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".

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