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Saturday 31 March 2012

Senedd Watch - March 2012

  • The First Minister used his St David's Day message to promote tourism off the back of the 2012 Olympic Games, Wales Tourism Week and the imminent completion of the All-Wales Coastal Footpath. Bethan Jenkins AM (Plaid, South Wales West) repeated calls for St David's Day to become a national holiday. In London, Prime Minister David Cameron hosted a celebratory event at 10 Downing Street attended by Welsh celebrities and dignitaries.
  • The BBC/ICM St David's Day poll showed a clear majority in favour of partial or complete fiscal powers for the National Assembly, but only 7% supporting independence, rising to 12% should Scotland secede. 77% of respondents also opposed NHS reforms in Wales similar to those happening in England.
  • In the same poll by BBC Wales, 63% of respondents supported the Welsh Government's proposed organ donation "opt out" legislation. 64% also supported the 5p single use bag charge. However there were more mixed results on education, with a fairly even spread of responses to whether education in Wales has improved, stayed the same or got worse.
  • The Welsh Liberal Democrats held their spring conference in Cardiff. Leader Kirsty Williams criticised Labour for not using the law-making powers from the 2011 referendum to it's fullest. Leader of Cardiff City Council, Rodney Berman also said that he hopes the Lib Dems will keep control of several major urban Welsh local authorities after the local elections in May.
  • Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM (Plaid, Carmarthen East & Dinefwr)  called for the establishment of a dedicated Welsh Charity Commission to prevent future funding scandals like AWEMA. The Wales Office opposed the suggestion saying that it could lead to "inconsistency and confusion".
  • The Welsh Government launched a consultation into possible improvements to the M4 around Newport, including the possibility of widened Brynglas tunnels – estimated to cost up to £550million. The First Minister has suggested that borrowing powers may be required to fund the project if chosen as the solution.
  • Education Minister Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda)  announced that Band 4 and 5 secondary schools in Wales will be eligible for an extra £10,000 if they submit an action plan for improvement.
  • South East Wales Transport Alliance (SEWTA) called for the electrification of the Valley lines in south Wales. It calls for Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan and the Welsh Government to put the case to the UK Government to fund it. Electrification of both the south Wales mainline and the Valley lines enjoys cross-party support.
  • Chair of Plaid Cymru, former-AM Helen Mary Jones, said that the party should consider all-women shortlists for UK Parliament elections to increase the number of women represented by Welsh constituencies.
  • The Welsh Government and Chief Scientific Adviser have launched a new science initiative that is hoped will attract “scientific talent” to Wales. Ser Cymru (Stars Wales) is a fund of up to £50million that will be focused on three areas of research: life sciences, low carbon technologies and advanced manufacturing.
  • In addition, a scheme to pump £100million of joint public-private investment into the Welsh life sciences sector has been unveiled by Business Minister Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower) and biotechnology entrepreneur Christopher Evans.
  • Environment Agency Wales warned against complacency about water levels in Wales, after drought threatens the south and east of England.
  • Deputy Minister for Social Services Gwenda Thomas (Lab, Neath)  launched a consultation on the Social Services (Wales) Bill that aims to speed up the adoption process, provide more transparency and encourage professionalism, regulation and consolidation of social services across Wales.
  • New EU figures suggest that the West Wales & The Valleys region has fallen even further behind EU economic averages – falling to 68.4%, while East Wales was at just under 100%. The Welsh Government claimed that the figures were out of date and that other indicators, such as wage increases, showed good progress.
  • First Minister Carwyn Jones criticised the operators of Cardiff Airport, saying they need to “run it properly or sell it”, describing the airport as “giving a bad first impression of Wales”. He was criticised by Eluned Parrot AM (Lib Dem, South Wales Central) for “talking the city's airport down.”
  • Cancer charity Tenovus called for debate on a complete smoking ban in Wales on the day smoking on hospital grounds was banned in all but one of Wales's local health board areas.
  • Unemployment in Wales rose slightly by 1,000 in the three months to the end of January, with the unemployment rate remaining unchanged at 9.1%.
  • St Asaph, Denbighshire, has been awarded city-status as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
  • Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, South Wales Central) was elected Plaid Cymru leader on March 15th, with 55% of the vote, after Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM was eliminated in the first round of voting. Elin Jones AM came second with 41% of the vote.
  • SEWTA - a transport conglomerate of 10 Welsh local authorities - have agreed in principle the establishment of a metro system in south east Wales. However, they say that electrification of the Valley Lines is a key element of the proposals. A cross-party team from the Assembly travelled to London to make the case for electrification of the Valley Lines to the UK Department of Transport.
  • The Welsh Government honoured the Welsh national rugby team's successful Six Nations Championship win by staging a special reception on the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff.
  • Plans for a badger cull to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis have been abandoned by Environment Minister John Griffiths (Lab, Newport East). Instead a vaccination programme will be carried out. The Farmers Union of Wales has reacted angrily, calling the decision a “cowardly betrayal.” The previous Welsh Government announced plans for a cull in 2008, but the plans were put on review by the new Welsh Government in 2011.
  • All four Welsh political parties have reacted strongly against plans by the UK Government to introduce regional rates of pay for public sector workers. Finance Minister, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan), called the plans divisive, while Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood called for cross-party unity to oppose the plans.
  • As a result of the UK Chancellor's budget on March 21st, Cardiff will receive £12million towards fast broadband improvements, the Welsh Government will receive an extra £11.7million over the next three years and the Deeside enterprise zone will be able to write off the costs of plant and machinery.
  • Cardiff's Millennium Stadium will host the opening ceremony of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, organisers of the tournament have confirmed.
  • The Welsh Government welcomed the UK Government's decision to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol (40p per unit) in EnglandandWales, saying that they have consistently said that they would support it's introduction despite it being a non-devolved issue.
  • Plaid Cymru held their spring conference at Ffos Las Racecourse in Carmarthenshire. Leanne Wood gave her first speech to the party as leader, saying that Wales, “shouldn't accept poverty as inevitable.” Party chair Helen Mary Jones said that she expected local elections in May to be “tough” but that Plaid should “hold their ground.”
  • The Welsh Conservatives held a rally in St Asaph, Denbighshire. Leader Andrew Davies appealed to “alienated” Plaid Cymru voters, who might believe that the election of Leanne Wood as leader would shift the party to the left.
  • The Welsh Government has launched a 12-week consultation into the creation of a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales. Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan has called the move a “surprising priority” and that the current system has “served Wales well for centuries.”
  • The Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised dental services in Wales, finding via a survey that only 37% of dentists are accepting new NHS patients, as well as criticising the length of waiting lists. The Welsh Government acknowledged that NHS dental services were “difficult in some areas” but that “improvements have been made.”
  • The First Minister has reiterated a call for borrowing powers, suggesting that Wales might miss out on big infrastructure projects without them. He's also called for a written constitution that's “fit for the 21st Century.”

Projects announced in March include an £11million boost to the "invest to save" public sector efficiency drive, £15million improvements to orthopaedic and emergency units at Morriston Hospital in Swansea, a £36million improvement of the railway between Wrexham and Chester, a joint Carmarthenshire Council-Welsh Government project to replace Llanelli Leisure Centre, grants worth £25million and £11million for local public transport schemes across Wales.

Thursday 29 March 2012

Time for reform - A follow up to "Enough's Enough"

Judging by the "robust" reaction to my last blog, it's fair to post a proper follow up. Just adding another comment wouldn't do the reponse I've received justice.

It's depressing, but it doesn't surprise me, that one of my most popular blogposts has been overtly critical of the Welsh Government, civil service and probably extends to devolution itself. Believe me when I say it was the toned down version.

It's sad that a month that started with an optimistic vision of the future has to end like this, but that's what living in Wales sometimes does to you. It's a frustrating love-hate relationship.

I'm going to sound like a pompous arse saying this, but I don't care. From a nationalist perspective, Wales probably needs a "reformer" like Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel before we can have our Alex Salmond. And no, I don't think Welsh Labour and the civil service are an "evil empire", they're just a well-meaning, but passive, managerial blob.

Maybe that's the problem. We're all waiting for someone utterly brilliant who's going to sort everything out to ride to the rescue.

Well I'm not hearing any trumpets heralding the arrival of Y Mab Darogan. Are you?

With rubbish like this, independence moves another two or three decades further away and general prosperity (including within the union, for those who might cheer at that independence prospect) - light years away. This could be a rare case of "separatists" and ultra-unionists actually having some common ground. Ultimately though, both sides are still rabbles.

I'm not the sort who rants without offering some opinion on a way out. My ego might've been stroked by the reaction, but it's pissing into the wind ultimately.  There's the chance that somebody, somewhere, with the ability to make a change, read the last post - and the reaction - and can do something. That includes sitting AMs and Welsh Government ministers.

I'd be more than happy for that person (or persons) to be from Welsh Labour. However I suspect, like AWEMA, they want this swept under the carpet as quickly as possible, or forgotten until the next bungle - whether that bungle will be by the Welsh Government themselves or the civil service.

The questions that need answers

Andrew Davies (Con, South Wales Central) asked during First Minister's Questions about the bid, and he got an apology from Carwyn Jones. Fair enough. I would've mentioned it in the last post had I realised that had happened. However, I don't think we would've got anything from Carwyn had the question not been asked.

What disappoints me is that they both decided to delve into childish, macho posturing over grammar. Despite stronger statements elsewhere, they laughed this off, and that's the problem here. Andrew had an open goal and I'm surprised the Conservatives didn't react as strongly as I, and many others, have.

Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) and Jonathan Edwards MP were also critical on Twitter. I think it was a simple case of the Conservatives having the first question that prevented Plaid, or indeed the Lib Dems, from sticking the boot in if they had the chance.

As I've said, the Welsh Government would be pleased to let this be brushed under the carpet, but anyone and everyone needs to keep chipping away – on this and indeed on things like AWEMA - for the bigger reasons I mentioned. They're not a cat with nine lives, and they shouldn't be seen as invincible, however much they seem to be able to get away with practically anything.

It's for those reasons that other questions need to be asked. I'm not talking about a full blown inquiry or anything like that regarding this GIB bid - it doesn't warrant it. Many would probably prefer it to get tied up in something like that. It's time for the committees in the Assembly to play their role – and the traditional media need to get stuck in to this too. We need to know more about the Welsh Government and civil service thinking behind this bid.
  • Did they know or suspect, beforehand, that Cardiff was unlikely to be chosen? If so, what gave them this impression?
  • How was the bid process decided in government and the civil service, who was involved, and what were the timescales?
  • The bid has been described as "robust", what gave civil servants or ministers that impression?
  • Was the bid "rushed"?
  • Why were Cardiff's comparatively low wages described as a "compelling proposition"? Has this term ever been used in any other bids similar to this? If so, why?
  • Why didn't/Did anybody proof-read the bid before presenting it?
  • Did any of the companies mentioned, universities or people quoted in testimonials read the bid before it was submitted? What were their opinions of it?

Welsh Wanderers FC – A club in crisis
Daily Star eat your heart out.
I don't buy that political discussion always has to be "Westminster" highbrow and verbose. It can be fun, sometimes. I enjoy frivolous and whimsical analogies as much as ranting, and if we're going to have our government reduced to the equivalent of supporting a team, then I think that's a fair place to start.

Welcome to Welsh Wanderers FC, nicknamed "The Dragons" - unofficial nickname "The Woobies". The club has been languishing around mid table for decades, occasionally going on a decent cup run or flirting with relegation, but it keeps plugging away nonetheless.

Each club is funded by the league's central governing body, usually making up losses for weaker than expected ticket or merchandising sales. It helps provide a guaranteed income but there's a danger that some clubs are becoming reliant on this, instead of developing a long-term, sustainable business model that includes better performances on the pitch.

Currently, the league imposes strict rules on what clubs can or cannot do - it heavily influences squad depth, playing positions, formations, wages and makes some decisions as to how teams are organised and run themselves. There's lots of collective bargaining, joint arrangements on things like marketing at home and abroad. Sometimes it favours one club over another, but at least it's run professionally. If one club becomes more successful than another, that position can become entrenched over time. People will always pay to watch a successful team, and referee decisions will be seen to go in their favour more often. In 2011, a few minor restrictions were lifted on Welsh Wanderers, that very few people understood, but it should've made life a little bit easier.

Some people are unhappy with the teams performance. They want Welsh Wanderers to withdraw from the league halfway through the season and merge with the very successful neighbouring team. Welsh Wanderers would act as a feeder, or would fold, but at least one or two local lads or ladies will make it to the top that way. Unfortunately though, it'll only help those players, not the rest of us. The Wanderers ground will be abandoned and left to rot and rust.

A few think that because the club spends a few pence extra on stationary, that that's the reason the club isn't performing on the pitch. Yeah, OK.

Some are calling for a change of management. The current management team has a cult-like following - a true living legend (think Brian Clough). They've been there for decades, becoming part of the furniture. It's obvious to many they are running the club into the ground, sticking with an outdated 4-5-1 and hoof-and-hope football. They've become complacent, and although every now and again they'll scrape out a win, more often than not, they'll make the wrong call.

The backroom staff keep bringing in journeymen on a Bosman, because they're cheap or have some experience at a higher level - but there's a reason they were let go. Younger, more talented staff and players, aren't given the chance to rise up, get frustrated and leave, usually becoming successful elsewhere. Every decision the management or backroom staff makes seems like patching over problems now, instead of building for something better in the future. There's no use of advanced diets like elsewhere, it's still a bit "magic sponge". There's a constant state of panic, and morale is at an all time low.

Many people can't bare to pull the trigger, some simply don't want to because they're happy with the performance – they think other fans should stop moaning and back the team. Others are worried about the prospective replacements for the manager, and can't think of anyone else being in charge, even though one day it's inevitable it'll happen. Even if there were a change of management though, the rules would stay the same. The underlying problems would remain. It would probably need a change of backroom staff too, but that would cause upheaval.

A few would prefer a new contract with the league: with more power to the clubs, more control over finances, merchandise deals and more freedom over squad selection and squad formations. This sounds sensible on paper, but many argue that the clubs can't run themselves very well as is, or that it doesn't even go far enough to enable a club like Welsh Wanderers to rise up the table. They worry about what the current management or backroom staff would do with the new powers, if they even used them at all, but at least they would be under more pressure to perform.

Others want  fan ownership of the club - and for each club to be autonomous of the league. The club could become the next Barcelona or Real Madrid, or it could flop. The clubs would have complete freedom to decide their own affairs – and if they brought in the right manager or backroom staff, with innovative formations and training methods - it could turn things around. They'll be able to take part in more competitions outside of the league, but they would also lose the funding from the centre. That prospect terrifies many fans who don't even want to consider it. However, the league itself is in a lot of financial trouble.

It would be a big gamble, probably needing heavy investment in the club at the start. However, they haven't got the personality, or the business case, to make yet – but one day they might. Sometimes the minority or the unpopular position is the right one, but that can equally go for those who want to wind the club up.

Perhaps though, the best place to start is to bring through better local talent - in the backroom, the boardroom and on the pitch. Welsh Wanderers - above probably all else - needs a new academy.

The Bigger Picture – Tackling problems & promoting excellence

A full and frank public inquiry

Wales needs a large, formal public inquiry or tribunal into the culture and practices of the civil service – yes it probably would be a "Welsh Leveson". We need to know, in the clearest possible terms:

National Level

  • How the civil service operates at a national level, honestly – the real story, not the flow charts. It should also allow anonymous whistle blowing.
  • How has the civil service managed the move from administrative to legislative devolution?
  • The handling of the "Bonfire of the Quangos", in particular the WDA.
  • How and why are people appointed to senior positions? What are the qualifications for the job?
  • How has the Welsh Government and civil service handled investment since 2006?
  • The relationship between Welsh ministers, political parties and the third sector - Don't think I'm aiming that at Labour because of AWEMA, it would likely be uncomfortable for other parties as well.

Local Level

  • The handling of Local Development Plans, population projections and housing forecasts
  • The handling of local authority amalgamation and shared services
  • The relationship and trust between the Welsh Government, civil service and local authorities
  • The relationship between local authorities, local councillors and the public – in particular handling public criticism
  • The actual role and influence of local councillors in decision making
  • How political parties operate at a local level, including the selection of candidates
  • The demographics of local government and the civil service in general – what can be done to encourage younger people, those with full-time jobs and women to stand for local office?
  • Personal interests and local councillors – how are they recorded and reported? Are there examples of abuse or conflict of interest?


  • The pay and conditions of senior local authority executives and senior civil servants
  • What does the civil service do well? What do they handle badly?
  • The culture – is there any bullying? Are there any examples of incompetence? Are there any examples of excellence?
  • How the Assembly and local authorities handled job re-evaluation
  • The use of outside consultants – how are they chosen? Under what criteria?

You might think it'll undermine devolution by suggesting this, but if anything it could strengthen it.

Those who opposed devolution, or have changed their minds, need to remember that the same people would be there – Assembly or no Assembly. The Assembly, as it was from 1999-2006, was just the Welsh Office with the Welsh Secretary's functions passed to AMs - eventually forming a separate government post-2006.

Devolution is now a settled will - it's time to own mistakes
as well as successes.
(Pic : Guardian)
At least with devolution we have the ability to hold them to account properly as long as someone takes the opportunity to do so. Until we air our dirty washing, we'll never get anywhere. We need that bit of tough love - sooner rather than later.

All of it could feed suggestions into the Welsh Government's new "Institute of Public Policy" of course. It could start the process of turning things around for the good of everybody.

A New Welsh Civil Service Compact

Complete Apoliticisation - Anyone appointed above a certain pay grade in the civil service, or a body like a health board, shouldn't be a member of, fund-raise for, or make donations to, a political party. It should probably extend to not being members of unions who donate to political parties. They already can't stand for election but they are, of course, entitled to political beliefs.

At the very least memberships (past and present) of political parties should be declared, and it should extend to "Independents" too. It should be blanked out information available on request, but obviously there's no gain by lying about it.

Promotion and relegation - There should be an easier way for talent to rise through the ranks. It shouldn't be down to simple years of service. If you're good enough, you're old enough. Some volatility within the civil service might be a good thing for performance, but I could understand how it might be bad for morale. It doesn't always mean the "right thing" will be done at all times either.There should be, and probably is, some kind of "appraisal", where performance is judged over the year. Those who are slipping should be demoted, or sent for extra training in relevant areas to make sure their weaknesses are worked on. Those who show talent or consistency should be promoted.

No punitive measures, but no toleration of failure - The people at the bottom shouldn't pay for the mistakes of the people above them – that's why I'm not, personally, in favour of performance related pay or anything like that. However bonuses should only be limited to "exceptional performances" only. Nobody handling the Welsh economy for the last 20 years would really deserve a bonus, for example. There should, however, only be limited chances to make "major bungles" in the same manner as the GIB bid. That's fair - to us as members of the public and voters, and them as public servants. They should still be allowed to make errors, but not get away with the big ones.

Transparency - It's a buzzword - but it's something we need now. The Assembly, as a legislature, has a fairly good track record, but the Welsh Government and Civil Service don't in my opinion. It's not that the information isn't out there. The Welsh Government has a fairly comprehensive publication scheme, but I'm not sure if that's enough.

We need to know about lobbying. For the record, I think it's great that there are people and organisations out there that ensure that Welsh groups have good access to our politicians, I'm not complaining there. It's a good thing.

We need to know, and have open access to, everything the civil service does (barring things that could genuinely be deemed classified). We should be able to see all the reports, all the meeting minutes and know what's being done. The job of a civil servant is probably incredibly boring, but if the public knew a bit more about what they did, they'll appear more human to us, rather than pin cushions, They might avoid being the subject of rants like my last one in the future.

With one or two exceptions, senior civil servants are effectively anonymous. Ultimately, it'll be ministers who carry the can when things go wrong - perhaps even when they don't deserve to - but the people around them can walk away from the fire. That's a big problem here.

Improved Delegation & use of expertise – Someone working with an economic brief should be a qualified economist etc. It doesn't mean they'll be good at their job of course, and I'm sure there are people already there who have, on paper, the right skills, but for whatever reason don't apply them effectively. Actually that's an even more depressing thought....

Ambition – The GIB bid is an example, but I'm sure there are others. Cardiff and Wales might well not be the centre of the universe, and it's not always appropriate to bid for certain things. However if you're going to, at least do so thinking you have a chance of winning.

A National Civil Service Academy

Wales needs to promote the right level of skills
if we want a sustainable, well-functioning, civil service in the future.
(Pic: E-architect)

If we want the best, we're going to have to train and recruit the best.

There should be a formal structure in place to bring through people, who have a clear understanding of their brief, and can specialise within a role. It should also enable those who are struggling within the existing civil service to get extra training.

It could be a combination of the University of Glamorgan's Public Services & Public Management degrees with UWIC's School of Management. Like the suggestion in The Collective Entrepreneur that there should be a "Masters of Social Business Administration", anyone with ambitions of getting high up the ladder in the civil service should be expected to have a "Masters of Public Administration." It should be extremely challenging and include:

  • A firm grounding in economics and project management - as good as you would expect for a private business.
  • Marketing, accountancy and presentation
  • A firm grounding in Welsh politics, devolution in the UK and contemporary Welsh law
  • Specialised modules covering areas such as planning, health & education
  • Hands-on experience/shadowing existing civil service personnel across the Welsh public sector
  • Individual projects based on possible past and future scenarios, for example - marketing a Welsh town or city to host a major sporting event, handling a coalition between two ideologically opposed parties, the devolution on extra powers to the Assembly and the use of EU funding in infrastructure projects.

There's no shame in bringing people in "from the outside" if they stand out. It shouldn't start and stop at the UK though. I'm sure there are examples in America of people turning around cities or states, similarly parts of mainland Europe. The Welsh Government has partially gone down this route with the "sector panels" in business, stemming from the Economic Renewal Report. That's fine, but it has to produce results.

If we improve the quality of the civil service, it'll have wider impacts. For nationalists, it would improve the civil scaffolding needed for "nation building". For those on the right, it could lead to a better economic understanding within the civil service - hopefully improving investment and other economic functions overtime. For all parties - but in particular Labour - it could lead to improved performance in essential public services, hopefully opening the door to more innovation, better management and leadership from the top.

None of that would be guaranteed of course.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Cardiff Green Investment Bank Bid - Enough's enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardiff's Green Investment Bank Bid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bigger Picture - Why this is bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can't wait.

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

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

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

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

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

Rip the whole stinking lot up and start again.

Saturday 17 March 2012

Social Services Bill consultation

Social services in Wales are due to undergo a major shake-up.
(Pic: Click on Wales)

Deputy Minister for Children & Social Services, Gwenda Thomas (Lab, Neath), launched the Welsh Government's consultation on a Social Services Bill last week. It's arguably the first "meaty" piece of legislation to be proposed as part of their legislative programme.

The consultation is open until June 1st and all the information is here.

The Bill is expected to be laid in front of the Assembly in October this year, scheduled to become law in the first half of 2013. Once that happens the new Code of Practice and Regulations (outlined below) will be drawn up by the Welsh Government.

What's proposed?
  • A new duty to enhance "wellbeing of people in need" i.e. Assess social care needs and arrange social care services for individuals.
  • People "in need" will be given a legal definition and will include : children in care, adults reliant on social services, disabled children or a person (adult or child) in need of safeguarding.
  • A new "code of practice" will be provided to local authorities regarding provision of services to people in need.
  • A simplification of social service arrangements, as well as a legal definition of "social care services".
  • Local authorities will be required to "provide information" to improve access to services and work with other agencies to deliver services, including the NHS.
  • A statutory right to an "assessment of need" for individuals who require social care.
  • Place a legal duty on local authorities to accept the needs assessment of a patient from another local authority within Wales, as well as arrange for the transfer of information, and cooperate with the NHS and other "delivery partners" to help smooth over a transfer of a service user between authorities.
  • There'll be a legal duty placed on local authorities, and service providers, to prepare a "care and support plan" for a person assessed to be in need. Welsh Ministers will have the power to set regulations for this process.
  • The creation of a "single eligibility threshold" for social services.
  • Existing carer's legislation will be drawn together to create a single piece of law that enshrines carer's rights and the duties of local authorities in supporting them.
  • Existing legislation on Direct Payments for social care will be drawn together. Welsh Ministers will be able to decide the clients and circumstances under which Direct Payments can be used, as well as regulations for them.
  • The Public Service Obundsman for Wales will have their powers expanded to cover complaints against care homes, domiciliary care agencies and independent palliative care services.
  • There'll be a general duty on Welsh Ministers to : encourage improvement in social care and social services, publish a review and statement of national outcomes in social services, specify performance standards , issue guidance on standards and prepare a Code of Practice for social care providers.
  • Local authorities and care providers will be required to report publicly on their performance and appoint a Director of Social Services.
  • Partnership and pooling of resources between local authorities will be strengthened. Welsh Ministers will be able to make regulations on local authority partnerships.
  • A National Independent Safeguarding Board will be established, with executive powers and a national remit. Six Local Safeguarding Children Boards will also be established, alongside existing Adult Protection Boards.
  • A new legal framework will be established for adult protection in Wales, including new legal definitions of "at risk" and "at harm" adults. There'll be a duty to investigate, intervene, share information, co-operate and report on allegations of abuse or harm.
  • Social care workers will require professional regulation, with existing Care Council for Wales powers extended to cover care workers. Welsh Ministers will have the power to make regulations to reserve power to certain care staff, as well as regulations to decide what services are subject to inspection by social care regulators.
  • Social care service providers will be required to register with the social care regulator. A new social care services public register will be set up. Welsh Ministers will also be able to require registered social care service providers to publish reports at specific times.
  • "Minimum standards" will be removed from the Care Services Act 2000, to "move beyond a focus on a minimum standard of service delivery."
  • A National Adoption Service will be established, formed from all local authorities, to provide certain adoption services.
  • Welsh Ministers will be able to make regulations regarding continuing care for disabled children up to the age of 21.

What are the purported benefits of the new law?
  • It gives a legal definition to "adults in need", so services would be integrated for both children and adults, changing it to "people in need".
  • It should be clearer for people to understand what services are available should they need them.
  • Individuals should be able to make clearer, informed choices about their social care needs.
  • Assessment of need should lead to a clearer understanding amongst patients and care professionals and lead to reduced administrative burden on local authorities - including fewer complaints.
  • When a person receiving social care/social services moves from one part of Wales to another, the transfer should be a lot easier and smoother. It should lead to administrative cost savings.
  • Inconsistencies in care and support plans should be removed, more easily tailored to an individuals requirements and there'll be a much more simplified legal framework.
  • A single eligibility threshold should provide greater transparency, uniformity and coherence across Wales when considering a persons eligibility for services.
  • Changes to Direct Payment legislation will give individuals "more control over the design of their care packages."
  • Those making complaints against independent palliative cares services would have access to advocacy services.
  • Widening duties on Welsh Ministers and local authorities should lead to better targeted policy development, and a better targeting of resources at both local and national level.
  • A new Code of Practice should have a positive impact on all social care users.
  • Clearly appointed Director's of Social Services would lead to "more accountable" local services.
  • There should be "great savings" in encouraging local authority partnerships.
  • Day-to-day decisions on safeguarding will be independent and taken away from Welsh Ministers.
  • Regulation of care workers should lead to increased professionalism, improved outcomes, improved standards and better training and resources.
  • A public register will allow users to have up to date information on care services.
  • The National Adoption Service will enhance efficiency, quality and equity. It will allow an early referral system to eradicate waiting lists for potential adopters.

Are there any other issues?

  • Additional costs will fall on local authorities, but the impact is expected to be eased due to the integration of child and adult social services, which is hoped will provide cost savings.
  • "Widening access" to social services will have an initial cost set up.
  • The Carers Strategies (Wales) Measure 2010 will need to be amended, and new carer's rights will have additional costs – possibly outweighed by the social and financial gains of carer's being properly supported.
  • A widening of the Public Services Obundsman's duties will have a cost impact.
  • Changes to "transitional services" of disabled children until the age of 21 could have "unintended adverse affects" on any benefits they may receive - which are non-devolved.
  • The Bill will have an impact on businesses, in particular those involved in social care. It would also have a significant impact on the public sector, especially local authorities. There will be some impact on the "Third Sector", but they are expected to broadly welcome the Bill.

Thursday 15 March 2012

As soon as she said she was standing....

Well, it's only fair.
And tongue-in-cheek of course.

....there was only ever going to be one outcome, wasn't there?

As you already know, Leanne Wood has been elected Plaid Cymru leader, succeeding Ieuan Wyn Jones. This result would have been unthinkable before the leadership election started, but Leanne built such a momentum behind her, there was a sense of inevitability about it.

I think we've learned how effective social media can be in modern elections, as well as the traditional worth of having a strong, uncompromising set of beliefs. Leanne's election has provided - if not quite a crystal clear vision - then that bit of "oomph" to rally Plaid's grassroots for what will be tough local elections in May for all parties except Labour.

Perhaps it also highlights Plaid's shift towards a younger, more radical, independence-minded makeup. However, the fact Leanne picked up votes and support across the board - from young and older members alike - is also a huge unifying factor.

I don't think this is the start of rapid process towards independence. Welsh nationalists from all political persuasions shouldn't be quick to pile expectations on Leanne's shoulders. But this could be the start of the start. The hard graft starts now, and it could take decades. It's for history to decide if this is the moment we look back on from a future independent Wales and see as a turning point, or if we look back on it from a straggling part of the Union - in stature, population and influence - and wonder what went wrong. Perhaps there'll even be a half-way house – a "better" Wales, but still a long way away from fulfilling its unleashed potential, and able to go out and fully compete in the world.

Commiserations have to go to Elin Jones and Dafydd Elis-Thomas. Had Leanne not stood, Elin Jones would've been a shoo-in, and Elin must - perhaps deep down - be disappointed by the result.
Dafydd Elis-Thomas gave a good account of himself, despite being eliminated in the first round. The lead Leanne had then made the result a formality. Both defeated candidates can hold their heads up though. I certainly think there'll be a place on any Plaid front-bench for Elin at the very least, and it would be the wise thing to do.

This is an exciting time for Plaid, and I hope they can take full advantage of the feel-good factor having a relatively young, vibrant, no-nonsense leader can give them. Plaid have made the correct choice, and I wish Leanne every success.

Despite not being a Plaid member, I have to admit I was really chuffed at this news.

Maybe the time is coming for me to get off the fence, and this might help me make that decision. All in good time though. All in good time.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Sêr Cymru – A new science strategy for Wales

Earlier this week, the Chief Scientific Adviser Prof. John Harries, First Minister Carwyn Jones and Business Minister Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower) unveiled a new strategy for science in Wales that supersedes the previous "Science Policy for Wales" from 2006.

At the heart of the new strategy - available here - is the creation of the £50million Sêr Cymru (Stars Wales) scheme that aims to:

  • Attract "star" academics to Wales to carry out research projects
  • Create pan-university and pan-discipline "National Research Networks"
  • Concentration on three "Grand Challenge" disciplines : life sciences, low-carbon technologies and advanced materials science & manufacturing.
  • A "high profile Welsh Graduate School" in every discipline with "applications open to all nationalities".
  • An annual prize event for science and distinguished lecture series.

The new strategy's findings also show, more negatively:

  • 49% of Welsh university science research projects are rated 4-star or 3-star (the two highest ratings), slightly behind Scotland (51%) and England (56%). Though citation rates (Welsh research/academics being cited) are above the UK average.
  • Wales's percentage share of UK-wide Research Council funding was 3.3%, compared to Scotland's 14.8%.
  • Welsh businesses spend only 1.5% of the UK total on research and development (£244m).
  • Standards in science and maths at age 15 are "not as good as they should be" and "require attention", but standards in science are generally at the OECD average.

There's lots of interesting stuff to ponder and, as I've mentioned in previous blogs, innovation and science are going to be crucial to facing up to the challenges of the future.  Secton 5 of the strategy does say that the talent pool in STEM subjects needs to increase, as well as the uptake of STEM subjects at and beyond GCSE level. I've posted before on possible practical steps that could be taken to broaden science's appeal.

In a separate, but related development, a new £100million Welsh Life Sciences Fund public-private scheme to support life sciences in Wales has been unveiled at the BioWales 2012 conference in Cardiff this week.

If there's one thing I would be critical about, it's that despite the name "Sêr Cymru", there doesn't seem to be that much emphasis on home-grown talent. For every ready-made expert brought in from elsewhere, there should be one from Wales, mentored, to make sure that there's a sustainable flow of talent down the line. After all, Wales is still a long way from being able to compete with universities like MIT or Oxbridge for talented post-graduates.

It goes without saying that I welcome this 100%. I'd even go as far as to say this is the most positive announcement from the Welsh Government so far this Assembly term. I'm pleased. Credit where it's due.

Sunday 11 March 2012

M4 Newport consultation and rail upgrades in Gwent

The Welsh Government have, at last, formally launched their consultation into possible solutions to the "bottleneck" at the Brynglas Tunnels in Newport. The consultation website is here and comments are due by 6th June.

I'm on record opposing a new M4 bypass around Newport, as is Syniadau. It would be complete overkill and likely to become a costly white elephant, especially if it were tolled to help pay for the £1bn+ construction costs. That would be a double-toll on entry to Wales if the Severn Bridge tolls weren't removed at the same time.

The Welsh Government, following on from the previous Welsh Government, have short to medium-term plans to improve the duel-carriageway that runs to the south of the Glan Llyn development site and Llanwern Steelworks. It's a relatively inexpensive way to partially solve the problem. If local traffic were encouraged to use this - combined with the selective closing of slip-roads on the M4 through Newport - it could help reduce congestion and provide more resilience to the Brynglas Tunnels. It would probably mean that this road would need to be upgraded, perhaps with a few grade-seperated junctions, to ensure it's a "proper option" for drivers.

BBC Wales, The Western Mail and South Wales Argus have reported that one option on the table is the widening of the Brynglas Tunnels themselves at the cost of some £550m. That's probably a good "middle option" between the "sledgehammer and nut" M4 bypass and the "bang for buck" Llanwern improvement.

As I'm not an engineer, I can't give informed comment on a project like that, but I would assume it would cause massive disruption and probably lead to the demolition of the houses above the tunnels. So, we would likely need an upgraded Llanwern improvement anyway during this period for diverted traffic. I goes without saying there's more than enough potential for a significant cost overrun.

It makes me wonder if it's a genuine Welsh Government option, one for the construction company or just an opportunity to pick a fight with Westminster over borrowing powers.

Credit where it's due, I made a point about Labour echo-cho-ho-o-ing previously announced announcements a few weeks ago, including this, so it's nice to have something on the table at last.

On public transport options in the area - and in my opinion that's just as important - SEWTA published documents last year on possible upgrades to rail services in Gwent including (for definite):
  • A new two-platform station at Caerleon adjacent to St Cadoc's Hospital
  • Upgrade to Abergavenny station– including new car parking off the A465, DDA footbridge, bus turning circle and possible bay platform for additional services in the future
  • Upgrade to Cwmbran station – including new car park on Somerset Road, DDA footbridge and ticket machines
  • Minor improvements to Pontypool & New Inn station with possibility of future park and ride site
  • An extra two-hourly service

And also proposed/rejected at present/future improvements:
  • New stations at Llantarnam and Sebastopol on Marches Line
  • New station at Llanwern on South Wales Mainline with linked bus service and park and ride site.
  • Upgrade to Severn Tunnel Junction station, with new station building, large park and ride site and possible future direct access from M48
  • Improved Chepstow station with DDA footbridge, new ticket office and toilets

Thursday 8 March 2012

Use it or lose it : Welsh Language Strategy 2012-2017

Last week, Education Minister Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda) unveiled the Welsh Government’s 56-page (sigh), five-year plan (sigh) for the Welsh language covering promotion, education and daily use.

In his foreword Leighton acknowledges exciting developments in the last few years, including the launch of Welsh-language "online newspaper" Golwg360, the formal establishment of a virtual Welsh-language higher education institution (Coleg Cenedlaethol Cymru) and the rise of “e-Cymraeg” – through social network sites like Twitter and the use of e-books and e-periodicals.

In legislative terms we've had the previous Assembly's Welsh Language Measure 2011. In February, the Assembly Commission laid the short-but-sweet National Assembly of Wales (Official Languages) Bill in front of the Senedd which - if passed - will make English and Welsh official languages in the Assembly and ensure “publication and simultaneous translation” in both languages.

So what comes next?

The Vision

The Welsh Government wants to “see the Welsh language thriving in Wales”. Easier said than done of course. What should be cause for some optimism is the growth in the number of Welsh speakers in the south, in particular Cardiff. However, this is balanced by a decline in the number of Welsh speakers in the heartland. It seems as though Welsh is - judging by statistics - being “diluted”. Rising in one area, falling in another.

So in future we could have a situation whereby there's an average 20-odd% Welsh-speaking minority in every local authority (though still higher in Y Bro) but no real “heartland”.

Acquiring the language” and “using the language” are the two core elements to the new strategy.

Acquiring the language

“Acquiring” primarily focuses on Welsh-medium education, with a special focus on post-14 opportunities and improving Welsh-medium planning based on parental demand.

There's also a focus on families, and the role using Welsh within families and the home, passing Welsh down the generations, reinforced by Welsh-medium education. Use it in school, use it at home. Pretty straightforward. It's said that this will help create a “community of speakers”, combined with the influence of social media and the mainstream media.

The Welsh Language Board's TWF project – where parents are encouraged to speak Welsh to their children is cited as an ongoing example of encouraging “language acquisition”.

Using the language

The second strategic area is children and young people. The numbers of Welsh-speaking people aged 3-14 has risen from 15% in 1971, to 37% in 2001. I wouldn't be surprised if it rises again in the 2011 census. There's a special focus on teenagers, and discussing the need for a “wider range of social opportunities (to use Welsh) outside school”, but acknowledging that getting teenagers to use a minority language is “a complex matter”. Seeing as Leighton Andrews is something of a technophile, new technologies are there of course, with teenagers being encouraged to use Welsh online and engage in creative activities that use Welsh.

The third strategic area is the community. The strategy acknowledges that for minority languages to survive, there needs to be an area where it is the “predominant language”. With migratory pressures affecting Y Bro, and the Welsh Government by all accounts welcoming these changes, this is going to be a tough one to deliver. The language won't survive in Y Bro without the retention of Welsh-speaking people in their 20s and 30s who will, in turn, hopefully raise Welsh-speaking children. An “online community” of Welsh speakers - of which there's already a pretty strong one - is probably going to be the future I'm afraid to say. The report hints at that.

Strategic area four – the workplace.As individuals, we spend a considerable amount of our time at work.Herp a derp. On a more serious side, the report does say that increasing opportunities to speak Welsh at work poses a “considerable challenge”. I don't think I need to revisit in detail the “Thomas Cook incident" in Bangor a few years ago. There's a desire to “mainstream” the use of Welsh at work, and hints that the Welsh Language Commissioner (Meri Huws) will play a key role in this.

The fifth an final strategic area in increasing the use of Welsh are Welsh language services. The report says there's clear evidence that there's a “lack of supply of services in Welsh” and a low uptake from non-fluent Welsh speakers due to “lack of confidence”. I can empathise with that. In future the Welsh Government will attach conditions to grants awarded to fund relevant services (and it's important to stress that before the chimps tea party gets overexcited) to provide Welsh-language services – in particular public sector bodies.

Language infrastructure

An umbrella strategic area covering both acquisition and use of Welsh is Welsh-language “infrastructure” that should “reflect the official status of Welsh”. This encompasses : TV, radio, books etc. There's once again a focus on digital content, including the suggestion that major private sector companies provide interfaces in Welsh (quite a few already do in fairness). There's no hint at devolution of Welsh-language broadcasting, however, interestingly, there's the possibility of a standardised online Welsh language dictionary in the medium term. But doesn't that already exist?

The role of the Welsh Language Commissioner is outlined in some detail, including responsibilities over aforementioned standardisation, language research, building links with other countries with minority languages, “language planning” and “promoting the value of Welsh”.


I hope I haven't come across as pretentious. A Cymry-di-Cymraeg commenting on the future of the Welsh language might come across as rather patronising and if so I apologise.

There are those out there who have nothing but bile for a language and culture they simply don't “get”. I consider Welsh - even in my limited capacity of being able to use it - an important part of my identity and an inheritance to be handed down. Leighton Andrews should be applauded for this comprehensive assessment, but many of the strategic aims are going to be very difficult to deliver without the ongoing continued goodwill of the majority of Welsh people and a Welsh-speaking heartland.

If there's one single thing I would like to see, it would be the relaunch/expansion/continuation of the Welsh Language Board's "Iaith Gwaith" scheme, with a new, universally-recognised symbol that would indicate that a shop, service or person is able and willing to use Welsh.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Cardiff Enterprise Zone : Question marks before it begins?

The Plan

Cardiff Council and the Welsh Government have lofty ambitions for the centre of Cardiff. The creation of a “national business district” was heralded by Cardiff Council's Lib Dem leader Rodney Berman as a “red letter day for the city”. It's a fantastic and exciting vision of Cardiff's future, perhaps more so than my own the other day.

The site is slap bang in the middle of Cardiff city centre, adjacent to Cardiff Central station on what is now called “Central Square”. It also includes the site south of the station – Callaghan Square – which is already home to some of Cardiff's most significant employers such as Eversheds, British Gas and ING Direct.

The plan, as envisaged, includes:
  • A £10m, 19-bay bus station, with 90,000sqft of offices above and 14,000sqft of retail at ground level.
  • Compete reconfiguring of traffic flow in and around Wood Street and Westgate Street.
  • A “corridor” between Cardiff Central and the Millennium Stadium.
  • Up to 4million sqft of grade-A office development.
  • Landscaped public space, including a prominent water feature called the “Taff Wall”.
  • A £50m convention centre somewhere to the north of Cardiff Central station (~1,500 capacity).
  • A new road layout, and 500,000sqft of office development to the south of, Callaghan Square.
  • An embryonic bus rapid transit system linking Cathays Park, the city centre and Callaghan Square to Cardiff Bay via the CBD (could be expanded in future).

Presumably, there'll be several spin-off developments and there are plans - both longstanding and recent - for new hotels in the area.

The Execution

Last March, the then Economy & Transport Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones (Plaid, Ynys Mon), announced £21million of funding towards the Callaghan Square side of the development. In addition, current Business Minister Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower) announced that the site is to be an enterprise zone targeting the financial & professional services sector.

The first phase of the development – the new bus station some 100m from the entrance to Cardiff Central on what is now Marland House and a car park – is due to be completed some time in 2014. Two major office developments totalling 230,000sqft – earmarked for legal firm Hugh James and insurers Legal and General – are also part of this first phase.

It's been estimated that a total of £160million could be invested in the scheme over the course of the development.

Cardiff Central is due to get a new platform and redeveloped entrance to the south of the station in the next couple of years.

It also underlines the importance of electrifying the south Wales mainline to Swansea, not only for links to London but to encourage commuting into Cardiff city centre from towns and cities like Bridgend and Newport by public transport. We still don't have a proper timetable for that as yet.

The Problems

We still don't know, exactly, what features Welsh enterprise zones will have – I'm confident Edwina Hart will sort this one out soon, and the enterprise zones across Wales - including a few new ones announced in the last few weeks - are due to be up and running some time this year. When the UK government announced its own enterprise zones last August, at least there were a bullet point list of features : business rate discounts of up to 100%, sharing of business rate income to boost economic development of local authorities, simplified planning processes and fast broadband.

I assume something similar is going to happen in Welsh enterprise zonesm with the additional targeting of sectors, but it would be nice to get some sort of idea of the specifics - and the sooner the better.

Cardiff Central Business District is disjointed, piecemeal and scattered – The railway acts as a huge physical - and psychologically impenetrable - barrier between the north and south of Central Square. Development isn't exclusive to the Central Square area either. JR Smart are currently developing a mixed-use scheme called Capital Quarter – which falls just outside the proposed enterprise zone AFAIK. So what are all these developers, including local ones like JR Smart, supposed to think when Cardiff Council and the Welsh Government decide to go it alone and put schemes they're developing at a competitive disadvantage?

You also have the ongoing failure of the Capital Waterside office development, next to the Senedd and Millennium Centre, to reach the next stage of development. An application has been submitted for an extension of planning permission there by another five years.

Admiral's new HQ is also, effectively, going to be outside the enterprise zone. Could that development stall now? Unlikely, as work is imminent, but a close call.

Porth Teigr – a creative industries cluster at Roath Dock - is coming along rather well but it all forebodes an oversupply of development land in Cardiff Bay.

Lastly there's “Havannah Quay” - a huge redevelopment on the east bank of the Taff that's stalled.

Possible CBD tenants are reported to be jittery – It's been reported in the South Wales Echo that Legal and General, one of the main tenants earmarked for the Central Square development, are close to pulling out. I think these reports should be taken with a pinch of salt for the time being but it's not exactly auspicious.

Cardiff is still some way from being a "global" or "European" city of note – Putting my pessimist hat on for the moment, this whole development could be a case of tail wagging the dog. As I've noted, this could - and I believe it will be - an absolutely magnificent development that can propel Cardiff up the various league tables.

It could also be hard to let real estate, last-minute public sector occupiers or vacant, undeliverable sites and schemes. There's long-standing problems with the airport, Cardiff's universities are slipping down global and UK rankings, and while the public transport situation in Cardiff is decent (if not spectacular), there are issues there too. Arriva's rolling stock is like something out of Albania for example.

Have I done a Welsh Tory-style Cold War comparison there?