Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The forever failing campaign for equal opportunities in the Assembly Government

Back in November 2007 this blog's second post drew attention to the Welsh Assembly Government's poor performance in relation to equal opportunities.

Back then, an assembly government spokesperson said that applicants from ethnic minority groups had risen from 2.1% in 2005-06 to 3.7% in 2006-07. This reflected work that had been done to raise awareness of the assembly government as an employer among ethnic minority groups, the spokesperson added.

It seems that little has been done in terms of improvement.

The Western Mail has recently reported on the issue:

The Welsh Assembly Government was attacked yesterday for failing to put people from ethnic minorities in leadership positions.

The latest figures for April 2007 show just two high-ranking officials come from such backgrounds – the equivalent of 1.4% of senior management.

This is a fall on 2006, when 2.6% of such staff were in this category.

In this time the total number of ethnic minority staff working across the Assembly Government has increased by just one, from 181 to 182.

The information was revealed by First Minister Rhodri Morgan in response to requests by Conservative Assembly leader Nick Bourne.

Mark Isherwood, Tory Shadow Minister for Social Justice and Equality, called on ministers to launch a new drive to recruit more government staff from ethnic minorities.

Ron Davies, former Welsh Secretary and director of the Valleys Race Equality Council, described the findings as “very, very disappointing”.

He said that a high number of ethnic minorities live near Assembly Government headquarters but this is not reflected in staff numbers.

An Assembly Government spokesman said:
We actively pursue an equality agenda, and we are determined that everyone in Wales regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation or disability are given every opportunity to succeed.

Why do I get the impression that the Head of Human Resources is still meeting all his targets?

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Tory plans for Welsh Office

Cheryl Gillan, the Shadow Welsh Secretary, recently revealed Tory plans for the Welsh Office. The Western Mail reported her saying she thought Wales needed a “loud voice”.

She said: “I think the role should exist and I would argue the case for it because I think Wales needs a strong voice at Cabinet level. If you’re suggesting they get rid of Gwynfor House and downgrade Wales in any way, I would be disappointed."


Monday, 28 July 2008

Nationalist Nonsense

What's the point of Nationalists arguing cases such as THIS and THIS.

All David Cameron's saying is that there's an interim report on his desk (well-publicised in the media). Let's wait for an official announcement.

Let's all be grown-up about this.

Key cutting-edge drama in the Assembly

It must be time for some pointless idle gossip.

Staff in an Assembly office in Aberystwyth have been asked to sign for pedestal keys; with a penalty of £22 if lost. This local policy has been as welcome as a wet-weekend in Cardigan Bay, and the union have advised staff not to sign for keys.

Instead, meetings were instigated to convince management of the worthwhile idea of attaching keys to the security pass which is issued to all Assembly staff.

This has not been adopted. The union is concerned that this local initiative will spread Wales-wide.

What will staff be asked to pay for next?

[Thanks to the anonymous email]

Friday, 25 July 2008

Reds cleared. Brown pocketed. Not many balls left on the table

This is getting too painful to watch. Similar to an execution, when it takes more than one blow of the axe to sever a head from a body. Sometimes taking several blows, leaving spectators aghast.

The Scottish National Party has pulled off a stunning by-election victory by winning Glasgow East, one of Labour's safest seats, by 365 votes.

The SNP overturned a Labour majority of 13,507 to win with a swing of 22.54%.

The SNP polled 11,277 votes in the contest, while the Tories came third with 1,639 and the Lib Dems, with 915 votes, came fourth.

SNP candidate John Mason said the victory was "off the Richter scale", while Labour expressed disappointment.


It'll take a sacrificial lamb or complete mug to want to take over from Brown before the next election. Labour colleagues will want to let him hang himself, lose the election, and return refreshed with a new leader - All problems blamed on Gordon. New improved Labour returns to fight another day.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Welsh 'laws': Quality, not quantity needed

Both the BBC and the Wales Online have run stories today about the concerns of Welsh MPs when it comes to legislative proposals from the National Assembly.

The Welsh Affairs select committee say 11 proposed legislative competence orders (LCOs) risk swamping the system, when they expected only four or five.

The assembly's limited powers for more laws, under review by Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy, must win the MPs' backing.

It warns of a “logjam” and says the Assembly and the Wales Office should aim to produce “a reasonable number of high-quality Orders each year rather than allowing volume to swamp the system here and in the Assembly as seems to be happening at the moment”.

It seems the underlying message is QUALITY not QUANTITY when it comes to the Assembly's proposals.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Wales' biggest winners: Criticism of bonuses awarded to top civil servants in Wales

Joining in with the criticism of Senior Civil Servant bonuses on this blog, the Welsh Conservatives have criticised bonuses awarded to the Assembly's top civil servants.


Miss Wagstaff Presents:

The BBC have reported (also covered in the Western Mail) that bonuses to top civil servants in Wales have risen 154% in the past five years, according to figures obtained by the Conservatives. They show senior assembly government staff received more than £686,000 last year, compared to £270,000 in 2003/04.

The Tories said it showed a "money for nothing culture" in Cardiff Bay.

But the assembly government said it did not decide bonuses. The First Division Association union said only staff who achieve their objectives received them. Meanwhile, the assembly government defended spending more than £48,000 on office plants, saying they helped to "lower employee turnover rates" and improve air quality.

Conservatives called for a review of senior staff salaries after their written questions revealed details of the highest earners among administration senior staff.

The figures show overall assembly government staffing costs for 2006/7 were just over £224m, with staffing levels of 6,230 at 31 January this year.

The latest official statistics show that in 2005-06 the average (mean) pre-tax income in Wales was just £20,000.

The Conservatives calculate that out of a total Assembly Government staff of 6,230, 28 earn in excess of £100,000, 23 between £80,000 and £90,000, 51 between £70,000 and £80,000, 171 between £60,000 and £70,000, and 499 between £50,000 and £60,000.

The bonuses were defended by the FDA, the union for senior civil servants.

Opposition leader Nick Bourne said:
I find it incredible that the Labour-Plaid government has the brass neck to award staff such whopping bonuses when it has been failing on so many fronts over the last 12 months. Year after year Rhodri Morgan has spent more taxpayers' money on spin, presentation, advisers, and bureaucracy. This is money which should go on health, education and local government, not to fund an administration whose policies suffocate choice, enterprise and innovation.
Alun Cairns AM said:
Families across Wales who are struggling to make ends meet with stagnant earnings and rising living costs will be appalled by these figures. Massive amounts of public money are being used to swell the bank accounts of senior civil servants at a time when the Government is urging pay restraint.
A Welsh Assembly Government spokersperson said:
These very senior staff form part of the senior civil service and their pay and bonus policies are determined by the Treasury and Cabinet Office, not by the assembly government or other devolved administrations. To attract and retain high calibre staff we need to reflect market values. But recent senior staff review board findings show that senior civil service salaries have fallen behind those in other areas of the public sector, notably NHS and local government.

Bonus payments are not permanent and are non-pensionable. In effect, base pay is being held down in favour of one-off payments that do not affect future levels of pay or pension. *
Paul Neilson, First Division Association's national officer for Wales, said:
Far from being a 'money for nothing culture', those who do not achieve their objectives will not get any pay increases.
* That doesn't cause too much discomfort when they earn in excess of £50,000 per annum, without bonuses.

Balancing the books on public finances in Wales

Professor Dylan Jones-Evans kindly took me up on my offer of considering what has been the biggest waste of public money.

If I keep this to the field of economic development in Wales, we could be here all day. However, to be really naughty over this one, you could argue that the £200k or so that WAG spent on having a full-time North Wales Director and Director of Enterprise since 2006 was a monumental waste of money as she has now been replaced by another senior colleague doing this part-time on top of another major job (Director of IBW).

The spin over the new part-time position is that 'it gives North Wales a direct voice in Cardiff" although the real reason is that that the economic development division simply do not have the money for a replacement appointment having overspent by millions on transport (BBC, there's a story for you if you bothered to do any research!)

Worryingly, this arrangement seems to be working out extremely well than the previous arrangement, which may show that we have too many civil servants in the Assembly at a senior level.

I can certainly think of one or two who certainly would not be missed as they seem to spend more time counting paperclips than worrying about the fact that unemployment has increased by its largest amount since the last recession and Wales is facing its biggest economic crisis in years.

More significantly, this behaviour by senior civil servants in DET is certainly having an effect, quite wrongly, on the reputation of the Minister within the business community. He is being seen as weak and in thrall to his civil servants which is probably unfair to an individual who brokered one of the most significant political deals ever made in Wales.

Certainly, Andrew Davies may thank his old department for providing a potential solution to balancing the books on public finances in Wales.

This leads me nicely onto another topical post:

Wales' biggest winners: Criticism of bonuses awarded to top civil servants in Wales

Update 24 July 2008 07:57 from Dylan Jones-Evans:

Miss Wagstaff. Let me elaborate further.

Every day I deal with excellent civil servants, largely at a middle manager level who work extremely hard, care about their jobs and the effect they have on Wales. I doubt if any qualified for a bonus last year.

They are a credit to the Assembly and Wales and the work they undertake. However, they are drowning in a miasma of unnecessary bureaucracy and hierarchical decision making which is largely a result of prevarication, inaction and lack of vision by senior colleagues (with a few notable exceptions).

I am hopeful, given her pronouncements to date, that the new Permanent Secretary will begin to deal with this issue, as Wales deserves a dynamic civil service that does the country credit. Certainly, if we began to see real and sustainable improvements in health, education and the economy, no-one would begrudge any bonuses to every civil servant in Wales.

Rhodri Morgan: With or without honour

As the South Wales Echo reports, the First Minister Rhodri Morgan has been made a Fellow of Wales’ newest university - Glyndwr University – formerly the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education.

The Cardiff West AM, educated at Oxford and Harvard, attended a ceremony at Glyndwr University, Wrexham, to receive the honour, awarded for his services to higher education in Wales.

I can think of two universities in Wales that would disagree with the 'awarded for his services to higher education in Wales' statement. The University of Wales and Glamorgan.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Total Politics: 2008-9 Guide to Political Blogging in the UK

In early September TOTAL POLITICS, in association with APCO WORLDWIDE will publish the 2008-9 Guide to Political Blogging in the UK. It will contain articles on blogging by some of Britain's leading bloggers, together with a directory of UK political blogs, and a series of Top 20s and Top 10s. The book will be available at the Green Party, TUC, Labour, LibDem and Tory Conferences, where TOTAL POLITICS will have exhibition stands.

We're asking for your votes to decide the Top 100 UK Political Blogs. Simply email your Top Ten (ranked from 1 to 10) to toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com.

If you have a blog, please encourage your readers to do the same. Total Politics and Iain Dale will then compile the Top 100 from those that you send in. Just order them from 1 to 10. Your top blog gets 10 points and your tenth gets 1 point.

The deadline for submitting your Top 10 is Friday August 15th.

Please type Top 10 in the subject line. Or you can of course leave your Top 10 in the Comments on this post.Once all the entries are in a lucky dip draw will take place and the winner will be sent £100 worth of political books!

The rules are simple:
1. Please only vote once
2. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents are eligible or based on UK politics are eligible
3. Votes must be cast before Friday 15 August
4. Blogs chosen must be listed in the Total Politics Blog Directory.
5. You must send a list of TEN blogs, ranked. Any entry containing fewer than ten blogs will not count.
6. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name

So, once again, the email address to send your TOP TEN BLOGS to is... toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com

Link to Welsh blogs

Comment of the Week

My comment of the week has to go to someone called Baht At which refers to the recent resignation of the Heritage Minister in Wales:

This just sums up the petty nature of welsh politics - in Westminister you can go cottaging on Clapham common and get a second chance whereas in Cardiff you can’t even wave a token phallic cigar around.

The Westminster Way v The Welsh Way

On 24 January 2008 Peter Hain resigned as Secretary of State for Wales and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. That same day he was replaced by James Purnell.

On 18 July 2008 Rhodri Glyn Thomas 'resigned' as Minister for Heritage in the Welsh Assembly Government.

We're still waiting...

Friday, 18 July 2008

Heritage minister falls on own sword (or cigar)

Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM, the heritage minister, could resign before the end of the day, according to BBC Wales. He is reported to have carried a cigar from the beer garden of the Eli Jenkins pub into the pub itself. A staff member then asked him to vacate the premises and he is said to have left straight away. The Assembly Government has so far refused to comment.

There are two possible explanations for his possible resignation. The most likely is that the Minister has reached his gaffe quota for 2007 and is now being given the voluntary elbow by Ieuan Wyn Jones. Another much less likely possibility - but much more exciting - is that there's more to the story yet to come to light. The latter scenario came to pass with Ron Davies' initially rather mystifying 'error of judgement' on Clapham Common.

Jane Hutt: Whatever she touches in government seems to turn to SH*T

FRESH concerns about funding for the Welsh Assembly Government’s flagship foundation phase education scheme were raised today.

A report by the National Assembly’s finance committee said there had been a “systemic failure” in the transfer of relevant funding information between councils and the Assembly Government.
The pioneering foundation phase scheme, which starts in September, aims to encourage three to seven-year-olds to learn through play.

The report, published today, also highlights concerns about staffing costs and recruitment and the effective allocation of funds.

Full story HERE

Iwan Guy, acting director of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) in Wales, who gave evidence to the National Assembly’s finance committee last month, said:

There’s a lesson here for all future initiatives. They must be pre-costed before they are published or broadcast.

Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, said:

This report confirms what I have consistently argued, along with unions, local authorities and professionals. I have for months bemoaned the lack of planning and funding for the scheme. It is the Assembly Government’s failure to admit that problems have been brewing for some time that has led to the current situation. Unfortunately, it is young children and teachers on the front line who will pay the price for this stubborn incompetence.
Shadow Education Minister Andrew Davies AM added:
It should serve as a wake-up call to the Education Minister that she cannot afford to play politics with children’s futures.
An Assembly Government spokesman said:

It is vital that the Assembly Government, local authorities, schools, teaching unions and all key stakeholders work together in partnership because we all want all young people in Wales to reap the benefits of the foundation phase.

It was to ensure that everyone could work together on this that the minister set up the foundation phase implementation task and finish group which will be having its third meeting next week. Great progress has been made since the finance committee took evidence and next week’s discussion at the group will focus on what has to be done to ensure the further implementation of foundation phase over the next four years is successful.

End is nigh for NHS Bureaucratic heaven

NHS trusts and local health boards will be scrapped in Wales under radical plans to transform the way the health service is structured and managed.

Health Minister Edwina Hart today announced plans to replace the current 22 local health boards (LHBs) and seven acute NHS trusts with just seven new organisations which will provide both community and hospital-based health services.

If the plans are accepted - a further consultation period will start in the autumn - Wales will follow the same system adopted in Scotland and Northen Ireland. Mrs Hart said the proposals for integrated health boards come after an earlier consultation this year to reduce the number of LHBs and end the internal market in the NHS. Many respondents said NHS trusts should also be scrapped.

About time. Bureaucracy rules the roost in the NHS, in Wales. The fact that some NHS Trusts have to deal with more than one Local Health Board has added to the problem.


Thursday, 17 July 2008

One Brown

Welsh Labour's conspicuous absence in Plaid's recent One Wales celebratory video was noted. Yesterday Gordon Brown returned the favour:

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Does the Prime Minister believe that his party’s wilting membership in Wales and my party’s increasing membership in Wales are due to the coalition between Plaid Cymru and Labour in the National Assembly, or to his leadership here in Westminster?

The Prime Minister: The fact that there are 100,000 more jobs in Wales is due to a Labour Government and Labour Members of the Welsh Assembly;the fact that more children have been taken out of poverty in Wales is due to a Labour Government and Labour Members of the Welsh Assembly; and the fact that there are more public services in Wales is due to the funds provided by a Labour Government from here.

Shome mishtake, shurely?

Previous Welsh bloggers who lost their jobs: This is a new ballgame

The following is a round-up by Matt Wardman on former Welsh bloggers and the state of the Welsh blogosphere:

There’s been a bit of discussion about Welsh Political Bloggers who have previously been sacked, mentioning “four cases”, following on from the current conversation about the author of the Christopher Glamorganshire blog.

I’m only aware of three, and among those the Christopher Glamorganshire case is unique because it involves a Civil Servant employed under the Civil Service code.

The other two are Dave Collins and Marcus Warner, both researchers employed by Labour AMs. I think that both of these basically came down to the positions of the individuals being untenable due to their boss’s political embarrassment.

But we are now in a position where there is an opportunity for the “rules” for Civil Service Bloggers in Wales to be made clear, following on from recent clarification spearheaded by Tom Watson.

I think it is quite important to get that clarification in place in case more of the political blogosphere in Wales dissolves into the ether.

Dave Collins
Dave Collins worked for Vale of Clwyd AM Ann Jones as a researcher. He commented on the Keir Hardly blog (Source: Wales Online):

Personally I share the view of [early 19th Century politician] Daniel O’Connell when he said, ‘I can witness without a sigh the decline of the Irish language’. One aspect that doesn’t seem to have received much attention so far is consideration of the language as a class issue. To what extent does the requirement to teach Welsh at all key stages and the right to access all public service provision through the medium of Welsh assist or hinder the prospects of the under-privileged?
He added, “Moreover it isn’t an issue simply in terms of all the time that is wasted on it. Compulsory Welsh may also diminish young pupils’ enthusiasm for education and their confidence in their ability to master a subject. You cannot successfully teach a practically brain-dead language to young children whose families don’t want it revived or couldn’t care less about it.”

The thing that did for him was “practically brain-dead language”. Taking my life in my hands and commenting on a Welsh political question from England, if there is one hornets nest in Welsh Politics not to douse in petrol and set on fire, this is probably it.

Ann Jones maintained a stony silence in public ("Ms Jones refused to comment"), the bilingual lobby went into overdrive, Dave Collins resigned soon after, and the other parties made hay while the sun was shining.

This was September 2007.

Marcus Warner
Marcus Warner worked for Islwyn AM Irene James - also as a researcher. He lost his job in late September/early October 2007. He ran the Renewed Labour blog where Dave Collins posted the offending “brain-dead” comment.

Marcus also ran the Clear Red Water and Keir Hardly blogs (Ordovicius: “serial blog vanisher”), and more recently the Southpaw Grammar blog (with - in my opinion - a far better style). Marcus has now retired from that as well to run a record label cum PR company. I like the background image from the website (right); curved windows are cool.

I have some sympathy with Marcus - while, shall we say, not supporting the use of quite so many blogs in quite such a period - since I think losing a position because of an action of a third party feels harsh. On the other hand, we all know that in politics decisions get made and jobs get lost because of external events - as many can testify even at Cabinet level.

Hat-tip to Miserable Old Fart for most of the information for the above potted account.

The Glamorganshire case is a different ballgame

Now to get on to the point of the post, and my reason for reprising history (and my apologies if I have embarrassed anyone).

Christopher Glamorgan was the only one who was employed by the Welsh Assembly government who was therefore subject to the Civil Service Code (Wales Version).
Essentially, Dave Collins and Marcus Warner lost their jobs because they became an embarrassment their political bosses. And that - to me - is simply an occupational hazard for research and administration staff working for politicians.

But we are now in a position where there is an opportunity for the “rules” for Civil Service Bloggers in Wales to be made clear, following on from recent clarification spearheaded by Tom Watson .

In the last week we have also lost Normal Mouth, who has closed down partly due to speculation about his identity despite not being a Civil Servant:

I am not in breach of any guidelines relating to my employment, nor am I a civil servant. In fact, I have explicitly gained written approval from my employer to maintain both this blog and my Golwg column. What is clear, however, is that it is no longer tenable for me to continue to blog without the question of who I am persistently clouding what I say. I take that to be very largely my fault, for not setting out arguments that people feel are worth responding to on their merits alone.
I think that most people would agree that blogs have made a strong contribution to political debate in Wales - expecially due to the smaller overall population making the maintenance of a national media more “challenging” (!). The old Video Blogging slogan from 2005 “We Are The Media” has meaning here.

Wrapping Up
Even if we have 3 not 4 people who have left their jobs after blogging, among a Welsh Political Blogging community (illustrated on the right) of perhaps not much more than 100, that is one hell of an attrition rate for a short period. The Total Politics directory currently has 60 blogs listed under “Wales”, but that is quite a significant underestimate in my view.

Perhaps ironically, if I was looking for a person to employ as a researcher, I would deliberately consider people who had left jobs as a result of blogging for exactly that reason - it is probably an excellent way of developing good political antennae. If it had happened three or more times I might change that judgement, however.

For the same reason Contractors who have been thrown off site a couple of times for upsetting employees - regardless of who’s fault it is the contractor usually loses any argument due to the dynamics and loyalties in the situation - develop good interpersonal skills very quickly (or leave the industry).

Senedd Circular: Back from a break

Will be returning soon to the The Wardman Wire.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Christopher Glamorganshire: Questions to be Answered

Assisting Matt Wardman in his quest (posted 15 July 2008):

This post is a repost of the questions that I am interested in finding anwers to in the case of Welsh blogger Christopher Glamorganshire, who was sacked from his job because of his blogging activity in autumn 2007.

I have reposted them for reference separate from the previous post where I did a full analysis.

The most intriguing and important point is how the “Welsh Civil Service Code” has lead to Christopher Glamorganshire being “dismissed for activities related to the Glamorganshire Blog that contravened the Civil Service Code”, while the English Civil Service Code is now complemented by the set of principles mentioned above, which were developed after an English Civil Servant blogger (Civil Serf) caused a debate online among bloggers lead by a Government Minister.

The two Civil Service codes are identical except for changes to reflect that Wales has a devolved assembly. These are my questions about the harsh managerial approach that appears to have been used by the Welsh Assembly Government:

1 - The approach is slightly out of kilter in a country where only this week Hazel Blears was talking about giving more leeway for Council Officers to participate in the political process.

2 - It won’t work in the long run anyway, other than to provide maximum embarrassment when “control not collaboration” fails.

3 - The devolved Labour-led administration in Wales is pursuing a policy at variance with that of the UK Labour Government in a matter where they are using a version of the “Civil Service Code” that can only be distinguished from the UK Government one with a magnifying glass and a lot of patience.

4 - One of the great problems of the age is political engagement. Why strangle relatively neutral political comment in your own backyard?

5 - There’s a great divide in culture symbolised by Offa’s Dyke here, and a difference in practice. Yet Human Rights legislation does not acknowledge that difference under Freedom of Expression.

6 - I think that this case highlights the point made by Dave Cole before, during and after the Principles for Online Participation were published - protecting the Employee’s Right to Blog is as important as protecting the Employer’s right to have employees blog responsibly.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

How much does it cost to fill the 'skill shortage' hole? This much

In 2007/2008, the Welsh Assembly Government spent nearly £2m hiring the services of consultancy firms like Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Bravosolutions and Elan.

MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT SPENDING

  • Conwy £3,120,000
  • Flintshire £2,183,510
  • Merthyr Tydfil £2,276,000
  • Torfaen £2,083,267
  • Swansea £1,449,066
  • Bridgend £946,740
  • Neath Port Talbot £781,457
  • Caerphilly £675 411
  • Wrexham £666,470
  • Blaenau Gwent £613,812
  • Gwynedd £549,964
  • Ceredigion £433,112
  • Powys £396,911
  • Monmouthshire £305,919
  • Denbighshire £213,257
  • Vale of Glamorgan £50,224
  • Carmarthenshire None
  • Cardiff, Newport and Anglesey: No response to FoI requests within time limit
  • RCT and Pembrokeshire FoI request not met because of cost reasons
  • Welsh Assembly Government £1,964,365
[Spending on management consultants. Source: Freedom of Information request by BBC Wales]

Poverty and housing laws planned: Anyone can make a statement!

First Minister Rhodri Morgan has outlined plans for new Welsh laws on child poverty, affordable housing and home care charging over the next year.

The assembly government's plans also include laws to help children with learning needs and to suspend the right to buy council homes in some areas.

He said he wanted "to make a practical difference to the people of Wales".

But Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne accused ministers of "failing to match ambition with delivery":

long on rhetoric, short on substance, and lacking in timescale. While there are some positives to consider in this legislative statement, there is little to give us confidence that the assembly government can deliver it.

I have to agree with this. Anyone can make a statement. I plan on becoming a millionaire over the next year. There!... I've made one! Somehow I don't think my ambition will match delivery.

Missing tax billions scandal

The UK government's policy of cutting thousands of jobs in HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) flies in the face of the latest research that shows the UK is losing £42 billion in unpaid taxes.

The publication of a hopefully unbiased Trade Union Congress report earlier this year demonstrates that these missing billions could be used to transform public services and take millions of children and pensioners out of poverty.

It simply doesn't make sense to cut staff when more not less staff are required to recover these billions in lost taxes.

Monday, 14 July 2008

The Best Waste of £200k of Public Money: Meme

Matt Wardman believes it's time for a Meme and he could be right. I've been tagged and it all started with this:

This morning Tom Harris MP proposed that the Howden and Haltemprice by-election was a monumental “waste of public money” of the order of “two hundred grand”. I differ; it is well worth it.
Matt's suggestions for the most monumental waste of £200k include:

The £200k costs being paid by the taxpayer for Ann Winterton MP and Nicholas Winterton MPs to rent their London house from themselves, and the death duty tax dodge that goes with it. The £200k estimated to have been spent by Mr Speaker Michael Martin on Legal Fees in order to keep MP’s expense details concealed from the public. The £200k of public money spent on each 0.04% of the £500 million just written off by the M.O.D. over the Special Forces Helicopters disaster.

I haven't seen the figure quoted in the Welsh budget but THIS public relations exercise isn't going to be cheap.

I’ll tag:
Cambria Politico, Cynical Dragon, Dylan Jones-Evans, Ordovicius, Peter Black AM, David Cornock (BBC Journalist), Three Line Whip, Iain Dale's Diary, and J. Arthur MacNumpty

Update: Italian chairs and desks formed part of a total spend of £880,000 on furnishing the new Caerphilly Council headquarters at Tredomen Business Park in Ystrad Mynach.

Talk about taking it to the next level.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Normal Mouth shuts up shop

I blog about Welsh politics to write about issues I find interesting and important. I also started with a notion that regular output might stimulate an original idea for a more substantial piece of work, possibly academic in nature. I have alighted on such an idea. It may never bear fruit in other than vanity form (and I’m not above that, as the existence of this site attests) but I think it will meet those creative urges that are currently met here. In any case, to give it a serious try I have to devote to it the time that I currently spend blogging.
This blog wishes you well with your new project. You'll be missed in the Welsh blogosphere as you were always readable and informative.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Christopher Glamorganshire: What a price to pay for freedom of speech

I'm running late with this story. You mustn't blame me as I'm busy packing for the big move this weekend and have taken a back seat from blogging for a short while - still managing the odd post as I review the papers.

It seems that 'Christopher Glamorganshire' was sacked from the Welsh Assembly Government civil service for blogging. I'm not familiar with the blog but have seen a link to 'Glamorganshire' on the blogs of many others. Sadly, it no longer allows you access.

A few months ago there was a rumour about a Welsh Civil Servant having been sacked, and comments of that nature were even made on this blog. I've noticed that there seems to be a healthy community spirit in the blogging community and a number of compliments have been made today, with the following among them:

It seems that either these known and respected Welsh bloggers are wrong in their assessment of 'Glamorganshire' or the Welsh Assembly Government has grossly overreacted, leaving the individual to resort to an Employment Tribunal in order to obtain justice.

This all seems unfair to me, but best of luck to you 'Christopher'. Like any large organisation, the Assembly Government will - without a shadow of doubt - put their whole legal team behind the case, and solicitors are costly, so I fear that you'll need more than fair play, luck, and common sense on your side.

Here is the full article from today's Western Mail:

AN Assembly Government civil servant who was sacked for running a political blog is taking his case to an Employment Tribunal.

Last night a former AM who himself is a regular blogger said he found the decision to dismiss the civil servant “heavy handed”.

The former Assembly Government employee, whose real name has not been disclosed but who ran a blog called Christopher Glamorganshire, provided what readers saw as a neutral running commentary on last year’s coalition negotiations involving Labour and Plaid Cymru.

An Assembly Government spokesman said:

This issue regards a former Welsh Assembly Government employee who was dismissed for activities related to the Glamorganshire Blog that contravened the Civil Service Code. The case went to the Civil Service Appeals Board, which we won, and it is listed for Employment Tribunal in Cardiff later this year.
It is understood the elements of the Civil Service Code regarded by the Assembly Government as relevant to the case come under sections headed “integrity” and “rights and responsibilities”.

Under integrity, the relevant clauses read: “You must always act in a way that is professional and that deserves and retains the confidence of all those with whom you have dealings,” and: “You must not misuse your official position, for example by using information acquired in the course of your official duties to further your private interests or those of others.”

Under rights and responsibilities, the clause considered to have been broken states: “This Code is part of the contractual relationship between you and your employer. It sets out the high standards of behaviour expected of you which follow from your position in public and national life as a civil servant. You can take pride in living up to these values.”

Last night former Conservative AM Glyn Davies, a regular blogger, said:

The Christopher Glamorganshire blog was on my list of ‘my favourites’. It seemed to me to be written in a sensible and rational manner. Clearly, if his contract of employment said he was not allowed to blog, he doesn’t have much of a case.

But if it is simply a question of supposedly contravening the code, I think sacking him is very harsh and heavy handed.

This all smacks of the heavy hand of the state.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Homegrown NHS law and badge recognition

Would be silly of me to let this day end without mentioning a further landmark in the future of Wales


The first piece of Welsh legislation in modern times is poised to become law.

Under the Government of Wales Act, the Welsh assembly gained powers to make legislation in some areas without permission from Westminster.

The NHS Redress Measure is set to be approved by the Queen, making it easier and quicker to claim compensation after negligent treatment by the Welsh NHS.

The legislation will also carry the Welsh coat of arms, or Royal Badge of Wales, for the first time.
This will be the first measure, or Welsh law, to complete the process. The Royal Badge of Wales will also appear on all future Welsh laws. It is based on the arms of the native princes of Wales, dating back to the 13th Century, and designed by the Garter King of Arms, Peter Gwynne-Jones.

Another Platform: Job transfer for civil servant

Thank heavens for the Western Mail when it comes to providing updates on previous posts and conflict of interest within the Assembly.

A Civil Servant who was responsible for monitoring the huge Arriva Trains Wales contract with the Assembly Government even though she lives with the firm’s managing director has been transferred to another job, after opposition parties demanded discussions with Deputy First Minister and Transport Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones about any possible conflict of interest.

The Western Mail understand that Ms Teague has been moved to another job within the Assembly Government’s economy and transport department that takes her away from the Arriva Trains Wales franchise altogether. Her move, which she requested in light of the concerns that had been expressed, coincided with a reorganisation within the department.

Yesterday an Assembly Government spokesman said: “We don’t comment on personnel issues relating to individual members of staff.”

I bet you don't, Assembly Government Press Officer. I bet you don't.

Freedom of Speech: Standing up for the right to blog

Glyn Davies stands up for the right to blog [within reason].

Last night former Conservative AM Glyn Davies, a regular blogger, said:

The Christopher Glamorganshire blog was on my list of ‘my favourites’. It seemed to me to be written in a sensible and rational manner.

Clearly, if his contract of employment said he was not allowed to blog, he doesn’t have much of a case. But if it is simply a question of supposedly contravening the code, I think sacking him is very harsh and heavy handed.

This all smacks of the heavy hand of the state.

We have another Champion!

More on this later.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Rhodri Morgan's "Year of delivery"

Rhodri Morgan has hailed a “year of delivery” following Welsh Labour’s special conference decision to back the One Wales coalition deal with Plaid Cymru.

True to form, the First Minister has blurted out his usual defence:

“Tough choices had to be made this time last year: the choice between forming a coalition with Plaid Cymru or letting the Tories into government in Wales, with the resultant lurch in policy direction that would have been very adverse to the interests of Labour supporters all over Wales.

“I believe we made the right tough choices, voting with our heads not with our hearts, a decision based on the desire to honour Labour’s election pledges and deliver for the people of Wales to the maximum degree possible.”

Mr Morgan’s list of the items delivered during the past 12 months included:

  1. New hospitals on their way in Porthmadog, Rhondda, Cynon Valley, Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent and Rhymney Valley; two opened this year in Pembroke Dock and Holywell;
    26 weeks from referral to treatment –– on course to delivering that target by the end of 2009;
  2. more than £1bn investment in NHS infrastructure over the next three years;
    free car-parking in NHS hospitals;
  3. £91m extra funding for social care, helping people live independent lives in their own homes;
  4. a new £92m single investment fund for business;
  5. £8m extra funding for Flying Start childcare;
  6. £7.5m funding for Airbus R&D into composite wing technology;
  7. £150m JEREMIE investment fund for small and medium-size firms being negotiated with the European Union;
  8. new Foundation Phase, a pioneering roll-out across Wales of “learn through play”, backed by £30m of investment this year;
  9. new law introduced giving 14 to 19-year-olds more choice in their studies;
  10. £6.6m new funding for Appetite for Life improvements in school meals;
  11. more than £7.5m for early years and schools in Wales to improve basic skill levels;
  12. new social partnership agreed between trade unions and government to build world-class public services built on co-operation;
  13. council tax rises kept to an average of 3.8%;
  14. £9m extra funding for Community Safety Partnerships to help tackle crime;
  15. free entry for pensioners and children to Assembly-funded heritage sites;
  16. new law to modernise right-to-buy to increase social housing in rural Wales;
  17. new £25m fund for the next phase of Communities First;
  18. new law placing a duty on public authorities to tackle child poverty;
  19. Wales becomes the world’s first Fairtrade nation;
  20. a tree planted for every new baby born in Wales;
  21. re-opening the Ebbw Valley rail line;
  22. free rail travel for pensioners extended;
  23. new law introduced to make school buses safer.
I'm positive that each and every individual in Wales has their own individual opinion on what has been a success, and their own distinguishing differences between the measurement of success and failure. Here's what the opposition parties say...

Welsh Conservative Assembly leader Nick Bourne said:
The Labour-Plaid government has been big on targets and low on achievements. It’s hard to judge performance when so little has been achieved and so many policies aren’t scheduled to be implemented for two or more years.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Mike German claimed:
...the coalition’s greatest success had been preserving the status quo: Keeping Labour hands on the levers of power in Wales; keeping the powers of the Assembly so limited and stifling initiatives to such a degree that no AM applied to make a law when given the opportunity to do so in the June ballot.

Would the "Welsh Way" be the right way?

Devolution brought about the ability to do things the "Welsh Way"; making the Assembly's strategy for public services in Wales, (formulated through 'Making the Connections' and refined by the 'Beecham Report'), markedly different to the approach adopted by the Westminster Government.

However, on the question of civil service reform, the situation is more complex. In theory Assembly staff matters are devolved to the First Minister and Permanent Secretary. In reality, the all pervading influence of Whitehall, through the Cabinet Office and Treasury, casts a dark shadow over every decision made in Cardiff Bay.

To illustrate this point: in 2004 Gordon Brown made his pre-election announcement to axe 104,000 Civil service jobs. 20,000 of these were to be made in the devolved administrations, but neither Rhodri Morgan (First Minister) nor Sue Essex (Minister for Finance, Local Government & Public Services) were consulted. In other words, devolution seems to be lost on the mandarins and politicians in Whitehall when it comes to staffing matters.

Herein lies the danger.

Put bluntly; the non-devolved Civil Service is in crisis through a combination of job cuts, privatisation and an over reliance on obscenely expensive management consultants. Staff morale has never been lower.

The question to be asked is; do the Assembly's Senior Civil Service have the backbone to stand up to their London bosses in rejecting policies such as outsourcing and performance related pay?

They must insist on doing things the 'Welsh Way'. Or is Cathays Park just an outpost of Whitehall?

[Source: PCS]

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Bloggers put Wales in political spotlight

Too busy with work and the family lately to notice these kind words from Iain Dale "who runs one of the country’s most influential blogs"

Mr Dale sees blogs not as a way to sway mass opinion but as a means to introduce new ideas to debates.

He said: “It’s an incredibly liberating experience for ordinary people who might have an interest in politics.”

He follows the discussions on 38 Welsh blogs

Of those 38, I’d say a good half are done by ordinary people who have no record of party-political activism,” he said. His favourite is by former Conservative AM Glyn Davies, but he has respect for Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black. Peter Black’s is the one I’ve been reading longest. His blog is interesting because he won’t just come out with the Lib-Dem spin. He gives real views on things. If people think you’re just mouthing your party line they won’t be interested.
He considers Labour MP Paul Flynn’s “excellent” and regularly reads Ordovicius, Miss Wagstaff Presents and Valleys Mam.

Thanks for the endorsement Iain.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Civil Service v Politicians: That old question of pay

Not wishing to rake over the coals of old posts, I wasn't planning on mentioning pay rises ever again [as if!]. Some topics are too tempting, so it's with no great pleasure from me and no great surprise from you, that the civil service in Wales is up in arms when it comes to the inflation busting pay-rise of Assembly Members due to an increase in workload.


We all heard Dafydd Elis-Thomas' rallying call of, "the price to pay for effective democracy", although it did manage to fall on some deaf ears at the time.

The Civil Service and their counterpart officials in the Assembly Commission, do not think that it feels like democracy when politicians receive an inflation busting pay rise while some staff receive a pay cut in real terms.
According the the PCS Union, one of the comments made on the BBC website at the time said:
It is typical of today's politicians. They tell the country that the taxpayer can't afford to fund pay increases for the people who work in this country. Yet when it comes to their own already inflated salaries; the more the better. [ouch!]
Pulling no punches, the Cardiff based South Wales Echo simply titled their story of the AM pay rise as 'Hypocrites'.

A similar situation arises when it comes to the bonuses paid to Senior Civil Servants [yes, as discussed in previous posts, they do receive bonuses on top of their salary] within the Assembly. The PCS Union has discovered through a 'Freedom of Information' request, that senior civil servants working within the Assembly have shared between themselves bonuses totalling £686,871.75 [shock!]

These bonuses and ministerial rises are set against a backdrop of pay inequalities across the Assembly and uncertainties regarding the continuing payment of the non-consolidated award to former ASPB staff [Quango staff to you and I]. Clearly the First Minister's pledge that no member of staff will be disadvantaged by the mergers is progressively being seen as empty rhetoric [ASPB/Quango staff from the major Welsh public bodies were merged with the Assembly in April 2006].

Staff and the PCS Union are currently concerned that these issues are having very serious consequences for morale in the Assembly workplace, and will considerably undermine the continuing efforts to integrate Assembly and former ASPB staff.

[Source: PCS]

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