Empty Property Rates regulation.
  • Making use of the next round of EU funding to directly support town centres.
  • Establishing a Welsh Renewable Energy Relief scheme, with provisions for local retention of rates generated by these schemes.

Is this radical enough?

It would be wrong to say this report is a let-down, but there are some issues here.

Firstly, this is stuck in seeing Non Domestic Rates as the only way to raise local revenues from non-domestic premises. Maybe NDR was the extent of the scope of the Task and Finish Group, but that decision might have been a missed opportunity to explore other options.

In the last few months we've had Mark Drakeford AM (Lab, Cardiff West) raise the issue of a "Land Value Tax" in the Senedd. I mentioned in the last post that some way of taking ability to pay into account – for example US-style local sales taxes – should be considered. A Land Value Tax, for example, might've gone some way to promote quick re-letting and combat empty properties.

Secondly, I don't buy the argument that a "Tesco Tax" in Wales is unviable because of "interconnectivity with England". That might be the case along the border – and yes, it might impact places like Flintshire, Wrexham and Monmouthshire - but it certainly shouldn't further west.

Whether Wales actually needs a "Tesco Tax" is a separate debate, but I'm fairly sure business locaton and investment decisions are based on a potential market. That probably disincentivises Wales as a location more than any "Tesco Tax" would, due to our sparse centres in the west and north.

options should be on the table to protect town centres, and using a "stick" to incentivise moves to smaller stores in town centres could be just one way of doing it, but it would also need a "carrot".

For example, a Welsh "Tesco Tax" might only be applied to larger retailers based outside defined town/city centres, or the mooted "Business Improvement Districts". If we're going to have big retailers – an economic and social fact of life - let's make sure they are based as close to traditional town centres as possible, or even encouraged to take over older buildings.

The issue of enterprise zones raises its head once again. We've had some moves on that in the last few months, and it's clear from this report that Wales is likely to introduce some kind of business-friendly NDR rate scheme in EZs. I'm sure Edwina Hart will be mulling over that for the next few months.

Ultimately though, in the long-term, Wales (and probably the rest of the UK as well) is going to need a much simpler replacement for NDR. Like Council Tax, I'd prefer one based on ability to pay rather than property values. The Land Value tax could compliment a "Local Sales Tax" and "Local Income Tax", but that could complicate matters and add unnecessary bureaucracy.

The question is how do you do that while sustaining similar levels of tax revenues? And how do you make sure it's fair for businesses (in particular small ones)?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Basketball Wales - Selfish, or just sensible?

"Some people say they know they can't believe
Wales we still got a basketball team."
(Pic : MVP 24/

Considering our climate, Wales should be a powerhouse at indoor sports.

However, when it comes to Welsh sport, basketball won't jump out at you as one of our major ones. We do have a committed organisation that runs the sport in Wales, just as the FAW runs football, or the WRU runs rugby union. Basketball Wales was founded in 2008 as a replacement for the Basketball Association of Wales, which was itself founded in 1952.

In a related note, it was recently reported in the Glamorgan Gazette that former teacher Brian Sparks, from Bridgend, was awarded an MBE for his services to schools basketball. In recent years however, it was the exploits of the successful women's Rhondda Rebels side that thrust basketball into some semblance of limelight in Wales.

Wales has its own competitions, and even its own national team that occasionally competes by itself, but also recently as part of a Great Britain side in preparation for the Olympics - and higher-ranking tournaments like EuroBasket and the World Cup. Team GB had to be given special dispensation to participate in London, after proving they were competitive, as there's no permanent Team GB, just like the football.

Basketball Wales was recently criticised for not signing up to a merger with the English and Scottish basketball associations to form a permanent "British" organisation. This would enable GB to compete at future Olympic Games and international tournaments. Team GB's men's captain for the forthcoming Olympics, Drew Sullivan, is quoted on the BBC as saying it was "selfish and absurd that they made this decision."

Sound familiar?

Wales doesn't have any players in Team GB, and was never likely to produce more than maybe one or two at that level. They're up against players who qualify for British nationality, but who play in the NBA or the bigger European leagues – Chicago Bulls' Luol Deng for example, arguably the most famous British basketball player ever.

The only way Welsh players can even compete internationally is in low-ranking European competitions against the likes of Gibraltar, Malta and San Marino. If Basketball Wales had merged with the other associations though, they would've simply faded out of existence, and their ability to compete in these competitions might've come under question. Basketball Wales are quoted as saying that:
"....membership of the British Basketball Federation (BBF) has not enhanced the game in Wales, including the numbers participating or the level and standard of participation."
In fact, according to ESPN-associated site MPV24/7, funding for Basketball Wales was reduced to effectively zero by Sports Wales in 2011. Zero. Olympic legacy anyone?

Although you can certainly argue that Basketball Wales' decision was perhaps a little parochial, Wales stood, by and large, to gain absolutely nothing from any merger.

So the turkeys didn't vote for Christmas. What's the issue here?

FIBA (the basketball equivalent of FIFA) are noticeably disappointed by Basketball Wales' non-compliance. Judging by their response, it looks as though FIBA might accept that an Anglo-Scottish association will be enough to compete as a "Team GB" side. That'll probably mean Wales will become "persona non-grata", despite being a full member of FIBA in the same way Wales is in FIFA and the IRB.

I'll probably go into this in more detail in the future, but what we need now is a way to promote sports like basketball, netball, handball, wheelchair rugby, futsal – and why not even baseball (the Anglo-Welsh version, which is still played in the Cardiff area AFAIK) - in our schools, colleges and communities. I'd personally like to see more formal competitions, and I would like to see some sort of US-style "college sports" culture develop in Wales. I mentioned that before with regard rugby.

At least with our own independent basketball association we'll have the opportunity to able to do something like that.

Basketball Wales shouldn't have made a decision - that could affect the sport in a whole nation - just to suit the ambitions of one or two elite athletes. England could probably reach the higher echelons of international basketball by themselves with the right support and development, but no athletes should stand on the backs of grass-roots Scottish and Welsh basketball players to make that process easier.

We might not be the best, but there's a proud history there. It's not much, admittedly, but its still ours.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Draft Human Transplantation Bill

The draft Human Transplantation Bill would create a
"soft opt out" system, whereby anyone not specifically opting-out
of a new organ donor register will have presumed to have "opted-in".
(Pic : The Telegraph)

Following on from my post last year on the Organ Donation white paper, Health Minister Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) has launched what is likely to be one of the most controversial moves the Assembly has made since devolution.

The Draft Human Transplantation Bill will introduce a soft opt-out system for organ donation in Wales. If the final bill is passed, it'll come into effect in 2015.

How will the proposed "opt-out" system work?

There'll be a separate organ donation register for Wales, and will list whether a person has opted to donate or not to donate.

Consent will still be asked from the close families (dubbed a "qualifying relationship") of the deceased before any donation, and they can still object. The difference is those who have neither opted-in or opted-out will be presumed to have opted-in.

The Welsh Government will be legally obliged to promote transplantation (as currently) and explain the opt-out system fully to the public.

In fact, in the Bill, it'll become a criminal offence - punishable by up to 3 years in prison - to transplant organs without consent, or use them for "a purpose that is not a qualifying purpose".

I presume "not qualifying purpose" would include anatomical dissection, display or other forms of retention.

Who would be subject to the law?
  • People over the age of 18
  • Who have "capacity" to understand the procedure (it exempts those with learning disabilities for example)
  • Who have lived in Wales for more than 6 months and die in Wales

For those under the age of 18, eligible to be a donor, their own wishes will be the only consideration. They'll be contacted by the Welsh NHS in the months leading to their 18th birthday to tell them of the new arrangements.

What are the potential benefits and drawbacks?

The explanatory memorandum lists that the new system will cost around £5million to set up, payable by the Welsh Government.

However, it also estimates that a single extra donor a year has a "net present value" of £5million (what I presume includes increases in quality of life, savings in dialysis treatment for kidney patients etc.). If the stated aim of 15 extra donors a year is met, then it's listed it could be worth £150million. An extra 25 donors would be worth £254million. There's a more detailed analysis in the memorandum if you are interested.

What's likely to be the most contentious issue surrounds whether organ donation is an altruistic "gift", rather than something the state presumes you want to do upon death because it's a "good thing". If there's no increase in organ donation, or if "compulsion" encourages people to opt-out, then it could prove self-defeating, and harm Wales' pretty decent record in organ donation.

That issue....

Yes, in the draft bill, any donated organ in Wales will be available to anyone in the UK as existing. The relevant part of the draft bill is section 15 (1)(b) which amends the Human Tissues Act 2004.

You can certainly argue that - as Wales could be about to put several hundred thousand extra potential donors on the register - England, Scotland and Northern Ireland have moral obligation to follow suit to benefit from any extra "Welsh" organs.


As I said in my previous post, you shouldn't try to limit the "pool" for potential organ donors. I argued that ideally there would be a pan-EU or pan-European organ donor scheme. Just because somebody is Welsh, it doesn't mean they'll always be able to find a compatible donor within Wales. Organs move both ways across borders, and if you're in the situation of needing one, I don't think you'll care where it comes from – you'll just be thankful you have a chance of a semblance of a normal life.

There'll be plenty of non-Welsh incomers who'll be subject to this law.

Organ transplantation should always be judged on the basis of need. If there's a more needy Welsh person, they should get it - just as if there were a more needy Scot , Irish, German, Pole or even - God forbid - English.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

National Literacy & Numeracy Framework

The new criteria and testing in primary and secondary
schools aims to improve standards, which have come under
increased criticism from the likes of Estyn.
(Pic: Guardian)

It's often been quoted by the mainstream media – that "kids today" don't have the requisite skills in literacy and numeracy to please prospective employers, flagged up by Estyn's report last year, and with recently-reported ongoing concerns. In response, Education Minister Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda) produced the Welsh Government's brand new National Literacy and Numeracy Framework for 5-14 years olds.

The documents are out for consultation until 12th October. It's anticipated that the new regime will be brought in for the 2013/14 school year, and Welsh Labour's words could soon be backed with NUCLEAR WEAPONS!

The key aims are:

  • Assist teachers in all subjects to "identify and provide opportunities" for learners to improve their literacy and numeracy
  • Create an "annual national expectation" – by which pupils will be monitored on their progress
  • Create clearer definitions of how pupils are doing, including annual reports for parents/carers based on teacher assessment.

What's involved?

The new framework sets out, in some detail, what literacy and numeracy skills pupils will be expected to develop throughout their time in school.

For literacy, skills are split into:

  1. Reading for information
  2. Writing for information
  3. Oracy

The numeracy skills are:

  1. Numerical reasoning
  2. Number skills
  3. Measuring skills
  4. Data skills

These are the same for both English and Welsh medium.

The focus is on acquiring and being able to use these skills, with good integration across subjects, while taking into consideration those with special needs as well as "more able" pupils.

How will standards be monitored?

There are several "indicators" that pupils are expected to achieve though each year of school up to and including year 9. It doesn't appear to be that "top heavy", and the indicators are pretty clear cut and not bogged down in minutiae.

For example, in Reception classes, for "Reading for information", children will be expected to be able to "choose a book" and "recognise words and their meaning".

While at the other end, Year 9 pupils will be expected to "understand texts that are new to them" and "make full, but selective use of the internet to deepen understanding of a topic".

The new framework is mainly for curriculum planning, as well as a guide as to what teachers should be assessing. As mentioned earlier, this is a cross-curricular framework, so it applies to all subjects. In fact, some of the example materials for literacy are taken from geography and history work.

One of the more important developments, is the introduction of national literacy and numeracy tests. These will "provide data, collected and analysed nationally". I remember having these at school too. They were called "SATS", but the Welsh Government got rid of them.

However, the SATS were at the end of every Key Stage. These new tests will be annual, and it'll be a statutory requirement for schools to test pupils. It looks as if the same test will be used across Wales to ensure consistency. The tests will be piloted in 2012 & 2013, being introduced across all the skills by May 2014.

The tests will be:

  • A maximum of 60 minutes in length
  • Tests will have a "window", not a single national date
  • Designed to be administered in groups (small groups, class or year group)
  • Flexible, to allow testing in smaller groups for younger pupils and take special needs into consideration
  • Have comparable tests in English and Welsh, but not translations
  • Will be marked within the schools


I swear we used to have something similar to this when I was a lad. I think it was called "being a teacher". By and large, I'd say they did a pretty good job.

I realise there are plenty of people my age who are walking adverts for a human cull, perhaps why Carwyn wants his hands on nukes so much, but what on Earth do people think we did in lessons all day?

We were tested - quite extensively. We were corrected when we were wrong. We had in-class spelling, maths and reading tests. We worked with graphs, formulae, maps and geometry. There was a "SPAG mark" in all exams - regardless of subject - where marks were taken off for poor spelling, punctuation and grammar.

There's a lot here that I had to go through as a pupil myself - and not that long ago either. This isn't radical or groundbreaking. Teachers should be, and I hope they are, already doing this. I hope that this is a "tidying up exercise" to ensure that literacy and numeracy standards are applied equally across Wales, because if it isn't....

If an Education Minister has to draw up guidelines for qualified teachers on something like this – we're doomed. That's not hyperbole, we really are up certain creeks without a paddle if Leighton doesn't succeed with this.

Leighton is clearly attempting to stop some significant rot - it isn't his fault, and should be welcomed - but this must be one of the most embarrassing documents ever produced by a government on education, not for its content but for its necessity.

The introduction of national literacy and numeracy testing is - while not a complete U-turn on scrapping SATS – perhaps a quiet acceptance that, in principle, it probably wasn't the best thing to do.

If there's one iota of moaning from the teaching unions on this, they should hang their heads in shame, or think of a career change, because they clearly don't want to do the job anymore.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Carwyn prostitutes Wales to the grim reaper

I thought Carwyn Jones  had much more sense than this. To say I'm disappointed that he's my AM right now is an understatement. This is the first time I've ever been truly embarrassed.

Carwyn said in the Senedd earlier today, quoted from the Western Mail:

"There would be more than a welcome for the UK's submarine fleet, and 6,000 new jobs in Milford Haven."

What exactly does "more than a welcome" mean?

Will we be able to sign the missiles? Pose for photos? Will Katherine Jenkins welcome them coming over the Severn Bridge with an aria? Will Charlotte Church put one up her fanny? Will Andy Powell try to ride one all the way to Vladivostok?

That could be a good spin off for tourism, eh Carwyn? Pembrokeshire National Park - Home to the ultimate defence of the realm (weather permitting). "Where turtle and Trident frolic".

You'll be able see them off from the coastal path, I'm sure. Perhaps you can arrange day trips from Bluestone. When little Billy asks what the big metal thing is for, Carwyn can tell them himself – "Those are yur to incinerate the enemies of the state. 6,000 jobs, see!" *wink*

There's no doubt that Trident moving to Wales would mean jobs. You can certainly argue that the jobs would likely only be to maintain the submarines themselves. However, those submarines don't exist to spread fun and lollipops to the world. Besides, most of the jobs will be transferred. There's simply not enough time to get "6,000" Welsh people up to speed on submarine and nuclear missile technology. At most there's currently around 1,800 jobs directly related to the upkeep of the system where they're based. So not 6,000 "new jobs", simply no "6,000 jobs."

Bit of a fib that, in what's increasingly becoming a long line of fibs on job creation.

One of the arguments against, is that Milford Haven would "become a target" because of this, but there's no need to worry about that with Trident. Why? You can be confident Milford Haven will already be a target for a nuclear strike because of the oil refineries and LNG plant.

One of the many things requiring to be factored in, is that the warheads are usually transported by road or rail. Presumably (after travelling through much of Scotland and England) through Newport, Cardiff, Bridgend, Port Talbot, Swansea, Llanelli, Carmarthen, St Clears, Whitland and Haverfordwest before reaching Milford Haven. Make sure you wave if/when they pass, and thank Carwyn for the bounty we're about to generously receive.

Would he back a toxic waste dump in Wales if it brought a couple of hundred jobs? You've got to presume, based on this, that the answer is a resounding yes. There's a massive crater in Cefn Cribwr that needs filling in, Carwyn. I'm sure a nice big toxic waste dump would be ideal. There's a lot of unemployment in Bridgend, see. I don't know how many jobs would be created. Lets use your powers of understatement and say 20,000.

This is the ultimate version of digging a hole and getting someone to fill it in. It's the ultimate embodiment of the "broken window fallacy". These things will never be used, cost an absolute fortune to maintain and are designed to bring death and destruction to tens of thousands of people in an instant.

It's unconscionable that anyone with an ounce of reason would willingly want these things anywhere near them. I think most politicians would be very, very cautious – probably neutral - even if they support a move to their area. But to say they "welcome" the possibility is extremely odd - unless they think they can loan them for a parade.

They're shaped like massive penes because, if they are used, it would be to rape the corpse of what would be left of human civilisation. Is that what Carwyn would want Wales' role to be come Armageddon? To "stand up" and tell what's left of Russia, China or whoever that the British Bulldog has got plenty of spunk left in the tank.

Wales' last contribution to human history would be to wave off a fleet that would "send a message" to hundreds of thousands of perfectly innocent people, in the final ever game of tit-for-tat diplomacy. Meanwhile, we all die of radiation poisoning, shitting into a bucket behind a door piled with sandbags and cushions. The lucky ones will already be dead. Will there be any union flags left to wave, I wonder?

If he's lucky, Carwyn would probably be in a bunker somewhere, hopefully tortured to madness should the welcome mat be laid out for Trident in Wales. Little Billy is a pile of ash. Bridgend is on fire, Cardiff has been wiped off the map. Everything for several miles around Milford Haven is charred while everything that isn't dead would be soon after. That's what Carwyn "more than welcomed" to Wales today.

It isn't worth 6,000 jobs – or whatever number Carwyn pulled out of the sky. It isn't worth 6million jobs. Yes, we need investment in our ports, but for this!? Seriously!? Is this one of the few ways the Welsh Government can foresee future investment in our most important port?

If you've got good work, or even bad work, Wales is your release. The cheeks are spread apart and we're bent over. Our sphincter is open for business. No need to lube up. Just make sure you give the money to Carwyn, because we don't want to be beaten up again.

It'll be a very sad day, probably the moment I finally take the plunge and emigrate, if Trident moved to Wales. It would be the end of any hope that we could have, or build, something better here, whether we remained part of the union or not.

Instead of Green Investment Bank's, an expansion of co-ops, an expansion of university spin-outs, this is what the Welsh were born to do – the equivalent of a girlfriend hiding her boyfriend's gun.

Don't we deserve better than that?

Monday, 18 June 2012

Politics of pride : The evils of nationalism

200-up. Thank you for your continued support.

No political ideology is perfect, and nationalism (in all its manifestations) is no exception. I expect this post is going to go down like a lead balloon, but it's a subject worth considering.

It's often been said that socialism, for example, is the "politics of envy". If we're going to use the Seven Deadly Sins in this exercise, you can disregard gluttony and sloth as they don't really fit in anywhere. Social conservatism could be described as the "politics of wrath" - trying to keep things a certain way through pressure or compulsion. Economic liberalism, the "politics of greed". Social liberalism, the "politics of lust". Green politics probably combines lust for the planet with socialist envy.

But what about nationalism? You could say nationalism is the "politics of pride".

1. It can be co-opted into something much worse

"Balkanisation" is often thrown around, as a pejorative, to describe the rise of nationalism amongst the British nations. The cause of the Yugoslav Wars in particular are immensely complicated, covering various religious, ethic, historical grievances and economic/socio-political manoeuvring. The power-keg - created by years of inter-ethnic tensions - and a constitution complicated by varying degrees of autonomy in addition to trying to fit the Yugoslavian socialist system into it, set the ball in motion. A violent break-up however, could have been avoided.

The strident Serb nationalism (or you could argue Serb unionism/irredentism) adopted by the League of Communists in Serbia could be considered the key catalyst, or turning point, in the violent break up of Yugoslavia. The Serbs had gradually seen their influence wane within the Yugoslav federation, and their historic claims on Kosovo undermined. It created a nationalist narrative, pitting the exploited Serbs against their neighbours. By seizing control of the Yugoslav (federal) agenda, and taking steps to undermine the sovereignty of the other nationalities to "protect themselves", the Serbs became the popular villain of the piece - but that would be wrong. No side is blameless, though the Slovenes and Macedonians probably come out of it better than the others.

If this were the 13th century, you could argue that the British Isles had a similar situation, but those days are long gone now. There's no chance of a violent break-up akin to Yugoslavia for a multitude of reasons. Even the former Yugoslavia is slowly moving towards an era of slightly more peaceful coexistence. They'll probably all be better off for it in the long-term.

However, if the nations of the former Yugoslavia had taken a more conciliatory tone, instead of using nationalism to blockade themselves in, or to lay claims to each others territories, or to ferment mistrust, maybe history would've been different and far less bloody.

Mix the pride of nationalism, with the wrath of social conservatism and you end up with fascism. Mix it with envy and you end up with sort of Stalinist Communism. Mix it with greed and you have imperialism.

Nationalism is an incredibly potent tool. It's not something that should be wielded by amateurs, or tied to messages or political purposes that are contradictory. It draws on a primal territorialism that every human on the planet possesses – "this is mine/ours, that is yours/theirs".

When used correctly, it can unite, instill hope, boost morale and drag struggling nations over the finishing line. When used incorrectly, or when taken to extreme limits, it can divide, lead to a monocultural cul-de-sac, exceptionalism and xenophobia.

That leads us nicely into the next section.

2. It can be used as a "dog whistle"

It's said "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel", but perhaps it's "the last tool of scoundrels".

Your government is struggling. It's running out of ideas. You need a plan. The quickest and easiest way to dig your way out of a hole is to wrap yourself in the flag. We've seen it in Wales so many times now, it's moved from being something nationalists would arguably welcome (the "Welshification" of politics) to something obstructive to the political process and debate. If I'm honest it's even increasingly annoying, not because of "treading on Plaid's turf", but because it's a convenient distraction from the issues.

One of my least-favourite pejoratives is the term "anti-Welsh". For example, anything the Coalition Government does is "anti-Welsh" because they don't spend every waking moment worrying about what the Welsh Government thinks on welfare reform, or macroeconomics. Until those levers are in the hands of politicians based in Wales, Westminster is perfectly within their rights to tell Welsh politicians to shut up - none of your business.

Obviously I wish there were only one national flag flying above public buildings in Wales. But while there are two flags, we have to accept, in this devolution age, that there are some things our politicians shouldn't be focusing too much time and energy on. There are plenty of problems here that need sorting out, within the scope of our devolved Assembly – that's the true patriotic duty, isn't it?

It happens quite often at the British level too. The British equivalent being mentions of "Our Boys", World War II footage dubbed over with a Churchill speech (or an air-raid siren), slow-motion montages of athletes crossing finishing lines or pumping fists.

The royal family are the ultimate dog whistle – for both unionists and a fair chunk of nationalists – for differing reasons.

I don't know what it's supposed to instill. Pride perhaps?

I'd be prouder if, oh I don't know, Cardiff managed to attract a Green Investment Bank, we had a mile of electrified railway, or if there wasn't a excessive charge on getting into the country in the first place.

It's become a card played on so many occasions, at the wrong times, that when there's a genuine slight against Wales, the reactions can be brushed aside as a chippy nat rant.

3. "Exclusivity" and replacing one elite with another
Can you ever have a Welsh nationality while it's subsumed under a British nationality? Can you be Welsh, while not being ethnically Welsh? Is nationalism "exclusive"?

I don't buy that argument, but I can see why many would get that impression. Civic nationalism is inclusive to a wide degree. I don't think there's any danger of Welsh or Scottish nationalism doing this really. It's what comes after that bothers me.

Now it also cuts both ways - persecution and prejudice against minority languages and ethnicities for example. Like it or not, it has happened in Britain, even today continuing in a more sneering and condescending fashion - and one of the reasons there's a nationalist element in the first place.

I touched on this a few days ago in relation to the UK. I don't think there's anything wrong with having a single Welsh national identity, alongside a cultural/social British, European or Commonwealth one. I doubt non-nationalists are ever going to understand the difference, and nationalists will never be comfortable with duel-nationality. Perhaps though, we're allowing identity politics to get in the way of the practicalities. It's more fun, and it stimulates more passionate debate, but it doesn't matter really, does it?

Yes, there are differences between ethnic "Welshness", civic Welshness and Britishness (civic, social and ethnic). The civic Welshness is the most important one to most nationalists. That means if you live in Wales, you are equal to a Welsh "born and bred" individual. That's a guiding principle across Europe and is unlikely to ever change.

However, I'd argue that Wales should be primarily run for the benefit of the civic Welsh alone. Wales should have the apparatus in place to enable it to run itself effectively. We should be promoting Welsh talent and primarily concerned about the needs of Welsh businesses, a Welsh environment and a Welsh economy like every other nation on the planet is with theirs, on the basis of equal standing internationally.

That also means there's going to be a Welsh social stratification, cases of Welsh exploiting other Welsh people and a Welsh culture of excess. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination won't go away overnight post-independence. Maybe Wales would be better placed to deal with these problems, but it'll be the same old faces, same old stories, just with a Welsh accent.

For Oxbridge, see Aberystwyth and Cardiff. For Eton see Haberdashers, Llandovery College and Ruthin School. Our future politicians and leaders of industry will likely be treading a very familiar path.

When nationalist, and in some cases socialist, debate in Wales is often reduced to a case of the working-class "oppressed" Welsh fighting against the exploitation of the British establishment, post-independence we'll be confronted with a deeply uncomfortable fact:

We're as bad a bunch as the rest of them.

In small nations (or more accurately, nations with a very small/elitist civic society - and that includes the UK), where everyone knows one another, a "pally" culture can develop. This happens in all nations to a certain extent, but in smaller ones, it can become more pronounced, leading to cronyism, and opening doors to corruption. It also means that when a minister or a public figure needs to be held to account, it doesn't happen for risk of causing offence, hitting morale within a party/ institution or creating political enmity (i.e. Storing up a potential leadership challenge at a later date).

These elites serve a vital role though. They generally drive forward the creation of a civic culture, serve as patrons of national institutions and form the ties that bind the politics to the civic – linking state to citizen. In (south) Wales they're called the "crachach" or the "Taffia". Sometimes they're divided into Welsh-speaking and non-Welsh speaking categories. The irony is that most of the people who've used these terms, or heard of them, probably are part of the crachach – including politicians elected to "stand up for the working man (or woman)."

There's the danger of swapping one elite for another elite, or serving the interests of one against the other. I wouldn't be happy with a recreation of Westminster in Cardiff Bay post-independence, but that's one likely outcome. Of course if there were a "new politics" : direct democracy, complete transparency in government and a continuation of the Assembly's (generally) more casual procedures and atmosphere, then there's a chance this could be avoided – but not entirely. It isn't even avoided today, look at AWEMA.

4. Nationalism vs Cosmopolitanism vs Internationalism

This is tied to "exclusivity". What's the best outlook for a nation?

Many small European nations could be considered monocultural or monoethic. Wales is no exception to this, really. Is that a "good" or a "bad" thing? Multiculturalism is a force for good, as long as it's bound by an overarching, inclusive, civic state identity that's separate from the ethnic one – obviously I believe that to be Welsh.

However, nationalism is often accused of being "backward" or "introspective". There's nothing wrong with that at all. You don't know where you're going unless you know where you've come from, but you don't always have to look behind you. I certainly prefer looking forward, and what I see in the future is red, white and green. If a nation doesn't look after itself, or its own wider interests first, how can it ever be expected to look out for others?

There's a suburban smugness about cosmopolitanism. It results in the infusement of different cultures, cuisines and worldviews – and that's positive. But it also results in nauseating examples of middle-class "safe multiculturalism". The sort of people who'll go to a Mela, who'll travel around off beaten Africa or Asia, but would balk at a minority couple moving in next door and who might come to the conclusion that their own culture is backward. It's all surface deep. It also results in walking on eggshells to avoid offending people.

But there's also a rather smug "monoculturalism" as well. You won't find the best examples of Welsh folk music and poetry playing in front of a few people in a pub, or in a rain-sodden tent in mid-Powys . You'll find them at football and rugby grounds. But, not just in Wales it has to be said, that sort of thing is sneered at because it's not diverse enough, it's "too popular", or it doesn't have a greater message behind it - other than believing, en-masse, that the referee occasionally masturbates.

The likes of North Korea aside, no nation stands alone. It's a globalised world and Europe has led the way in international cooperation, culminating in one of the great political achievements of the 20th Century – the European Union. This can easily accommodate nationalism. In fact, you could argue that nationalism is enhancing it by ensuring every nation (as a member state) is an equal, breaking down traditional expansionistic and exceptionalist powers, and ceding sovereignty consistently across all of the peoples of Europe. Unity through diversity, not in spite of it. An entire continent, not just a collection of islands off the coast.

5. Nationalism is a means to an end, not a means in itself.

It could be argued that this is also one of the big plus points for nationalism – it's 100% achievable. A nationalist politician can walk away at some point saying "job done." It isn't as abstract - in terms of delivery - as "social justice" or "personal liberty".

Is nationalism even a ideology? At heart, it's very narrow and functional - more about system of government than how a government should be run. It's more a facilitator than deliverance.

Civic nationalism has an end-game – independence or a significant degree of self-determination. Once that's achieved, where does it go? Ultimately, it'll be other ideologies and parties that will  deliver the means. In Wales and Scotland, nationalism has been adopted by social democratic parties, or you could say social democratic policies have been adopted by nationalist parties.

I dabbled in traditional left-wing politics, before concluding that an independent Wales is probably the best vehicle see any movement towards equality, social liberalism and social justice – based on examples elsewhere in Europe.

That's compared to the dramatically unequal United Kingdom, that hasn't changed enough after decades and centuries of Labour, Conservative and Liberal rule. Having said that, Welsh independence alone probably won't deliver it either – and that's the point I'm making - but at least it gives us a chance to deal with it our own way – and yes, it probably is significantly different to how the English or Scottish would, so much so we'll have to go it alone.

This is going to sound odd, but I don't really feel any "loyalty" towards Wales. I'm not a flag waver or a chest-beater. I'm not really interested in the emotional and romantic arguments for independence, aside from the Welsh right to self-determination. I'm more concerned about pragmatism.

At the risk of repeating myself, I believe independence would allow Wales to operate to its fullest potential as compared to being part of the UK - or more specifically, the possible reforms independence could bring would enable such.

That's incredibly boring, isn't it? Therefore it makes sense to have an emotional pull alongside it, even if you don't really believe it. It's almost like seeing "the national cause" as a religious act of faith. I've even said before that independence would be a "leap of faith". Though it's wrong to suggest that nationalists alone are culpable of this.

But once a nation has achieved sovereignty (not necessarily in a Westphalian sense) what would be the purpose of nationalism? Some of the answers are above - and they're not something to look forward to.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Draft Public Audit (Wales) Bill

"Who watches the watchers?"
The draft Public Audit Bill aims to address some key issues
surrounding how public institutions in Wales are held to account.
(Pic: BBC)

The second "meaty" piece of legislation so far this Assembly term is incredibly boring, but absolutely essential. It's to do with the Wales Audit Office, which has – ironically - come under intense scrutiny over the years due to various failing and malpractices.

Before she became Plaid leader, Leanne Wood (Plaid, South Wales Central) uncovered instances of workplace bullying, self-authorised expenses and excessive severance packages. And of course the former Auditor General was jailed in November 2010.

Having said that, despite these major issues, it's actually been an efficient organisation – winning a chartered accountancy award in 2009.

The time has come though for more concrete changes and Finance Minister Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) put a new Public Audit Bill out for consultation in March, with a final draft/Bill proper likely to come in the next couple of months.

The draft proposals included:

1. Public Audit Institutions

The Auditor General:
  • Will be nominated by the Assembly and appointed by the Queen
  • Can hold the office for a single term of 7 years and cannot be re-appointed
  • Cannot be an elected official, member of the House of Lords, or an existing employee of the Wales Audit Office or Assembly Commission
  • Pay will be decided by the Assembly's Public Accounts Committee, but won't be performance based
  • Will be Chief Executive of the Wales Audit Office

The Wales Audit Office (WAO):
  • Will have a corporate body made up of 7 members - 5 of whom will be non-executive members appointed from outside the WAO, the Auditor General and one employee of the WAO.
  • May employ its own staff, but under the same conditions as employment to the Welsh Government
  • Is obliged to carry out its functions "efficiently and cost-effectively"
  • Must prepare a statement of expenses and income and prepare and annual plan for the financial year
  • Will have the power to borrow to meet temporary excesses
  • May charge fees for its duties and services, subject to Public Accounts Committee approval. Welsh Ministers will be able to draw up a "scale of fees" through regulations

2. Public Audit Functions
  • The Auditor General will have "compete discretion" and will not be under the direct control of the Assembly or Welsh Government.
  • Welsh Ministers and Assembly Commission must keep proper accounts and prepare a statement of those accounts for each financial year, submitted by November 30th in the following financial year.

Public Bodies subject to public audit include (with varying deadlines):
  • Public Service Obundsman
  • Older Persons Commissioner
  • Children's Commissioner
  • Welsh Language Commissioner
  • Local Government Boundary Association
  • Estyn (school inspector)
  • Forestry Commission
  • Countryside Council for Wales
  • General Teaching Council for Wales
  • HEFCW (HE funding)
  • National Library
  • National Museum
  • Welsh levy board
  • Welsh NHS body/bodies
  • Care Council for Wales
  • Wales Centre for Health
  • Sports Council for Wales
  • CADW

  • Education bodies, such as governing bodies, may be subject to audit on request.
  • Welsh Ministers may amend the list with consultation with the body/bodies affected.
  • The Auditor General will have four months to lay a copy of the accounts before the National Assembly as well as a report on any findings.
  • The Auditor General will have to be satisfied that spending, or money received, was lawful, used for expected purposes, meets statutory provisions for accounting and observed proper practices in the statement of accounts.
  • The Auditor General will have to carry out "value for money" examinations, to ensure efficiency and cost-effectiveness within an organisation. This must take the views of the Public Accounts Committee into account.
  • The Auditor General can produce reports on matters "in the public interest" that arise during an audit.
  • The House of Commons Select Committee of Public Accounts will be able to request that the Assembly's equivalent committee take evidence on their (HoC) behalf or report evidence to them.

3. Auditing Local Government
  • Local authorities (county councils, community councils, national parks, police commissioners, fire authorities etc.) will need to make up their accounts by March 31.
  • The Auditor General will have similar powers to audit local authorities as those listed in part 2 above.
  • The Auditor General will have the power to judge and publish "standards of performance" within local authorities. It will need to be published in a local newspaper which is printed for sale, free of charge or circulating in the area.

4. Data Matching
  • The Auditor General will be able to conduct "data matching exercises", which involves comparing data to see how well they match, including identifying patterns and trends. This aims to assist in the detection of fraud.
  • Any of the bodies mentioned above will be required to provide data to the Auditor General, with fines for non-compliance.
  • Results of data matching may be disclosed by the Auditor General but with some restrictions (i.e. patient data).
  • The results may be published by the Auditor General, but not if the body or person is included in the data matching exercise, can be identified from the information, or if the information is "not otherwise in the public domain".
  • The Secretary of State will have powers in this area to do with criminal justice. The SoS will have powers to amend the Act to include public bodies that relate exclusively to Wales, modify applications or to omit bodies.

5. Functions of the Auditor General

This is a list of specific rights and duties of the Auditor General, and the subjects of audits. It's an expansion of everything listed above.


I'm not entirely sure of the reasons this legislation is needed, to be frank. All of these things should already have been in place since the Wales Audit Office was established. However, it does make it a lot clearer as to what the Wales Audit Office and the Auditor General are responsible for. It should lead to better functioning behind the scenes, and ensure that relevant bodies are kept on their toes.

It brings the Wales Audit Office into line with the provisions of the UK Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill.

As I said, this is incredibly boring an uninspiring, but essential for smooth running of government.

You can wake up now.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The inflexibility of British identity politics

Owen: As I suspect most of the people reading this will know, I recently wrote an article for Cambria Magazine on the "affordability" of Welsh independence. You can read "The Big Independence Question" here at Cambria Politico.
"People can be Scottish and British, it's OK. And if they feel primarily Scottish that's fine too. But if they leave the UK they won't be British any more: it stands to reason." - Ed Miliband, 7th June 2012 (quoted from The Guardian)

One you move out of the parental home, your parents are still a part of your family, as are your extended family. That's "Britishness" to me, or what I would like it to be.

The status quo is the equivalent of several generations living under the same roof, generally getting under each others feet. Scotland is looking at Property Gazette, but put off by the prices. Wales is a forty year old man-child playing console games and eating Doritos all day long. Northern Ireland is the drama queen youngest daughter. England is the favourite son who has a successful job, is very attractive, but can't get a girlfriend because his personality stinks. Cornwall is locked in the attic, while the British parents are resolute that none of them would last five minutes without the constant, dedicated, love, care and attention of Mummy & Daddy – even if it kills them.

Personally, I'm quite comfortable with a Welsh ethnic, national and cultural identity, a Celtic pan-cultural identity, a pan-Britain, Commonwealth & Ireland "familial" identity and an all-encompassing European trans-national, civilisation identity. It also goes without saying I'm one of seven billion of the same species.

That's at least five different identities (more once you add community and family ones). Each has their own meaning to me - the last one being the most important, the first being the most relevant in practical and decision-making terms. I also have different opinions on which ones should wield the most influence on my daily life. If that still makes me a "narrow nationalist" so be it.

I might very well believe that Wales should be an independent nation state, and believe in the self-determination of all nationalities, but I'm not a fan of anybody dictating the terms of what someone can or cannot identify themselves as. I might not accept that "British" is my nationality, but it's still a part of my identity, just not as critical as I believe it should be.

If, post-independence, people in Wales still want to consider their nationality British, I'm fine with that. I'll be fine with people celebrating Jubilee's or whatever. In fact, I'll be more inclined to join in, as a looser part of my identity – the equivalent of a family reunion - as long as it doesn't affect Wales' inalienable right to exist on equal standing with every other nation on the planet.

"British" is a geographical truism. If you are from Wales, England, Scotland or Cornwall, you are "British" whether you consider it a nationality or not, and whether those nations become independent/self-governing or not. Northern Ireland and all those ever-present bits of pink on the map make it more complicated, but saying Scots wouldn't be British post-independence is a bit like saying citizens from non-EU nations aren't Europeans.

The trouble is, "British" is interpreted by many unionists as meaning – exclusively - Unitedkingdomofgreatbritainandnorthernirelandish. It's not, really, an ethic identity – not that such things really matter – despite attempts to create the notion of a single "British people". Although I can understand people from ethnic minorities being more willing to identify as "British" as opposed to the more ethnically-derived constituent nationalities.

It started as a personal union between crowns, so it hasn't always been the national identity as we know it.

When people describe "British culture", they usually describe things that are quintessentially English - just wrapping everything under a catch-all label to make those of us on the fringes feel included. I don't consider it my own national identity in part because it subsumes my Welsh one in a way I believe is artificial. Obviously I believe there are also inherent and irreconcilable political and economic disadvantages to Wales within the union, hence the blog.

The fact the Scottish are on the cusp of possibly rejecting their British "national identity", makes the whole notion of a British nationality weak at the core. The Scots shouldn't be in the position even contemplate doing this if Britishness were such a strong binding influence for the union as claimed. Almost everything about British identity as it currently stands also "feels wrong". It "feels fake" and without any meat to it.

You don't really see successful secessionist movements in federal nations with a powerful, overarching national identity; that's inclusive, not really dominated by one member state, combined with effective and less convoluted division of powers at local, state and federal level – the USA, Switzerland, Australia and Germany for example. These nations exist purely as the sum of their parts.

The likes of the UK and Spain don't really have this. Instead they have something "above" the sum of their parts, that hovers around, you can't ignore, but has little substance to it. It's a by-product of a political engine. "Britishness" is steam, while the other identities are shovelled and thrown into the fire. Neither can work without the other, but one is solid while the other dissipates surprisingly easily despite looking dramatic on the surface.

If Scotland leaves the UK (I'm not convinced the yes-side will succeed in 2014), "British", as Ed Miliband implies it means – Unitedkingdomofgreatbritainandnorthernirelandish - is by and large dead, returning to a personal union of the crowns of Scotland and England. If the Scots can no longer be British post-independence on those terms, neither can Ed.

But British identity shouldn't be viewed as a negative just because it doesn't seem to be working the way unionists or nationalists might like it to. It can be positive and something to celebrate, but it'll have to become something different, perhaps even something better, perhaps something we don't even know of yet.

It's an example that's been done to death now, but the pan-Scandinavian Nordic Union and Nordic Council is something that the "New Britishness" can model itself on. It acknowledges that there's  something in common between a collection of independent states, and has benefits of being part of "the family" – passport-free travel for example, or even sharing embassy space.

What a coincidence, something similar exists in the British Isles – The British-Irish Council, the Common Travel Area and perhaps even extending to the Commonwealth. People in the Republic of Ireland can freely move to any of the other nations, vote in their elections but the Irish can also play a full part in international affairs, making their own decisions and mistakes as a sovereign nation state. The same is vice versa, except "Britain" muscles in on the sovereign nation state bit.

Once you throw in the Crown Dependencies, if you had little understanding of how the UK worked, it would likely appear inexplicably and unnecessarily complicated.

One thing is becoming obvious though. On the constitution and devolution, the Welsh Labour leadership currently trumps anything that Westminster Labour can put out.

If only Labour had someone, at UK level, who talked some sense on the future of the UK and all its associated conundrums – someone like Carwyn Jones perhaps.

Maybe if the London-based branch of Labour took their heads out of their backsides, and gave their most senior elected politician anywhere in the UK the time of day, they might be able to create a slightly more coherent policy on devolution, identity, federalism and England that could preserve the Union - instead of the dribbling nonsense put out last week.

Instead of getting bogged down in the not particularly important "heart" issues of identity and belonging, both sides of the debate are going to have to offer a "head" vision that not only lasts beyond the next set of elections, or the next decade, but works 30, 50 or 100 years from now. One of the union's strengths is that it has an ingrained flexibility because it doesn't have a written constitution – the union, as it is currently, is only 16 months old – but it's rapidly approaching an end point unless we have something bolder.

That something will also have to offer the English more than expressions of "good nationalism". That safe kind of nationalism, that arises with every major sports tournament, and doesn't deal with the nitty-gritty of decision-making - you know, doesn't deal with the stuff that actually matters to people or could result in awkward questions being asked.

If the identities of the constituent nations of the UK shouldn't belong exclusively to nationalists, neither should British identity to unionists. What Ed Miliband has said - and what presumable many others in the coming years will be saying - is that you can only be British on unionist terms.

What inflexible, narrow British nationalism.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Euro 2012 predictions

It's the biggest single-sport event of the Summer, co-hosted by Poland & Ukraine,  starting tomorrow afternoon.

There's no Welsh involvement obviously. The death of Gary Speed cast a shadow over a promising end to the qualification campaign. With the European Championships expanding to a 24-team tournament, Euro 2016 will be the best chance for Wales to qualify for a major tournament since 2004's disappointment. Wales should make the most of it, because I'm sure once all the complications of a 24-team tournament become obvious, it'll revert back to 16-teams.

However that's no reason to avoid looking at how our English and Irish friends will do.

Group A

Czech Republic

Co-hosts Poland have an exciting generation of young players coming through. Wojciech Szczesny is one of the most talented young goalkeepers in the English Premier League, while Robert Lewandowski is one of the most prolific strikers in Europe. They are on the cusp of emulating the great sides of the 70s and 80s. It'll probably be inexperience of a few of the players that will let them down, offset by home advantage. I think they can get out of their group.

Russia have an immensely talented team, and an extremely effective forward line that includes the likes of Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pogrebnyak. I expect them to be fighting with the Czech Republic and Poland for the top two places and they'll probably get through in the end. They'll be serious challengers for a European or World Championship in the next decade, but I think this is too soon.

The Czech Republic will want to exorcise memories of Euro 2008, Petr Cech in particular. Milan Baros has a fearsome record at international level in goalscoring, but will influential player, and captain, Tomas Rosisky manage to stay fit the whole tournament? Russia will be too strong for them, I'm guessing, and they play Poland in their last game which will probably be the decider for second place, with home advantage being critical.

Greece will want to put smiles on faces back home. Can they repeat Euro 2004? Not a chance. They'll have to be incredibly disciplined, and incredibly lucky, to get out of a group with the hosts, Russia and the Czechs.

Group B


The "Group of Death" in this tournament, but I actually think it's going to be fairly routine.

The Netherlands have one of the strongest squads at Euro 2012 and likely to be amongst the favourites. Only great rivals Germany are a real threat to them in this group. They are an incredibly attack-minded side, despite their anti-football at the 2010 World Cup Final. I fully expect them to get out of the group.

Germany are overdue a big tournament win, their last international trophy being Euro 96. If I were a betting man I'd put money on them. They are most people's favourites this time around, and probably mine as well. I think they'll be too strong for Portugal, and will probably flatten Denmark. It would be a huge shock if they didn't get out of this group.

Portugal look weaker than previous years, but on their day they can be a match for anyone. I just don't think they have enough to take on The Netherlands and Germany. They have no strikers of any note and will probably be reliant on Christiano Ronaldo and Nani to create chances.

Denmark will probably lose every game in a group like this. They performed incredibly well in qualifying, but I think even they'll accept this draw could've been kinder. Third place in the group at best. They have some of the best travelling fans in Europe though.

Group C

Republic of Ireland

I think Spain are going to be found out this time around, but they are still obvious contenders. Injuries to Puyol and Villa will be huge blows, and the core of the team are starting to show their age. I fully expect them to remain competitive, but I don't think they'll retain their title.

I think Italy are going to be the surprise package. They've had two very disappointing tournaments on the trot. With match-fixing scandals at home, they tend to perform when their backs are up against it. A few kind results here and there could see them go far, but I'd be surprised if they won it. They have a young side with a lot to prove, tempered with an experienced midfield at their peak ages, but they'll have to hope Mario Ballotelli doesn't go off on one, or destabilise the squad.

Croatia suffered heartache in 2008, exiting to Turkey on penalties. They have some very gifted players like Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar, Eduardo and Vedran Corluka. However I think Spain and Italy will simply be too much for them.

What of the Republic of Ireland? Their first European Championships for 24 years. Russia aside, they had a pretty easy qualifying group in all honesty, and I think it'll show. It does have some sort of inevitability that they'll likely get something out of the Italy game, but it's incredibly optimistic to see them get out of their group.

Group D


France are a far cry from the shambles they were at the 2010 World Cup. On paper, they have one of the strongest squads, but it depends on which France will turn up. I fully expect them to qualify from the group quite comfortably, but after that, who knows? The tournament's dark horses, in my opinion, but they'll have to convincingly beat England in the first game.

What lies ahead for England (or should that be Liverpool-Everton XI) and Woy? The squad is mostly young, hungry, but in some areas woefully inadequate or inexperienced for this level – in particular "bench/squad" players. I think it's safe to say England are "in transition". However, I think they place too much emphasis on Wayne Rooney's contributions and are overestimating Sweden and Ukraine. They'll find it difficult, but I'd expect them to qualify from the group, which is probably the minimum the English would expect. For once though, I don't think there are many people predicting an England tournament win. Maybe with expectations at a low level though, they can produce results with the pressure off. We'll see.

Sweden's qualification performance betrays the straightforwardness of that qualifying group (Netherlands aside). They don't have a squad that screams that they'll do anything dramatic. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will probably be carrying the side, but they have a decent record at big tournaments for a country their size. Maybe they can cause an upset against England or France, but likely not.

Co-hosts Ukraine play in a European championships for the first time. Most of their players play in the, not brilliant but not great either, Ukrainian Premier League. I'm not expecting miracles from them here, but I wouldn't be surprised if they pulled off a brave performance or two in front of their own fans.

I also think the racism issue, however serious, has been massively overblown. Club and international football are very different and the Ukrainians won't allow anything to happen that projects them in a bad light. These "negative" stories are dug up before every major tournament. In 1994 it was that the Americans didn't like "sawkerball".  In 1998, 2000 and 2006 it was hooliganism (and it did come true to an extent). In 2002 it was the South Korean and Japanese perceived lack of atmosphere. In 2004 it was organisational difficulties in Portugal.  In 2010 it was South Africa's high crime rate. It's racism this time around, and it appears organisational difficulties are being expressed for 2014. The less said about the 2018 and 2022 World Cups the better.

Maybe it's justified this time, but it does have a patronising, sensationalist, perhaps even ignorant, undertone to it. Finger's crossed nothing happens to cast a shadow.

Knockout stages


Russia v Germany
Spain v England
Netherlands v Poland
France v Italy

Russia get a rubbish draw from their perspective. It should be against Germany, who should also win any duel between them. England, should they fail to win their group, will likely face Spain and I think there's only ever going to be one outcome there – England out at the quarter finals, but probably not involving penalties.

Netherlands v Poland should be a walkover for the Dutch (on paper), despite home advantage for the Poles. France v Italy would be an interesting one and hard to call. I'll go for France through on penalties. It's a coin toss.


Germany v Spain
Netherlands v France

A step too far for Spain I believe. There's been a noticeable shift from "attractive" to "efficient/direct" football across Europe the last few years. If anyone can stomp out Spain's Barcelona-inspired "tiki-taka", it'll be the Germans.

There's one small problem with the Netherlands – they're perennial chokers. On paper they'll get into the final, but I wouldn't be surprised if France fluke it, sending the Dutch home on penalties or in extra time.


Germany v France

The Germans are due a big tournament win, as I said earlier, I think they'll get it too – against France or the Netherlands.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Welsh Government Annual Report 2012 - "The Beast"

The first Welsh Government Annual Report is
a hefty document, weighing in at more than 600 pages.
"Ooooooh, nasty!"
(Pic : Via Tumblr)

Many are called, but few are chosen.

Last week, the First Minister unleashed his secret weapon – what will now be known as "The Beast". An annual report that would reduce even the most hardened political anorak to despair.

I believe Carwyn's an Iron Maiden fan. Recently, Bruce Dickinson has set up an aviation company at St Athan. I don't know if Carwyn was inspired by this, but The Beast weighs in at 666 pages. Respect for that.

However, this isn't an annual report, it's a challenge (c/o Geraint Pillock).

It's something that should be presented to the Assembly with the Game of Thrones theme tune blasting out and a fog machine. It's like one of those rooms out of cult kids TV show "Knightmare", where they superimpose a giant cat on the floor, or something.

Imagine that, but with the entire Welsh Government standing there mooning you on the steps of Cathays Park. That's what this is. This is the Welsh cabinet pissing in your face through the monitor. A bit of fun before they go off on their holibobs.

"Well you wanted to see everything, yur it is! Nyeahahahahahahahaha! Wayheeeey!" *arse slap* *arse slap* One of them would probably do the whole spread cheek thing as well. A little bit of sick has just come up in my throat.

As a scientist, I'm used to working for hours, days, weeks, months on end without having anything to show for it, or to have an experiment cock up at the last minute, or to not have discovered anything new.

I cannot be broken. Oh no. I have conquered The Beast. I have summarised the findings of worth for you, dear reader.

TL;DR version – We've done an amazing amount of things. Look – bar chart! Look – statistics! WAAAAAYYYYUUUULLLLLZZZZZZZZZZ! LAAAAAAIRBUUUUH!

Now the serious bit. Only the hardcore need go further than this point. I'm not joking.

Still with me?

It's clear that the First Minister and his team have put a lot of work into this. If they're going to embrace transparency - which many of us complain is lacking at Cathays Park - it's only fair that when they show that they mean business, that you sit down and go through it. It's a very comprehensive report, the likes of which we haven't seen from the Welsh Government before.

In principle, it's an excellent idea that could be developed into our own "State of the Nation" address of sorts.

The report, generally, lists "key indicators", usually accompanied by a chart of some description, and listing practically every single step, recommendation or action (past, present and future) taken by the Welsh Government in each respective area.

This commitment to transparency is commendable, but there's "transparency" and then there's shining a magnesium torch in your eyes.

As you would expect, I've found quite a bit wrong with it:
  • A number of "key indicators" have only one year to base judgement on, or just two or three years. It looks absolutely ridiculous seeing a bar chart with just one bar. It's an unfortunately common occurrence within the report. In primary school we were taught that it hints that you've either chosen the wrong type of graph, or you don't have enough data. I haven't counted any of the indicators where this occurs.
  • There are no targets as such – a point raised by opposition politicians. It's pretty much up to you if things have gotten better or worse.
  • Some of the key indicators could be considered nit-picking, or highly focused to the point of anal compulsion.
  • A large chunk the key indicator performance figures are : based on statistics from years ago, don't have any figures from the current Assembly term, or don't have any figures at all. I guess the last ones will be presented as bar charts with a single bar in next year's annual report.
  • There's a surprising amount of repetition, with many indicators popping up in more than one section.

Areas that have improved

The Economy & Skills
  • Employment rates have recovered to around 2% below the UK average – similar to a 2003 peak.
  • Numbers educated to Level 2 or above (GCSE) have risen broadly in line with England.
  • Numbers educated to Level 3 or above (A-Level) have risen, but not as sharply as England or Scotland.
  • Numbers education to Level 4 or above (Degree) have risen slowly, but not as sharply as England or Scotland.
  • Numbers of rail journeys have increased steadily from 1999 to the present.
  • Percentage of trunk roads requiring maintenance has fallen sharply since 2006 to 6%.
  • Numbers of people aware of "Visit Wales" promotional material has risen from 22% to 26%.
  • The value of contracts advertised through Sell2Wales has risen to £4.5billion in 2011-2012, from £3.5billion the previous year.
  • The number of apprenticeships created through "Young Recruits" has risen from 1200 to 2000 from 2010-11 into 2011-12
  • Apprentice success rates have risen consistently since 2007-08, but are starting to even off.

The Environment & Energy
  • Greenhouse gas emissions have fallen steadily, but not dramatically, since 1999 from 56m tonnes per year to 42.6m tonnes per year.
  • Percentage of electricity produced from renewables has increased from 3% to just under 5%
  • The amount of electricity produced from renewables has increased from 1000 Gwh in 2004 to 1600 Gwh in 2010.
  • The percentage of municipal waste recycled has risen between 2004-05 and 2010-11 from under 20% to close to 45%, the highest rate of the Home Nations.
  • The percentage of water resource zones meeting headroom requirements has risen from 90% in 2006-07 to 92% in 2009-10
  • The percentage of species stabilising or increasing has risen from 39% in 2002 to more than 50% in 2008.
  • The percentage of habitats that are stabilising or increasing has risen slightly from 37% in 2002 to 39% in 2008.
  • The number of properties benefiting from enhanced flood/coastal protection has risen from around 400 in Q2011 to more than 1200 in Q1 2012.
  • The number of communities with a flood plan has increased from 70 in Q2 2011 to around 150 in Q4 2011.
  • The number of green space improvement projects undertaken has risen from 40 in 2009-10 to around 48 in 2010-11
  • The percentage of journeys to work under 5 miles taken by foot or bike has risen from 19% in 2004 to close to 26% in 2010.

Public Services
  • The number of separate statutory plans produced by local authorities have fallen, indicating increased collaboration.
  • Net and measured benefits in efficiency savings from joint procurement have risen since 2008-09, but slowed between 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Schools & Children
  • The percentage of Year 9 pupils assessed in Welsh first language has risen from 13% in 1999-00 to over 16% in 2010-11.
  • The percentage of Year 2 learners assessed in Welsh first language has risen from 18% in 1999-00 to 21% in 2010-11.
  • Pupil attendance rates at secondary school have risen slightly from 90% to 91% between 2005-06 and 2010-11.
  • Post-16 "staying on" rates have risen slightly between 2004-05 and 2010-11.
  • Further education success rates have risen from 63% in 2007-08 to close to 80% in 2010-11.
  • The number of higher education institutions with incomes above the UK median rose from 35% to 45% between 2008-09 and 2009-10.

  • The mortality rate for circulatory diseases for those aged under 75 has fallen from over 120 per 100,000 people in 2001 to around 80 per 100,000 people in 2010.
  • Cancer mortality rates for those aged under 75 have fallen from around 130 per 100,000 in 2001 to under 120 per 100,000 in 2010.
  • The number of deceased organ doners rose from around 40 in 2009-10 to around 70 in 2010-11.
  • The percentage of adults who smoke has fallen consistently, but not dramatically, since 2004.
  • The number of hospital-acquired C Difficle infections has fallen sharply between 2009 and 2011.
  • The number of hospital-acquired MRSA infections has fallen consistently since 2003.
  • Percentage compliance with the "stroke first hour bundle" (recognising a stroke within an hour) has risen from under 60% in 2010 to 95%+ in Feb 2012.
  • Percentage compliance with the "stroke first days bundle" (receiving emergency treatment for a stroke within 24 hours) has risen from 15% in Aug 2010 to around 80% in Feb 2012.
  • The number of delayed transfers of care has fallen consistently since 2004, but rates are beginning to even off at around 450 cases per month.
  • The number of emergency admissions for chronic conditions has remained erratic, but generally lower than 2006.
  • The percentage of ambulances making the 8 minute Category A 999 call target has generally risen from 55-60% in 2006 to around 65% in 2012. There are, however big falls in certain months (probably due to the weather).
  • The number of operations cancelled has fallen consistently since 2002, from a peak of around 4500 to under 2500 in 2011-12.
  • The under-16 conception rate has fallen from just under 10 birth per 1000 (aged 13-15) in 1999 to 8 per 1000 in 2010, however there was a rise between 2009 and 2010.
  • The percentage of children immunised against MMR has risen from 80% in 2003-04 to around 91% in 2010-11.
  • The uptake of seasonal flu vaccines amongst people age 65 or over rose from 60% in 2008-09 to 65% in 2010-11.
  • The number of free public swims taken by those aged over 65 rose slightly between 2006-07 and 2010-11.
  • The number of free "structured aquatic activities" taken up by over 65s and under 16s rose between 2006-07 and 2010-11.

Social Services & Care
  • The number of adult service users receiving direct payments rose from 1300 in 2007-08 to around 2700 in 2011-12.
  • The percentage of children seen alone by social workers at assessment rose from 14% in 2007-08 to 29% in 2011-12.
  • The percentage of looked-after children with more than three placements in a year has fallen from 12% in 2006-07 to around 9.5% in 2010-11, one of the lowest rates in the UK.
  • The percentage of deaths that take place at home and not in hospital has risen since 2006 and outperforms England slightly, but consistently.
  • The percentage of looked-after children aged 16-17 with a "pathway plan" has risen from 75% in 2006-07 to close to 90% in 2010-11.
  • Supported housing units as a percentage of total stock of residential care home places has risen from around 51% to 52% between 2008 and 2011.

Housing & Communities
  • The amount of gas used in homes has fallen from 19000 Kwh in 2005 to under 16000 Kwh in 2010. The amount of electricity used in homes has fallen from 4300 Kwh in 2005 to around 3900 Hwh in 2010.
  • The number of those accepted as homeless has fallen from 8 per 1000 households in 2004-05 to around 5.5 per 1000 households in 2010-11, hinting at falling homelessness.
  • The number of "affordable housing units" delivered has increased from just over 1600 in 2007-08 to more than 2800 in 2010-11.
  • The number of homeless families, with children, in bed and breakfast accommodation fell considerably between 2004-05 and 2010-11 from 240 to less than 20.
  • The number of homeless households with dependent children has fallen from more than 4500 in 2004-05 to under 3000 in 2010-11, with a rise between 2009-10 and 2010-11.
  • The number of Gypsy & Traveller sites refurbished increased from 9 in 2007-08 to 27 in 2011-12.
  • The number of authorised Gypsy/Traveller sites has increased from 30 in 2008 to more than 45 in 2012.The overall recorded crime rate fell consistently between 2003 and 2011 from more than 100 recorded crimes per 1000 people to around 70 per 1000 people.
  • First time entrants to the youth justice system have fallen dramatically between 2006-07 and 2010-11, from more than 5500 to around 2500.
  • The rate of proven reoffending for young people has fallen slightly between 2005 and 2009.
  • The number of fires attended per 100,000 population has fallen from more than 1200 in 2004-05 to around 700 in 2011-12. A better rate than Scotland, but worse than England.
  • The number of non-fatal fire casualties have fallen from more than 900 in 2002-03 to under 600 in 2011-12. The number of fatal fire casualties has also fallen from 50 in 2002-03 to around 20 in 2011-12.
  • The percentage of referrals to drug rehabilitation who are assessed within 10 days has risen from 55% in 2007-08 to around 65% in 2010-11.
  • The percentage of referrals to drug rehabilitation who are treated within 10 days has risen from just over 80% in 2007-08 to around 87% in 2010-11.
  • The number of peer mentors recruited from the European Social Fund scheme to help substance dependent beneficiaries has risen from around 20 in 2009 to more than 200 in 2011.
  • The percentage change in average number of hours in an education or training scheme for those aged above statutory school age in the Youth Justice System rose between 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Social Justice
  • The percentage of children with special educational needs who pass Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 thresholds has risen slightly since 2009-10.
  • The mean average female hourly full-time earnings as a percentage of male's has risen from around 85% in 1999 to around 92-03% in 2011, exceeding UK values (excluding London & SE England).
  • The percentage of people living in relative income poverty (below 60% median income) has fallen from 25% in 2000-01 to around 23.8% in 2009-10, with a spike during the recession. This remains the highest rate of the Home Nations, but broadly in line with England.
  • The percentage of people in "persistent" poverty has fallen from 13% in 2002 to around 11% in 2008, but still slightly higher than England and Scotland.

Rural Affairs
  • Household incomes in rural areas (where Wales =100) have risen from 98% in 1999 to close to 100% in 2010.
  • The percentage of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) direct payments made before Christmas in each year has risen from 75% in 2005 to 88% in 2011.
  • 100% of all cattle herds, free of Bovine TB were tested by years end in 2010 and 2011.
  • The number of applicants approved for Broadband Support Scheme funding has increased from around 300 in 2010 to more than 1500 in 2011.
  • The percentage of TrawsCambria services operating a "reliable" service has improved between June 2011 and October 2011, with some major differences in individual routes.

Culture & Heritage
  • The percentage of adults participating in arts activities has risen from around 30% in 1999 to around 32% in 2011, despite big falls between 1999 and 2006, and a peak of 34% in 2009.
  • The number of visits to CADW monuments has risen from 1.1million in 2001-02 to just over 1.2million in 2011-12.
  • The percentage of historic assets in stable or improved condition has risen slightly between 2009 and 2010 from 75% to 76%.
  • The percentage of adults participating in sport or active creation has risen from over 40% in 2002-03 to around 46% in 2008-09
  • The percentage of people from under-represented groups attending arts events has risen slightly between 2004 and 2010.
  • The percentage of annual conservation and maintenance programmes completed has risen from under 20% in Q1 2011 to 50% in Q4 2011.
  • The percentage of children studying all or part of their course through the medium of Welsh as risen from 7.7% in 2007-08 to around 9.3% in 2009-10.

Areas that have stayed the same

The Economy & Skills
  • Primary income per capita has remained at around 86-87% of the UK average since at least 1999. Only Northern Ireland and Scotland have seen significant changes.
  • Gross Value Added (excluding London & SE England) has remained at around 86% of the average.
  • The volume of contract opportunities for Sell2Wales has risen only slightly from 2010-11 to 2011-12.
  • Numbers of employees supported by the Wales Union Learning Fund has remained static at around 16,800 per annum since 2009.
  • The percentage of Arriva Trains Wales services arriving on time has stayed largely the same between 2009-10 and 2010-11, but remain better than Scotrail and Northern Rail.

The Environment & Energy
  • The amount of electricity generated by renewables has remained static from 2008, at around 1600 Gwh
  • The number of businesses signed up to the Welsh Government's sustainable energy charter has remained the same in Q4 2011 and Q1 2012.
  • The percentage of water supplies that meet drinking water standards has remain consistent since 2004 at just under 100%

Education & Children
  • The number of children aged 0-3, who's health is good or very good has remained fairly static at around 96% since 2007.
  • Key Stage 4 results have remained largely similar to 2009-10, while England saw a big increase in children meeting the threshold (5 GCSE's Grade A*-C).
  • The percentage of 19 year olds who have achieved level 2 or 3 qualification thresholds has remained largely unchanged between 2006-07 and 2008-09.
  • Pupil attendance rates at primary school has remained around 93% since 2007-08.

  • The numbers of emergency admissions has remained at a similar level since 2005-06.
  • Mental health admissions have remained broadly similar from 2009-10 to 2010-11.
  • The percentage of adults who drink above the daily recommended alcohol limits has remained largely unchanged since 2008, perhaps falling very slightly.
  • The percentage low-weight live births has remained largely the same between 2003 and 2010 at around 7%.
  • The percentage of adults who are physically active has remained largely unchanged at 65% between 2004 and 2011.
  • The percentage of patients not referred as urgent cases, but diagnosed with cancer and starting treatment within 31 days has remained at around 99-98%, meeting Welsh Government targets.
  • Percentage compliance with "stroke first three days bundle" (mobilisation of a patient in hospital within three days of treatment) has remained fairly consistent at around 90% since 2011.
  • Percentage compliance with "stroke first seven days bundle" (patient sees a specialist within seven days of treatment) has remained fairly consistent at around 90%-95% since 2010.
  • The number of admissions for a "defined chronic basket" of conditions has remained fairly consistent since 2006, with erratic months.
  • The percentage of practices that review palliative care needs with patients on the palliative care register has generally remained at around 87% since 2006-07.
  • The percentage of GP practices that has carried out a medications review within 15 months for all patients with 4 or more repeat medications has remained consistent at around 98% since 2006-07.
  • The percentage of patients treated by an NHS dentist has remained largely the same, at around 56%, between 2006 and 2011.

Social Services & Care
  • The number of delayed transfers due to choice of care home has remained consistent at around 150 between 2009 and 2012.
  • The percentage of adult service users helped to live in the community has remained at around 82% since 2009-10.
  • The percentage of children classified as "in need" has remained at around 3%.
  • The percentage of looked-after children who experience one or more change of schools has remained at around 14% between 2006 and 2012.
  • The percentage of delayed transfers for social care reasons has remained erratic, but largely unchanged at between 24-28% between 2009 and 2012.

Housing & Communities
  • The estimated number of homes needed has remained at around 14000 per year since 2007.
  • The percentage of successful prosecutions for violence against women has remained static at around 70% between 2009 and 2011.
  • The percentage of young people with substance misuse problems within the Youth Justice System who received treatment within 5 or 10 days remained the same in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
  • The proportion of young people sentenced to custody remained largely the same, at around 5.7% between 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Social Justice
  • The gap between girls and boys performance at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 in maths and English/Welsh first language has remained the same, despite rises in overall pass rates for both.
  • Incidences of hate crimes have remained the same between 2009 and 2010.
  • Incidences of sexual crimes have remained largely the same between 2010 and 2011 at around 2500 per year.
  • The female employment rate has remained steady between 2005 and 2011 at around 64%, perhaps falling slightly.
  • Employment rates for disabled people have remained steady between 2005 and 2011 at around 41-42%.
  • The percentage of workless households relative to the rest of the UK has been erratic,but remaining consistently at around 120% (where the UK is 100).
  • The percentage of children living in workless households relative to the rest of the UK has also remained erratic, but remaining consistently at around 115% (where UK = 100)
  • The percentage of households in fuel poverty has remained around 26% between 2008 and 2010.

Rural Affairs
  • The number of passengers of TrawsCambria bus services has remained at around 475,000 between 2007-08 and 2010-11.
  • The number of passengers using the Bwcabus service has remained generally similar at around 13000 between 2010 and 2011.

Culture & Heritage
  • The percentage of children participating in arts activities has remained largely steady between 2009 and 2011 at around 83%
  • The number of physical visits to local and national museums has broadly remained at around 16.2 million since 2006-07.
  • The percentage of primary school children participating in sport or active recreation has remained at around 76% between 2000 and 2011, with rises and falls in between.
  • The number of students studying at further or higher education institutions through the medium of Welsh has remained largely at 4500 between 2008-09 and 2009-10.

Areas that have gotten worse

The Economy & Skills
  • Percentage of people aged 16-18 not in work, education or training have risen to around 11%, higher than England (8% in 2010)
  • Percentage of people aged 19-25 not in work, education of training has risen sharply between 2008-2010.
  • The number of beneficiaries from the ReAct programme has fallen from over 10,000 in 2009 to just over 4,000 in 2011 (this could be a sign of economic recovery).
  • Number of bus journeys in Wales have fallen since 2008.
  • The total number of km of trunk road or motorway resurfaced or repaired has fallen from just over 300km to 280km.
  • Market-led broadband roll-out remains the lowest of the Home Nations.
  • The percentage of the population, within postal district, with at least one mobile phone provider (2G) has fallen consistently since 2007

The Environment & Energy
  • The number of homes benefiting from improved domestic energy performance has fallen sharply between 2008-09 and 2010-11.
  • The number of properties at risk from flooding has increased from 170,000 in 2006 to 220,000 in 2008.

Education & Children
  • The percentage change in income to Welsh universities from research councils has fallen from 24% in 2008-09 to 3% in 2010-11 and 2011-12, largely matching UK trends.
  • The gap in attainment at Key Stage 4 based on deprivation has widened since 2005-06, from 29% to 32%, with a slight fall between 2009-10 and 2010-11.
  • The number of further education institutions has fallen from 22 in 2001-02 to 14 in 2011-12 (probably due to mergers).

  • The gap in life expect ency between most and least deprived has increased at broadly the same level between 2002 and 2009.
  • The percentage of adults who are obese has risen from 18% in 2004 to 22% in 2011.
  • The percentage of patients diagnosed as urgent cancer cases, and being treated within 62 days of referral has fallen from around 97% in 2008 to around 90% in 2011.
  • The percentage of the population registered as having dementia has risen from 2.5% in 2006-07 to 2.8% in 2010-11.
  • The performance against 26 week waiting times between referral to treatment has fallen from close to 100% in 2009 to around 97% in Mar 2012. This does, however, exceed the 95% Welsh Government target.
  • The percentage of patients spending less than 4 hours in accident and emergency has fallen from around 94% in 2006 to around 89% in 2011-12.
  • The number of free public swims taken by under-16s fell sharply between 2008-09 and 2010-11.

Social Services & Care
  • The percentage of care leavers, aged 19, in education, training or employment has remained at around 45%, significantly below other parts of the UK, which averages at around 60-65%.
  • The percentage of home care clients receiving 20 hours or more care per week has fallen steadily since 2003-04 from just over 9% to 8%.

Housing & Communities
  • The number of new homes constructed fell sharply, from around 9000 per year to 6000 per year between 2006-07 and 2010-11, coming nowhere near to meeting projected demand.
  • The number of houses assessed to have safety hazards increased between 2009-10 and 2010-11.
  • The number of people helped with "care and repair" fell between 2010-11 and 2011-12.
  • Perceptions of anti-social behaviour have risen between 2005-06 and 2011-12 from 13% to around 17%.
  • Prevalence of problematic drug misuse has risen from 2.4% in 2008 to 2.9% in 2010, with an upward trend.
  • The number of drug related deaths has risen from around 70 in 2004 to around 150 in 2010.
  • The number of alcohol related deaths has risen from under 400 in 2001 to around 475 in 2010, peaking in 2008.
  • Numbers killed or seriously injured in road accidents have risen between 2010 and 2011 after large falls between 2007-2009.
  • The percentage of people in the Youth Justice System in Wales with access to suitable accommodation has fallen slightly from just under 14% in 2009 to just over 12% in 2010.
  • The percentage change in average number of hours in an education or training scheme for those of statutory school age in the Youth Justice System fell between 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Social Justice
  • The percentage of household accepted as homeless from ethnic minorities has risen from just under 3% in 2005-06 to close to 9% in 2010-11.
  • The male employment rate has fallen from 75% in 2005 to just over 70% in 2011.
  • Employment rates for those from ethnic minorities have been erratic, with a sharp fall between 2010 and 2011 from a peak of 62% to under 56%. Employment rates for BME's remain significantly lower than those of white ethnicity.
  • The percentage of children living in "combined material deprivation" has risen from 17% in 2007-08 to 20% in 2009-10, significantly higher than any other Home Nation.
  • The take up of specific benefit advice schemes has fallen from around 4300 (Better Advice Better Health) in 2008-09 to around 2200 in 2010-11.

Rural Affairs
  • The percentage of people employed in rural areas has fallen from 71% in 2005 to around 69%, but remains higher than urban & rural areas combined.

Culture & Heritage
  • The number of visits to national museum sites are erratic, but fell from just under 500,000 in 2009 to around 300,000 at the start 2011.
  • The number of secondary school children participating in sport or active recreation rose between 2001 and 2009, but fell sharply from 75% to 65% between 2009 and 2011.
  • The percentage of pupils aged 5 who start the academic year who speak Welsh fluently at home has fallen slightly from 7% in 2004-05 to 6% in 2011-12.
  • The percentage of the population able to speak, read or write Welsh has fallen from 24% in 2001 to 22% in 2010, based on the Annual Population Survey.

If you've gotten all this way without skipping, you're either genuinely interested in this, or, like me, you probably don't have a life. Thanks anyway. I have far more interesting blogs over the next week, I promise.