Thursday, 31 January 2008

Jobs for the boy

Ben Wallace, the Conservative MP for Lancaster & Wyre, thought he had Our Great Leader Brown stumped at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday: "Why do the people of Wales have a full-time Secretary of State, while our armed forces and the Scots must make do with a part-timer?"


Our impeccably briefed Secretary of State for Change and Prudence replied by listing Paul Murphy's responsibilities:
1) Secretary of State for Wales
2) Overseeing the British-Irish Council
3) Responsible for the joint ministerial committees on devolution
4) Minister responsible for digital inclusion
5) Responsible for data security and information assurance.

Are those in order of importance?

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Peter Hain MP: Career Plan

Appearing on the BBC's Politics Show this week, Gordon Brown refused to comment on whether or not he'd have Peter Hain MP [backbench] back in the government if he clears his name.

Although some have already offered advice, the little known PR Consultant, Pippa Wagstaff, decides to offer a career plan:

  1. Lie low for several months, concentrating on constituents and good causes.

  2. Show a little humility and bask in the satisfaction of victory when no charges are brought.

  3. Wait for a Cabinet member to cock-up - coincidentally at the same time as a non-government related disaster story hits the headlines.

  4. Gently slip Hain back into a different Cabinet post.

Point 5: Pay Miss Wagstaff £10k for good advice.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

A quick quiz

Spot the odd logo out on this advert.

Eagle-eyed quizzers will notice that with not much fanfare the Wales Office is now a part of the UK Ministry of Justice, which handles constitutional affairs. This indicates a new recognition of the importance of Wales to the UK Government, maybe it sees Scotland as partially a lost cause. This could also mean that a single nations and regions department may be created in the near future or at least the medium-term.

Update: Paul Murphy is also reputedly going to chair a committee on local government and regional matters in England. Can we expect a ministry for the UK regions soon?

Monday, 28 January 2008

Gordon Brown MP: Business as usual

27th June 2007. Under Gordon Brown as Prime Minister there would be no more allegations of sleaze or incompetence. Seven months into his long-awaited reign:

  • The non-election of 2007.

  • Intense criticism of not adhering to the military covenant.

  • Alleged to have 'borrowed' three opposition tax policies.

  • Controversy about not holding a referendum on the EU Treaty of Lisbon.

  • David Abrahams secret donations scandal, losing the party General Secretary in the process.

  • Peter Hain donations scandal - his resignation - the accusation of Brown dithering.

  • Wendy Alexander donations controversy.

  • Harriet Harman donations controversy.

  • Handling of the Northern Rock affair.

  • Data loss in the HMRC, DVLA, NHS, MOD, and DWP.

  • Police Officer pay row and protest.

  • The Alan Johnson potential controversy.
Feel free to comment as no doubt I've forgotten something important.

Let's hope that life - after Hain - isn't business as usual.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Plaid Lords are leaping: The party giveth and the party taketh away

Following on from an earlier post it seems at National Council*, Plaid Cymru have democratically nominated [sort of] their potential peers for the House of Lords, or as they prefer to call it, the Second Chamber. Going off subject, does that mean that they refer to the National Assembly as the Second House of Legislation?... I think not

Anyway, the three nominated are Dafydd Wigley, Eurfyl ap Gwilym and Janet Davies.

Some believe that this process was Plaid's master stroke, others differ in opinion. I hope that some have repaid the favour - when casting votes - of Janet 'retiring' at the last Assembly election.
Somehow I don't think they will break with tradition and not be styled appropriately after they get the nod from the Prime Minister. It makes you wonder how long it will be before there's mention of 'reforming the chamber from within'.
*Other news from Plaid National Council: The Council also agreed to look again at the rule that prevented Mr Wigley from returning to the Assembly last year – the party’s policy of having a woman at the top of its regional lists. Mr Wigley was placed second on the North Wales list below Janet Ryder, who was elected. The same policy also gave Ms Jenkins the number one slot on the South Wales West list with just 14 votes.

But the controversy the policy caused within the party – it became known as the “Wigley Rule” – means Plaid will now look at a policy of whoever receives the highest number of votes from party members being placed on top of the regional list, with the second place automatically being given to a candidate of the opposite sex, a system known as ‘zipping’.

Ieuan Wyn Jones: Fill in the blanks

A short post today on Ieuan Wyn Jones and the new Welsh Secretary, Paul Murphy, and what may or may not be concerns for Plaid Cymru.

You can either read what was written in the papers or fill in the blanks yourself:

Smooth the progress - a proper relationship - voted in favour - to move forward - dynamic - the reality is - allows for a referendum - trigger - the bread-and-butter issue.

I was waiting for a 'but let me make this perfectly clear' - sadly - it didn't materialise.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Assembly Government appoints more women to board

The Assembly Government has recently announced that two women will join its male dominated Management Board:

They will join Sir Adrian Webb as part-time non-executive members of the Management Board of the Welsh Assembly Government. If you remember, Sir Adrian recently conducted an 'independent review' into further education on behalf of the assembly government.

Kathryn Bishop (returning to the board) has over 25 years’ experience of working with organisations undergoing change, in both the public and the private sector (including Accenture, Allied Dunbar and Eagle Star). Her background includes IT and personnel management, and she has worked as a line manager and Director, a project manager and as a consultant. She is currently an Associate Fellow at the University of Oxford Said Business School and at Templeton College, and runs a small consulting business. She was a non-executive director on the Assembly Government Management Board from 2003 to 2007 and is currently an independent member of the UK Intellectual Property Office Steering Board. During her career, she has lead and managed five multi-million pound transformation programmes in various businesses and three merger projects in the financial services industry. Her public sector experience includes work for NDPBs and executive agencies such as Companies House and the Employment Tribunals Service, as well as for the DTI itself. Kathryn was educated at the City of Worcester Grammar School for Girls, Wellesley College, USA and at Oxford University.

Elan Closs Stephens is Professor of Communications and Creative Industries at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Theatre Film and Television where she also acts as Director of Enterprise and External Partnerships.At various times Elan has been a member of the Welsh Language Board, the Council of the National Library, the Broadcasting Council for Wales and S4C, and has served as a Governor of the University of Glamorgan and a school governor. She has also chaired Chwarae Teg a body to champion the economic development of women.In 1998, Elan became the Chair of the S4C Authority, a DCMS appointment that was renewed for a second term from 2002-2006. In 2006, she chaired the Stephens Report on the financing and structure of the arts in Wales. She was a Governor of the British Film Institute until 2007 and Chair of its Audit and Governance during the recent major refurbishment of the Southbank National Film Theatre. She is also a member of the Board of the Film Agency for Wales.She is currently on the Board of the British Council and sits on its Remuneration Committee. She also chairs the Wales Advisory Committee of the Council.Elan was born in Talysarn, in the Nantlle Valley, Gwynedd, educated at Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle and was an Open Scholar at Somerville College, Oxford. She married Dr Roy Stephens who died in 1989 and has two grown-up children. She received a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2001 for services to broadcasting and the Welsh Language.

Sights you don't see in the Senedd

Part 1:

Members of Berlusconi's coalition cracked open champagne in the Senate to celebrate Mr Prodi's defeat and the flamboyant former prime minister announced a surprise party at his house in Rome.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Paul Murphy: Steady as he goes...

Paul Murphy is our man in London from today, and someone out there has been busy updating Wikipedia all day, on his behalf.

Paul Murphy originally became Secretary of State for Wales on 28 July 1999, until appointed as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 24 October 2002 to 5 May 2005. On leaving government he became chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Born in 1948 in Usk, Gwent, Paul Murphy was educated at St. Francis RC School, Abersychan, West Monmouth School at Pontypool and Oriel College, Oxford. He began his career as a management trainee with the CWS and later became a lecturer in Government and History at Ebbw Vale College of Further Education.

He was a member of Torfaen Borough Council from 1973-87 and became MP for Torfaen in 1987. In Opposition he was Shadow Spokesman on Welsh Affairs (1988-94), Northern Ireland (1994-95), Foreign Affairs (1995) and Defence (1995-97). After the 1997 Election he was appointed Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office with specific responsibility for Political Development. Following the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement he was appointed a Privy Councillor in the 1999 New Year Honours.

Welcome back Paul!
Miss Wagstaff will be expecting all future reference to LCOs - by the media - to be referred to as 'Murphy's Law'.
Update 1: David Cornock (BBC) reminds us how opinions can change when you have responsibility.
Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones (2001):
Paul Murphy is clearly out of touch with the growing feeling in Wales, and within his own party in the National Assembly. Those of us who have to work within the current settlement see its obvious flaws and a growing number of Labour AMs are coming out to support a law-making Parliament, because they are frustrated at the Assembly's failure to deliver in key policy areas. Paul Murphy and the 'dinosaur tendency' in the Labour Party are being left behind in this debate.
Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones (2008):
I welcome Paul Murphy's appointment and look forward to working with him. His role will be pivotal in steering the Welsh Assembly Government's bids for the right to legislate through Westminster and in working with us to deliver the One Wales programme of Government.
Update 2: Job separation - It seems what's good enough for Wales isn't good enough for Scotland.

Peter Hain: Pushed or a matter of honour?

While eating my lunch I happened to turn on the news in my office - Peter Hain has just resigned as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [no connection with me taking a break]. It seems his deputy leader campaign donations being referred to the Met Police was a step too far.

Nothing was said about his other [minor] role as Secretary of State for Wales.

Update 1: BBC confirms that he has stood down from the Cabinet. Trust me to have watched Channel 4 News.

Miss Wagstaff is wondering if Hain could've saved his reputation if he had made this gesture sooner.

Update 2: Iain Dale's Diary asks "Is Hain's Resignation The First Blogging Scalp?"

Update 3: Guido has his own view on this.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

The product and the process

One of the most important moves of the Labour-Plaid Cymru government was the establishment of the all-Wales Convention. The Convention will explore the case for further powers for the Assembly, was a key One Wales commitment and will test the strength of the coalition. The test will be how quickly Labour (Welsh and UK) can respond to Plaid Cymru's efforts to push full steam ahead towards a Welsh Parliament.

The Convention deals with proposed future powers. The Assembly has two important processes already, Legislative Competence Orders and Measures. For the unfamiliar, a Measure should be explained first. It is an Assembly law and can make 'any provision that could be made by Act of Parliament' (according to the new arrangements since the last Assembly election.) But there are three conditions to this. Firstly, and most naturally, it must relate only to Wales. Secondly, it must fall under an Assembly 'Field' of legislative competence, something like 'economic development' or 'health and social care'. Thirdly, it must relate to specific 'Matter' within one of these Fields. An LCO is more simple to define. It is the process of adding Matters to the Fields. In other words, it is Westminster's permission to legislate and represents a widening of Assembly powers within a Field.

Crucially, it is only permission to legislate and so the Assembly will still have to form Measures afterwards to make Assembly laws. We should find it concerning that there is only one Measure currently being processed, the NHS Redress Act. At the same time, there are five LCOS – on learning needs, environmental protection, vulnerable children, domiciliary care and affordable housing. Put far more simply, and in light of the Convention, the Assembly seems more concerned with widening its powers with no clue (sorry, one clue) about what to do with the powers!

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Tony Blair: The Official Portrait

The BBC have reported on the unveiling of the first official portrait of Tony Blair.

The oil painting by artist Jonathan Yeo shows the former prime minister wearing a commemorative poppy, to represent his leadership role during the Iraq war.

Yeo said Mr Blair, 54, "came bouncing in" for sittings and described his subject as having "Tigger-like energy".

Mr Blair, who refused previous official portrait requests, agreed to the painting before leaving office. It will be displayed at London's Lincoln's Inn.

Yeo, son of the Conservative MP and former minister Timothy Yeo, said the poppy featured in the painting was symbolic, but was not meant to be judgemental:

Of all the things that people remember him for, the war in Iraq is going to be one of the main things that people discuss. I was thinking that I had to find some kind of representation of that, but that it shouldn't be trite or too judgemental. It was November and of course when he came in he was wearing a poppy. I thought that was perfect.

Yeo, who has painted portraits of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the Duke of Edinburgh, claimed he understood the reason for Mr Blair's upbeat mood during his sittings:

It was a few weeks into Gordon Brown coming off the rails... I can't help but think that his hugely positive good humour and Tigger-like energy might have had something to do with his successor having trouble in the job.

Government encourages a Chav-like culture

As reported by the BBC, pupils should be allowed to wear trainers as part of their school uniform, according to new Welsh Assembly Government guidelines.

The document said banning trainers might force poorer parents to buy cheap shoes that could damage feet.

It added schools might also like to "avoid high cost items such as blazers and caps".

There was also guidance on wearing religious articles and making sure uniforms do not discriminate.

The document said:

Trainers are often made out of healthy materials and may be quite reasonably priced in comparison to leather shoes. Not permitting trainers might leave less well off parents with no alternative other than to buy non-leather shoes that are not properly fitted and which might lead to severe foot problems in later life. Wearing trainers might also encourage children to take "active breaks".
Doesn't the Assembly Government realise that it will open up a competition among pupils as to what trainers they wear. No pupil is going to want to go to school in a cheap or 'reasonably priced' trainer. It'll be designer or nothing at all, and at designer prices you may as well purchase a decent pair of shoes.

It never hurt me to wear shoes as a child - teenager - adult. I imagine that this applies to most people.

Talk about trying to please everyone and creating guidance for trendy-status sake!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Lord Elis-Thomas goes to London

Is he a Presiding Officer [a role of equality and impartiality] or a party politician that feels he is the real voice of Plaid Cymru?

The Cardiff Bay crowd have always been left confused and bewildered by this dual role, and his thirst for getting involved in anything that not only raises his own profile, but also puts him in the position of official spokesman for Wales - it is seen as legendary in the corridors of Elis-Thomas House.

Elis-Thomas is in the House of Lords this week - we all know that the National Assembly is NOT in recess - but we note that they are left in the capable hands of Rosemary Butler.

In the House of Lords this week, Elis-Thomas, is not only fighting on behalf of Welsh Ministers - did he do that before the coalition in Cardiff Bay? But can also be seen to play party politics.

House of Lords Debates: Local Transport Bill, Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Lord Elis-Thomas (Crossbench) Hansard source

My Lords, in rising to speak against the amendments in this group, I declare an interest as the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd in the National Assembly. I am disappointed in the noble Lord because I tried to offer him a piece of gentle advice in Grand Committee—that he should reflect on this matter and consult with his Conservative colleagues in the National Assembly. Therefore, I have to spell out in more precise terms what I was trying to allude to in a gentler manner during our earlier discussions.

There is exhibited this evening a massive contradiction on the Conservative Front Bench. On the previous amendment, we heard his noble friend argue that charging by local authorities in, I presume, England should be for transport purposes and that this was the attraction of such charges. He mentioned a series of broad transport spending decisions that could make charging acceptable. As an example, he quoted the very successful congestion charge scheme in London. Yet, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is denying to Welsh Ministers what his noble friend is willing to grant to English local authorities. Surely, the Conservative Party needs to develop some consistency on these matters.

The noble Lord is seeking to limit spending on transport to trunk roads and, in Amendment No. 119D, to stop the onward march of devolution. I would ask him to reflect: is this now Conservative policy? I have followed the development of his arguments from his speech on Second Reading on 20 November, where I detected a difference of emphasis between the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, who took a balanced view of devolution, its progress and the implementation of the 2006 Act, and this crusade against framework powers. As a practitioner and student of devolution for some 35 years, it fascinates me to know where this is coming from. Is it now Conservative Party policy in Westminster, Cardiff and anywhere else that no powers are to be granted to the National Assembly for Wales by the framework powers route? If that is the case, it is absolutely contrary to what was set out in June 2005 in the original White Paper of the then Labour Government, Better governance for Wales, which said that the Government intend to draft, "parliamentary bills in a way that gives the Assembly wider and more permissive powers to determine the detail of how the provision should be implemented in Wales". That was stated in the White Paper and it has been the settled, understood view of Welsh Conservatives, and of any other Conservatives who take an interest in devolution—that it is appropriate for both these routes to be pursued.

In Grand Committee the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, deployed three arguments to demonstrate why this should not be the case. First, he said: "Broadly speaking, we disapprove of this process for three reasons: first, a provision on Wales in a broader Bill may not be adequately scrutinised".

Well, what have we been doing? His speech on Second Reading, the discussion in Grand Committee and our debate this evening are fine examples of scrutiny by Parliament and of framework powers. I am sure that the House of Commons can match that when this Bill appears in the other place. He goes on to say that these framework powers involve, "the transfer of powers that the Assembly has not requested".

I will not tell the noble Lord that he is misleading the House as that would be out of order, but it is the next best thing to it. These powers have been requested by Welsh Ministers—in fact, by my honourable friend in another place, Ieuan Wyn Jones, the distinguished Deputy First Minister and Minister for Economy and Transport. It has been requested by him, because he is the Deputy First Minister of a Cabinet that has the support of two-thirds of the Assembly. By any democratic calculation that I make, that has been requested by Welsh Ministers with the support of the Assembly.

Perhaps Elis-Thomas is just seeing this as his party and public duty and showing the way for others in the party to follow. A training video on behalf of the Plaid Cymru party - I'm the first, the last, the everything - this is how it should be done!

Rural Affairs: Farmers' £40m foot-and-mouth bill

Further proof has been discovered that the Welsh Assembly Government has little influence with that of Gordon Brown's Cabinet.

The foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2007 may have cost Welsh farmers more than £40m, a Welsh assembly committee has found.

The Finance Committee also highlighted an ongoing dispute between the governments in Cardiff and London over who should pay any compensation. A separate assembly report concluded the UK Treasury should compensate Welsh farmers.

The foot-and-mouth outbreak was discovered in Surrey in August, but there were no cases in Wales. However, the outbreak had an impact on the rural economy across the whole of the UK.
Restrictions were placed on the movement and trade of animals following the August outbreak and a second one in September.

Farmers in Wales did not automatically receive compensation because no animals were slaughtered due to the disease, but the Welsh assembly's finance committee said "the effect on the Welsh farming industry was immediate and severe".
The restrictions meant animals could not be sent to the abattoir which lead to a loss of income and the additional cost of feed.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) Wales put the cost "in excess of £40m".

The Finance Committee, which is made up of AMs from all parties, pointed to evidence the outbreak came from a research facility at Pirbright that was licensed by the UK government.
The assembly government has already agreed extra funding for aid schemes including one to promote red meat.

But the AMs noted that just over half of the £7m allocated to the schemes had actually been spent.

The Finance Committee recommended the assembly government undertake a "full and detailed assessment of the costs of the outbreak" and that ministers make "significant additional funding available". The AMs were concerned the level of support being offered to Welsh farmers seemed to be far less than their counterparts in Scotland.

Dai Davies, President of NFU Wales, said they were asking for similar compensation for farmers as in Scotland:

Farmers in Wales have received just under £2m from the Welsh assembly. Farmers in Scotland will be receiving £27m. The sheep industry in Wales is a far bigger industry than it is in Scotland. We face the same problems. Hill farmers are facing a winter having lost half their income, why should we be treated any differently?

Education Director Optimistic on Results

Education News in the Western Mail reports on an interview with Wales' Director of Education confirming that he is confident that results will improve as the impact of new policies in the classroom are felt.

In an interview Steve Marshall, the Welsh Assembly Government’s lead civil servant for education, said he was not overly concerned about Wales’ poor ratings in the international Pisa tests for 15-year-olds. He said he believed that better results will be seen within three to 15 years.

Mr Marshall, 53, urged patience and said people must back reforms such as Flying Start for pre-school children and the learning through play Foundation Phase for three to seven-year-olds.

Both provide a sound basis for continuing good achievement, the effects will be seen as he first pupils go through, he said.

As reported in the Western Mail earlier this month, Mr Marshall is himself leaving Wales in March after just two years in his post.

It is a crucial time for reforms he put in motion but the former head teacher insisted he was leaving the Welsh education system in good shape. He said:

There is room to improve but the programmes we have in place will meet that improvement. I don’t think we will be falling behind in three to 15 years and because I’ll be part of the international education community I will still be pushing for Wales.

Finland, one of the top ranking countries in Pisa, took 30 years to reform its education system. There’s no doubt that the policies we have in place in the Foundation Phase, Flying Start and the Welsh Baccalaureate are positioning Wales whereby many other countries will be looking at what Wales is doing.

Canada, where Mr Marshall is taking up the job of deputy education minister for the Ontario government, was in the top five best performing countries in the Pisa tests.

From Wales to Canada - from one of the worst in ranking to one of the best.

We hope you didn't receive any performance bonuses during your tenure Mr Marshall. We'll be asking Rhodri Morgan's successor's successor to forward the cheque to you in 30 years.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Revamping the blog

I've spent some time revamping the blog a little - it's not radical - making sure that a wide variety of blogs are included from UK and Welsh politics, and even the odd eclectic blog for good measure. This is to ensure that I continue to use the site as my political and Welsh dashboard so the blogroll will hopefully remain up-to-date.

I hope that others will find it useful and although I've already created an extensive list of blogs that either I read regularly or have added to create a balance, I'm sure that there's always room for more. Please contact me by leaving a comment or sending an email if you would like to be added.

Miss Wagstaff x

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Education: When do we get down to business?

This is my third post in recent weeks on education, so it must be a subject that's close to my heart.

Uncertainty is dwelling in the hearts of the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills* in this new year. There is a structural redevelopment project currently underway in that department that is due to make its impact early this year and staff are waiting with baited breath.
Staff are concerned that some of their jobs are not safe and wonder what the outcome will be as a result of a job evaluation exercise which has been published recently. Many staff have experienced this uncertainty since early 2007 and feel unsettled as a result of this further structural redevelopment to the department.

In addition to restructuraling the dynamic of the department, there's an overwhelming plan to reduce the number of staff since the 'Bonfire of the Quangos', and it is estimated that this project will result in a reduction of about 40 to 50 posts within the Education Department.

Change is constant, and restructuring is all very well - but two such restructuring projects since the announcement of the merger beggars belief. Miss Wagstaff argues a need to get down to business and an end to this constant handling of only the day-to-day running of a department. Staff are worried, and more importantly, parents are worried about education in Wales. Presumably this is all down to there having been an ineffective restructuring programme carried out first time round.

How many other departments have needed further restructuring? How has this affected the organisation? Have staff woke up to lessons learned? Who's to blame? How much has it cost in terms of project work, consultancy, and lack of delivery?

Meanwhile, Steve Marshall, Welsh Assembly Government Director of Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills is leaving in March 2008 to take up a new appointment in Canada.

What's the official response?

The First Minister said:

Since coming here just over two years ago to head up Education in Wales from a similar job in the State of South Australia, Steve has made an enormous contribution to education in Wales. His fresh approach and wealth of international experience have laid the foundations for a first-class education system that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. From our youngest learners in the Foundation Phase, through to skills development for young people and adult learning, Steve has superbly led the delivery of our Made in Wales policies superbly well. It is a sad fact of life that if you appoint an international high flyer in running your Education Department, there is always the risk that someone else will also recognise these talents and offer him an even bigger job, as has happened with Ontario having 13 million people compared to Wales’ 3 million. We wish him and the world of education in Ontario all the very best wishes.
The Permanent Secretary said:

I would like to thank Steve for leading the Department for Children, Education and Skills with great dynamism and vigour. We have all benefited from having someone with Steve’s outstanding educational expertise and leadership and management skills working for us.
Education Minister Jane Hutt said:

Steve has been a great asset for education in Wales and his new appointment reflects the recognition he has worldwide in the education field. Before his departure, he will be spearheading the launch of our school effectiveness programme across Wales which will stand us in good stead to take forward these important tri-level reforms. I would like to wish him well in his exciting new post in Canada.
Miss Wagstaff said:
*This department became a 'super' department since the merger of the education Quangos with the Education Department of the Welsh Assembly Government in April 2006 and has since undergone two major restructuring programmes.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Guest Bloggers: Senedd Whip, Pier Pressure and Dotcommentator

I've been toying with the idea of having Guest Bloggers who will be able to post whenever they feel the urge or the need to write a short piece relating to Wales, Welsh politics or politics as a whole.
Although I have built up over a short time what can loosely be described as a 'relationship' (no rude comments please - I have noticed) with four bloggers, they are anonymous to me and shall always remain so.
The first two are Pier Pressure and Senedd Whip. There are two others that I have approached but no confirmation as of today.
Hopefully, over time they will develop their own unique style, though I haven't blamed Senedd Whip from copying my style a little for continuity purposes.
Be gentle as they are fairly new to blogging - or so they tell me.
Update: Dotcommentator has now confirmed as the latest guest blogger.

Fresh Review by Assembly's Top Civil Servant

Today, Permanent Secretary Sir Jon Shortridge has announced that the Assembly Government is to hold an internal inquiry after a judge upheld complaints that a manager in the civil service sexually harassed a woman colleague.

An earlier internal inquiry found "insufficient evidence" to act but the assembly government's top civil servant has now launched another review. Sir Jon Shortridge said he was "very concerned" the court hearing had reached a different conclusion to their own internal investigation to consider whether assembly government procedures should be changed.

Sir Jon said:
I take very seriously my duty of care to all my staff...I am therefore very concerned that a recent civil case has reached a different conclusion on an allegation of sexual harassment of a former member of our staff from that reached by our own Dignity at Work investigation.

Because of this I have commissioned an independent legal review of the way in which our Dignity at Work investigation was undertaken.

I can decide what, if any, further action I should take in this case and whether our procedures need to be changed and improved because of it.
Along with Senedd Whip who has also posted on this, a cynical Miss Wagstaff wonders why closing the stable door after the horse has bolted will do any good.

Caring for Staff - Taking Care of Business - Public Relations - Clear Conscience...

Monday, 14 January 2008

Health: Fears over security of NHS patients’ data

Jonathan Morgan AM, Assembly Shadow Health Minister has raised concerns following the Western Mail's disclosure last week that a Wales Audit Office specialist was sent on “gardening leave” the day before he was due to start an investigation into allegations that an NHS body called Health Solutions Wales had passed patient identifiable information to research company Dr Foster in possible breach of the Data Protection Act.

Contradictory statements about whether this confidential information relating to Welsh patients has been passed to a private company have led to a demand that Health Minister Edwina Hart should make an urgent statement.

Andrew Hurley, a £54,000-a-year IT specialist, has not returned to work since being sent on leave in October 2005.

Hugh Morgan, Director of Health Solutions Wales, told the Western Mail his body had not released patient identifiable information to Dr Foster. But he added, “Dr Foster does receive the equivalent information from England.”

Mr Morgan’s statement raised questions about whether patient identifiable information had been passed to Dr Foster relating to Welsh residents being treated in English hospitals.

Dr Foster issued a statement confirming that patient identifiable information had been passed to one of its departments by the Assembly Government. The statement said:

Imperial College has a PIAG (Patient Information Advisory Group) clearance to receive data from the Secondary User Service for certain research purposes. Under this clearance, Imperial College is permitted to disclose pseudonymised data to Dr Foster Intelligence.

Dr Foster does not hold patient-identifiable data – it holds pseudonymised patient-level data from English hospital providers which includes some patients resident in Wales.

The Imperial College Unit at Dr Foster were commissioned by the Welsh Assembly to do some research work and obtained PIAG permission to hold patient-identifiable Welsh data for this purpose. Dr Foster Intelligence does not have access to this data.

But the Assembly Government maintained Dr Foster had not been passed information which could enable patients to be identified. A spokesman said:

Neither Health Solution Wales nor Welsh NHS Trusts have released patient identifiable information to Dr Foster. In relation to Welsh patients with English providers, we have no evidence that this information has been released and therefore the Minister cannot comment, but we have initiated an investigation.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health in London said:

There are strict procedures in place to ensure no patient identifiable data is passed from the NHS to Dr Foster. Dr Foster only has access to anonymised data.
Shadow Health Minister Jonathan Morgan, the Conservative AM for Cardiff North, said:
I will be calling for the Minister, Edwina Hart, to make an urgent statement on this matter. After a number of recent scandals, there is widespread public concern about the failure to protect confidential private information relating to individuals. The contradictory statements made on this issue means there must be a clear statement of the actual position.

Patients in Wales have a right to expect that their personal information will be protected by the NHS. If there is any question of passing identifiable information on to a third party, there must be a clear reason for it and people should have an opportunity either to give their consent for disclosure or to withhold permission.

At present the NHS is seeking to introduce a new computer system under which it would be possible for many health professionals to gain access to personal information relating to patients. Most people would probably support that so long as there are robust information-sharing protocols in place to ensure personal details are not disclosed inappropriately. But public confidence has been badly shaken by this series of disclosures. I don’t think there is now an appetite for the Government’s proposed national ID card.

Mr Morgan said he was also concerned the Wales Audit Office had apparently abandoned the inquiry that Mr Hurley had been about to undertake:
Although the WAO says its employee’s suspension was unrelated to the inquiry he was about to start, I find the circumstances highly suspicious. I would have expected the inquiry to be undertaken by another member of the WAO staff.

Will you be my Champion?

Following on from an earlier post and an article in the Western Mail there's now been a call [sort of] for more Commissioners to champion other concerns in Welsh society.

As Russell Lawson, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales, said, “I personally think it would be quite a stretch to say we need a commissioner to do so many different things as we would end up with a whole army of commissioners,”

Apart from this, I thought it wouldn't take much time for other people to call out for a champion or commissioner. Surely all good causes, however, there must be a better way to gain full employment in Wales and this is certainly a novel one.

Dafydd Wigley Accepts - Shock, Horror!

Are you sitting comfortably? Yes! then I will begin with the shock of the year. Dafydd Wigley has accepted for his name to be put forward for the party's internal election for membership of the House of Lords.

The former MP and AM confirmed he had accepted the nomination and said a "strong voice" for Wales was needed.

I know that you've all just fallen off your seats, but if you remember, there were three conditions:

  1. Plaid’s policy should permit members to take seats there: this was satisfied by the November vote of the party’s national council.

  2. Plaid’s group of three MPs should agree with the move and that there should be a co-ordination mechanism between the MPs and the party’s peers. Plaid’s parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd has confirmed there is no difficulty on this account and that he welcomes the establishment of a Plaid presence in the second chamber.

  3. Involved creating a linkage between the Plaid team in the Lords and the National Assembly.
Well, it wasn't as if it involved moving heaven and earth.

As well as Mr Wigley, candidates for seats in the Lords will include the party’s economics adviser Eurfyl ap Gwilym, former chief executive Dafydd Williams, former AM Janet Davies, Gwynedd Council chair Meinir Owen and Rhian Medi Roberts, who works for the Plaid group in the House of Commons. Some prominent party members have decided not to stand, including the well-respected former AM Cynog Dafis.

Most people will be pleased by his announcement as Wigley will be a good voice for Wales. There's some even better news however - Yesterday, Pauline Jarman, a former AM who led Rhondda Cynon Taf council until 2004 and remains the council’s opposition leader, said she would not be a candidate for the House of Lords.

Mrs Jarman said, “I’ve listened to the advice of some people whose opinions I respect, and have decided not to put my name forward. There’s a lot of work to be done locally.” Phew!

Predictions for 2008

Senedd Whip's predictions for 2008

  • Gordon Brown will be bold when making certain political decisions (wink).
  • Hillary will make it to the White House (just).
  • Londoners will oust Ken Livingstone.
  • The Treasury becomes a byword for failure.
  • Local government elections will make us forget about the Cardiff Bay coalition.
  • Minister Carwyn Jones AM will set out his stall.
  • Western Mail, Wales on Sunday and South Wales Echo will be easy on the WAG (not).
  • First Minister Rhodri Morgan ends the year and his tenure on a bum note.
  • Plaid Cymru backbencher says, "enough is enough."
  • Most attention given to the Assembly Government will be for the wrong reasons.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Emperor's New Clothes: Tony to buy a new hat

Just managed to open my laptop for a few brief moments on my weekend break and what do I discover? - some of my blogging colleagues talking about Tony Blair's future enthronement. Good heavens, I go away for a few days break from blogging and return to this development.

Tony Blair launched his campaign to become the first fully-fledged President of the European Union yesterday by describing the notion of left- and right-wing politics as redundant. With France preparing to oversee the appointment process, Blair set out his vision of modern European democracy at a meeting of the French governing conservative party by also claiming that EU countries could achieve far more by working together than acting in isolation. 'Europe is not a question of left or right, but a question of the future or the past, of strength or weakness,' said the former British Prime Minister, speaking in French.

After Blair's speech, Sarkozy took the former Prime Minister for lunch at the Hotel Bristol near the Elysee Palace. Despite support from Sarkozy - who is the architect of the mini-treaty for a European constitution - Blair is an outsider for the EU job. His support for the war in Iraq and Britain's reluctance to join the euro and other core projects is likely to count against him when EU leaders vote for their president later this year.

Hold on a minute - he may have spoken French to delighted political types, but shouldn't he be left alone to sort out the Middle East first?

United Kingdom - Middle East - Europe - The World

If my careers adviser is reading this post - you don't know what you're talking about!

Assembly Government: A bad week in the life of those in charge

The main Assembly story in the last week has been that of the alleged sexual harassment of a female worker. Mrs Davies story seems to be second in place to Peter Hain's funding dilemma, but nevertheless has filled newspaper columns in the last week of recess.

Mrs Davies has given her story to the Wales on Sunday and it doesn't paint those in charge in a good light. Senior civil servants must be angry that their procedures have been brought into disrepute and Permanent Secretary, Sir Jon Shortridge, must be hoping that his tenure will have a better ending when he leaves in April.

Christine Davies: Life of a woman working for the Assembly Government

SEX pest victim Christine Davies claims sexual harassment and bullying is widespread in the Welsh Assembly – and that women are intimidated by some male bosses on a daily basis.
This week a court upheld a string of allegations made by Mrs Davies against top-ranking civil servant and married dad-of-four Graham Evans. Judge Patrick Curran QC decided that Mr Evans had assaulted his female colleague in a pub loo and made lewd, sexual advances towards her. Mr Evans, 54, from Caerphilly, now faces a hefty legal bill likely to run into thousands of pounds. As well as the case going against him, he has also been ordered to pay Mrs Davies’ legal costs.
In her exclusive interview with Wales on Sunday, Christine:
  • claims sexual harassment and bullying are rife in the Assembly;
  • alleges she was frozen out by her colleagues when she made a formal complaint;
  • says the Assembly covered up the sex assault to prevent bad publicity.
But last night the Assembly rejected the claims, saying:
We have had very few cases raised and our staff surveys, other feedback from employees and our Investors in People assessments do not support the assertion made that bullying and harassment is rife within the organisation.
Speaking from her home in Penarth, where she lives with her husband, Paul, Christine blasted the Assembly and claimed her ordeal was NOT an isolated incident. She believes staff have been harassed and bullied on a regular basis, and that they are afraid to speak out because they fear they will lose their jobs. Christine, 52, who retired from the Assembly in 2006, claimed:
Sexual harassment is rife in the Assembly, and there’s a handful of men who make women’s lives a living hell. The culture at the Assembly is very macho. Some men are very imposing – especially towards the women. They strut around in their suits, they have their in-jokes, and eye up the women. Women in the Assembly are regularly intimidated by a few men who feel they have the right to do what they want – to pass lewd jokes, to look them up and down, to mentally undress them.
Christine claims her life took a turn for the worse when she complained. She said:
I believe I am living proof of what happens when an employee of the National Assembly for Wales shouts ‘sexual assault’. I was transferred out, I lost everything that was my life, I feel I was branded a liar, my health suffered and I felt everything I held dear was turned upside down. I felt everyone turned against me and closed rank on me. One minute people were saying I was worth my weight in gold, but the moment I made my complaint I felt everything was withdrawn and I was totally frozen out. By the end I was on anti-depressants and I dreaded going to work to do a job I loved.
An internal investigation was carried out into Christine’s allegations – but it decided that there was not enough proof to uphold the claims against Mr Evans. But she maintains that the Assembly was desperate to keep the matter quiet in an effort to avoid bad publicity. Christine Davies said:
The Assembly is a cesspit where this kind of thing just gets swept under the carpet. The letter they sent me with the result (of their investigation) wasn’t signed and wasn’t dated. I was told that I couldn’t go back to my job and I would have to be moved to a different part of the Assembly.
Despite the outcome of the investigation, Wales on Sunday has seen letters written by Alistair Davey, the Assembly’s Equal Opportunities Office, admitting that Graham Evans had “not been fully exonerated”. Yet despite the finding, he remains in a high-profile role as a highways chief within the government. Meanwhile, Christine, whose father tragically died just days after the sexual assault, says she believes he guided her to victory in the County Court. She said:
My father was there in the courtroom with me and he’s been there every second of the way. We had a special bond between us and I absolutely adored him. In the court I just kept staring at a photo of my dad. He was smiling back at me – and he’d be so proud of me now. It’s been an uphill struggle. I could not believe that something I’d been fighting for over so many years had actually happened. The reason that the judge’s decision was so important means that now I can reach out to everyone else that’s in the same position. I want the women at the Assembly to say, ‘if you stick your heels in you can win’. I want to give people the courage and the determination to come forward and stand-up for themselves. I never did it for the money. I said to my solicitors that if his lawyer ever tried to reach an out-of-court settlement I didn’t want it – I wanted women to know what this man had done.
An Assembly spokesperson said:
We take any accusation of bullying and harassment very seriously. We have a robust Dignity at Work Policy which includes an initial assessment by a case panel and then an independent investigation into any claim of bullying and harassment – this ensures that matters are thoroughly considered. We have had very few cases raised and our staff surveys, other feedback from employees and our Investors in People assessments do not support the assertion made that bullying and harassment is rife within the organisation. All investigations are dealt with professionally and appropriate legal and medical advice is taken to ensure that cases are properly considered. All decisions are open to appeal. With regards to Mr Evans, we do not comment on issues relating to members of staff.
We know that this is just one side of the coin and I'm positive that the majority of women who work there are content with their working environment, particularly those in certain senior management grades who are doing well in the light of positive discrimination. The Assembly is also a great supporter of women attempting to achieve a fair work-life balance. This is not to say that any such promotion isn't deserved, but Mrs Davies' picture of a woman's life in the Assembly isn't one that most women experience and deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Comments are closed on this post as plenty was said HERE and HERE.

Feeling Hain's Pain: Stop pointing the finger at me!

Some argue that 2007/08 is Plaid's year in Welsh politics. Should Labour allow them to have a scalp? Who will save Peter?

Unless you've been stuck in solitary confinement for several weeks you'll be aware that Peter's in trouble - just take a look at the daily papers - you can take your pick. He's also been getting two jobs done on a wing and a prayer while under constant criticism from other political parties about his dual role.

Will he survive? If the press has got anything to do with it then I think not. I browsed the Internet yesterday and here's what I found:

Western Mail

That's plenty of coverage in just a few days from one newspaper - Wales' own daily - The Western Mail. If he's collecting cuttings for his scrap book and takes all daily papers he's going to have to stock up on glue.

I remember a time when they talked about his day-job:

Will we revert to talking about Peter Hain and his role as Secretary of State, not his predicament of facing three separate inquiries that may seal his fate? Not for a while it seems.

Friday, 11 January 2008

AMs Question Internal Inquiry by the Civil Service

Following on from Miss Wagstaff's post on internal investigations carried out by the Welsh Assembly Government, it is now reported that two Assembly Members are questioning the decision of the senior staff of the Welsh Assembly Government to hold such an internal inquiry in the first place.

A court this week decided that Graham Evans, 54, of Penpedairheol, Caerphilly, had made lewd comments to a female colleague and assaulted her outside a pub toilet. He currently works as a highways chief for the Welsh Assembly Government and is also a respected soccer referee for more than 20 years.

The Western Mail reports:

Cardiff Central AM Jenny Randerson said the court’s decision threw up questions on how the Assembly had previously conducted its own investigation into the matter:

This must have put Mr Evans’ job in serious doubt. My concern is that this story was related to sexual harassment and that there had been an internal investigation carried out by the Assembly and no action had been taken. That must now be looked into. It was stated there had been no evidence, but there was obviously enough evidence in the court case. This must also call into question the Assembly human resources procedures.
The court case has also left Mr Evans’ role as a referee [football] in an awkward position as he takes charge of women’s games and also acts as referees’ instructor for up-and-coming officials.

Plaid Cymru South Wales Central AM Chris Franks said:
This case has potential for further legal and disciplinary actions. I haven’t had any prior knowledge of the issue. These matters are dealt with by senior civil servants and AMs tend not to be involved. Senior civil servants would have been responsible for investigating the initial complaint and we must hope the matter has been fully and properly investigated. Senior civil servants must insist that all staff are properly treated in their professional lives.
Judge Patrick Curran QC, who decided the case, found Mr Evans to be neither a “straightforward” or “careful” witness. And he pointed out the transport chief even tried to backtrack on his own statement which he originally swore was true.

The revelations pile yet more pressure on the troubled civil servant.

In his written judgement, Judge Curran said:
He was and still is an established team leader with a great deal to lose if he had been caught engaging in misconduct of the type alleged. He sought, on a detail of considerable importance to one aspect of his case, to depart from a statement made in a witness statement in respect of which he had signed a statement of truth.
The Welsh Assembly Government has since refused to comment on the case. The stance has been matched by the Football Association of Wales.

Peter Hain: Cock-up doesn't fit the bill

Yes, I know I said in a previous post this is a Peter Hain free blog, however, the most recent revelation need posting on. To be perfectly honest, I'm now even more annoyed with myself for having to be in complete agreement with Elfyn Llwyd MP - The Secretary of State's position is untenable.

Plaid Cymru has called for Peter Hain's resignation after fresh revelations about the funding of his failed Labour deputy leadership bid. Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid's parliamentary leader, said the work and pensions secretary's position was "untenable".

The call comes after it emerged a trustee of a think tank which channelled £25,000 into Mr Hain's bid was also the campaign's treasurer. The cash in the form of five donations was not declared to the authorities.

Mr Hain, who is also Welsh secretary and MP for Neath, is under fire after failing to declare more than £100,000 in donations to his deputy leadership campaign. More than £25,000 in donations and a further loan of £25,000 were made by individuals through the Progressive Policy Forum, a little-known think tank, which does not have a website and whose registered address is a solicitor's office in London.

A spokeswoman for Mr Hain said that he stands by everything he said in his statement and will not be making any further comment.

Plaid's Mr Llwyd told BBC Wales the latest revelations meant Mr Hain's position was no longer tenable:

John Underwood was treasurer of the campaign - he must have known of donations...Yesterday I didn't say Mr Hain should consider his position, but today's revelations are dynamite...More than sorrow than in anger, I am forced to say his position is untenable...This appears to be playing fast and lose with the law and cabinet ministers can't do that.
Update 1: Peter Hain has been reported to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner for failing to declare £103,156 in gifts to his Labour deputy leader bid.

Update 2: According to David Cornock (BBC Wales) "One of the actual donors involved may ring a few bells. His name is Steve Morgan. It appears that Peter Hain's campaign manager - the man who claimed to bring order to chaos - failed to declare a donation from himself."

Assembly Government Spin Doctors Costing Taxpayers £438k

The Assembly Government is to take on two new 'spin doctors' costing the taxpayer nearly £110,000.

The Assembly will now have a total of seven full-time and two part-time spin doctors, officially known as special advisers, costing about £438,000.

However, it still has fewer advisers than either the Scottish government or the Northern Ireland Executive.

At a meeting of the Cabinet, First Minister Rhodri Morgan said that the Privy Council had approved the request for the two extra appointments, which are to be recruited by open competition. They will then join the others in Cabinet Secretariat in Cardiff Bay.

Special advisers straddle the centre ground between the civil service and the parties of government. Although civil servants, they are allowed to give party political policy advice to ministers and sometimes deal directly with the media.

Opposition leader Conservative Nick Bourne, hit out at the appointments and questioned the openness of the Assembly Government:
I’m very surprised this has all been done secretly. No permission has been sought from the Assembly for these extra advisers. For a government which prides itself on openness I think I think this is very worrying. At a time when money is scarce I am wondering how they have managed to find this extra money for advisers.
Looks like Dafydd Wigley will now be able to join the salaried Plaid SpAds that include Simon Thomas and Rhuanedd Richards.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Peter Hain free blog

I have posted far too much in recent weeks on the Rt Hon Peter Hain MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Secretary of State for Wales. So much has happened - or not happened in the case of declaring donations - that it's easy to get caught up in posting twice a day on the subject.

For regular updates please refer to these two gentlemen on the subject of his helter skelter ride, and to eventually learn of his fate:

Two-jobs - one-job - no job?? Gordon decides.
Update: £103k not declared. Keep it under your hat.

Assembly Senior Civil Servant Accused

The Wales on Sunday, Daily Mail and South Wales Echo have reported in the last few days on a civil court action concerning two Assembly civil servants in relation to sexual harrassment and assault.

I'm disturbed by the following statement:

An internal investigation was carried out by the Assembly Government after Mrs Davies filed a complaint in September 2003. Mr Evans was cleared after the inquiry concluded there was insufficient evidence against him.

Internal investigation! If accusations are made and a crime has allegedly been committed then the police should've been informed. It should distress staff and the wider public that such organisations can try to take matters into their own hands.

Call me an old fashioned girl, but I thought it was up to the police to examine all the evidence and to determine whether or not a crime has been committed - then take the appropriate action. It shouldn't even be an internal disciplinary matter to begin with. Organisations shouldn't try to take these matters into their own hands, even if their intentions are honourable to begin with, as it just looks as it they are attempting a cover up in the long run.

Whether a crime has or hasn't been committed in this case, a civil court action doesn't suffice and something should've been done nearer to the time of the alleged incident(s). Because of the actions of the organisation and the lack of action from both individuals at the time, we have now experienced a trial by media and speculation.
Update: The BBC and Western Mail have reported that Mr Evans has been ordered to pay damages for sexually harassing a female colleague. Judge Curran QC said Mr Evans' assertion that Mrs Davies had conspired with a colleague to invent the story "bore all the marks of desperation".
Mrs Davies said she complained to senior assembly officials who launched an internal investigation into her claims. But the court heard officials took no further action against Mr Evans because of "insufficient evidence". She resigned from her job on medical grounds.

An assembly spokesman said he could not comment on the case or confirm whether any action would be taken against Mr Evans.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Pippa Wagstaff: Some people go too far

I would've thought that I've given enough away about my personality and identity from a selection of comments and posts over the last couple of months to satisfy a few, but not enough for some.

Not only has Bethan Jenkins AM raised questions, giving me a virtual slap across the face, but I've now received an email which has slapped the other cheek.

I'll hazard a guess that the following email is in response to an earlier post and there's still some confusion. Blogging certainly requires a thick skin.


Congratulations on your appointment to the Pembroke Coast National Park Authority. It goes without saying, commiserations for not getting another term on the Welsh Assembly but your workload should re-energise you. Well done!


Ellenor from Australia.

Part of the Union

Labour through and through, or so we thought.

The percentage of Welsh people in employment who are members of a trade union – higher than both England and Scotland.
The percentage of public sector workers who are members of a union: public administration, health and education are more likely to have high numbers of unionised workers. The over-50s are twice as likely to be members of a union than the under-25s, and if you work in a company employing 50 people or more, you’re twice as likely to join up.
The percentage of Welsh private sector workers who are members of a union.
The number of public sector workers in Wales; the figure represents 29.3% of the nation’s total workforce. Cardiff has the highest percentage in Wales, 35%, with Flintshire, at 22%, having the lowest.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

2008 Candidate for US President Quiz

Everyone else seems to be doing it so I don't want to be left out. Here are my results from the Pick Your 2008 Candidate for President quiz (I'm surprised!):

86% Barack Obama
85% Hillary Clinton
83% John Edwards
80% Chris Dodd
80% Bill Richardson
77% Joe Biden
56% Dennis Kucinich
53% Mike Gravel
52% Rudy Giuliani
50% Mitt Romney
48% John McCain
40% Tom Tancredo
35% Mike Huckabee
34% Fred Thompson
19% Ron Paul

All I need to do now is become an American citizen in time to vote.

Technorati and the Desktop Meme

I've only just noticed that Damon Lord has tagged me into what's known as the Desktop Meme, where you share with others a view of what your desktop looks like - folders [warts] and all.

Firstly, although I think it's an interesting prospect that would bring you a little closer to the psyche of a fellow blogger - good or bad - I find this difficult to carry out in my case as on my desktop is a cute picture of my little boy in 'cheeky boy' pose.

Secondly - and the reason why I'm bringing it up in this post - is that only recently I've noticed this particular tagging, and that I've also noticed that Technorati is rather slow these days in tracking those that have tagged you on their blog, and is becoming unreliable. Has anyone else noticed this? I'm positive that the more technical minded would've already posted on this, but thought it worth a mention.

Before I go. Why do I get the impression that most men have pictures of women on their desktop? ;)

Monday, 7 January 2008

Older People's Champion

It seems a Champion for Older People has finally been announced. First Minister Rhodri Morgan is due to announce the appointment of a Commissioner for Older People - the first such post in the UK (we've been here before when in 2001, Wales was the first part of the UK to name a Children's Commissioner).

Ruth Marks, who is currently director of the Royal National Institute of Blind People in Wales, will take up her role in April. She has vowed to "ensure that the voice of older people is heard" and that they are involved in all policy making.
As well as looking at the interests of older people as a whole, the commissioner will be able to look at the effects that public bodies, such as the Welsh Assembly and NHS, have on them, and may publish reports on recommendations for change.

Speaking about her role, Ms Marks said:
Wales proportionately has more older people than other parts of the UK. The numbers are set to increase and that's why I think it's so important Wales is leading the way...It is a cause for celebration that we are living longer and healthier lives, but that doesn't mean older people in Wales have no difficulties to face...Some older people may be struggling financially, others are unable to access the services they need, and many are isolated and lonely...In the worst circumstances older people are abused and neglected.
Rhodri Morgan said Wales was setting an example for others to follow:

Wales is widely recognised as a world-leader in giving older people a greater say in developing services...This unique commissioner will further consolidate Wales' reputation.
Not in the majority of areas, Mr Morgan - not in the majority of areas [setting an example for others to follow].

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Health: Carving up the NHS

Health and happiness in the new year is not what it seems in the countries of the United Kingdom. It looks as though while most of us were carving up the Christmas turkey, others were analysing the carving up of the NHS.

There are now four different NHS systems operating in the UK since devolution, according to health chiefs.

As the NHS enters its 60th year, NHS Confederation boss Gill Morgan has told the BBC the health service is now in a unique position in its history. Ms Morgan said while the underlying principles of free health care still stand, patients in the UK's four nations are getting different services. Patient groups said the situation was breeding envy. Ms Morgan, whose organisation represents NHS trusts and health boards, said there was no longer a universal system across the UK, as there had been when it was set up by the Attlee government in the summer of 1948.

She told the BBC News website:

We basically have four different systems albeit with the same set of values...This period [since devolution] has been unique in the history of the NHS as it was essentially the same across the UK before devolution...We have had a complete split in philosophy...The model in England is about contestability and choice driving service improvements. Outside organisations have been brought in and patients can shop around...That model has been rejected by the other three...
In Scotland, where people have been given free personal care - unlike the means-tested systems elsewhere - Ms Morgan said there has been much more consensus. She described the approach as the "collectivist model". "They have very little contestability...They have been slower to improve waiting than England, but much less tension between doctors and managers.

"In Northern Ireland there has been very big structural change and more integration between health and social care."

And in Wales, which has received praise in England for introducing free prescriptions, she said the close working relationship between local government and the NHS had had an impact on public health. She said it was too early to say which was more successful and in the coming years the differences would become even "greater". "All we can say is that patients are experiencing different systems, each one has its advantages and we will have to wait to see what happens."

But Joyce Robins of Patient Concern said the differences were "breeding envy". "Patients are increasingly looking across national borders and wondering why they are not getting the care others are getting. "I am not sure that is good for the NHS."

Michael Summers, vice chair of the Patients Association, said England was lagging behind the rest of the UK. "England - for some reason - seems to have been the poor relation."

And Professor Chris Ham, a former government adviser and Birmingham University heath expert, said the NHS had proved an important battleground since devolution.
"Health is the most important service devolved governments have power over."


England - NHS market created whereby hospitals and community services have to compete with the private sector for patients, resulting in big falls in waiting times.
Scotland - Doctors have much more of a say in services, with limited involvement from the private sector. Meanwhile, patients enjoy free personal care, unlike the means-tested systems elsewhere.
Wales - Close working relationship between the NHS and local government, which has meant more innovation on public health, but less emphasis on waiting times.
Northern Ireland - Somewhat hamstrung by political situation, but re-organisation of trusts pushed through and good integration between social care and NHS.


Wales, compared to the other UK countries, has paid much more attention to public health.

As soon as the Welsh Assembly was set up it began planning for the creation of the National Public Health Service for Wales. The service acts as an advisory and funding body for the 22 local health boards that oversee the health service. They work closely with the 22 local authorities that mirror their boundaries. It means Wales has adopted a much more integrated and forward-thinking approach to addressing public health, including school nutrition and child obesity programmes long before they became popular elsewhere.

Dr Michael Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance, which represents health professionals working in the community, said: "The make up of their health boards tend to be more cosmopolitan in involving local government and the voluntary sector. "This in turn has meant Wales has been much more proactive on public health."

But this push has had a consequence. Professor Ham said: "They have concentrated so much on preventing ill-health that they have been slow to address problems with the actual system."
This has meant that the Welsh Assembly Government has struggled to make progress over waiting lists.

Indeed, during the election campaign earlier this year, opposition parties picked up on the fact that there were 60,000 more patients on the waiting lists than compared to eight years ago.

The assembly government has started trying to address the situation with targets. The most recent of these is an eight-month goal for hospital treatment, but this is compared to the 18-week target hospitals in England are currently working towards.

Unsurprisingly, Welsh politicians prefer not to dwell on these figures. Instead, First Minister Rhodri Morgan crowed in January that Wales had managed to make the English jealous by introducing free prescriptions.

I'm sure that someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I've always been led to believe that the majority of those in receipt of prescriptions in Wales [prior to free prescriptions] have always fallen into that category, and never paid for their prescription.

BBC UK Politics

BBC Welsh Politics


Welsh Political News

UK News from Times Online

Telegraph Politics


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