This site is no longer updated

Please use the links in the sidebar to visit the new sites!

Tuesday 1 August 2017

State of Wales Goes Live

My new independence and "all things big picture" site, State of Wales, launched yesterday. It's the first of three new sites coming over the next few months.

Monday 31 July 2017

Senedd Watch - July 2017

This is the final "Senedd Watch" post - and my final post relating to Welsh politics on Oggy Bloggy Ogwr - before I launch Senedd Home in September. While this has never been the most read feature, I know it's useful to some people. There'll be an equivalent of this on Senedd Home, but at the moment I intend for it to be a weekly update instead of monthly. State of Wales will be launching this evening, so keep an eye out for that.

Saturday 22 July 2017

End of Term Report 2016/17

As is tradition, here's my verdict on how the Welsh Government and opposition leaders have performed in the first year of the Fifth Assembly.

Thursday 20 July 2017

Cardiff-Swansea electrification zapped by UK Government

Rail electrification between Cardiff & Swansea (including Bridgend) was promised by a Conservative-led government in 2012. Five years later they've scrapped it.

I'm not surprised as we've been softened up for this news. It's happened the same week the first round of contracts (worth £6.6billion) for the (estimated) £56billion High Speed 2 project in England – to which Wales will be paying our share of at least £2.7billion – were announced.

The Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns, slimed his way through the issue earlier this week by talking up the benefits of the new trains. You know what contempt rail passengers are held in when the replacement of 40+-year-old trains that are frequently overcrowded during rush hour is seen as a gift instead of a basic necessity.

Alun clearly knew what was coming, but there's been dishonesty and shadow playing on this from the start. Extending electrification from Cardiff to Swansea is something the Conservatives were reluctantly talked into by the Lib Dems in 2012. They've never really wanted to do it, having wrangled over who was going to pay for it and dragging their feet. It was even omitted from their 2017 manifesto, which should've set alarm bells ringing.

The English transport secretary, Chris Grayling (who also has responsibility for rail infrastructure in Wales), argues the benefits of electrification can be delivered with the new Hitachi intercity express trains, coming into service in south Wales later this year. Fortunately, the new trains are both electric and diesel powered meaning they can run on tracks without overhead lines.

This also means they're more expensive to build, heavier, more things can go wrong with them, are less environmentally-friendly and noisier. That means higher maintenance costs for the track, inefficient engines, no real difference in journey times between Swansea and Cardiff, as much noise as's almost as if there'll be absolutely no difference to things as they are now.

It's a typical solution of a government, party and nation-state that does everything by spreadsheets, divorced from both how things work on the ground and long-term thinking.

Hitachi has built a new maintenance facility in Swansea for the new trains. If you've gone past it recently you will have noticed it's come complete with the infrastructure for overhead power lines. They're going to get rusty.

Electrification between Cardiff and London is still going ahead, but you've got to wonder – with the current state the UK Government's in – what other plans they have in store for us. As Prof. Stuart Cole has argued, this project can't simply be restarted if the expertise and resources are moved. If it's scrapped now it's unlikely anything will happen for a long time; in 15-20 years when we're still talking about this we'll wonder, "Why didn't we do something back in the 2010s?"

I suppose the only question is why has it been scrapped?

We haven't been told because the Conservatives know we won't like the answer: the money and resources for electrifying Cardiff-Swansea are needed in England.

The budget for current electrification work has over-run and if the UK Government are going to deliver pledges in parts of England, "less important" projects need to be ditched.

On an EnglandandWales scale, this is an easy to write-off project between two small provincial cities and should be placed behind the likes of Bath, Liverpool and Manchester. It also means some English cities miss out, like Nottingham and Sheffield - so it's not just Wales being left behind.

At a Welsh level, it's about providing electrified rail services between the capital, one of the most important industrial centres (Neath Port Talbot & Bridgend) and the country's second and third largest cities (Swansea & Newport respectively), as well as being a springboard for electrification in north Wales. Westminster doesn't see this.

Wales has about 6% of the UK's rail network, yet receives around 1-1.5% of Network Rail funding. Scotland gets a population-based share because rail infrastructure is devolved. It isn't devolved here because if Wales received a ring-fenced 4.9% share of UK rail spending, it would mean less money to spend in England London.

As they've significantly underestimated the costs involved, yet again Network Rail's bungling will hamper a major infrastructure project in Wales. It doesn't bode well for the new Wales & Borders rail franchise, Metro, north Wales electrification and pretty much any significant project you can think of either.

Network Rail is really good at putting new shelters in stations, painting lines, fixing bridges and installing new signalling, but beyond that, they're not looking fit for purpose when it comes to running Welsh railways.

The first rule of politics is "Don't make promises you can't keep", but that doesn't seem to apply here. So we've been lied to and let down again. The most depressing thing is you know we're going to sit back and take it because we've got no cards to play and we're used to it.

I can't wait to see what happens with the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon! Fingers crossed!

Tuesday 18 July 2017

FMQs: RIFW Redux, Tuition Fees & Parking Fines

The final FMQs of the 2016-17 Assembly term took place this afternoon and it's also the final FMQs covered on this site.

Thursday 13 July 2017

Growing Pains: Senedd demands specialist arthritis service

(Pic :

Arthritis is perhaps stereotyped as an "old person's disease" caused by joint wear and tear, but there are a number of arthritis and arthritis-like conditions that can strike at any age such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, lupus and fibromyalgia.

Tuesday 11 July 2017

FMQs: Mind Your Language

The penultimate FMQs of the 2016-17 term, and although there's still a lot of heat being generated on the Circuit of Wales saga (yet again) it's not generating much light at the moment but that might soon be about to change.

Saturday 8 July 2017

Right to Buy ban "needs explaining"

(Pic: The Guardian)

The Communities Committee published their Stage One report on the Abolition of Right to Buy Bill yesterday (pdf). In summary, their recommendations were that:

Tuesday 4 July 2017

FMQs: Abortions, Smoking & Sport

Another summary of FMQs from the Senedd.

Sunday 2 July 2017

Senedd committee calls for more medical school places

(Pic : BBC Wales)
Medicine is already one of the most competitive and academically-demanding university courses. On top of that it's becoming a struggle for Wales to recruit and train tomorrow's doctors – subject to an inquiry by the Health & Social Care Committee (pdf).

Saturday 1 July 2017

Welsh rail franchise & Metro: Still on track?

The current franchise to run passenger trains in Wales and English border counties – presently held by Arriva Trains Wales – expires in October 2018. For the first time, the Welsh Government will award the new franchise, which will include the South Wales Metro.

Friday 30 June 2017

Senedd Watch - June 2017

  • The Welsh Government publicly revealed Aston Martin received £5.8million in repayable business finance, following a ruling by the UK Information Commissioner in May 2017. The new plant is expected to employ 750 people at St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Thursday 29 June 2017

Senedd sceptical about snare use (but stop short of a ban)

The Environment Committee  stopped short of calling for an immediate ban on the use of snares (to trap pests) in their latest inquiry report (pdf) but have displayed a certain level of scepticism.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

FMQs: Circuit of Wales, Stressed Teachers & Gambling

Here are the highlights of this afternoon's First Minister's Questions which, as you might expect, was dominated by the Welsh Government's decision earlier today not to underwrite the Circuit of Wales project in Blaenau Gwent.

Monday 26 June 2017

Clear vision needed for post-Brexit regional funds

(Pic : Getty images)
The Senedd's External Affairs Committee have called for the Welsh Government to start planning for a post-Brexit, post-EU funding Wales in a new inquiry report published last week (pdf).

Thursday 22 June 2017

Committees Bite Size #5: June 2017

I thought I'd done the last of these, but there's room for at least one more.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

FMQs: Brexit, Recycling & Grenfell Tower

Things are starting to get back to normal after the general election (ha!) so it's back to the grind for me with the latest First Minister's Questions from the Senedd.

Wednesday 31 May 2017

Senedd Watch - May 2017

  • Labour lost 107 seats in Welsh local council elections on May 4th. However, they managed to retain control of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport councils. Labour lost control of Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent councils, but despite this the results were said to be “not as bad as expected”.
    • Plaid Cymru gained 33 seats and remained the second largest party in local government, but took overall control of just one council – Gwynedd. They narrowly missed out on taking overall control of Anglesey, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, but picked up extra seats across Wales – a result described by party leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda), as “breaking new ground”.
    • The Conservatives regained control of Monmouthshire and won an additional 80 seats, finishing second in Cardiff and in position to take control of the Vale of Glamorgan. Conservative leader, Andrew Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) said the results meant the party's “hard work paid off”.
    • The Liberal Democrats lost 11 seats but made gains in Powys. UKIP won no seats, while the Green Party gained their first elected councillor in Powys. Llais Gwynedd lost 7 seats, while Independents took control of Blaenau Gwent and increased their seat total by 11.
    • 92 council seats were won uncontested. Prof. Roger Scully of the Wales Governance Centre said it made a “mockery of democracy” and repeated calls for the introduction of single transferable vote for local elections.
  • The Welsh Government announced literacy and numeracy tests for 6 and 14 year olds will be taken online from September 2017. The tests will adapt to pupils' skills to provide “an appropriate level of challenge”. Opposition parties cautiously welcomed the proposal, but were concerned about “pitfalls” such as poor broadband connections.
  • The UK was found in breach of EU regulations on the amount of sewage and waste water discharged into Carmarthenshire's Burry Inlet. New housing developments in the Llanelli area are thought to have been a contributing factor. Dwr Cymru insisted the problems didn't cause excess cockle deaths in the area.
  • The Welsh Government were ordered by the UK Information Commissioner to disclose any public funds offered to Aston Martin to establish a new factory in the Vale of Glamorgan, after initially refusing to do so following the First Minister's belief it would “prejudice the conduct of public affairs”.
  • Operators of community energy schemes warned that business rate rises – in some cases as much as 900% - has placed many local hydroelectric schemes in jeopardy, if not completely unprofitable. The Welsh Government said it was considering special assistance, while Plaid Cymru would introduce a rate relief scheme and loans for pre-application costs.
  • Anti-Slavery Co-ordinator, Stephen Chapman, said Wales' “porous borders” with England and lack of border checks made it too easy for people traffickers to move people into the country. The number of recorded cases of human trafficking into Wales rose from 32 in 2012 to 125 in 2016.
  • The National Assembly unanimously passed the Public Health Bill on May 16th. The Public Health Act – which was amended to include measures on obesity – will regulate tattoos and body modifications, ban smoking in more public spaces and introduce measures on public toilet provision.
  • The Welsh Government accused developers behind the Circuit of Wales project of providing inaccurate information, leading to a delay in a final decision to underwrite the project. Plaid Cymru accused the government of deliberately delaying a decision until after the UK general election. The developers are looking for the Welsh Government to guarantee around £210million of the costs.
    • Plaid's economy spokesperson, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr), later demanded an investigation into how the Welsh Government responded to a critical Wales Audit Office report into the project, after it was revealed Economy Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), knew civil servants saw the report several weeks prior to publication despite publicly claiming the Welsh Government had "short notice" of it.
  • Tributes were paid to former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, who died on May 17th aged 77. He served as First Minister between 2000-2009 and oversaw the introduction of many hallmark policies of post-devolution Wales. He retired as an Assembly Member in 2011 and was appointed Chancellor of Swansea University. General election campaigning was temporarily suspended as a mark of respect, while a funeral service was held at the Senedd building on May 31st.
    • First Minister, Carwyn Jones, said Rhodri, “wasn’t like other politicians, and that's why people warmed to him, trusted him and felt like they knew him so well. I owe him a great deal, just as we all do in Welsh Labour."
    • Plaid Cymru - Labour's coalition partners between 2007-2011 - paid tribute. Former Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones said, "It wasn't easy for him to deliver the coalition in sections of his party, but Rhodri stood firm and we agreed a very progressive programme of government."
    • Mike German - who led the Liberal Democrats into coalition with Labour between 2000-2003 - said he was "a strong opponent but a great friend. Wales has lost a great politician and stalwart."
    • Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Andrew Davies said, “As First Minister, his answers in the chamber were always worthy of attention and his encyclopedic knowledge across his brief ensured he was rarely wrong-footed.”
    • On behalf of the National Assembly the Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion), said "Rhodri's ability to communicate with, and to understand, the diverse communities of Wales ultimately won hearts and minds, and was critical in giving the people of Wales the confidence to strengthen and develop the National Assembly."
  • Political campaigning for the UK general election was suspended for a second time on May 23rd, following an Islamist terror attack at the Manchester Arena, which killed 22 people and injured 64. The First Minister condemned it as a “particular form of cruelty” that was “appalling and senseless”.
  • A Wales Audit Office concluded that “improvements” were needed to the 21st Century School programme, with some new buildings not meeting required standards. NUT Wales said the programme was “patchy”, and the report recommended an up to date picture be provided on the state of schools for the second phase of the programme, due to start in 2019.

Projects announced in May include: a £3.4million joint Welsh-Irish coastal erosion study; a £9million national broadcast archive based at the National Library in Aberystwyth; £38million towards a compound semiconductor facility in Newport under the Cardiff City Region and the launch of a nursing recruitment campaign.

  • Conservative leader, Theresa May, said her party wouldn't raise VAT is they win the election, but refused to rule out possible increases in income tax and national insurance. She told the BBC she couldn't make “specific proposals” unless she were absolutely sure she could deliver them.
  • Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood AM, warned that a Conservative victory could see the UK Government take back powers devolved to the National Assembly. The Conservatives said the statement was an attempt to “exploit uncertainty over the devolution settlement”.
  • Labour pledged to recruit an extra 10,000 police officers across EnglandandWales (with up to 900 in Wales), costing £300million, paid for by reversing cuts to capital gains tax. Plaid Cymru called for Labour to support devolution of policing, while the Conservatives criticised the plans as “nonsensical”.
  • In her final address from Downing Street before the election campaign formally started, Theresa May accused EU officials of “making threats” and accused the European press of “misrepresenting” the UK's Brexit negotiating stance, saying the European Commission's stance had “hardened”.
  • The Lib Dems pledged to raise income tax by 1p to provide extra funding for the NHS and social care. A Barnett formula consequential would result in an estimated additional £280million for the Welsh Government.
  • Labour pledged not to raise taxes for anyone earning up to £80,000 a year if they form the next UK government, as well as a commitment to not raise VAT or national insurance. Those earning above £80,000 would be asked to pay “a modest bit more” to fund public services. They also pledged to introduce a “Robin Hood Tax” on financial transactions to raise £26billion.
  • The Conservatives promised to reduce net migration to the UK to “tens of thousands”. The pledge was also in their 2010 and 2015 manifestos but failed to be implemented. UKIP promised “radical cuts” to immigration in response, including a five year moratorium on unskilled immigrants entering the UK.
  • The Lib Dems would approve the Swansea Tidal Lagoon “immediately” if they formed the next UK government. UK Leader, Tim Farron, also warned that Wales “would be taken for granted” if the Conservatives won a large majority.
  • Plaid Cymru launched their manifesto on May 16th, pledging to "defend Wales” from the Conservatives. Their key policies included abolishing business rates and replacing it with a turnover-based system, guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living and working in Wales and barrier-free trade with Europe.
  • The Conservatives committed to scrapping Severn crossing tolls if they win the general election. The First Minister welcomed the policy, which originally would only see the tolls being halved. UKIP said the Conservatives “stole their policy”.
  • Labour said Conservative plans to means-test winter fuel allowances were “sick and sneaky”, with a possible 10million pensioners hit by the changes. The First Minister said the “nasty Tory party is back, and how”.
  • Following the attack in Manchester, the parties put forward their policies on national security. Plaid Cymru called for extra police funding, Labour promised extra staff for the security services while the Conservatives would establish a commission to counter extremism.