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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Senedd Watch - June 2015

  • Welsh Lib Dem leader, Kirsty Williams AM (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), called for Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) to be scrapped following a damning report into poor treatment of dementia patients on the (now closed) Tawel Fan mental health ward at Glan Clwyd Hospital. She said HIW failed as the “final backdrop and assurance mechanism” to ensure care was of a good standard.
    • During an urgent Assembly debate on June 3rd, Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), apologised to patients and families involved. £8million was pledged for adult mental health services, with £4.5million earmarked for dementia patients.
    • On June 8th, the Welsh Government announced that Betsi Cadwaladr health board would be placed into “special measures”, while the board's Chief Executive, Prof. Trevor Purt, was suspended. The interim chief, Simon Bird, was tasked with a 100-day turnaround at the health board.
    • Older People's Commissioner, Sarah Rochira, said it should be easier to prosecute staff who abuse elderly patients, saying the Tawel Fan scandal is, "one of many many examples where care has been truly unacceptable yet isn't considered criminal", later adding that the legal system “fails” older people.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Strapped 4 Cash?

With negotiations over the next BBC Charter set to begin soon,
the National Assembly demand assurances on S4C's future.
(Pic :
Until 2013, Welsh language broadcaster S4C was funded by a direct grant from the UK Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) as well as some commercial revenues. Since 2013, S4C has been mainly funded via the licence fee with the UK Government grant scaled back to a near token amount.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Fried Cymru : The Barby of Wales

The night is dark and full of terrors.
(Pic : ITV Wales)
For several weeks it seemed as though the south Wales valleys were permanently ablaze. It dominated headlines over Easter, but has since drifted from the front pages.The number of grass/forest fires in 2015 are reportedly up 195% on 2014. Trees were destroyed, wildlife killed and homes evacuated as there was very real possibility that the fires would endanger whole villages.

Yesterday, the Public Services Minister, Smokey Bear Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhonnda) issued a statement in the National Assembly updating AMs on current actions taken to prevent similar fires in the future, perhaps with the forthcoming school summer holidays in mind.

The Minister issued a written statement during the height of the crisis on April 21st (clip). Subsequently, as a result of these "criminal acts of a small number of individuals", more people have been detained during this latest round of fires that were detained in the previous five years. He condemned those who started the fires, and praised the emergency services and tough stance of the police.

There were 933 fires in south Wales alone, and it's believed 902 (97%) were started deliberately. All fires were extinguished without having to call in extra support from neighbouring authorities, but resources used to tackle them could've been more productively spent elsewhere. A summit was held on April 29th with the First Minister, Natural Resources Minister and Education Minister in attendance. They agreed co-ordinated actions in the short, medium and long-term based around education, land management and deterrence.

The fire service already has a strong record on education, visiting every secondary school in affected areas, while the Phoenix Project has a re-offending rate of under 5%. The fire service are now considering using drones to spot fires and identify those who start them. Alongside this there are social media campaigns and extra-curricular activities to divert children from deliberate fire setting.

Natural Resources Wales are considering changes to land management structures to control the spread of fires, such as using fire breaks. Welsh Government will co-ordinate efforts through the Wales Resilience Forum and programmes like Glastir (The Green, Green Glas of Home).

Due to public and community concerns, there's a willingness to help reduce fires and identify arsonists. The Chief Fire Officer in south Wales has visited community groups, and a smart phone app has been developed to report fires. The Minister said that the threat hasn't gone away, so there's no room for complacency.

William Graham AM (Con, South Wales East) appreciated the actions of the Minister and paid tribute to the fire service and emergency call handlers (clip). He asked if the Minister agreed that sentencing guidelines needed to be changed to increase the punishments for these crimes?

The Minister said these fires are becoming "an annual event" and need to be properly addressed through the resilience forum. Over time, the number of grass fires has fallen, but emergency services have to plan for these events and set budgets accordingly. He described changes to sentencing guidelines as an "interesting idea" but preferred to wait upon the outcome of current prosecutions (plus it's non-devolved).

Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) asked for an expansion on the issues raised at the summit (clip). He also said pressure on emergency services was "huge", and that the response of call centres was "extremely efficient". Rhodri raised concerns about absence levels in the fire service, and whether it was linked to these fires, plus changes in the workforce from full-time officers to, part-time officers. He asked if they would be able to maintain these levels of work?

Leighton said collaboration has increased since the summit on prevention and detection. The balance between full and part-time firefighters was a matter for fire authorities, while fire services had coped with reduced budgets and "made efficiencies". He was satisfied current governance arrangements work, and wouldn't like to see PCC-style elected fire commissioners (unlike policing, fire & rescue services were devolved in 2004).

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) said the issue needed to be looked at from the other end (clip), calling for third sector bodies like the RSPB and Scouts to stress the importance of natural environments to the whole community, so children are much more minded "to be protectors of nature".

The Minister said the Foundation Phase has commitments to the outdoors and the environment, and there were already a number of voluntary bodies engaging with children. He did, however, stress that not all of the fires were started by children, with two arrests being men in their 30s and 50s. He wouldn't confirm if they were called Ramsay and Stannis respectively.

Eluned Parrott AM (Lib Dem, South Wales Central) condemned the arsonists as "reckless individuals" who not only endanger life through fires but divert resources from other emergencies (clip). She asked several questions, particularly on research into the profile of, and reasons why, people start fires. Eluned also stressed the importance of after-school and holiday activities, as well as schemes like Project Bernie (which appears to be based on DJ Dai from Grand Theft Auto II ).

The Minister said significant research had been done on the motivations of arsonists, and South Wales Police have commissioned further research from Cardiff University on motivations and the effectiveness of social media campaigns. A wide range of school clubs and other activities exist, and he acknowledged that Project Bernie has made a significant impact.

Christine Chapman AM's (Lab, Cynon Valley) constituency was disproportionately affected by the fires (clip). She asked what work has been done with offenders to understand drivers to authorities know what works and what doesn't? She noted the association between deprivation and the fires and whether these communities – in particular boys and men – should be targeted. Finally, she asked about how easy fires were to predict and whether a warning system has been developed?

Leighton said we need to focus on research which has already been done, but admitted it's "not comprehensive". He added it was right to say fires can be predicted and the emergency services' plans have them in mind, but the timing of education programmes/interventions might need to be adjusted accordingly.

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) said there were 145 similar fires in north Wales (clip), and the fire services instituted an effective "do you know where your kids are?" campaign. He asked whether community groups were involved in the summit and whether the responsibilities of landowners have been taken into account?

The Minister said social media had been used to engage with parents very effectively. There were too many community groups to take part in the summit, but many were engaged through the fire service. Also, he repeated what he said about land management, adding that fire authorities discuss issues with landowners.

Who can prevent forest fires?

You said "you", by which you were referring to me. That is incorrect. The correct answer is "you".

There have been calls down the years to re-forest/re-wild upland Wales – notably from George Monbiot – in order to increase flood protection in lowland areas. In areas of agricultural use that's perhaps impractical, but elsewhere I would love to see the valleys "re-greened" with native forestry to the same extent as Switzerland. This is one of the reasons why it can't/won't happen.

These fires have always been a background threat but, like flooding, it's time to take it a bit more seriously. Judging by what's been said, to their credit that's precisely what the Welsh Government and emergency services are doing.

Boredom might be a reason – and sensationalist coverage via the likes of Wales Online won't have helped - but none of that is an excuse and I hope those responsible, regardless of age, have the book thrown at them. Due to the topography of the valleys, it's inevitable that one day these fires will threaten entire villages and people will at least lose their homes, if not be killed, as a result.

Christine Chapman raised an important point about warnings. If you're close to a fire it's pretty obvious, but when there's a heightened risk of one starting, it's worth warning people so they can keep an eye out – particularly parents knowing where their children are going.

We've had a noticeably dry year so far. Maybe that was a factor in how the fires were able to spread so quickly. We might also have to accept that these things are increasingly going to start naturally, and so the fire service need the resources to deal with them.

Speaking of resources, for all the talk about defence spending and military recruitment recently, the UK can't properly defend itself from natural disasters (even if there's a criminal element with these fires).

Wales nominally contributes about £1.6billion towards the UK's military budget yet we seem to get very little back in terms of....actual defence from real threats. Perhaps all those kids recruited into the three services from Welsh schools in deprived areas should be sent in to help protect their hometowns during situations like these.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Should the military recruit in Welsh schools?

(Pic : The Telegraph)
Last Friday, the National Assembly's Petitions Committee published a report (pdf) on a petition submitted by Cymdeithas y Cymod, which gathered a total of 1,074 signatures online and offline.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Poverty Inquiry : Poverty & Inequality

The modern image of poverty is something like the above, but it should also include
low-paid care workers, part-time shop assistants and people priced out of housing.
(Pic : Swansea Sound)
Earlier this week, the Assembly's Communities & Local Government Committee launched the first report of a four-part inquiry into poverty in Wales (pdf) - and a 10-page summary (pdf). Each strand of the inquiry has its own terms of reference, and this first report focuses on how poverty is measured, defined and generally dealt with at a national level.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Beast - Programme for Government Report 2015

As promised.....
On Tuesday (16th June), the First Minister unveiled the 2015 annual progress report on the Programme for Government – a set of indicators used to measure whether the Welsh Government are delivering on their 2011 manifesto commitments. It's the final progress report before the 2016 National Assembly election.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Back to the Future

"If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 8 counties you're going to see some serious shit."

Today's post was originally going to be on the annual Programme of Government report, but due to a "dramatic" turn of events on local government reform I'll have to post it another time. There's a lot to get through.

Monday, 15 June 2015

AMs Pressured to Ban 'Invisible Killer'

A group of determined campaigners have set out to alert the public of an imminent danger to our health.
With it already claiming lives, is it too late for the National Assembly to take action?
(Pic : via

Oggy Bloggy Ogwr can exclusively reveal that following the recent introduction of the Public Health Bill, campaigners are pressing AMs and the Welsh Government to ban a pervasive dangerous substance which is secretly blighting the lives of the people of Wales.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Tattoos, Bans & Bogs - The Public Health Bill

The Public Health Bill is a wide-ranging law, prompting controversy over
a proposed ban on the use of e-cigarettes in indoor public spaces.
(Pic : BBC Wales)
Earlier this week, the Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), introduced what's likely to be one of the most controversial and substantial laws of the Fourth Assembly, instigating one of those rare occasions where Welsh politics has made UK-wide headlines - not necessarily in flattering terms either.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Assembly Calls for Tax Power Accountability

Although the above illustrates how much proposed devolved taxes would raise, the Assembly's Finance
Committee are taking a methodical approach to the issue of effective tax collection and management.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

Aggregates levy, stamp duty and landfill tax are set to be devolved to Wales from April 2018 as stipulated by the Wales Act 2014, which was passed by the previous UK Government and includes some of the recommendations of the Silk Commission Part I.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Tawel Fan : Betsi Cadwaladr's Shame

Little Ward of Horrors.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

Just so you've been warned, the following makes for depressing reading.

Within the last week, a catalogue of serious care failings were revealed in a damning report into the Tawel Fan mental health ward at Denbighshire's Glan Clwyd Hospital, which specialised in "care" for elderly patients with dementia. The ward closed in December 2013 as soon as the seriousness of the allegations became clear, and there are echos with what happened at the Princess of Wales and Neath Port Talbot Hospitals (Abertawe Bro Morgannwg : Trusted to Care?).

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Assembly Bans Smoking in Cars with Kids

(Pic : Wales Online)

Within the last hour, the National Assembly approved new regulations outlawing smoking in cars when carrying under-18s.

Monday, 1 June 2015

The In-Out EU Referendum Bill

Forty years since the last time the question was put to the public,
the UK is to be asked whether to remain a member of the EU.
(Pic : The Telegraph)
Last Thursday, the UK Government introduced a Bill setting out the arrangements for the forthcoming  referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union.