Thursday, 20 December 2007

Christmas Cheer from Mr Veneer

If you've ever found yourself having a difficult year and can't wait for it to be over, just remember Peter Hain at Christmas time. With more troughs than peaks in 2007, and an eagerness to look forward to 2008, there's only one way to deal with life - remember the good times - put a spin on it - and forget the bad times.

The part-time Secretary of State for Wales has put out his Christmas and New Year message which has also been covered by the Western Mail this morning.

Highs include:

  • His other Cabinet job, at Work and Pensions, had allowed him to deliver some “Christmas cheer” for former steelworkers at ASW in Cardiff, who will now have 90% of their lost pensions restored.
  • For 2008, I have already announced we will see a radical shift from passive to active benefits in the welfare system, to achieve full employment and help eradicate child poverty,” he said.
  • Referring to the decision announced in January to build a huge defence training facility in St Athan, he said, “This massive boost for the Welsh economy is another example of the strong partnership working between Cardiff and London and shows Wales has a world-beating team that can compete at the highest levels.”
  • Celebrating anyone and everyone Welsh.

Lows include:

  • Take your pick from any blog or national and local newspapers in 2007.

Sometimes Christmas comes early. At other times you have to wait until 25 December.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Please, Brian Gibbons, I want some more

Following on from an earlier post it seems that three Welsh councils, Anglesey, Conwy and Powys are reaching for their bowls.

The councils with the lowest grant rise in Wales are to appeal to an assembly government minister for an increase.

Powys, Anglesey and Conwy councils, which are scheduled to receive between 1% and 1.1%, will press for at least a 1.5% rise next year.

Local Government Minister Brian Gibbons was described as anticipating a "constructive discussion" with them.

Last month, the assembly government said grants across Wales were "tight" but called it a "realistic deal".

The latest meeting comes a week after a cross-party delegation from Powys Council held talks with mid Wales AMs.

The delegation, which will meet Dr Gibbons in Cardiff on Wednesday, is being led by Powys Council and also includes the Welsh Local Government Association.

What are the chances of the response being, "You've got to pick a pocket or two"?

Elin Jones AM - Political Chef

It's surprising what advice you can pick up on the Welsh Government's website. Vegetarians look away now.

Minister for Rural Affairs Elin Jones AM has urged people to put Welsh Lamb on their menu over the festive season, perhaps for Boxing Day lunch or a special New Year’s Day dinner.

She said:
Recent months have been tough for the industry, particularly lamb farmers, as Foot and Mouth restrictions overshadowed the peak trading season. There is now a surplus of lamb on the market which is where consumers come in; by buying Welsh Lamb we really can help the industry get back to full strength.

Choosing Welsh Lamb is by no means a selfless act for me – I can think of no better way to celebrate this time of year than with delicious Welsh Lamb.

Remember, make sure the lamb you buy is Welsh by checking the label or asking your butcher – that way you know you’re helping Welsh farmers and getting some of the best quality meat available.

Try a classic roast leg with garlic and rosemary or if you are in the mood for something more experimental have a go at the recipe below from the True Taste website. For more recipes go to http://www.walesthetruetaste.com/index.cfm/en3200

Notes
Chargrilled Welsh Lamb Steak With Laverbread Citrus Sauce, serves 4

Ingredients
4 Welsh leg of lamb steaks
1 tablespoon oil
3 tablespoons of fresh laverbread
juice of one orange
juice of half a lemon
100ml lamb or vegetable stock
salt and black pepper

Method
Season the steaks, heat a griddle pan and pour in the oil. Cook the steaks until brown on both sides then turn down the heat and continue cooking until the meat is to your liking.Remove the meat and keep warm while you prepare the sauce. De-glaze the pan with the stock, scraping off all the sediment, then add the laverbread and orange juice. Bring to the boil and reduce to thicken slightly, taste before adding the lemon juice and seasoning.You should not need to add salt as the laverbread is quite salty. Pour the laverbread and citrus sauce over the lamb steaks and serve with fluffy mashed potatoes.

We're not all domestic goddess' like yourself Elin. She'll be telling us next that as a farmer's daughter she'll be only too happy to come round and slaughter the little bleater for you.

Welsh Assembly Government - Every Minister Helps [at Christmas]

Monday, 17 December 2007

Blogging will be light over Christmas

I guess this new found experiment does take up a lot of time when you get going. Blogging will be light over the coming weeks due to Christmas and New Year. I will however be checking my emails every few days, and will be posting on education - yet again - in the next few days.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Pippa

Friday, 14 December 2007

Local Government Funding: Conwy in Call my Bluff

Well, it had to happen. In what seems like a classic example of call my bluff, Conwy County Borough Council attempts to stick its two fingers up to the Welsh Assembly Government - You've failed to give us a fair settlement, so if you can pay for that, then you can maybe pay for this.

The council which will welcome next year's Urdd Eisteddfod does not know if it can afford the £300,000 it has promised to the event.

Originally, Conwy Council had said it would give the money towards the costs of festival in Penrhyn Bay in May. But council leader Goronwy Edwards said financial constraints meant the council had to reassess all its spending.

The Urdd said any loss of support would be a "blow" and facilities would have to be reassessed.

Councillor Edwards said:

The council had promised £300,000 to the eisteddfod two to three years ago, but at the moment because of our settlement, we have to look at all our spending and make sure that council services are maintained... the council was having to reassess all its spending, and not just on the Eisteddfod.

We only received a settlement of 1.1% in the budget, which is very low, and so the money available to sustain services is much lower.

No discussion has yet taken place on financial support, but the council's scrutiny committee has refused other applications for assistance, including one from the Royal Welsh Show. "Things are very tight but I do hope that the council will be able to keep our promise to the Urdd," said Mr Edwards. "The last thing we want to do is not give the money, but council services must come first."

A meeting has been arranged next Wednesday with the Welsh Assembly Government to discuss the council's financial settlement.

It's safe to assume that it won't come to this, but you have to hand it to Council Leader Goronwy Edwards - who must be displaying one proud smirk at the moment - for this clever move. Councillors up and down the country must be kicking themselves that they couldn't come up with something before Conwy, in order to be the first to drive the knife in.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

The Blaenau Gwent Choo Choo

There will be huge disappointment for Blaenau Gwent residents this Christmas, after the Assembly announced that the long-awaited Ebbw Vale rail link has been delayed.


Just two days before a special celebration train service was due to be laid on this Friday, in readiness for the opening of the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line to passengers on December 22, Assembly Deputy First Mininster, Ieuan Wyn Jones, issued a statement saying: "I have been informed this morning (December 12) that Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council has been unable to meet the agreed timetable for passenger services to commence before Christmas.
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Blaenau Gwent’s Independent AM Trish Law said last night:

This bombshell announcement that the Ebbw Vale/Cardiff railway is not now to open on Friday beggars belief. We are told that Blaenau Gwent Council still has a number of ‘outstanding issues’ and I understand it will cost £2m to rectify these matters.

How is it that Blaenau Gwent have only now told the Assembly of their concerns? It was on Tuesday that WAG issued a press statement [which] went on to list what it called a community celebration to mark the completion of the £30m railway project.

How is it that such elaborate arrangements were made before the line was given a clean bill of health? Who will finance the £2m of work that needs doing?

This isn't going to encourage former Labour voters to vote Labour, which surprisingly could mean that the constituency remains Independent Central at the next general election.

Next Stop...????

Labour will breathe a sigh of relief that there's no election lurking around the corner.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Homecoming Parade: from Basra to Cardiff

This morning the BBC and Western Mail have reported on the homecoming parade of The Royal Welsh.

Hundreds of soldiers have been given a heroes' welcome as they marched through Cardiff city centre to mark their return home from Iraq. About 450 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh took part in the homecoming parade.

Some 220 who had been on their first tour of duty in Iraq were presented with medals at the Millennium Stadium.

The parade celebrated the end of the tour of duty, and three soldiers who lost their lives were also remembered.

For the ceremony - hosted by the Welsh Assembly Government - the soldiers, led by the Lucknow Band of the Prince of Wales Division and a Warrior armoured tracked vehicle, marched from Cardiff Castle, along St Mary Street to the Millennium Stadium.

In front of their families, friends and members of the public, the Iraq medals were presented ahead of a lunch party on the pitch.

Three members of the battalion who lost their lives in Iraq - Cpl Paul Joszko, L/Cpl Ryan Francis and Pte Craig Barber - were honoured at the ceremony. Two other soldiers who died in Iraq while attached to the Royal Welsh from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland - Pte Jamie Kerr and Pte Scott Kennedy - were also be remembered.

Commanding officer Lt Colonel James Swift said:

We are very lucky to be able to mark our return to Wales in such style and pay a fitting tribute to our fallen comrades.

Congratulations to the Welsh Assembly Government for thinking of holding a parade in the first place, and more so to those returning, on a challenging job well done - Welcome home. My heart goes out to the families of the fallen as this is also a time to remember them, and that their contribution will not be forgotten.

Two surprises from my perspective:

  1. Why wasn't the event better advertised so that more of the public could take part in welcoming our soldiers home, and pay respect to those who had lost their lives?

  2. I never realised that Health Minister Edwina Hart, has responsibility within the Assembly Government for liaising with the armed forces and veterans. It might be a good idea to find out what other responsibilities each Minister holds in addition to their main ministerial role.

Education: Post-14 Shake up or Talk up

Radical changes are needed to the way post-14 education is delivered in Wales, a report is expected to say.


The review by Sir Adrian Webb, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glamorgan, into further education will be released to the assembly government.

More than 100 recommendations to improve education and training offered to young people are due to be outlined, and reducing the number of young people not in education or training is also expected to be highlighted.

Sir Adrian is expected to say changes are needed to close a basic skills gap which has been emerging over recent years.

The review is likely to address issues such as whether further education in Wales provides the kind of education and training people need for the jobs of the future.

Sir Adrian has said:
How do we ensure that in school, in colleges, 14 onwards, we have the kind of opportunities which will engage learners, all learners, regardless of ability and ambition, to ensure that we overcome the significant underachievement and we have the skills the economy needs, that employers need in order to take Wales forward? ...There was a need for "fairly radical change"
But he said there were also policies such as the Welsh baccalaureate that were proving successful and could be developed more strongly.

Sir Adrian was asked to lead the review into the further education sector by the assembly government, which had already identified the need to give consideration to the extent to which colleges should specialise and the focus on employability skills.

This review is crucial to education and training in Wales, and hopefully its recommendations provide the radical changes that need to be made.
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But what must be mentioned at this point is that Sir Adrian is also a salaried member of the Welsh Assembly Government's Management Board which handles the day-to-day running of the Civil Service departments of the Welsh Assembly Government. He possesses no executive powers on the board and is there only to advise - so not as independent as we are led to believe.
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We'll have to hope that it's not a case of, 'Let's all stand and sing hymn numbers 14 to 18 - as long as it's from the same hymn sheet.'

Monday, 10 December 2007

Congratulations to Joe and Enzo Calzaghe

Congratulations to the Calzaghe family. Joe Calzaghe has been awarded BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and his father Enzo Calzaghe was named Coach of the Year. This year there was no doubt as to why he should be the winner.

Calzaghe, the world super-middleweight champion, is undefeated in 44 fights, including a superb win over Mikkel Kessler in November.

Update: Promoter Frank Warren is confident of closing a deal for new BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Joe Calzaghe to fight American Bernard Hopkins in 2008.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Former Assembly Members - Where are they now?

The journalist Matt Withers (Wales on Sunday) has recently been posting on the goings on of ex-Assembly Members.

To date, he's let readers of his blog know what is going on in the lives of former Culture Minister Alun Pugh, former Deputy Presiding Officer John Marek, and former back bencher Denise Idris Jones, who all lost their seats at the last Assembly election. I'm hoping that this will be an entire series that Matt is working on.

Being an ever helpful person, I've listed below all known ex-Assembly Members and wonder if anyone out there can assist Matt and I in our quest to find out more about our former members.

You will note that I haven't included David Davies MP, David Jones MP, Alun Michael MP and Dafydd Wigley as we all know what they've been doing since departure, due to media coverage. Alternatively, I've included Glyn Davies in the list even though regular readers of Welsh blogs will undoubtedly know what Glyn is up to. In fact, it is probably far easier to list what Glyn is not up to, as the man is a one-man army when it comes to 'projects'.

Fomer Assembly Members
(thanks to Wikipedia)

Conservative

Glyn Davies
(now President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, and prospective parliamentary candidate for Montgomeryshire)
Lisa Francis
(now studying tourism at Aberystwyth University)
Laura Anne Jones
(now campaigning to top the Welsh Conservative European list for Wales, and supposedly marketing Champagne)
Rod Richards
Peter Rogers
(stood as an Independent in Ynys Môn for the National Assembly for Wales elections in 2007)

Labour

Ron Davies
(now Chief Executive Officer of VALREC)
Tamsin Dunwoody
Richard Edwards
Sue Essex
(currently heading a WAG investigation into affordable housing. Rumoured to be joining the board of the Institute of Welsh Affairs.)
Delyth Evans
Christine Gwyther
(now a Member of the the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority)
Alison Halford
(joined the Conservatives in 2006. Wrote a book about her time at the Assembly, 'Leeks from the Backbenches')
Tom Middlehurst
Catherine Thomas
(now heading the Wales Women's National Coalition)

Liberal Democrat

Christine Humphreys
(now teaching Welsh part-time at Bangor University, and President of the Welsh Liberal Democrats)

Plaid Cymru

Cynog Dafis
(Soon after the elections in 2003, he announced his candidacy for Presidency of the party, but lost to Dafydd Iwan. Now retired to enjoy his life, and also sits on the steering committee for the All-Wales Convention)
Geraint Davies
(returned to his pharmacy practice)
Janet Davies
(retired from mainstream politics, but still involved in Plaid in her area. Has also joined the ranks of respected ex-politicians whose expertise will be called on to assist invarious reviews)
Brian Hancock
(went back to running his own business)
Pauline Jarman
(Returned to being a Rhondda Cynon Taf Councillor)
Owen John Thomas
(still active in Plaid in Cardiff)

I've tagged Bethan Jenkins AM, Alun Cairns AM, Peter Black AM and Huw Lewis AM, together with the BBC Political Editors Betsan Powys and Vaughan Roderick in the hope that either they or one of their staff can help.

Please let us know what you, or even they are doing now. We're curious and would like to know.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Education: When do we start to point the finger?

The BBC reported today on a worldwide survey that has revealed teenagers in Wales are falling behind other countries in basic education.

The 15-year-olds scored below average in maths and reading and average in science, said the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The UK as a whole fared worse than in previous years, but Welsh students came bottom of the "home" nations. The Education Minister welcomed the report as a "snapshot" of where Wales stands on the international stage.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) performance tables are based on tests taken by 15-year-olds and involved 400,000 15-year-olds from 57 countries. The results are published every three years, but the UK did not participate in the last round of tests, taken in 2003.

In what was the first year Wales has been considered separately from England, Welsh students fared significantly worse than their peers in their neighbouring country. They tested below average in maths and reading, but average in science. In maths, the mean score of students in England and Scotland was "significantly higher" than in Wales. And while reading performance in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland was similar, in Wales the average score was lower. Performance in science across all four parts of the UK was similar. But the report adds that the average score of students in Wales was significantly lower than in England.

David Reynolds, professor of education at Plymouth university described the survey results for Wales as "shocking":

We are round about countries like Azerbaijan and Croatia and this should be some kind of joke but it is not... There are two hints as to why this is happening. We don't seem to have enough able pupils. We always in Wales were told that our problem was the lower achieving pupils. But we have not got a high enough proportion of pupils doing well and so overall our scores are down. The other hint is that it is money. Over time the assembly probably has not spent on education what it should.
Professor Reynolds called for the creation of a cross party commission to investigate the findings. Pisa researchers said they attempted to discover how well pupils could apply knowledge, rather than simply regurgitate facts and figures. Their results marked a sharp fall for Britain overall from where it stood in 2000. It fell from eighth to 24th for maths, with some pupils in China scoring top marks in the subject. In reading, the UK fell from seventh to 17th, placing it below countries including Estonia and Poland.

Even more shocking are Education Minister, Jane Hutt's dismissive remarks that were reported by the press:
...priority was to secure better outcomes for learners, not just to score highly in Pisa rankings... Not that we do not recognise the importance of Pisa as a yardstick against which we can measure our progress. The real benefits of the Pisa assessments will come not from the headline figures and league table rankings, but from the detailed analysis of strengths and weaknesses and what more we can learn from the best and most effective practice internationally.
Welsh Labour have been in power in a devolved government since 1999. Since then we have seen four Ministers in charge of education in Wales. Although I don't generally like the idea of a blame culture, when do we start pointing the finger, and at who? Jane Hutt's performance has always been lacklustre and her reputation precedes her at Health. Hutt should be listening to the opinion of eminent people - that's what they're there for - and if appropriate, offering a review of current policy in order to address a serious issue in one of Wales' few important areas of devolution.

We have a responsibility to ensure that our children receive the best education possible. The government should accept that it's their responsibility to take the lead and assist us in being able to achieve this.

Gareth Jones AM: Lost in Translation

I've always loved a little humour during the day and couldn't help smiling when I turned on to AM.PM Tuesday afternoon and watched the plenary session. Gareth Jones AM was raising a question on flu jabs.

Gareth has always been concerned about the use of the Welsh language in debates and since returning to the Assembly has recently complained about the quality of translation provided during plenary and committee meetings.

During Tuesday's debate in the chamber, Mr Jones was talking (in Welsh) about flu jabs for our senior citizens (including himself), however, a translator for the Assembly's Translation & Interpretation Service gave the English translation as "flea jabs".

The pressure was obviously too much for him not to say it.

Freedom of Information: Pitfalls of Open Government

As the South Wales Echo reports: WHAT WE’VE UNCOVERED THANKS TO FoI

ERRORS Huge number of defects discovered in the first 12 months of the Senedd’s opening.

GRAVY TRAIN Hospitality spending by the former Welsh Development Agency rocketed by a staggering 67 per cent in five years.

JUNKETS A breakdown of the near- £200,000 bill run up by Welsh Assembly Government at the Ryder Cup in Ireland in 2006.

SENEDD AMs had run up a tea and refreshments debt of £2,000.

FOOD AND DRINK Last year we revealed that visitors would have to pay three times more than AMs for refreshments at the Senedd.

Update: WAG puts a price cap on inquiries - They must be fed up with all those requests from the Western Mail and South Wales Echo that are made on our behalf.

AM:PM Awards 2007 - The Winners

The annual AM.PM Award winners have been announced today in the Senedd, and it looks like they didn't pay attention to my suggestion for categories this year.

The winners this year are:

  • Politician of the Year
Ieuan Wyn Jones AM (Ynys Mon), Plaid Cymru Assembly Leader and Deputy First Minister

  • Newcomer of the Year
Alun Davies AM (Mid and West Wales - Labour)

  • Communicator of the Year
Adam Price MP (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr - Plaid Cymru)

  • Campaigner of the Year
Chris Bryant MP (Rhondda - Labour) and Leighton Andrews AM (Rhondda - Labour)

  • Most Outspoken

Don Touhig MP (Islwyn - Labour)


My favourite quote from the winners came from Adam Price MP who incidentally still hasn't accepted my friendship request on Facebook. During his acceptance speech he classed himself as the creator of a government. Once the BBC reporter asked if blogging etc is merely a way to become a self publicist, a minute later he changed from creator, to his contribution being of a "small role" - Priceless.

Talking of Facebook, it was nice to see so many 'Facebook friends' trying to get themselves on the tele when Ieuan Wyn Jones was making his acceptance speech. Shameful (lol).

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Christine Gwyther: Success after rejection is always possible

The Minister for Environment, Sustainability & Housing, Jane Davidson AM, recently announced the appointment of three Members to the Welsh National Park Authorities, one in Brecon Beacons and two in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authorities.


Following an open selection exercise, the Minister has decided to appoint Mrs Catriona Graham to the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority and Ms Christine Gwyther and Mr Richard Howells to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority. Mrs Graham and Ms Gwyther will be serving their first terms of appointment on the Park Authorities, Mr Howells will be serving his third term having been a member of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority since 2001. The appointments are for a period of 4 years.

Ms Christine Gwyther
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Christine Gwyther was born in Pembroke, attended Pembroke School and then University College Cardiff. She worked for some years for Pembrokeshire County Council in their economic development division before her election to the Welsh Assembly in 1999. She was a member for 8 years and for the first year and a half had responsibility for sustainable development in the Welsh Assembly Government. For most of her time at the Assembly, she was chair of the economic development and transport committee. She counts social inclusion and the countryside among her main interests, along with a passion for Pembrokeshire’s coastline.
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Notes:
Welsh Assembly Government appointees are selected for their personal qualities and experience and not as representatives of particular organisations or groups. Two thirds of the members of the National Park Authorities are appointed by constituent local authorities, with the remaining one third appointed by Welsh Assembly Government Ministers.
This is the first instance I can think of where a National Park has become a National Perk for a former Labour Government Minister. This has also helped enormously with a post that I will be publishing at the end of the week.

Administrative Error(s)

I'm in the process of setting up a business and have taken the careful steps of getting the groundwork sorted while remaining in full-time employment. Lessons are always learnt, and I always make sure that I learn from other people's mistakes and judgement as much as I do from my own.

I shall be recruiting two members of staff in the New Year, when I hope to take that leap into full-time self-employment. Administrative skills will be the order of the day.

Wales 20:20 A new commission by Karen Sinclair AM

I received an email from a fellow blogger yesterday morning. Don't know why I've published this post as they haven't linked to my blog, and more importantly they seem to have emailed the entire country in the process, but it does make sense - even if the words do follow what other politicians have been saying for some time.

It reads:

Following on from the very successful test-launch of the Wales 20:20 think tank and online forum earlier this year, we are delighted to announce our re-launch today with the publication of a new commission by Karen Sinclair AM.

In her pamphlet Karen Sinclair, By Our Common Endeavours - addresses the current state of links with England across a range of areas and their importance in fostering economic progress. The Labour AM said she hoped to start a comprehensive debate on the importance of the issue across Wales.

You can read Karen's new pamphlet in full, and join in the discussion in our new and improved online forum, simply by logging on to our fully redesigned website. You can also watch Karen being discussing the pamphlet on the Politics Show by visiting here.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Finance Committee Report

Following on from a meeting that took place on 27th November in the Senedd with the Minister for Finance, Andrew Davies AM, where the Finance Committee scrutinised the Minister in the light of the evidence it has received in relation to the draft Welsh Assembly Government budget - The committee's report has been published today.

The Minister presented his budget to the Committee at their earlier meeting on 8th November. Since then the Committee has taken evidence from Local Government, the NHS and other Assembly Committees.

The published report has been covered by the Western Mail and BBC Wales. The BBC summarises the detail as:

The finance committee's report said a lack of funds could affect the assembly government's ability to deliver One Wales coalition deal promises. It also has "grave concerns" the £15bn a year draft budget could hit core council services and urged a rethink. The committee, which is made up of a cross-party group of assembly members, has expressed fears that there may be a shortfall in funding for new capital projects. These include the building of new roads, schools or hospitals. Core council services could also be affected by the budget settlement, the report concluded.
The AMs fear that promises made in the One Wales agreement which led to the creation of the Labour Plaid Cymru coalition, could be threatened by the shortfall. They say it is also unclear how hundreds of millions of pounds in efficiency savings are to be met. The AMs also complain that the presentation of the budget created confusion, and have grave concerns that the local government settlement is inadequate to safeguard core services.
Alun Ffred Jones AM (one of two Plaid Cymru members on the committee) has already been on record to defend the costing of the One Wales' commitments, and rubbish the report.
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Any work carried out by the Finance Committee has to be seen as fundamental in the way the Assembly carries out efficient and effective scrutiny. I find it difficult to believe that a member of this committee couldn't attend a key meeting due to a prior engagement and then has the nerve to criticize the work of the committee on publication of the report, when concerns should have been made much earlier. I have to agree with Peter Black AM:
In the circumstances I do not see how Plaid Cymru can wash their hands of the report's conclusions and nor should they. Effective scrutiny requires government backbenchers to put partisan considerations to one side so as to question the actions of the executive. That is a lesson that some Plaid Cymru members need to learn.
Alun Cairns AM has also talked prior to starting work on the scrutiny of this budget of "failure of scrutiny in past Assembly Committees and the need for all this to change with the current set up"

Following on from an earlier post, we shall now see how the Minister and the government backers from the backbenches respond to these criticisms when the draft budget is debated in plenary on 11th December 2007.
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Update: Western Mail, 4 December
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Alun Davies AM:
It’s a very curious position to adopt, to make these criticisms today when the report is published. He’s had the same opportunities I have had to raise issues, discuss it, and question witnesses.
Mr Jones did not attend the final meeting of the committee prior to publication on Wednesdayn, although Plaid AM Mohammad Asghar was present. A revised draft was circulated at lunchtime the next day and final version circulated on Friday afternoon.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Merthyr Tydfil Office: First Anniversary Propaganda

The Welsh Assembly Government’s plan to disperse civil service jobs across Wales has been hailed a success as the first anniversary of the opening of the Merthyr office was celebrated last week.

The building contains staff from Social Justice & Local Government; Corporate Procurement Services; Economy & Transport; HR Strategy & Change; and Records Service of the Welsh Assembly Government. It will eventually cost £22 million when ownership is returned to the Welsh Government in another 14 years.
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First Minister Rhodri Morgan said he was delighted with the way the move had gone:
The office provides an excellent working environment and staff are using
Merthyr’s urban facilities, thereby helping to contribute to the local economy.
After discussion with a member of staff the bulletin should read something like this:
The office provides an excellent working environment, except when managers are regularly having to travel to Cardiff in order to attend meetings. Staff are using Merthyr's urban facilities such as purchasing sandwiches for lunch and food shopping for the family, and petrol for vehicles when we travel home.
The Merthyr office at Rhydycar accommodates 450 staff. More than 390 posts were moved out of Cardiff and other offices last year, and a further 60 were created to support the office many of which were filled by people from the immediate community (READ: cleaners and low paid workers).

The new office has also created an opening for school leavers who had taken up places on the Foundation Modern Apprenticeship Scheme (READ: six apprentices - source).

Apart from the economic benefit to the town, many staff have carried out voluntary activities in Merthyr and the surrounding area. These include:
  • Supporting the Pant and Dowlais Girls and Boys Club and the Engine House, Dowlais by planting 17,000 daffodil bulbs to help brighten the local area;
  • Helping to refurbish the reception area of a local community centre;
  • Painting a mural in a car park at a mental health resource centre;
  • Working on a ball court at a family centre run by the Aberfan Youth and Community project;
  • Participating in the Keep Wales Tidy Heads of the Valleys clean-up programme;
  • Providing much needed support to women's refuge centres;
  • Supporting the work of the Prince’s Trust;
  • Participating in a leaflet drop for the Merthyr Tydfil Communities First team.

The office has also achieved an ‘Excellent’ score for sustainable development under the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method.

This seems like a costly experiment to bring the Welsh Government closer to the people of Wales. Apart from the earlier negative aspect to this experiment, congratulations on the encouragement of volunteer work which is much needed in any community.
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Since writing this post I remembered what Valleys Mam said to me the other day, "The move to Merthyr was the same [as Llandudno]... created bloody traffic jams and not a lot else."

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Administrative Error

I regret to inform you that I have posted a number of times over the last couple of days on a wide range of interesting political topics and unfortunately, as of today, they are nowhere to be found on this blog.


I can only put this down to an "administrative error".

Friday, 30 November 2007

Trials and tribulations of Government

Whatever you do, don't panic! Gordon Brown isn't the only politician to be having a run of bad luck lately. Here in Wales, the Minister for Heritage, Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM, will be taking on board a second challenge since coming to office. The Welsh media, on the other hand, seem to enjoy the trials and tribulations of the Welsh Assembly Government and always seem to have something to play with.

This run of bad luck tends to come in three, and sometimes that figure is per week.

  1. Wales Millennium Centre
  2. The National Botanic Garden of Wales
  3. What's next?

The deadline is soon, but we may have to put up with a different number three to satisfy the media in the meantime.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

National Assembly needs to do its homework

Wearing his other hat as part-time Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain MP, was in the chamber of the Senedd yesterday afternoon to address the Assembly on the Queen's Speech.

Mr Hain rejected claims Westminster was blocking some proposals, but said it should be able to "probe their basis".

Addressing the assembly on the Queen's Speech, he also insisted it would be "disastrous" to lose a referendum on law-making powers for Wales.

Mr Hain said he backed the Labour-Plaid coalition but building consensus on powers would "take time". Plans for a referendum on assembly powers are central to the One Wales deal which formed the basis of the coalition between the two parties after the election.

Calling for a "mature relationship between Wales and Westminster", Mr Hain said:

Parliament cannot rubber stamp or let anything through 'on the nod'... We have no desire to meddle in future policy developments, which are the prerogative of the Welsh Assembly Government and the assembly... But it is an important principle that Parliament and Whitehall departments are allowed to probe the basis of legislative requests, and that in doing so are not presented as 'unreasonable' or 'obstructive.

This must have felt like a personal message for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning & Skills Minister, Jane Hutt AM, who was Minister for Business 2005-07, and should know better. This left me with the thought that there was an underlying message of, "DO YOUR HOMEWORK"

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

AM Bloggers: Blogging - It's the future

An update to an earlier post and what was recorded at committee.

Blogs Aelodau’r Cynulliad / Use of Blog Sites by Members

[41] Jeff Cuthbert: There is a paper from the Commissioner for Standards on this, and we have a private briefing provided by Keith. I have given two television interviews on this today; it seems to have excited the media.

[42] Kirsty Williams: We have not been as popular since we dealt with the Freemasons. [Laughter.]

[43] Jeff Cuthbert: I know. Allegations have been made by certain bloggers that we are doing this because we do not have enough to do. I can assure them that that is not the case. It is important, because the last three complaints to the committee relating to Assembly Members have been in relation to their blog sites, so we would be negligent if we did not draw the conclusion from that that there is a downside to blogs that Members ought to reflect on. We do not want a series of complaints relating to blogs coming to the committee that may be avoidable. I will use this as an opportunity to stress that under no circumstances are we talking about restricting freedom of expression, trying to dissuade the use of new technology or anything of the sort. However, if there are downsides to using blogs that Members ought to be aware of, it is our job to draw those to their attention, and they will then make their own decisions. Members should be made aware of any important considerations. It is recommended that that should probably be done through the issuing of a note.

[44] As I said, we have the commissioner’s paper and Keith’s paper, so I will ask both for any further comments.

[45] Mr Penn: You have covered the point. It is not part of my role to suggest that blogs are not an appropriate way to communicate with the community and constituents. However, there is a track record, as we had in the early days—as Kirsty will remember—on the use of Assembly resources. That was the cause of many complaints and we were certainly proactive then in encouraging Members to understand the rules without restricting their right to use Assembly resources. We simply made them aware of the rules. Interestingly, I have been meeting with new Assembly Members over the past two days and they have all referred to the issue of blogs—they are aware that it is a potential problem and have asked for my guidance. I am not going to give them guidance except to say that they should be cautious, because it is an area of activity that can produce complaints. Therefore, many Members are looking for a bit of guidance, although some will resist it. As you said in your introduction, it would be worth considering issuing a note to help Members to be aware of the issue. That is probably the right course.

[46] Mr Bush: The only thing I wish to add is that my note has drawn attention to the fact that it is not only what people write on their own blogs, but the facility that they give to third parties to say things, that can get them into trouble. Interestingly, there was such a case before the courts in the past month or so, where Sheffield Wednesday Football Club supporters’ club is being sued by the directors of the club, because people posted allegations about financial impropriety on the supporters’ club website. So, the courts are becoming increasingly conscious of this issue.

[47] Obviously, this committee will specifically be concerned with breaches of the code of conduct that may be committed by Members giving a platform to abusive, defamatory or illegal conduct or statements generally. An element of that must be to make it clear that people cannot simply say, ‘I did not put it on my blog; I simply allowed someone else to do that’, and for that to mean that they have a defence.

[48] Brynle Williams: I am going to show my ignorance here, ladies and gentlemen. The bottom line is that you are not subject to any parliamentary privilege on a blog—is that right? If any Member posts anything on a blog, he or she has lost all parliamentary privilege, simply by having that blog.

[49] Mr Bush: Absolutely. Parliamentary or Assembly privilege only attaches to publications that are made under the authority of the Assembly. So, an individual Member’s blog is not covered by that privilege.

[50] Brynle Williams: I am sorry for putting it in such simple terms, Chair, but it has to be clear in my mind. I now know exactly where I want to go and what it is.

[51] Mr Bush: I should add for completeness that a person has a defence, of course, if he or she takes reasonable care to avoid something defamatory being said. So, if it is impossible for you to tell that something has been said—if it is an obscure reference to something that you do not or could not understand—the law will not impose liability on you in that situation. However, as we all know, many comments that are posted onto blogs are clearly defamatory and anyone who permits that to be done does so at his or her own risk.

52] Brynle Williams: So, no politician should have a blog site; it is as simple as that, but we do not live in a simple world.

[53] Kirsty Williams: I think that the committee should agree to the commissioner issuing a note to Members, to make them aware of their responsibilities and the potential pitfalls in this area. It is not to restrict anyone; it is simply to make Members aware of their responsibilities and how blogs may or may not bring them into conflict with the code.

[54] Mr Penn: I think that good organisations use complaints as a source of learning. The message to give is that we have received a number of complaints and we have learnt some lessons from that, which we are passing on to Members for their use and consideration.

[55] Jeff Cuthbert: Absolutely. I think that we should ask Richard and Keith, perhaps together, to prepare a suitable note, based in particular on the powerful statement that Keith has included in his private briefing, which we can then perhaps e-mail. I do not know of any other problems that are coming up, but blogs are being used every day, so the sooner that this is done the better. Perhaps you could prepare something—I do not think that we need to wait until our next meeting—and circulate it to the four Members. We will then take feedback on this. We could perhaps meet should there be any minor tweaking to be done, if you are content. I see that you are; thank you.

All done and dusted with nothing to worry about, and carried out with a minute to spare.

Disabled Children Matter

Providing an update to an earlier post, I've noticed the BBC has reported that most Assembly Members have now backed a call for £21m to be safeguarded to support disabled children in Wales.

Campaigners gathered outside the Senedd on Tuesday to demand "significant extra resources" from ministers. Children's Minister Jane Hutt told AMs she was considering the funding issue and also how best to develop flexible services to meet individual needs.

Labour AM Lynne Neagle said she was encouraged so many backbench AMs, from all parties, had supported her call for better funding by signing up to a statement of opinion she had tabled in the assembly. She urged the minister to respect the "majority opinion" in the assembly and do everything she could to get the £21m spent in the way most AMs wanted.

Lee Ellery, 23, from Swansea has cerebral palsy and was hopeful ministers would respond positively to the campaign:

Disabled people need to have the services that everybody's entitled to - education, social services and all the other services that go with it. The problem for many disabled people is the transition process from school to college. They don't have the correct careers advice and general problems from people not seeing disabled people quite as they should. They sort of assume that they should be able to do jobs which are not the jobs that they want to do themselves.
The following is an update of the list of Assembly Members that have added their names to the Statement of Opinion:

OPIN-2007- 0082 - Mae Plant Anabl yn Bwysig/Disabled Children Matter
Codwyd gan / Raised By:
Lynne Neagle
Tanysgrifwyr / Subscribers:
Andrew RT Davies 13/11/2007
Karen Sinclair 13/11/2007
Mark Isherwood 13/11/2007
Joyce Watson 13/11/2007
Sandy Mewies 13/11/2007
Ann Jones 13/11/2007
Jeff Cuthbert 14/11/2007
Janice Gregory 14/11/2007
Darren Millar 14/11/2007
Nicholas Bourne 14/11/2007
Huw Lewis 14/11/2007
Lorraine Barrett 15/11/2007
Christine Chapman 15/11/2007
Eleanor Burnham 15/11/2007
David Melding 15/11/2007
Mike German 15/11/2007
Lesley Griffiths 15/11/2007
Val Lloyd 15/11/2007
Leanne Wood 15/11/2007
Alun Davies 19/11/2007
Kirsty Williams 19/11/2007
Paul Davies 19/11/2007
Trish Law 20/11/2007
Irene James 20/11/2007
Jonathan Morgan 21/11/2007
Mick Bates 22/11/2007
Mohammad Asghar 22/11/2007
Bethan Jenkins 22/11/2007
Alun Cairns 22/11/2007
Nick Ramsay 26/11/2007

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Llandudno will be the Cardiff of the North

Senior Civil Servants from Cardiff have promised staff in North Wales that the proposed Llandudno office which was due to open in late 2008, will serve the whole of Wales in the same way as the office based in Cardiff. Staff have also been promised that Llandudno Junction will also mean more job opportunities and career development for staff.

Staff in North Wales see this differently:

650 people are expected to work there, of whom 160 will be transferred from Cardiff. In reality, this means that 490 staff will be pulled from all the other Assembly offices in the North Wales area that are set to close. The remaining 160 jobs that are said to be transferring from Cardiff are mainly in non-managerial grades (support staff), leaving the statement "more job opportunities and career development for staff" as empty and meaningless. If the potential vacancies aren't of a higher grade or different set of skills, then how can they be seen as an opportunity to develop one's career?

The staff know this and are disappointed that those in authority are taking them for fools. Staff must be asking themselves whether or not false hope is better than no hope.

Enter the Dragon and one MP's call to update the Union Flag












In a Commons debate, Wrexham's Labour MP Ian Lucas said Wales' Red Dragon should be added to the Union Jack's red, white and blue pattern.

He said the Union Jack currently only represented the other three UK nations. But Stewart Jackson, Conservative MP for Peterborough, said the plan was "eccentric" and would be unpopular. "I do not believe it would add to the unity of the country," he said.

However as the BBC has reported, Culture Minister Margaret Hodge conceded that Mr Lucas had raised a valid point for debate.

She said the government is "keen" to make the Union Jack "a positive symbol of Britishness reflecting the diversity of our country today and encouraging people to take pride in our flag".

And the minister acknowledged that a number of people across Britain were unhappy about flying the Union Jack as they felt it does not "truly represent the United Kingdom." However, she said redesigning the flag had not been part of a consultation currently being carried out.

Wales had no explicit recognition in the Union Flag because Wales, having been annexed by Edward I of England in 1282 and following the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542, was legally part of the Kingdom of England and was therefore represented by the flag of England. (The present-day Flag of Wales and St David's Cross emerged, or re-emerged, in the 20th century: the former based on the historical emblem of Wales, the Red Dragon, and the latter based on the arms of the Diocese of Saint David's.) I have always thought this to be the reason of its omission, in addition to Wales never having been a kingdom, however, the Kingdom of Ireland, which had existed as a personal union with England since 1541, was likewise unrepresented in the original versions of the Union Flag.

What are the chances of us starting to see variations of a possible design in the press? I'm wondering whether or not only the dragon will be used, and possibly placed in the centre. What part will be green, if any? Will a mythical creature appear too odd, and the use of blue and green too painful on the eye?

It's not as if it'll be the first time the Union Flag has been updated, and there are more variations than the possibilities of different coalition governments at Cardiff Bay.

One final question before I get back to work: Why do I get the impression that certain people are merely attempting to sound more Welsh by raising the issue?

Update: David Cornock has posted a photo of Ian Lucas MP and his version of the flag on his blog. I can't see his version ever being taken seriously as the dragon dominates the flag.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Welsh Woman of the Year

The winners of the Welsh Women of the Year can be read online after being published in the Western Mail on the weekend. There was one award that surprised me upon publication of a recent report.

The Western Mail Val Feld Award

Name: Jane Hutt, AM.
Age: 58
Lives: Barry
Profile: Education Minister for the Welsh Assembly Government.

Jane Hutt is formerly the Health Minister, and is the Labour AM for the Vale of Glamorgan. She was first elected in 1999.

Jane said:

I was surprised and honoured to receive this special award, which was given in memory of Val Feld, whose lifetime contribution to promoting equality and fair play in Wales I deeply admire.
Jane Hutt AM was surprised to receive the award, but not as surprised as some.

Congratulations to all winners and I hope that I'm not sounding too bias.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Sir Emyr's around Wales rally ends in 2009

Following on from my last post and the mention of yet another eminent man, Sir Emyr Jones-Parry, who was a major figure in Welsh news yesterday and today. He's certainly made the most of his media appearances yesterday and I enjoyed listening to him answering his critics on Dragon's Eye and then on Waterfront last night.

Don Touhig did make mischief yet again on Dragon's Eye, but I hardly think that a man whose political career has rarely got off the ground should question another on his unsuitability and lack of Welshness, and then attempting to make him look like a victim of his own success. Fancy taking on a career diplomat yet again, and with such a weak argument.

Sir Emyr:

Anybody who tells me I need a sat nav, I'll compete with them in a rally around Wales without a map.
I did happen to cover my eyes when Sir Emyr started to question the original devolution settlement and wished him to stop while he had the upper hand. I guess even a diplomat can get it wrong sometimes, so there's hope for all of us.

Sir Emyr, you're always welcome at mine for dinner on your rally around Wales. Most of the population are behind you and you'll always find that we're proud of one of our own that has done good.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Fundamental flaws found in drawing up a new law

Fundamental flaws have been identified with one of the Welsh Assembly Government's first attempts at drawing up a new law as reported by the BBC.


Under the 2006 Government of Wales Act, Wales-only legislation can be created in certain devolved areas. But a scrutiny committee has found a number of problems with proposals for legislation to improve travel to schools and further education. These include a basic lack of powers over key issues, such as seat belts. The Enterprise and Learning Committee's scrutiny report found the new law, known as an assembly measure, would be powerless with regard to vehicle standards, seating arrangements or seatbelts. The committee also found inadequacies over codes of conduct.

In order to plug the gap the Assembly Government will present more detailed proposals in the new year. But if it fails to request enough powers to plug the gap, the committee has said it may consider bringing forward its own request for extra powers from Westminster. It wants the Assembly Government to give further consideration to the code of conduct, including to the issue of who will be covered by it. The committee also wants the assembly government to give further consideration to the possibility of staggering the opening and closing times of schools.
In recent months I've been notified of the first recruitment of legal trainees for solicitor's Training Contracts, having been advertised by the Welsh Assembly Government on its website. With an emphasis on providing opportunities for trainees, the real need lies in a demand for more experienced staff. As I've been led to understand, the Legal Services Department of the Assembly Government is vast in numbers and should be equipped to tackle any legal proposal before a problem arises at committee level. If it feels that they haven't got the manpower or expertise, they've the backing of the UK Government Legal Service (GLS) with their expert knowledge in drafting legislation for Westminster. At this stage of devolution there's no time to be too proud in asking for assistance.

On 22 October 2007 the Welsh Assembly Government made an announcement that Professor Thomas Glyn Watkin had been appointed as the First Welsh Legislative Counsel. Professor Watkin is an eminent man and as I understand, made sacrifices to become Counsel. The Welsh Assembly Government are very fortunate to have him in their employment, and on talking to someone in the Legal Services Department, I've been informed that he was actually appointed in April 2007 and has a token number of staff to call upon.

This just doesn't bode well for the future and will inevitably slow up procedure if it continues.

Paul Flynn MP checks out the NHS

I'm new to blogging, but even I know that bloggers are allowed a day off. Paul Flynn MP seems to think otherwise, after collapsing in the House of Commons tea room on Tuesday evening and receiving treatment in hospital after suffering a mini-stroke.

Paul finds it odd:

... as a working politician to be asked if you know the name of the Prime Minister.
This makes me think what sort of trouble you'd be in if you were asked the same question and weren't interested in politics at all.

Best wishes and I hope you make a speedy recovery Paul.

Gentle Reminder to Readers

Although I don't publish the source of some of my posts - when it's received from an individual rather than found in the media - can I please take this opportunity to remind those who have emailed recently that they should notice that I've published their comments anonymously. I assume that if you email rather than use the comments section then you wish to remain anonymous.

Most use a personal email address such as Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail etc. when emailing, but I will respect your request for anonymity either way.

I'm only thinking of you!

Miss Wagstaff xx

- Providing a Social Network since 1 November 2007

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Welsh Government Package for Disabled Children (2)

There's now an update to the original post which was received by email this morning. Comments can be added to the original post.

Why won't Plaid AMs/MPs be my friend?

I started writing this post a few days ago and wanted to post when it was time for a lighthearted moment.

Some of you will probably notice that I have joined Facebook, particularly as I've a link to my profile on my blog (top right). Most of you have been generous and have welcomed becoming my friend, however, I just can't seem to convince a Plaid AM/MP to join my family of new friends.

To date, members from all parties have joined me as 'Facebook friends'. Since originally typing this, to my delight Bethan Jenkins AM confirmed friendship on Tuesday, however, she's the only one.

There was talk in the comments section of an earlier post today that my account had been suspended, but I'm sure that it was just a technical hiccup and not down to a complaint as suggested. This lady is offering the hand of friendship to all, and as we know, there's nothing wrong with that. Anyway, to my further delight the account is now active again.

It's been said on Facebook that I'm taking you all out for a drink when I reach 200 friends - gulp - my purse isn't big enough for all that loose change!

Remember that the hand of friendship has no colour or party affiliation.

AM Bloggers up against the Standards Committee

This evening the Standards Committee is considering the use of blog sites by Assembly Members. Committee Members are going to "consider the issue of Members publishing to blog sites and the potential for this to result in breaches of the Code of Conduct, and consider whether to issue a note to Members regarding the use of blogs".

Standards of Conduct Committee, Agenda STD(3)-03-07
Date: Wednesday 21 November 2007, 6.00 - 7.30pm, Committee Room 2

  1. Apologies
  2. Nomination of committee member under Section 10.2 of the Complaints Procedure (6.00 - 6.05pm)
  3. Review and Revisions to the Complaints Procedure (6.05 - 6.25pm)
    Paper STD(3) 03-07 (p1) Review and Revisions of the Complaints Procedure
    Committee Members are invited to consider the paper produced by the Secretariat in relation to the good practice review of procedure following each complaint.
  4. Ministerial Code (6.25 - 6.35pm)
    Paper STD(3) 03-07 (p2) Ministerial Code
  5. Status of the commissioner for Standards (6.35 - 6.45pm)
    Paper STD(3) 03-07 (p3)
  6. Use of Blog Sites by Members (6.45 - 7.05pm)
    Committee Members are invited to consider the issue of Members publishing to blog sites and the potential for this to result in breaches of the Code of Conduct, and consider whether to issue a note to Members regarding the use of blogs
  7. Chair’s Visit to Strathclyde University (7.05 - 7.15pm)
    Paper STD(3) 03-07 (p4)

Committee Membership:
Jeff Cuthbert, Labour (Caerphilly)
Christopher Franks, Plaid Cymru (South Wales Central)
Brynle Williams, Welsh Conservative Party (North Wales)
Kirsty Williams, Welsh Liberal Democrats (Brecon and Radnorshire)

Most blogs by Assembly Members consist of nothing more than surgery dates, advertising of local events, and letting us know that they are "Working Hard for You". There are a few well-worth reading and add something special to the political debate, and I think you know which ones I'm talking about. Let's hope they have a say in the matter and have briefed their colleagues well.

Good luck, Members!

Update: From the BBC at 15:20 and the blog of Peter Black AM at 15:43 including the following little gem from Peter:
People often complain about the creation of a nanny state. It seems that the nanny state culture is alive and well within the National Assembly for Wales itself... What will they seek to issue guidance on next, press releases, pamphlets, how to frame an attack on your own party leader, lectures to the Institute of Welsh Politics?

Monday, 19 November 2007

Welsh Government Package for Disabled Children

Miss Wagstaff hears that there has been a call for the Assembly to cough up the 'consequential' in response to a massive investment in disabled children in England.

It is feared the £21m – Wales’ share of a £340m UK government package for disabled children – has been swallowed up by the general health, social services and education budgets, already struggling under the strain of a tight financial settlement.

In England this money will be used to fund short breaks for disabled children, provide childcare and support, and help disabled children shape the services they need.

The equivalent funding for Wales, known as a consequential, amounts to £21m. But the money is not ring-fenced and the Assembly Government is under no obligation to spend the money in the same area as England – in this case, on disabled children.

Labour AM Lynne Neagle has managed to get herself on the front page of today's Western Mail, along with a few high profile children's charities. She has called for the Assembly to cough up the money and put us on par with England.

Wayne Crocker, from Mencap Cymru, said:

Without real money to help them do this they will continue to be left at the bottom of the box and live lives limited by the type of poor opportunities given to them in today’s Wales.
The Plaid Cymru/ Labour coalition are saying "NO", which shouldn't be a big surprise after the recent budget announcement. Of particular interest, however, is Lynne Neagle's Statement of Opinion calling for the cash to be forthcoming. The Welsh Conservatives and Welsh Liberal Democrats have all signed up, and every Welsh Labour backbencher, bar one, has signed as well. However, as of Monday morning, only one Plaid Cymru AM, Leanne Wood, has signed.

How come? It has been explained to me that Helen Mary Jones might be trying to enforce a 'three line whip' (drastic measure) against signing the Statement of Opinion on the basis that... wait for it... it would mean the One Wales Government doing the same as they are doing in England!

This doesn't look good for disabled children in Wales, and all for the sake of Plaid keeping their political purity. As an aside, any idea who the only Labour backbencher not to sign is? Step forward former Plaid politician and now Labour AM, Alun Davies. Maybe he's trying to tell us something.

Update: 21 November 2007 at 11:30

The following was received from a reliable Plaid Cymru source.

This is Leanne Wood and Helen Mary Jones' amendment to the statement of opinion by Lynne Neagle. Worth adding to your blog discussion I should think.

This Assembly notes the evidence from the Children's NSF SAAT Report 06/07, showing that services for disabled children and their families are consistently the weakest area of service delivery across Wales.This Assembly therefore calls on the Welsh Assembly Government to reaffirm its commitment to fully implementing and funding both the NSF and the recommendations of the Equality of Opportunity committee report on services for young disabled people and to ring fence funding and make it clearly traceable through the Assembly government budget.

Pay and pension can be a lottery

Sir Jon Shortridge's windfall caused a stir in the Welsh press last week. The Assembly Government’s retiring top official Sir Jon Shortridge will walk away with a lump sum of more than £235,000, it has been revealed.


The article goes on to say that the Permanent Secretary, who has announced his retirement in April at the age of 61, has built up the huge pension during a long and distinguished civil service career. Sir Jon’s pension is linked to his annual salary of £180,000 to £185,000 – nearly £60,000 more than his political master First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who was paid £122,682 in 2006 to 2007.

Sir Jon’s pension pot at March 31, 2007, of £75,000 to £80,000 a year and a lump payment of three times his pension – published in the Assembly’s accounts for 2006 to 2007.

There's nothing wrong with this as the organisation and responsibility of the individual in question is vast. In the private sector this is common place, but in the public sector it leaves a bad taste in people's mouths and has been branded “unbelievable” by a former ASW worker.

Former ASW steel-worker John Benson, who has been battling to win pensions justice, said:
We are only asking for justice and fair play at a time when the Prime Minister is talking about British values of fairness. The sums the Permanent Secretary will receive are frankly amazing and unbelievable while we struggle to make ends meet after the collapse of our companies and our pensions.
The report shows that eight other key senior Assembly Government managers currently earn more than £100,000 a year. In itself, this statement is just the tip of the iceberg. Sources tell me that in fact, at least 25 staff earn in the region of £100,000 a year and that doesn't even include any potential bonuses that Senior Civil Servants can earn.

The staff of the Welsh Assembly Government contain over 145 Senior Civil Servants (not counting those employed by the Assembly Commission) and salaries range from £60-80,000 to £180,000 plus bonuses if you are fortunate to meet certain targets.

The majority of the workforce in Wales will never reach this comfort zone in terms of salary, and unfortunately, what we have to regretably accept is that the numbers of civil servants will rise over the coming years, not fall. We might not like the increase and expenditure, but let's just hope and pray that they earn their salary.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Tagged to take part in the 'Crazy Eight'

I have been tagged by Dylan Jones-Evans to take part in the Crazy Eight. As everyone else seems to be doing this I'd better get on with it. Like Dylan, if I started it again tomorrow some answers will probably change.


8 things I’m passionate about:

My partner.
My son.
My friends.
My job and doing the right thing.
My social life (Good food and good wine and good conversation).
Having fun and plenty of it.
Healthy work-life balance.
Attempt to be passionate about most things I do.

8 things I want to do before I die

See my child and future children grow up and have families of their own.
See Wales become a successful and respectable partner within the UK.
Start my own business.
Move to the countryside.
Travel as much as possible.
Give my children the best education and much love and support.
Make sure that I have made the most of opportunities that pass my way.
Have a walk-in wardrobe built for myself.

8 things I say often

Very good.
Please tell me you're joking.
I'll take a stab at it tomorrow.
"X, do you love your mummy?"
What shall we do this weekend?
Are we going out tonight?
Any chance of something to drink?
Chwarae Teg to my English partner.

8 books I’ve read recently or am still reading

501 Must-Visit Destinations.
Numerous Children's books.
Rough Guide to Venice.
Alastair Campbell, The Blair Years
Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper's Daughter.
Past Times Historical Anecdotes
Kerry, Too Much Too Young (was recommended by my sister).
Too many books relating to my work in human resources.

8 songs I could listen to over and over and do:
Baby Can I Hold You, by Tracy Chapman
Motorcycle Emptiness, by Manic Street Preachers
Somewhere Only We Know, by Keane
Wicked Game, by Chris Isaak.
Angels, by Robbie Williams
Sarabande, by Handel (atmospheric)
Little Bird, by Annie Lennox
In My Life, by The Beatles

8 things that attract me to my best friends

Loyalty
Social life
Intelligence
Humour
Personality
Honesty
Shared passion/interest
Openness

8 people I think should do Crazy 8s
I think that most people have been covered, but here goes.

David Cornock, Normal Mouth, Glyn Davies, Ceredig, Bethan Jenkins, Homage to Catatonia, Paul Flynn MP, Julie Morgan MP (what are the chances of those two?).

Blogroll list

As you can see to your right, I have already created an extensive list of blogs that either I read regularly or have added to create a balance. If you would like to be added to this list please leave a message or send an email.

Miss Wagstaff

Friday, 16 November 2007

Tinkering, Tailoring, but not Soldiering and Spying

After watching Dragon's Eye last night it seems obvious to me that someone needs to get a tight grip on the reins of Plaid Cymru.
.
As Glyn Davies and Peter Black AM rightly point out in their blogs today - it was awful to watch and just sums up how naive some of their politicians can be with their 'dangerous nonsense'.

With talk of the 'increasing militarisation of Wales', 'pulling out of NATO', and 'St Athan should be stopped until we have a full explanation of who the investors are, what their priorities are, who they're answerable to and who is going to be trained there', Jill Evans MEP seems to be doing damage to the party by pulling it back to its roots of pacifism, which is a narrow minded and idealist outlook to have in this modern world.

John Smith MP (Vale of Glamorgan) responded with:
The very idea that a senior responsible mainstream politician could be questioning [St Athan] at this stage is quite frankly madness... Every senior politician I approached to ask for help, including Plaid Cymru politicians, supported me on this.
Glyn Davies (Conservative PPC Montgomeryshire) posted:

But it does make you wonder what sort of a country Wales would be if Plaid Cymru were to be in charge. I have a message for all those Plaid supporters who must have been holding their heads in despair as Rhun ap Iorwerth was reading out the garbage that their only MEP had written, and watching with disbelief as Arfon made a bad position worse.
The BBC have also covered the story this morning. I know that it's only a proposal report to put to its National Council, but imagine there will be some embarrassed faces this morning as Plaid seem to be pulling in opposite directions - except within the Assembly.

Had a passing thought before I had to get back to work. I'm also beginning to think that Adam Price MP has added 'acting leader of Plaid Cymru' to his Chief Spokesman role since Plaid 'joined' the Labour party in the Assembly. Or have I just been a little slow in coming to this decision?

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Members' Restaurant Launch

OFFICIAL INVITATION

Do you find yourself at a loose-end this evening?

Perhaps you are unemployed; cannot be bothered to cook; or simply feeling the pinch at home at the thought of Council Tax rising next year, and this is making you feel unwell.

....Why not attend a respectable function at the National Assembly.

As Assembly Member and Assembly Commissioner Lorraine Barrett AM respectfully reminds us:


Don't forget to come along to the opening of the new restaurant on the first floor tonight at 6.30pm. Click on the XXX below for more details which were sent to you by Charlton House.

Regards,
Lorraine

Lorraine Barrett AM
Cardiff South & Penarth
National Assembly for Wales
Cardiff CF99 1NA

Thank you to Lorraine for the invitation, but I'll be dining with my partner this evening. We do however share something in common - Like yourself, I'll be getting a freebie as he's paying.

Hat Tip to the Anonymous

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Drowning in Clear Red-Green Water

I am so pleased that an Assembly Member has pointed out that John Griffiths, AM for Newport East was waffling such utter nonsense when he appeared on the Politics Show last Sunday.

As Huw Lewis AM states, "I am at turns intrigued, bewildered and not a little worried by this political pitch."

In my view, Huw Lewis, AM for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney was short changed when sacked from the Welsh Assembly Government before a coalition was formed with Plaid Cymru this year. Huw may be anti-Plaid/Nationalism, but he is an able politician and one of a very few Labour AMs that punch above their weight, or even deserve their seat in the Assembly.

The reason behind Huw's dismissal made him an easy sacrifice for Rhodri Morgan to make, but to leave talentless fools such as John Griffiths in government is inexcusable. Even the irony doesn't escape us, with him being a Deputy Minister with special responsibility for skills. Not to mention the hypocrisy of a government minister appointed by the Queen and swearing an oath to Her Majesty, while also known as a staunch republican, albeit in the closet when it suits.

Perhaps I underestimated Rhodri Morgan's strategy in doing this, and that he's actually thinking long-term and about how Labour will survive post coalition. After all, someone has to make waves when it comes to Plaid's ambition and that is a tall order now that they are in government, which may take more effort than the work of just one man.

And that is because the 'Red-Green' label is just that – a label
Speaking as a woman, when I go shopping, I may be attracted to labels, however, most of them end up in the bin at the end of the day.

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