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Sunday 31 May 2015

Senedd Watch - May 2015

  • The Electoral Reform Society warned that Wales faced a “turnout time bomb” amongst under-25s due to falling interest in elections. They recommended reforms to how politics is taught in schools, and urgent legislation to extend the voting franchise to 16 year olds in time for the 2016 National Assembly election. It was confirmed on May 14th that votes for 16 year olds couldn't be introduced in time for the election.
  • The Welsh Government introduced the Historic Environment Bill on May 5th, which sets out measures to improve the protection of monuments and listed buildings, create an advisory panel, as well as enable stronger prosecutions to be taken where monuments are damaged.
  • The Welsh Conservatives called for an independent inquiry into the collapse of Pencoed-based IT company Ideoba, after claims a Welsh Government adviser said funding was pulled because the other director, former Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price, was standing in the 2016 National Assembly election. The Welsh Government said the claim was, “frankly ridiculous”.
  • The Communities & Local Government Committee said proposed mergers between local authorities need to be “sustainable and enduring” in their Stage 1 report on the Local Government Bill. Committee Chair, Christine Chapman AM (Lab, Cynon Valley), warned that anything less could lead to another reorganisation. The Finance Committee also called for more clarity on the costings of local government mergers.
  • Two Conservative Assembly Members – Antoinette Sandbach and Byron Davies – were elected as MPs in the 2015 UK election. Both resigned their Assembly seats. Byron Davies MP was replaced by Altaf Hussain AM (Con, South Wales West), while Antoinette Sandbach MP was replaced by Janet Howarth AM (Con, North Wales).
  • The Finance Committee recommended increased powers for the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales, legislation giving the Ombudsman more power to investigate complaints independently and an expansion of their jurisdiction to include private healthcare. Committee Chair, Jocelyn Davies AM (Plaid, South Wales East), said, “should (public services) fall short of an individual’s expectations, they need to have the confidence in the Ombudsman to investigate.”
  • A leaked report revealed staff in Betsi Cadwaladr Local Health Board believe out-of-hours GP services were “unsafe”, blaming recruitment problems. The First Ministers told AMs he was “determined to make sure it does improve”. Ann Jones AM (Lab, Vale of Clwyd) wrote to the First Minister demanding that the Chief Executive of the health board, Prof. Trevor Purt, be sacked.
    • In a separate development, an independent investigation into the treatment of patients on a mental health ward at Glan Clwyd Hospital suggests their human rights may have been breached. Betsi Cadwaladr LHB apologised for “inexcusable and unacceptable” standards of care. Accusations include patients being left unattended, treatment being provided on the floor and improper use of restraints. Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), demanded a full inquiry into the Welsh NHS.
  • The Jobs Growth Wales scheme secured a three-year, £25million extension - backed by EU funding. Deputy Minister for Skills, Julie James AM (Lab, Swansea West), said it, “illustrates our ongoing commitment to supporting young people into employment”.
    • Opposition AMs criticised the extension. Eluned Parrott AM (Lib Dem, South Wales Central) said Labour need to “stop wasting money on this ineffective scheme and invest in apprenticeships and training” after a review found 37% of the scheme's participants didn't need it to find work.
  • Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), introduced the Environment Bill to the National Assembly on May 12th. The Bill proposes to set a statutory target for an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, protects biodiversity, increases the powers of Natural Resources Wales and give Ministers the power to expand charges for carrier bags to include “bags for life”.
  • Anglesey overtook Merthyr Tydfil as the local authority with the highest proportion of obese or overweight children according to the latest Public Health Wales figures. The overall rate remains higher in Wales (26%) than England (23%). Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ruth Hussey, said that while childhood obesity had “levelled off”, there was “still much work to do”.
  • The National Assembly approved the Planning Bill on May 19th by 39 votes to 10. The Planning Act will institute a national development plan and allow strategic plans to be developed across multiple councils. Amendments to the Bill will place a greater consideration on the impact housing developments have on the Welsh language.
  • On a visit to Cardiff, US ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, said the proposed TTIP US-EU free trade agreement was a “big deal....with high standards”. The Welsh Government estimates the deal would be worth £1.5billion to the Welsh economy, but Plaid Cymru in particular have expressed concerns over "back door privatisation" of the NHS.
  • Communities and Tackling Poverty Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), launched a public consultation on giving communities a right to bid for, own and run assets transferred from the public and private sectors. She said, “I believe in the power of our communities and I look forward to hearing people’s views on this important topic.”
  • The Independent Remuneration Panel for the National Assembly finalised a decision to award AMs an 18% increase in their annual salary to £64,000. The decision has been highly-controversial, with all the main parties expressing reservations. The agreed proposals also include changes to AM pension arrangements and party group funding.
  • The RAC Foundation claimed that limited powers over road safety has stalled progress on reducing the number of road deaths, with a 15% fall in Wales compared to 33% and 35% falls in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively – where some powers are devolved. Scotland lowered the legal drink-driving limit in December 2014 and the Liberal Democrats called for Wales to have the power to do the same.
  • Plaid Cymru called for a “full feasibility study” into basing Welsh regiments in Wales when not on active service. At the moment, they're based in English bases. They said troops were often away from wider support networks while defence spending in Wales had fallen consistently for 20 years.
  • The Chair of the National Assembly's Environment Committee, Alun Ffred Jones AM (Plaid, Arfon), called for the Committee to have a role in the appointment of the Natural Resources Wales (NRW) Chair, after widespread concerns over NRW's independence. He said, “Allowing independent scrutiny of the preferred candidate....will offer public reassurance over the eventual appointment.....and, crucially, provide evidence of the candidate's independence of mind."
  • At the State Opening of the new UK Parliament session on May 27th, the Queen announced that the UK Government would introduce a Wales Bill granting Wales extra powers and a reserved powers model - as set out in the St David's Day Agreement - as well as legislation for a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union, which was introduced on May 28th.
    • Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb MP, said Wales is a “huge winner” from the EU and he would campaign for the UK to remain in the EU in a future referendum, which could be brought forward to 2016. It comes as Airbus and Deutsche Bank warned it would reconsider UK investments if the UK left the EU – though JCB said there was “nothing to fear” from an EU exit.
    • The Welsh Liberal Democrats and SNP called for any EU referendum to be held separately from the 2016 National Assembly/Scottish Parliament elections. Meanwhile, UKIP's leader in Wales, Nathan Gill MEP, called for a same day vote in order to boost turnout and save money.
  • A Finance Committee report into the future management of devolved taxes recommended a transitional period to provide stability and build up expertise in the proposed Welsh Revenue Authority. They also recommended that direct accountability and scrutiny be provided through an Assembly committee.

Projects announced in May include : A £6million investment in a combined primary care and sheltered housing complex in Tregaron, Ceredigion; a £3million funding boost to 12 third sector mental health projects; an £18million, three-year research project into several areas of the health service; £27million towards 35 transport projects in 18 local authorities; a £2million one-year action plan to reduce autism diagnostic waiting times; a £108million investment in upgrades to social housing and an extra £7.6million for child and adolescent mental health (CAMHS) services.

Results :

(Click to enlarge)

  • Following the surprise Conservative victory, Prime Minister David Cameron promised to lead “one nation” - with extra powers for the devolved administrations – pledging to “make Britain greater still”. Stephen Crabb MP (Con, Preseli Pembs.) remained Welsh Secretary.
  • Ed Miliband resigned immediately as Labour leader as a result of the election defeat, saying the party needs a chance to “rebuild”. Harriet Harman was appointed temporary leader until a successor is elected.
    • First Minister Carwyn Jones said Labour needed to be “pro-business” in the fallout from the election, pointing to what his government have done in Wales. Meanwhile, former Welsh Government minister, Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent), said Labour had “lost the argument” on the NHS, which contributed to their defeat after being used effectively by the Conservatives during their campaign, saying Labour need to “ensure that people do trust Welsh Labour with the Welsh NHS”.
  • Former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg MP, resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats, triggering a leadership election. He paid tribute to his party, saying “we had the courage to step up at a time of crisis” whilst admitting the “crushing and unkind” loss of seats and colleagues.
  • Nigel Farage MEP “resigned” as UKIP leader after failing to win South Thanet, saying he would take a break to consider whether to stand for the leadership again. On May 11th he reported his resignation was “rejected” by UKIP's executive board and subsequently “un-resigned”, prompting derision from other parties and various internal squabbles.
  • Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, South Wales Central), said results in the western valleys laid strong foundations for the 2016 National Assembly election despite failing to gain target seats like Ceredigion and Ynys Môn. However, she later admitted the results had been generally “disappointing”.

Saturday 23 May 2015

Pirate Party : Hoisting the Jolly Roger above Wales

Bridgend's voters were faced with a unique choice on May 7th.
Maybe, in future, other Welsh voters will have the option too.
(Pic : via Facebook)

I doubt many people reading this will have heard of The Pirate Party.

"Pirate politics" – the umbrella term used for such parties – is often hard to place on the traditional political spectrum.
While the left-wing is mainly focused on inequalities and the right-wing on tradition, pirate politics is based around information : how freely you can access it, who it belongs to and how and why it should be used.

Thursday 21 May 2015

Bridge Over Troubled Water

While the Welsh Government and CBI have said the Newport M4 "Hart Bypass" will boost the economy,
does the Port of Newport - which supports 3,000 jobs - stand to be one of the economic losers?
(Pic : South Wales Argus)

After Friends of the Earth Cymru's recent unsuccessful bid to stall the Newport M4 bypass, you would've thought that would be that. However, projects of this scale will always generate their fair share of problems, and I suspect the hurdles this particular project has to clear (political and physical) are beginning to become more obvious.

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Hard Graphed

We're all familiar with the staple Lib Dem electoral tactic of using distorted
graphs, but are some of our public bodies now starting to join in?
(Pic : via Wikipedia)

Yesterday, BBC Wales highlighted the findings of the latest Child Measurement Programme conducted by Public Health Wales (pdf). The programme weighs 4 and 5 year olds – around 31,000 – to determine levels of excess weight and obesity (see also : Fat of the Land : More work needed on childhood obesity).

The headline figures show that Anglesey now has the highest proportion of overweight or obese children (32.4%), closely followed by Merthyr Tydfil (32%) and Pembrokeshire (31%). Vale of Glamorgan (21%), Cardiff (22.6%) and Monmouthshire (23.3%) have the lowest percentages. On average, around 11.8% Welsh 4 and 5 year olds are obese, and there's a correlation between higher levels of obesity and deprivation. It also found there was little difference between rural and urban areas.

Putting these findings aside, BBC Wales have started to use infographics for Welsh political stories on their website to get key points across to readers - whether that's Assembly inquiry reports and reports like this. A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words.

One particular example is the graph on page 42 of the report (pdf), re-produced by the BBC, which compares obesity levels in the regions of England to both the Welsh and English average.
(Pic : Public Health Wales via BBC Wales)


Statistics can be presented in a deliberately misleading way to prove a point or to get the public's attention.
There's no contention that obesity rates are higher in Wales, but this is a dodgy graph the Lib Dems would be proud of.

As you can tell - even taking into account the fact the bars could be based on a decimal figure, not a whole number (which would explain it, but still means it's misleading) - the bars for Wales, London and North East England have been exaggerated to such an extent it appears obesity and excess weight levels are more deviant from the norm than they are. It's the only graph in the whole report that's been distorted like this.

Similarly, it implies the gap between Wales and England is bigger than it really is. The bar for Wales is actually, based on a scale fixed on the English average and South East England figures, positioned at 29-30%, not 26% (the real figure).

This is what a properly scaled graph should look like based on the whole number figures provided :

Suddenly, Wales isn't doing quite as poorly compared to England and its regions.

Childhood obesity is a major public health concern, and arguably as big a problem as smoking and antibiotic resistance. I don't blame health authorities, or the media, for putting a report under the nose of ministers, other politicians or the general public that spells that out in as stark terms as possible and, perhaps, stir people into action. Appealing to, and reinforcing, the Welsh inferiority complex is one way to do it.

I still would've expected better from Wales' leading centre for epidemiology though.

Saturday 16 May 2015

Devolution : Last Stand of the Human Rights Act?

(Pic : via Flickr)

One Conservative manifesto commitment prior to their election victory was the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 and its replacement with a "British Bill of Rights" - possibly including a subsequent full withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if certain demands aren't met. The task has been passed to new Justice Secretary, the shy and retiring Michael Gove.

Thursday 14 May 2015

Environment Bill introduced

Carrier bags, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity are amongst the areas
targeted by a wide-ranging Environment Bill, which was introduced this week.
Now that the election excitement is dying down, it's time to turn to more mundane matters.

Hot on the heels of the Heritage Bill, Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) introduced the latest Welsh law. Bill here (pdf), explanatory memorandum here (pdf).

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Westminster 2015 : The Post-Mortem

Why are we looking at five more Tory years when we could've had this?
(Pic : Wales Online)

In one final visit to the 2015 House of Commons election, it's worth looking in more detail at last Thursday's results in Wales - considering why it happened and what can be learned from it.

Friday 8 May 2015

Westminster 2015 : The Results

(Pic : Reuters via The Guardian)

First thing's first - I can rip my crap predictions up. Predicting is a mug's game as the polling companies are finding out to their cost. As has been said elsewhere, it's the most surprising result in a UK election since 1992, even 1945.

Thursday 7 May 2015

Westminster 2015 : Predictions


Tonight's the night, so it's time for the real fun to begin....

Tuesday 5 May 2015

New law to protect Welsh heritage sites

(Pic :

It seems like a while since the last one, but it's worth turning to the latest Bill which has been introduced to the National Assembly by Deputy Minister for Culture & Sport, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South).

Friday 1 May 2015

Senedd/Election Watch - April 2015

  • Non-domestic rates (aka. business rates) were devolved to Wales on April 1st. Finance Minister, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan), said it providesthe opportunity to develop taxes that....reflect the needs, circumstances and priorities of the people of Wales."
  • The National Assembly's Health & Social Care Committee sent a letter to Deputy Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), recommending improvements in 8 areas of the ambulance service, including handover delays at A&E departments, community treatment and staff rosters. It follows a short inquiry into the performance of the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust.
    • On April 29th, interim chief executive of the Wales Ambulance Trust, Tracey Myhill, said the service had "turned a corner" after sustained improvements in ambulance response times since January 2015, following a project to keep local ambulances as close to their home bases as possible to prevent being deployed out of area.
  • Communities & Tackling Poverty Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), launched a new child poverty strategy, retaining the commitment to eradicating child poverty in Wales by 2020. Proposals include reducing the number of workless households, improving educational outcomes for children in poverty and reducing the cost of living.
  • A ban on tobacco displays in stores came into force in Wales on April 6th. Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), said the "ban on displaying cigarettes and tobacco is the next step to help us limit the attraction of cigarettes....and further raise awareness about the dangers of smoking.”
  • A report commissioned by the Welsh Government suggests the Wylfa B nuclear power plant could be worth up to £5.7billion to the Welsh economy over 20 years if Welsh companies take advantage of the supply chain. Business & Economy Minister, Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower), described it as a “once in a generation opportunity”.
  • The Jobs Growth Wales scheme – which helped unemployed 16-24 year olds find work placements – closed suddenly. The Welsh Government hailed the scheme as a “fantastic success” and announced they were working on a replacement. Shadow Economy Minister, William Graham AM (Con, South Wales East), criticised the lack of transparency, saying “it's clear Labour were winding the scheme up” following secretive in-year cuts.
  • A record number of teenagers were admitted to hospital with eating disorders in 2013-14, increasing by 36% over a decade. Charities repeated calls for a specialist eating disorder unit to be established in Wales, while the Welsh Government said an extra £250,000 has been provided since 2013.
  • The value of Welsh exports fell by 11% (-£1.6billion) in 2014 compared to 2013 according to the latest statistics. Across the UK, export values fell by 4.8% over the same period. Eluned Parrott AM (Lib Dem, South Wales Central) said, “Labour needs to stop making excuses....They have the tools to boost growth but don't”.
  • A review of NHS staff training recommended the creation of a single national “super authority” to oversee workforce planning. NHS Wales currently spends £350million a year on training, but up to a third of Welsh medical graduates don't work in Wales when they qualify.
  • A Cardiff University study found that primary school age pupils were more likely to try e-cigarettes (6% of under-11s) than traditional cigarettes (2%) but e-cigs are unlikely to contribute to young people's nicotine addiction. Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ruth Hussey, said she was concerned that e-cigs are acting as a “gateway” to tobacco. A proposed Public Health Bill aims to restrict the use of e-cigs in public.
  • A series of deliberate grass fires in the South Wales Valleys prompted neighbourhoods to launch their own patrol schemes, while South Wales Fire Service said the cost could run to more than £800,000. Public Services Minister, Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda), praised the efforts of firefighters and condemned the fires as “criminal acts”.
  • The National Assembly voted for a moratorium on opencast mining to allow a review of current policy and how effectively it protects local communities. Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), ruled out a moratorium but would host a summit on opencast mining, while the Welsh Government would support local authorities taking legal action on failed mine restorations.
Projects announced in April include : £1million to recruit trained primary care staff to diagnose dementia, with a goal of detecting 50% of dementia cases by 2016; an £11million Welsh Government-EU project to improve gender equality in the workplace and a £114million Welsh Government-EU project which will create 52,000 apprenticeships over the next four years in West Wales & The Valleys.
  • Around 100 company bosses signed a letter supporting the Conservatives, and backing a cut in corporation tax to 20%. They said the Coalition has supported investment and job creation, and a “change in course will threaten jobs and deter investment”.
  • Ed Miliband pledged that Labour would pass legislation to force employers to offer full-time contracts to employees if they've been on a zero hour contract for 3 months. He said, "There is no greater symbol of an economy that doesn't work than zero-hours contracts.”
  • The Liberal Democrats pledged to double the annual borrowing limit for Wales – as set out in the Wales Act 2014 – from £500million to £1billion. Candidate for Brecon & Radnorshire, Roger Williams, said, “Increased borrowing powers means that Wales would have greater scope to stimulate the economy with....significant capital expenditure projects.”
  • Former Conservative Welsh Secretary and Foreign Secretary, William Hague, told voters on a visit to the marginal Cardiff North constituency that a Labour UK Government would be a risk to jobs and living standards. He also defended his draft plans for “English votes for English laws”, saying Welsh MPs would retain an input on EnglandandWales matters like criminal justice.
  • Labour pledged to scrap the “bedroom tax” if they form the next UK Government. The Conservatives claimed the measure had “restored fairness” to the housing system, while Plaid Cymru said Labour abstained on votes to repeal the measure at Westminster.
  • Plaid Cymru would introduce a 5p per litre cut in the price of fuel as part of an EU fuel rebate scheme which is already used in parts of Scotland and England. The Liberal Democrats said Plaid Cymru would not have enough influence at Westminster to carry the proposal through.
  • The Conservatives committed to a like-for-like four submarine replacement of the Trident nuclear missile system, claiming Labour was willing to use the missiles as a “bargaining chip” to ensure Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister. Labour are considering reducing the number of submarines, while Plaid Cymru, the SNP and Greens completely oppose a replacement.
  • The Liberal Democrats announced a “Help to Rent” scheme where prospective tenants aged 18-30 would receive a repayable government loan to cover the cost of rent deposits. The Conservatives called for increased housebuilding, Labour and Plaid Cymru support rent controls, while UKIP would prioritise social housing for those with locally-born parents.
  • Labour would protect policing numbers and aim to save £800million by scrapping police and crime commissioners. Police forces in EnglandandWales saw their budgets cut by £300million in 2014-15, while Conservatives claimed Labour have over-estimated the amount of money they would save.
  • Plaid Cymru called for Aberystwyth to be named UK Capital of Culture in 2018, and a reformatting of the City of Culture award to include towns. Candidate for Ceredigion, Mike Parker, said, “Businesses....across Ceredigion would have an unprecedented opportunity to not only showcase their produce and services but also receive a much-needed boost.”
  • In a series of tax announcements, the Conservatives said they would remove homes worth up to £1million from inheritance tax, Labour would fine tax avoiders and close loopholes which would raise an estimated £7.5billion a year, while the Greens would introduce a 60% income tax rate for those earning £150,000+ per year, raising an estimated £2billion.
  • UKIP's leader in Wales, Nathan Gill MEP, was criticised for claiming climate change was not influenced by humanity and was instead used as an excuse to raise taxes. Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant, said the claim was “bonkers”, while Plaid Cymru said 95% of climate scientists agreed that humanity was impacting climate change.
  • Leader of the Green Party in Wales, Pippa Bartolotti, said voters should join a “peaceful revolution” as she launched her party's Welsh manifesto on April 14th. The Greens are standing a record 35 candidates in Wales.
  • A Labour UK government would ensure an extra £375million per year for Wales according to its Welsh manifesto. They would also provide a minimum guaranteed funding level for Wales (aka. Barnett floor) - though no figures were provided.
  • The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) launched their Welsh campaign on April 16th, promising to end austerity, raise the minimum wage to £10 per hour, scrap zero-hour contracts and nationalise railways, utilities and banks.
  • The Welsh Conservatives would support a Welsh bid to host the Commonwealth Games. Wales last hosted the games in 1958, and the Welsh Government together with Cardiff Council have explored the possibility of a bid for the 2026 games.
  • Labour and the Conservatives were caught in a row over the potential role of the SNP in a hung parliament. Former Prime Minister, John Major, said nationalists could “blackmail” a Labour government, while Ed Miliband said David Cameron was “demeaning his office” by “talking up nationalists”.
  • The Socialist Labour Party launched their campaign in Port Talbot on April 21st, demanding an “end to capitalism” through a 90% income tax rate on incomes above £300,000 per year, withdrawal from the EU and nationalisation of all transport services.
  • UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, called for the licence fee to be cut by two thirds to £48.50 a year, and for the BBC to be “a purely public service broadcaster”. The Green Party have pledged to abolish the licence fee and fund the BBC via direct taxation.
  • Nick Clegg warned that Conservative plans for regional pay would have cost Wales £1.4billion had the Liberal Democrats not blocked the proposals. The Lib Dems pledged to issue guidance to public sector bodies to ensure pay increases in line with inflation.
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reported that the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dem and SNP manifestos failed to provide enough detail on proposed cuts or tax rises to the general public. Labour's plans would create £90billion of extra debt, while the Conservatives would need to “find substantial spending cuts”.
  • Plaid Cymru called for the creation of a Northern Powerhouse for Wales, supported via the electrification of the north Wales mainline, the creation of bespoke specialist capitals (a la France) and an enshrinement of a fair share of spending across Wales in law.
  • The Welsh Liberal Democrats warned that a “BLUKIP” Conservative-UKIP coalition in a hung parliament would present a danger. Leader Kirsty Williams AM (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor) said the Lib Dems ,”Would provide a heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one.”
  • The Conservatives pledged to curb tax rises in legislation introduced in the first 100 days of a new government which will mean income tax, national insurance and VAT cannot be raised before 2020. Labour said it was a “gimmick” and that Tory plans to reduce welfare threatened tax credits, with the Lib Dems later revealing "secret" Conservative plans for an £8billion welfare cut - claims described by George Osborne as "desperate stuff".