Saturday, 12 December 2009

No administrators were culled during Welsh NHS restructuring

A storm erupted last night after it emerged that not a single administrator’s job was lost when the NHS in Wales was reorganised in October.

Although the number of Local Health Boards shrank from 22 to seven and dozens of highly-paid top management posts disappeared, no-one has been invited to apply for voluntary redundancy
or otherwise been forced to take it.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Andrew RT Davies said:

We were promised NHS restructuring would deflate Labour’s bloated health service bureaucracy and refocus delivery on to frontline patient care.

People pay tax and National Insurance to receive first-class healthcare, not to bankroll administrators and bureaucrats.

David Rosser, director of CBI Wales, said:
This is a situation that a lot of people in the private sector and a lot of taxpayers will be angry about.

Nobody likes to make people redundant, but sadly there are times when efficiency savings have to be made.

It is inconceivable that a reorganisation along these lines could take place in the private sector without a reduction in head count.

This does not augur well for the savings the Assembly Government will need to make in the coming years.

The Assembly Government said:
We expect to see a reduction in management costs over time but this was never the primary purpose of the reform programme. The main savings of the reforms will result from reducing the transactional costs associated with the internal market.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Plaid-led Assembly Commission?

I would've thought that one Assembly Member of sixty, defecting from one political party to another would be newsworthy from a collective, objective, and transparent National Assembly for Wales. Obviously not!

And Then There Were Thirteen: Plaid AM defects to Conservatives

Plaid Cymru AM Mohammad Asghar has crossed the floor to join the Conservatives in the Welsh assembly.

Mr Asghar, the assembly's only ethnic minority AM, said he felt "out of tune" with Plaid policies, in particular its desire for an independent Wales.

Plaid Cymru said his decision was a "shock" and called for him to be "honourable" and resign his seat.

It is the first time an AM has left one party to join another, although others have sat as independents after resigning or being expelled from their own parties.

Mr Asghar was elected as a regional AM for South Wales East in 2007.
Joined by the Conservative group at a news conference, he said he had "felt out of tune with the views and policies of Plaid Cymru" and "believed in the royal family and one United Kingdom".

"My politics are very much in line with wanting a stronger Wales within a successful United Kingdom," he said.

"I believe that the Welsh Conservative Party in the national assembly, led by Nick Bourne, reflects my beliefs.

"I am also attracted by the caring Conservatism and policies for change put forward by David Cameron and the Conservative Party at Westminster.

"I very much look forward to playing an important role in the shadow team in the national assembly and to helping to shape the policies for the Assembly elections in 2011," said Mr Asghar.

Asked why he had stood for Plaid Cymru when he was opposed to independence for Wales, he said his voice had been that of "a little parrot in a jungle", with little chance of changing Plaid's stance on the issue.

Mr Asghar was originally seen as a political tool by Plaid Cymru:
"We were very proud of the fact that in campaigning hard for Mohammad Asghar's election in 2007 that Plaid Cymru ensured the first ever assembly member from the black minority ethnic community."

... Now there appears to be sour grapes:
"It is has come as a shock that he has now decided that he shares the same values as those held by the Conservative and Unionist party." Plaid Cymru assembly group chair Dai Lloyd said it would be wrong for Mr Asghar to remain in the assembly as a Conservative. "We now call on Mohammad Asghar to take the honourable decision to resign his seat as a Plaid Cymru AM," Mr Lloyd said. "The people of the South Wales (East) region did not want a second Tory AM to represent the area - they elected a Plaid Cymru AM. "Mr Asghar does not have the political mandate to sit in the assembly as a Conservative member..."

Hat-tip to the Welsh Conservatives and Mr Asghar for pulling that one out of the hat, and on the day that Rhodri Morgan tenders his resignation as First Minister.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Thought of the Moment... Carwynista

A Changing Wales, and at a Faster Pace?

Not only is Wikipedia showing that Welsh Labour leader and First Minister designate Carwyn Jones is a Rt Hon, and before even becoming First Minister, but I also discover that the Welsh media is abundant with absent script, short sentenced 'new' Welsh speaking AMs who have taken the opportunity to step out into the sunshine for the first time since Autumn has ended and Winter has begun.

Please form an orderly queue before a warm Winter chat and confirmation on the FM's balcony.

Looking back, what surprises me? A large and more than generous donation to the campaign. How desperate can one person be? Surprise? On second thought, no!

Blast from the Past: Wigley on Morgan

Slow-retiring First Minister Rhodri Morgan made two big mistakes during his near decade in office, according to former Plaid Cymru president Dafydd Wigley.

In an article written for Ninnau, the North American Welsh newspaper that is largely complimentary about Mr Morgan, Mr Wigley singles out the scrapping of the Welsh Development Agency (WDA) and the first NHS reorganisation as serious errors.

Mr Wigley stated:

To my mind, one of the decisions taken by Rhodri Morgan back in 2004 undermined
the process of securing economic renewal. He decided, with support from all four
parties in the National Assembly, to axe the WDA. This body, at arm’s length from government, had been leading the work to secure economic development.

Since 1975, wrote Mr Wigley, the WDA had gained for itself a very significant international reputation and a brand image that was helpful for Wales.
Many of us feel that it was a disastrous decision to abolish the WDA and to integrate its work into the civil service of the National Assembly. There are no two ways about it: this decision was down to Rhodri Morgan himself. He had been highly critical of the WDA’s lack of answerability over a couple of decades. That decision, to my mind, was fundamentally flawed and Wales will continue to pay the price until some similar structure is recreated.

Writing about what he sees as the other major mistake during Mr Morgan’s period in office, Mr Wigley stated:

The other disastrous decision was to create 22 Local Health Boards in Wales, a bureaucratic nightmare in a country of only three million people.

It is good that the Labour-Plaid coalition government has recently seen the folly of that decision and has replaced those 22 boards with a slimmed-down seven region structure which came into force in October this year.

Writing about the challenges facing the new First Minister, Mr Wigley states:
The new First Minister will have his or her time cut out in living up to the popularity of Rhodri Morgan. There will be huge economic challenges arising from the recession. The Assembly, as with all UK public sector bodies, will face a financial squeeze.

There will be tensions if, as expected, the next UK Government at Westminster is Conservative, with a very different agenda to that of the Labour-Plaid coalition in Wales.

All this will inevitably lead to calls for an early referendum to give the Assembly full parliamentary powers.

We are entering a new era of uncharted waters.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Greatest Show on Earth*

The winner of the race to succeed Rhodri Morgan as leader of Labour in Wales and first minister in the Welsh assembly will be announced later.

The result will be announced at about 1730 GMT at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay.

Eligible to vote are Welsh Labour party members, affiliated groups such as trade unions, and its MPs, AMs and MEP.

The candidates are all AMs, with Carwyn Jones widely seen as the front runner, followed by Edwina Hart and Huw Lewis.

Whoever wins is due to be confirmed as first minister just over a week later.

The two-month election campaign began formally when Mr Morgan confirmed on 1 October that he was standing down, shortly after his 70th birthday.
Mr Morgan has held the top job in Wales since February 2000, and said it was the right time to go.

In Mr Morgan's current cabinet, Mr Jones is counsel general, or the assembly government's chief legal adviser, and leader of the house, who is in charge of getting government business through the assembly.

The vote is split equally three ways between:

• Party members
• Labour-affiliated trade unions and other organisations
• Elected AMs, MPs and the party's one MEP for Wales.

Members voted by ranking the candidates in order of preference on the ballot papers.
If one candidate has more than 50% of the vote after the first round of counting, the candidate with the lowest number of votes will be eliminated and their second preferences transferred to the remaining two to decide the winner.

* just watch Facebook profiles, groups, and blogs disappear overnight.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

A sign of things to come...

The friend or foe debate

The final Labour party debate between the three candidates hoping to succeed Rhodri Morgan as leader in Wales will take place in Cardiff later.

The winner, announced in December, will also become Welsh First Minister.

Health Minister Edwina Hart, Counsel General Carwyn Jones and and AM Huw Lewis will argue their case before party members at Cardiff County Hall.

The three candidates can also be seen going head-to-head on Dragon's Eye on BBC One Wales tonight.

Voting by Welsh Labour members, local parties, affiliated groups, MPs, AMs and its MEP ends on 26 November.

The victor is due to be declared at around 1600 GMT on Tuesday, 1 December.

But the winner will have to wait around a week after that before her or she is confirmed as head of the Welsh Assembly Government.

The Labour hustings meeting, following four previous events in Rhyl, Narberth, Newport and Swansea, is not open to the wider public or media.

A television audience will also be able to see them taking part in the BBC Wales debate in front of a public audience later on Thursday night. The programme was recorded on Wednesday.

Dragon's Eye Debates, chaired by Betsan Powys, is broadcast at 2245 BST on Thursday BBC One Wales.

Glasgow North East by-election

The seat was vacated by former Commons Speaker Michael Martin, who resigned amid the Westminster expenses row.

Voters will go to the polls today to elect one of 13 candidates as an MP.

The parties have set a goal to knock on thousands of doors in the constituency, amid predictions turnout on polling day could be crucial to the final result.

Labour, which has been the main political force in the Glasgow North East area for 74 years, is defending a majority of some 10,000 votes from the 2005 General Election.

The party said the poll would be a "referendum on the treatment of Glasgow" by the SNP.
It said the Scottish government's budget for the coming year would see a cut in the city's housing budget, a low increase in the area's health board and a failure to build new schools in Glasgow.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, who was joined by candidate Willie Bain and actor Eddie Izzard on the campaign trail, said: "It is increasingly clear that the poll is now a referendum on the treatment of Glasgow. This issue has dominated the campaign because Glaswegians care passionately about the city."

Meanwhile, SNP candidate David Kerr insisted that, after 74 years of Labour taking the area for granted, it was time for change.

"Voters have seen the success of the last two years of SNP Government, and it's time to bring some of that success to Glasgow and to Westminster," said Mr Kerr.

He added: "Labour's campaign has been built on smears and scaremongering. They have nothing positive to say about their own record or ideas for this area."

The Liberal Democrats argue their policy of tax reforms is chiming with the voters who want action on the economy, while the Conservatives are hoping for a strong showing to boost their hopes of a UK election victory.

Tory candidate Ruth Davidson said: "The voters know that they face a stark choice - more of this tired and failing Labour government or hope and change from David Cameron's Conservatives. We want to get Glasgow working again."

Eileen Baxendale, the Liberal Democrat candidate, visited a car wash and valeting company in the constituency on the final day of polling.

Joined by Scottish party leader Tavish Scott, she said: "This is another example of a great, local, small business facing tough times as a direct result of Labour's recession - if people in Glasgow North East want to wash away years of neglect from the Labour party then they should vote for the Liberal Democrats."

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

EU [leaders] to decide top jobs next week

The EU will hold a special summit on 19 November to decide the new top jobs of EU president and foreign policy chief.

"The extra informal summit... will take the form of a working dinner in Brussels," a spokesman for the Swedish EU presidency said.

The appointments will be made by the leaders of the 27 member states, by a qualified majority vote.

Belgium's Prime Minister, Herman van Rompuy, has emerged as a frontrunner for the post of EU president.


  • Chosen by 27 member states by qualified majority vote
  • Two-and-a-half-year term
  • Can be re-elected once
  • Chairs EU summits
  • Drives forward the work of EU Council of Ministers
  • Facilitates cohesion and consensus
  • Represents the EU on the world stage

Oh, and the other important new post of High Representative for Foreign Affairs, of which two have already ruled themselves out. Whoever gets that job will also become vice president of the European Commission.

The Voice of Unemployed Reasoning

Unemployment in Wales has risen sharply in the three months between July and September, latest figures indicate.

The Welsh jobless total increased by 14,000, more than half the increase for the UK as a whole, to 125,000.

It was the second consecutive three month period when Wales lost more jobs than any other UK nation or region.

Over to the comforting bureaucratic soul of WAG:

The Welsh Assembly Government said the quarterly rise was "disappointing" but a spokesperson said it did not reflect the trend over the year.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Hutt hurts figures in Newport

A city council has been rapped over the knuckles by the Assembly Government – for supporting too many deprived children.

Newport Council has been told that instead of helping 1,607 children from poorer parts of the city, it must spend more per child but help only 1,122 of them.

Education Minister Jane Hutt has ordered the city council to spend £2,100 on each child in the scheme rather than following its current policy of reducing the sum to £1,600 so it can help more children.

Flying Start provides support for children aged up to three and includes part-time childcare, extra levels of involvement from health visitors, parenting programmes and help with basic skills.

Newport City Council deputy leader Ed Townsend said: “This is a pilot scheme funded until 2011 so far and one of the purposes of a pilot is to test the systems to make sure they work.

“In Newport, we are making the systems work very well indeed and we want to help as many families as possible.

“We do not want to cut families out of Flying Start just because civil servants want the numbers to look the same all over Wales. Flying Start is an excellent scheme, welcomed by health and childcare professionals.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Foreign Office to cut 100 vital jobs

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have been criticised for their proposal to cut the jobs of 100 British diplomats serving in some of the most sensitive parts of the world.

The FCO's plans will remove up to 134 UK civil servants serving as management officers in UK embassies around the globe and replace them with staff recruited locally. Management Officers are responsible for the oversight of embassy staffing, finances, property and security.

Localisation if staff is planned in approximately 50 countries, including Iran, Iraq, Russia, China and Nigeria, where the FCO plans to recruit staff to manage day-to-day running of UK embassies.

The current roles and duties include dealing with security risks and a threat of espionage and organised crime.

It appears that someone [Ministers] needs to be asking questions!

Sunday, 8 November 2009


Friday, 30 October 2009

Three leg race to replace a three legged duck

Perhaps there are simply three legs to any race, even if three's a crowd:

Leg 1: Speculation surrounding who will put themselves forward for leadership.

Leg 2: Hopefuls dropping out and rallying round their favourite.

Leg 3: One contender entering contest to draw support from one camp in order for another contender to sail through and win.

Don't look at me. You were also thinking it!

Is Labour winning over the people of Blaenau Gwent?

Blaenau Gwent awarded £35 million for learning

The Welsh Assembly Government has awarded Blaenau Gwent £35 million for new, 21st century learning, training and skills centres at The Works: Ebbw Vale.

The funding for the exciting Blaenau Gwent ‘Learning Works’ programme was announced by Education Minister Jane Hutt AM on Wednesday, 21 October 2009.

‘Learning Works’ includes proposals for:

  • new primary and secondary schools
  • a special school an integrated children’s centre
  • sports centre
  • performing arts centre and
  • an integrated ‘Learning Zone’ for 16 - 18 year olds.
Consultation on the proposals for the future of education starts in November 2009.

Coun Des Hillman, Leader of Blaenau Gwent Council, said:
This is great news. Our vision to transform education, learning, skills and training for children and young people in the Heads of the Valleys has the full support of the Welsh Assembly Government.

A first tranche of funding of £48 million for ‘Learning Works’ was approved in July 2009. This second tranche of £35 million is additional to this. It is also conditional on the consultations on the re-organisation of education in Blaenau Gwent.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

WAG is bad for business

Forty thousand businesses in Wales will be hit by higher rates next year, Welsh Conservatives have learned.

The Assembly Government's own figures suggest firms across the country will be hit with bigger bills from April, despite ministers claiming to help businesses during the recession.

Welsh Conservatives have also warned that a rise due to revaluation will come on top of a planned 1.5% rise in rates due to the Assembly Government's decision to phase in a 5% rise over three years.

Shadow Minister for the Economy David Melding AM described the Assembly Government's decision to lower the level at which business rates bills are calculated as "a smokescreen".

He repeated the party's call for the rates revaluation to be postponed until at least April 2011, and said ministers should consider Conservative plans to scrap or reduce the level of business rates for as many as 90,000 firms.

And he warned that the overall uncertainty about the impact of business rates next year was having a destabilising effect on the SME sector.

David Melding AM said:

By the Assembly Government's own admission 40,000 businesses will pay more in rates next year. Instead of helping small businesses during the recession Labour and Plaid Cymru ministers are making life more difficult for them.

The announcement to lower the level at which rates are calculated, while welcome, is nothing more than a smokescreen. If ministers really were on the side of Welsh businesses they would do everything in their power to postpone the rates revaluation planned for April and deliver a meaningful relief scheme to lift thousands out of rates altogether. They also need to end the uncertainty about the impact of revaluation and possible rates rise so businesses can plan for the future.

Businesses want real support from the Assembly Government at a time of economic difficult. I acknowledge and welcome the fact as many as 64,000 businesses could see a rates reduction next year. But for tens of thousands more their rates will rise.

For those businesses the increase will make life even harder as they struggle to cope with the impact of the recession. And for some it could determine whether or not they remain trading, lay off staff, or shut up shop altogether.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Hart attack: NHS 'spends £1bn of budget badly'

A billion pounds of the annual Welsh health budget is not being spent properly, according to finance chiefs. Full story here.

Welsh assembly members have been told that some patients are taking up beds needlessly, while others needed to be in hospital but were not.

Paul Davies, of the All Wales Directors of NHS, said a fifth of the £5bn annual health budget was not used correctly, with "extremely costly" mistakes.

The Welsh Assembly Government has been asked to comment.

Mr Davies told the assembly finance committee:
Far too many patients end up in the wrong place, either being hospitalised when they shouldn't be, or they stay in hospital too long, or they stay in primary care, and they should be in hospital.

All these mistakes .... [are] extremely costly, very expensive.

We believe there is at least 20% that we are not doing appropriately within the total budget, that if we did then we would see that improvement come through.

There's £1bn that we're not utilising appropriately.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

(One) Question Time

Repulsed by Nick Griffin and all he and his party stands for... However, what I saw tonight was not Question Time.

Has this programme ever been so dominated by one issue - knocking one panelist? We shouldn't feel bad as Mr Griffin put himself up for ridicule and richly deserved it. Besides, there had to be some time spent on his party's policies but this programme was clearly a set-up and as a democrat I am slightly shocked. I have always enjoyed and respected Question Time, but tonight, the programme descended into a shin-kicking match (though it was a sometimes [read mainly] pleasant kicking match). Unfortunately, there were no questions, but only one question.

Everyone quite rightly ganged up on Griffin, and Griffin himself didn't rise to the challenge and thankfully turned out to be a poor orator with little grasp of the facts.

Let's hope his performance has only impressed the few, and that misguided voters of the past steer clear of voting for the BNP in the future.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

You couldn't make it up: it burgers belief

A man has spoken of his relief after a charge of criminal damage to two beef burgers was dropped by magistrates.

Stephen Morgan, of Loughor, Swansea, was first arrested for robbery after complaining about the late arrival of two burgers with a pizza order.

His solicitor said Mr Morgan faced 20 hours of police questioning which led to a charge of criminal damage and later claims of breach of the peace.

Security worker Mr Morgan, said: "I'm just glad sanity has prevailed."

His solicitor branded the episode "a waste of public money" after a brief hearing in court.

Series of Events
  1. He ordered the beef burgers, worth £5, as part of a takeaway supper from a pizza outlet on 10 October.

  2. When the order, from Pepino's Pizza parlour in nearby Gorseinon, arrived without the burgers, Mr Morgan complained.

  3. He was told that the missing meal would be sent right over but when they failed to arrive he asked for a refund which he says the company agreed to.

  4. However, the burgers arrived shortly after but Mr Morgan, who had already eaten, immediately rejected them.

  5. Instead he insisted on £15 compensation for his trouble, which he was paid, and the burgers were discarded.

  6. A four-man police team arrived several hours later and arrested him for robbery. He was then led from his home in handcuffs.
His solicitor, David Singh, said the case, which he said "must have cost a couple of thousand pounds at least" should never have come to court.

He said: "He was arrested by four policeman at home and then spent 20 hours in custody being questioned and giving statements.

"There was a brief hearing last week when the case was reviewed and that was re-reviewed at the weekend by lawyers before the case against him was dropped.

"It started off with him being arrested for robbery, from robbery he was charged with criminal damage then they tried to allege a breach of the peace, now it's zero.

Mr Singh said the company's compensation policy of giving the food for free meant the burgers by that time belonged to his client.

Mr Morgan said: "I have just started a security business training dogs for the police and the army out in Afghanistan.

"I have had a lot of backing and government contracts and if I had got a criminal record I would have lost my licence to operate.

"It's just a relief it is all over."

Nobody from Pepino's Pizza was available for comment.

But a spokesman for the company had previously told the South Wales Evening Post that customers who got the wrong food got their money back, and free food.

"We have a good reputation. Out of 2,000 people who eat here, 1,999 are happy," he added.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Rhodri Morgan's legacy: The failure of a government department

While we hear news that the number of unemployed people in Wales has gone up by 24,000 - the largest rise of any part of the UK [There are now 130,000 jobless in Wales. The unemployment rate is 9.1%] and the only regions with a worse figure are the North-East of England and the West Midlands, the Welsh Assembly Government's business promotion arm is showing muscle fatigue of the worst kind.

International Business Wales (part of the Welsh Assembly Government) has been targeting the wrong companies in the wrong marketplace and must be overhauled, Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones said yesterday.

Two major reports yesterday dealt a blow to IBW’s reputation as a champion of Welsh business overseas.

A study by independent inward investment expert Glenn Massey highlighted areas where it was delivering poor value for money and warned:

  1. The IBW brand is not strong or well recognised.
  2. Clearly, the performance of IBW and its predecessor over the past 10 years has at best been mixed.
  3. Wales has spent more than £3m a year on overseas offices but out of the 12 UK regions came last in the rankings for safeguarding jobs.
  4. In 2008-09, the number of new jobs created by foreign direct investment was the lowest ever recorded for Wales.
The report also reveals that the member of staff stationed in IBW’s Munich office cannot speak German.

A major concern it highlights is that IBW has no responsibility to encourage the 500-plus foreign-owned companies in Wales to reinvest in the nation.

Conservative Shadow Minister for the Economy David Melding AM said:
The report into the effectiveness of IBW is disturbing and raises serious questions about whether the organisation is delivering value for money. The Assembly Government needs to review its programmes regularly and not only in response to a crisis as it did in this case over expenses. It is clear we have underperformed on inward investment compared to other parts of the UK. We were once the market leader.

How many of the Assembly Government’s programmes are underperforming badly?
That is the question ministers must now answer.

Government civil servants pile on the expenses

While MPs are experiencing a further grilling over expenses, we find ourselves revisiting a former blog post regarding another development over an old WAG civil servant expenses scandal.

An investigation by expert auditors KPMG found 11% of expenses – totalling more than £290,000 – by staff at International Business Wales staff may have been in breach of policy.

The experts uncovered unusual expenses at the body, which promotes Wales as a destination for businesses.

They included:

  • the purchase of a first class flight (£6,125.63);
  • a monthly mobile phone bill of £1,946.83;
  • the electricity bill for a residential address (£345.22);
  • AA membership (£203.54);
  • furniture items including vases, candles and towels (£380.06);
  • an item of “personal care” (£45.30).
  • This is in addition to £150 spent on football kits and £553.87 paid for children’s textbooks in the 12 months to March.
  • A further £3,394.44 was spent on overseas hospitality for a Wales vs South Africa rugby match.
The follow-up investigation into the 781 transactions where there may have been breaches of policy will report by Christmas.

It is not expected that the police will be called in, but disciplinary action is likely and staff may be asked to repay expenditure.

The expenses revelations came on the same day that a major report by independent inward investment expert Glenn Massey strongly criticised the performance of IBW and its forerunner, the Welsh Development Agency, describing its record as “at best mixed”.

Permanent Secretary Dame Gillian Morgan said the Assembly Government would work “urgently” to address the issues raised in the report.

She also acknowledged the expenses investigation had an impact on staff morale.

The KPMG investigation team were not able to decide whether a further 817 transactions – worth more than £280,000 – were within the rules, due to vague policy or a lack of documentation.

The Permanent Secretary pledged to address ambiguities in expenses policies. Dame Gillian said the international wing of the Assembly Government was the area where the opportunity for misuse of expenses was highest.
It’s our highest risk area because people are travelling overseas, they work independently, and therefore if you were going to have things going wrong it’s
the sort of part of the organisation you would expect to have the biggest issues.
In short, not only was Rhodri Morgan lied to, but it appears that Gillian Morgan is knee-deep in a public money expenses scandal brought on by unscrupulous civil servants. Her quote "Arguing that it did not point to chronic failure in the organisation...This is not a sick part of the system. There is some stuff that needs doing and there are some further questions to be asked but it was not a report that made me have all the flesh falling off my bones and whatever." is a perfect example of someone not willing to face facts.

But Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said fears about the expense claims of IBW staff were well-founded.
In July we asked whether the huge amount of money being spent on expensive flights, top-class hotels and fine-dining was delivering a return for Welsh taxpayers,” she said.

The performance report confirms IBW’s failure to deliver adequate investment but the separate expenses report makes for astounding reading.

This report on the expenses of civil servants in IBW has proved our fears that there was a runaway culture of spending in the IBW, which Government was failing to monitor.

What we found most worrying about the expenses review is the amount of claims that have been made by IBW civil servants that are not part of the work that they do in promoting Wales as a destination for business.

The report shows that Government failed to implement effective policies, that policies on expenditure were not followed and that around 800 claims can still not be accounted for.

Together, the reports amount to a damning indictment of [Minister for Economy and Transport Ieuan Wyn Jones’] oversight of IBW.

We’re left wondering why this was allowed to happen for so long and what would have happened had we not raised our concerns earlier this year.

Two reports were commissioned into the assembly government-run International Business Wales (IBW) after a row over staff expenses which has led to further revelations.

Another AM understandably retires at next election

Karen Sinclair AM, a former cabinet minister in the Welsh Assembly Government is to stand down at the next elections in 2011. She has served as Labour AM for Clwyd South for 10 years, and told her constituency party on Tuesday she would not be seeking re-election.

Last year, Ms Sinclair was diagnosed with the bone marrow cancer myeloma and has been undergoing treatment.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan said Ms Sinclair had always "put others first and not herself".
Ms Sinclair served as business manager in the cabinet between 2003 and 2005, and was chief whip.

She said it had been a "great honour" to represent the constituency, adding: "The recovery from my recent illness is going very well, but I felt the time was now right to announce I will step down and tell my local party I will not seek re-election in 2011.

Miss Wagstaff wishes you well in retirement.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Quote of the Week

Expenses probe will cost £129,000

A review, by auditors KPMG, followed revelations in July that officials flew first class and charged nearly £750,000 to corporate credit cards in a year.

Mr Bourne said he was "astonished" Mr Morgan was spending a "six figure sum" to "review spending in one of his own government departments".

This is typical of the assembly government - mounting an expensive investigation into why one of its own departments is spending so much.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Sights you don't see in the Senedd

Part 9:

A thorough debate, apparently!

"The contributions so far have been passionate, forceful from all sides."

"We're rarely treated to such cogent, purposeful, flowing debate here [Assembly]? Is it the arena, the issue they're debating, or those debating it?"

You have to admire Betsan. Remind me to order that drink for her next time.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Remembering Jane

A blast from the past while I read my emails. It's good to return from a family holiday, having survived.

Thanks for the photo, Mr Anonymous.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Silly season comes home to leadership battle that hasn't begun

It's what Rhodri Morgan would want and hope for, but only gives journalists something to print during quieter times. Jane Hutt seemingly lays out her stall, however, pundits know that she's nothing to sell, no cash in the till, and not as personable as other stall owners.

EDUCATION Minister Jane Hutt has laid out a vision of how Labour in Wales can fight inequality and win the trust of the electorate ahead of Westminster and Assembly elections.

In a move that will be widely interpreted as setting out her leadership ambitions, the Vale of Glamorgan AM has given a rare interview highlighting the pressing need to narrow the gap between the nation’s haves and have-nots.

Despite remaining tight-lipped about her intentions (good of the Western Mail to prise it out of her most inner thoughts), Ms Hutt is increasingly seen as a contender to succeed Rhodri Morgan as First Minister if, as expected, he announces his retirement in the autumn.

Expenses revisited: An eye for an eye

Assembly insiders are all the rage these days...The chairman of a panel that recommended big cuts in AM allowances ran up expenses of nearly £80,000 while chairing the Welsh Development Agency.

Sir Roger Jones chaired the WDA, whose role was to create jobs by attracting inward investment, from January 2002 until it was merged with the Assembly Government at the end of March 2006.

Details of Sir Roger’s expenses while he was at the WDA show that his claims totalled £78,800 during his time chairing the board.

More than £30,000 was spent on overseas air and rail travel, more than £14,000 on hotel accommodation, more than £11,000 on hospitality both in the UK and overseas, and £6,000 on taxi fares.

An Assembly insider said: “This is extremely embarrassing for Sir Roger and comes just days after it was revealed he claimed thousands of pounds in pay and expenses while undertaking a review on the same subject.

“Sir Roger has spent tens of thousands of pounds since 2001 on hospitality, travel and subsistence while chair of the WDA, you have to question whether this was money well spent. The annual figures from the WDA accounts show that in several years he was claiming a bigger annual salary than an AM, for what was a part-time role.

“His previous comments on AMs behaving like children in a sweet shop seem particularly hypocritical now.”

Some AMs [mainly Labour] are unhappy, if that's the most polite of descriptions, and you don't need to hang around Cardiff Bay's No. 1 restaurant to find that one out. Whether you agree or not, one commenter seems to give us food for thought.

Yes, this does seem a great deal of money, but what we must remember is that this amount covers a four year period. So please don't throw out the baby with the bath water use some common sense. Think of his job, and the amount it cost each year, then make your decision on whether he is overpaid or not.

Monday, 17 August 2009

You can't teach an old dog new tricks

Quote of the Week: Labour's All-women shortlist in the Vale of Glamorgan.

A female member of the Vale of Glamorgan Labour party wrote to the South Wales Echo saying:

“I know there is a silent majority of local Labour members who would oppose the imposition of a women-only shortlist for the selection of our candidate to replace John Smith. It is what I can only describe as bullying tactics from the National Executive which forced the local party to succumb to this policy.

“The polls indicate that the fight to return a Labour MP for the Vale of Glamorgan will be extremely difficult. Our chances of success would have been greater if we had the option of selecting a candidate from all our membership and not just from female members. Our candidate should be the best person, not just the best woman or best man.”

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Has the swine flu vaccination been adequately tested, or are we the guinea pigs?

A swine flu vaccination campaign will be launched in the autumn, but only certain at risk groups, including pregnant women, will be given the jab.

Those with underlying health conditions up to the age of 65 have been identified as the first priority in the UK followed by pregnant women.

Health and social care workers will also get the jab, meaning about 14m people will be immunised by December.

The government has yet to decide whether everyone should be given it.
There are contracts in place for 132m doses of the jab - enough for the whole population as people will require two shots.

One question. Speaking as a pregnant woman, is there any chance that the vaccine will be fully tested by this date? Only a thought!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Sights you don't see in the Senedd

Part 8:

A breakdown in communication between civil servants and the First Minister (on second thought..,)

"Because I holiday in my caravan in west Wales, I don't delegate authority to anyone else as I'm available to make any emergency decision as and when required." First Minister Rhodri Morgan

Friday, 7 August 2009

"Targeted for telling the truth"

A blogger who was targeted in a co-ordinated attack against websites such as Facebook and Twitter has told the BBC he blames Russia for the assault.

The pro-Georgian blogger, known as Cyxymu, said he had been targeted for "telling the truth about the Russian-Georgian war" in his writings.

The attack caused a blackout of Twitter for about two hours on Thursday.
Despite the blogger's claims, security researchers say there is "no suggestion the attack was state-endorsed".

Google, Facebook and blogging platform Live Journal - all sites where Cyxymu had accounts - were also affected.

"I write the truth about the Russian-Georgian war and somebody did not like these truths - these people in Russia," the blogger told BBC News. "I don't know which people," he added.

The blogger, real name Georgy, has posted videos and blogs which criticise Russia over its conduct in the war over the South Ossetia region, which began one year ago.

"It's a big surprise to me that my blog has meant that 250m people have not been able to enter Facebook," he said.

Did anyone notice?

His Lordship has been attempting to deflect attention away from the negative press on withdrawing the Assembly's first landmark decision on the Welsh language, by regurgitating his annual attempt at dissing the Conservative party when it comes to devolution.

Did anyone notice his constitutional mistake? Answers on a postcard, or simply in the comments section.

Meanwhile a Labour-Plaid Cymru led national discussion - A last public question time session on more possible powers for the Welsh assembly will be held later at the National Eisteddfod in Bala, Gwynedd.

The meeting will be the final public event held by the All Wales Convention to gauge views on whether there is an appetite for more powers.

The session follows 23 events across Wales attended by almost 2,000 people since they began a year ago.

A report on the consultation process will be presented to ministers.
We can't wait for the 'report'.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

When Sugar doesn't taste so sweet

Tim Montgomerie posts on a sour Sugar:

Alan Sugar is a prat. He's a dipstick. He's a wally. (As well as not having an enormous intellect).

Roger Alton, Matthew d’Ancona, Liz Anderson, Martin Bright, Jeremy Clarke, Nick Cohen, Nicholas Coleridge, Lloyd Evans, James Forsyth, Julia Hobsbawm, Rachel Johnson, Dylan Jones, Mary Killen, India Knight, Rod Liddle, John Micklethwait, Fraser Nelson, Matthew Parris, Stephen Pollard, Hugo Rifkind, Andrew Roberts, Alan Rusbridger, Sebastian Shakespeare, Paul Staines, Sarah Standing, Mary Wakefield and Toby Young have written this letter to The Spectator in protest at Lord Sugar's threat to sue The Daily Mail's Quentin Letts for calling him a ‘telly peer’ who ‘doesn’t seem to have an enormous intellect’.

One of the letter's signatories, Matthew Parris, has gone further still in today's Times:

"This is outrageous. What a prat. What a dipstick. What a wally. Alan Sugar is threatening to sue my former fellow-sketchwriter, Quentin Letts. A letter to The
Spectator this week, to which I have just added my name, protests that the libel
lawyers Herbert Smith have written to Mr Letts complaining that on LBC radio he
called their client a telly peer who doesn’t seem to have an enormous intellect; and that a writ will follow unless he pays Lord Sugar’s legal costs to date, donates an undisclosed sum to charity and gives a written undertaking never to criticise their client again. Find me a bucket, I feel sick. This from a delicate flower who has made his media career verbally humiliating people."

Matthew Parris at his best. Read his full column here.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Beginning of the end to freebie Welsh policies?

Could this be the end of freebie policies as popularised by the Welsh Assembly Government?

Free bus travel for all pensioners in Wales should be scrapped because of the cost, an advisory group has urged.

The independent ministerial advisory group on transport wants the assembly government to begin an urgent review, arguing it is becoming unaffordable.

Instead, the group suggests a more targeted approach for certain areas or social groups to save £25m a year.

But ministers say there are "no plans whatsoever" to scrap the scheme and they wanted to reassure the public.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Appealing to the masses

Just as one leader is about to make himself more appealing with the aid of voluntary work, another aims to make an appeal to the masses via a more direct appeal straight to the heart of party sympathisers (and mainly Welsh speaking).

N.B. No Labour AM has formally declared they intend to stand for the party's leadership. But Carwyn Jones, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney AM Huw Lewis and Gower AM and Health Minister Edwina Hart are all thought to be preparing campaigns.

Stay tuned but don't hold your breath over Summer.

Bonus* Bonanza Balls up

Just when politicians are having to bite the bullet over expenses, it seems that the tide has not turned in other parts of the Assembly. It appears that others are slow to catch on when it comes to the general mood of the public.

The Welsh assembly official overseeing substantial cuts in AMs' expenses received at least £15,000 extra pay in the last year, it has emerged.

Chief executive Claire Clancy's salary rose from a salary range of up to £125,000 to at least £140,000.

The assembly said it reflected a bonus from a previous year and, as Ms Clancy and the directors had given up their bonuses, her pay would fall next year.

The pay of another senior official also rose by at least £15,000 in 2008-09.

Assembly members agreed last month to make substantial cuts in their expenses, including scrapping interest payments on mortgages for second homes and linking their salaries to changes in average earnings.

According to the assembly's annual report, in the last financial year Ms Clancy's salary was between £140,000 and £145,000, compared to £120,000 to £125,000 in 2007-08.

An assembly spokesman said the higher figure included a deferred final bonus payment from the previous year, under different rules.

The spokesman said:

Because the bonuses have now stopped, the figures published in the accounts for the current financial year (2009/10) will show...the chief executive's actual income dropping during 2009-10 compared to 2008-09, from the salary range £140,000-145,000 to £135,000-140,000.
The report says the second highest-ranking official, chief operating officer Dianne Bevan, enjoyed a salary rise of between £5,000 and £15,000.

She was paid within a scale of £115,000 to £120,000 in 2008-09 compared to £105,000 to £110,000 in the previous year.

Her salary next year is likely to stay the same under the new rules.

* not technically a bonus, but a welcome 'bonus' all the same.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Go East for Val-halla

Not the major step-down that I was expecting before recess, however, the Assembly Member for Swansea East has announced she will not contest her seat in the 2011 Welsh Assembly election.

Labour's Val Lloyd told her constituency party of her decision to stand down after what will have been 10 years in the job.

She said she will continue to "give of my all" to her constituents for the next two years.

The First Minister said she helped bring in the smoking ban in Wales.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Alliance vs The Welsh Assembly Government

Friends of the Earth may be happy with the recent update to Welsh Assembly Government transport policy, and business leaders angry at the recent announcement - worried about the economic impact of a decision to scrap the proposed M4 relief road. Meanwhile Ieuan Wyn Jones will enjoy the break of recess as he tries to juggle the two balls of his brief.

In another part of town, an alliance of Welsh organisations had already called on the Assembly Government to perform a U-turn on transport policy.

  1. BayTrans
  2. Bevan Foundation
  3. British Heart Foundation Cymru
  4. BMA Cymru
  5. Bus Users UK Cymru
  6. Campaign for National Parks
  7. Confederation of Passenger Transport Cymru (CPT)
  8. CTC Cymru
  9. Energy Saving Trust
  10. Passenger Focus
  11. Physical Activity Network for Wales
  12. Railfuture Wales
  13. Severn Tunnel Action Group
  14. Snowdonia Society
  15. Sustrans Cymru
  16. Traveline Cymru
  17. Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA)
  18. WWF Cymru
  19. YHA Cymru
The long-awaited National Transport Plan is put out to consultation and an unprecedented coalition has come together to call for a shift away from road building to fund a bold package of measures to help tackle climate change.

For the first time public transport operators have joined passenger watchdogs, health groups and NGOs to press for greater priority to be given to a range of initiatives that promote green transport.

Lee Waters, Chair of Sustainable Transport Cymru:
We’re fed up of strategies promising greener transport when half the transport budget is tied up in road schemes. From past experience we know this will result in more people driving further and faster.

If we are serious about tackling climate change and creating a healthier Wales, we urgently need a bold shift in transport policy. Projects which cut car use should be given priority.

The Sustainable Transport Cymru coalition has agreed a list of measures which command widespread support to cut car use and reduce carbon emissions:
  • Measures to promote integrated transport, for example, multi-modal ticketing, bus / rail interchanges, Smart Cards and secure cycle parking.

  • A range of ‘Smarter Choices’ measures. For example, Travel planning, Car Clubs, Car sharing, Bus Real Time information systems, Park & Ride, showers and lockers in workplaces.

  • Traffic calming and speed restraint in residential areas to encourage walking and cycling

  • An extensive network of shared paths for walking and cycling (segregated from traffic)

  • Congestion charging allied with extra investment in public transport

  • Parking control (including low parking standards for new developments, charging, use of workplace parking levies, re-development of parking space for more productive uses);

  • An extension of safe routes to schools (for example, by using traffic-calming measures near schools and by creating or improving walking and cycle routes to schools).

  • Reallocation of road space towards sustainable modes of transport

  • An integrated marketing strategy to target information on those who are susceptible to change the way they travel;

  • Demand responsive services, including community transport, to tackle social exclusion in rural areas and other areas of transport poverty.

  • A wide reaching awareness raising campaign educating the public in the techniques involved in more efficient driving, for journeys where sustainable modes of transport are not an option.

These measures to reduce car dependency should be funded by a shift away from road building.

Sustainable Transport Cymru is an alliance of Welsh organisations from the private, public and voluntary sectors. They support efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of travelling and to create an environment where people have access to essential local services without the need to use a car.

Stage Management: exit stage left (from London)

Today, the Welsh Government (that will sour some faces in certain parts of Wales) comes to Wales.

Gordon Brown and his ministers are heading to Cardiff for the first meeting of a UK government cabinet in Wales, which has been likened to stage management by opposition parties. At the very least they've demonstrated to the Welsh Assembly Government how to make a big policy announcement.
Revolving Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said:
The Wales of the 21st Century has hi-tech industry, world class centres of innovation and a diverse talented workforce that is split almost 50-50 men and women.

Today will be a fantastic opportunity to showcase what Wales has to offer to the rest of the UK and the world.

This is the first time that the cabinet has met in Wales. I am sure that my colleagues will leave Wales today eager to spread the word about what a dynamic and innovative place Wales is.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan said:
The prime minister has barely visited Wales since he took office - and since Conservatives beat Labour in Wales at last month's European elections we're surprised he wants to come at all.

This is a shallow attempt to pretend that Wales matters to him. If Gordon Brown thinks (the) visit will persuade people to forget that Labour is to blame for the difficulties facing Wales today then he will be very disappointed.
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams described the event as stage managed and said: would not replace real engagement with Welsh communities and meaningful reform of our damaged democracy.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Rhodri Morgan Appreciation Society revisited

From time to time I keep my eye on Rhodri's fans on Facebook. You may remember my report back in August 2008:

Back in September 2007 a Facebooker set-up the group 'Rhodri Morgan Appreciation Society'. The group had 20 members when the above snapshot was taken in January 2008.

"This group is for people who think that Rhodri Morgan has been a great leader of the Welsh Labour Party and a Brilliant First Minister of Wales. Rhodri Morgan has lead Wales a progressive direction over his years as First Minister. With good socialist policies like free prescriptions, or his support for the Welsh Language, Rhodri Morgan has done a lot to improve Wales, and help the worst off in Wales."

Still at 20 members at today's date, it seems that not many Facebookers agree with the above statement. Glad to see that Alun Davies AM and Joyce Watson AM are members. Are the other Labour AMs trying to tell us something?

On the plus side for our great leader, only 4 Facebookers belong to Rhodri's other group, 'Is it just just me or does Rhodri Morgan need a new suit?'

"A group totally dedicated to the fact old Rhodri has looked shabby in his
suit for years. Surely its high time the old man of welsh politics bought a new

In Rhodri's final (depending on expected and unexpected circumstances) year, the membership has risen to 32, and 6 respectively. Makes you wonder why more Labour AM Facebookers haven't joined up with the growing number of fans.

Who'll be the first to set up the Carwyn Jones or Huw Lewis Appreciation Society?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Edwina Hart giving an interview (tick). Edwina Hart for First Minister (?)

Those of you that were watching BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye politics programme this evening experienced a rare treat - Edwina Hart, Assembly Member for Gower, and Minister for Health in Rhodri Morgan's Labour-led One Wales Government, giving an interview.

Edwina is a politician that likes, you could even say loves, getting stuck into any portfolio she's given, and with mixed success. It's hardly a Wales-wide secret that she loathes giving interviews. You could even say that she avoids them like the plague, or even an awkward announcement on health policy in South Wales. Sadly, she doesn't even prefer standing at the 'ministerial bench', and prefers to sit and read aloud notes during a plenary session.

Could it be that she's actually seriously considering standing for the Labour leadership?

Is Edwina pondering?

That time of year - Top 10 Political Blogs

Email your ten favourite blogs (ranked from 1-10) to

It's that time of year again, when Total Politics asks you to vote for your Top 10 favourite blogs. The votes will be compiled and included in the forthcoming book, the Total Politics Guide to Blogging 2009-10, which will be published in September. This year the poll is being promoted/sponsored by LabourList and LibDemVoice as well as this blog.
The rules are simple.

1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).

2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.

3. You MUST include ten blogs. If you include fewer than ten your vote will not count.

4. Email your vote to

5. Only vote once.

6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents are eligible or based on UK politics are eligible.

7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name

8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2009. Any votes received after that date will not count.

If you have your own blog, please do encourage your readers to take part. Last year, more than 80 blogs did so. We hope this year it will be far more than that. BUT, DO NOT list ten blogs you think your readers should vote for. Any duplicate voting of this nature will be disallowed. If you do not wish for your blog to be voted for please email Here's the code to add to your blog sidebar or blogpost to feature the grahic above with an automatic clickthru to the instruction page...

The results of the poll will be published in the forthcoming book the TOTAL POLITICS GUIDE TO POLITICAL BLOGGING IN THE UK which will be published in mid September in association with APCO Worldwide.
So, go to it. Email your Top Ten Favourite Blogs

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Civil servants 'lie' to Rhodri Morgan in expenses row

Following on from three earlier posts on developments in the civil service expenses scandal - It gets worse - Wales' First Minister, who also happens to be Minister responsible for staffing and civil service matters - has apologised after it emerged civil servants had taken first class flights despite his denial that this had ever taken place.

Rhodri Morgan had said the Liberal Democrat claim civil servants led "first class" and "jet set" lifestyles was "repugnant" and an "outright lie".

Mr Morgan was defending civil servants who promote Welsh business abroad after details of their spending emerged.

On Monday, the Liberal Democrats, whose Freedom of Information request uncovered the figures, had accused the staff of International Business Wales (IBW) of enjoying lavish living at taxpayers' expense.

Ms Williams said: "Whilst we're in the middle of a recession it's disgusting to know that public officials are flying first class, staying in the most expensive hotels, eating in the best restaurants - all at the swipe of the Welsh credit card."

In an angry response the following morning, Mr Morgan told reporters: "I do find it repugnant that an allegation has been made that civil servants are using first class travel.
Mr Morgan went on to call the allegation "an outright lie".

But on Wednesday he wrote to Kirsty Williams saying he apologised for misleading her and the wider public.

He wrote:
...I stated on the clear and explicit advice from the relevant senior officials that no officials from IBW had flown first class. Today I have learned this is not the case.... I apologise for having misled you and the wider public. I need hardly say how disturbed I am by the latest information now to hand... I am instructing the permanent secretary to undertake an immediate and thorough investigation and audit of the IBW's expenditure and audit systems... This review will be led from outside the assembly government.
First class fib
He was speaking after evidence emerged that at least two IBW employees from the New York office took first class internal flights in the United States.

Leaked travel documents show Geraint Jones, head of the New York office, flew first class on Virgin America from New York to Los Angeles and back in February 2009.

An IBW corporate credit card was debited £1,302.99 four days before he departed.
The same card was debited £1,475.92 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Los Angeles a couple of days later.

In November 2008, Christopher Williams, IBW's Vice President for ICT took three first class internal flights with Virgin America.

It is understood assembly government officials in Cardiff sought a written guarantee from IBW on Tuesday morning that no first class flights had ever been booked, before Mr Morgan launched his attack on the Liberal Democrats on camera.
'Strong and personal'

Ms Williams had been furious about the First Minister's attack on her, which she said was "strong and personal".

Kirsty Williams and others welcome the investigation.
Whatever next? This man placed in charge of the review?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Finally, in Wales... thanks again to a Freedom of Information request

As if by strange coincidence the expenses system for Welsh civil servants is to be reviewed to ensure it provides value for money. What good timing after a recent freedom of information request that uncovered their credit card spending.

The assembly government's top civil servant will lead the examination.

A spokesperson for Permanent Secretary Dame Gillian Morgan said the expenses of politicians and civil servants were "clearly a matter of public interest".

It was earlier revealed officials promoting Welsh business abroad claimed £750,000 on 35 corporate credit cards over the last year.

Dame Gillian's spokesperson added: "Any claim incurred on behalf of the assembly government must comply with strict authorisation and audit requirements.

"The First Minister and Deputy First Minister have discussed this matter and have asked the permanent secretary to examine the expenses system for civil servants working for the Welsh assembly government to ensure its appropriateness and to ensure transparency and continued value for money."

The quarterly expenses of the permanent secretary and director generals [what about the other hundred odd senior civil servants?] will be published soon and then be published regularly.

An independent panel has already proposed drastic reductions in the expenses Welsh assembly members can claim.

This blog has been concerned about the spending of civil servants for some time:

Come in card number XXX [take your pick], your time is up

The civil service spending scandal contd.

As this news resulted from a Liberal Democrat freedom of information request, Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats had lot to say on the matter (slowing down a little, Western Mail - move your ar*e):

I am extremely concerned by the information I have seen. Every taxpayer in Wales deserves an explanation from the Labour-Plaid Government. While we’re in the middle of a recession, it’s disgusting to know that public officials are flying first class, staying in the most expensive hotels, eating in the best restaurants – all at the swipe of the Welsh credit card.

Of course we should sell Wales overseas, of course that costs money, but these figures suggest a runaway culture of credit card spending.

Ms Williams added:

One credit card holder spent nearly £70,000 in a year on air travel alone. Welsh taxpayers have paid the very luxurious Oberoi Hotel group in India £6,590 this year alone. Staff at the New York office spent £3,537.79 at Macy’s department store and £6,036 at Ikea. The Sydney office spent £5,722 on taxis.

At the same time we can see somebody claiming for 89p spent at McDonald’s in Swansea, and claims for coffees at Starbucks cafes all over the world. Every Welsh taxpayer deserves to see this document, just as they should see politicians’ expenses. It’s a lack of transparency that leads to the sorts of activity these worldwide credit card bills reveal.

Ms Williams called on the Assembly Government to explain why taxpayers’ money was being spent in this way.

The Minister for Economy and Transport has some serious questions to answer: What, if any, procedures are in place to monitor and police spending? What kind of guidance allows civil servants to take first class flights and live this superstar lifestyle? How can we be sure that all of this activity directly generates investment into Wales? Quite frankly, what on earth is going on and what will be done about this?

The spending details revealed included:

“Card Holder 181” (Hong Kong) spent nearly £22,000 in 12 months on luxurious hotels all around the word including cities like Tokyo, Sydney, Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and Cardiff, staying in hotels like the Hilton, the Oberoi, Westin, Grand Hyatt and the Ritz Carlton. The card holder also spent nearly £70,000 in 12 months on flights.

“Card Holder 708” (New York) spent £9,071.13 in various stores including Ikea, The Land of Nod (children’s bedroom furniture), Macy’s and West Elm (affordable modern furniture). They
are all soft furnishing stores. Card holders at the New York office, based in the Chrysler Building, spent over £3,500 at an Irish pub and Restaurant (‘Clancy’s’) just a few streets from the office building itself.

“Card Holder 314” (New York) spent £2,500 in the teen section of the famous Pottery Barn department store. PBteen is described as “a new catalogue in the Pottery Barn family.” The brand offers products in five key categories: furniture, rugs, lighting, bedding and accessories. PBteen includes hip, exclusively designed lifestyle collections bedrooms, study and lounge areas.

“Card Holder 450” (New York) spent £7,092.73 on air travel, £1,042.33 on taxis, £3,912.07 on hotels across the United States, £2,056.60 on food in restaurants across the US including high-end NewYork eateries. One example involved a bill of £599.42 in Margarita Murphy’s. The same card holder spent £347.11 at Duane Reade, a chain of drug and convenience stores in NewYork. In total, this card holder spent £17,265.71 over 12 months.

“Card Holder 459” (Dubai) spent £26,179.99 with Horizon Tours LLC, a tour operator, as well as £5,786.87 on hotels.

A spokesman for the Assembly’s top civil servant, Permanent Secretary Dame Gillian Morgan, said: “Any claim incurred on behalf of the Assembly Government must fully comply with strict authorisation and audit requirements.
Given the global nature of their role, International Business Wales (IBW) staff based overseas need to travel to pursue every viable business opportunity. Over the past few years, the number of offices in America and South East Asia has been reduced, and officials now cover a number of countries from their base. While this has led to a significant reduction in the cost of offices, it has inevitably led to an increase in travel associated costs.

However, we are clearly aware of the need to restrict any expenditure to ensure absolute value for money, and overall travel and subsistence costs for IBW are over 30% below the level incurred by the former WDA.

IBW exists to attract job-creating investment from around the world to Wales. It also supports Welsh companies in winning overseas business. Just this year alone, IBW has organised 37 trade missions for Welsh companies, including the recent successful trade mission to Washington DC which was attended by 80 companies from Wales.”

As we have proved with the recent first Ashes Test in Wales, it is essential that we seize every opportunity to raise our profile and generate business opportunities for Wales – particularly during the current global recession

Without demonstrating what may or may not have been achieved for money spent... cost... £750k.

Laying claim to the recent success in staging the first Ashes Test in Wales... cost... priceless cheek.

Blaming the level of credit card bills on a 'necessary expenditure' without evidence of any real benefit, and backing it up with 'it's lower than what the WDA would've spent' ...cost... PRICELESS AND SPEECHLESS.

The Government that likes to say YES...YES...YES*

Civil servants promoting Welsh business abroad charged nearly £750,000 to 35 assembly government credit cards in the past year, it has emerged.

Tens of thousands of pounds were spent on flights and visits to top hotels by International Business Wales (IBW).

The Liberal Democrats said every Welsh taxpayer "deserves an explanation".
The assembly government said officials had to pursue "every viable business opportunity" and were now covering a number of countries from fewer offices.

But the Liberal Democrats, who obtained the figures from a freedom of information (FOI) request, said it suggested a "runaway culture of spending".

The assembly government said every claim had to "fully comply with strict authorisation and audit requirements".

The details, from 35 different corporate credit card accounts for the year June 2008 to end of May 2009, were revealed in response to the FOI request.

The cards were used by civil servants working for International Business Wales (IBW), which has offices in major cities including New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris.

IBW's role is to attract inward investment to Wales, and to create opportunities for Welsh businesses overseas, by leading trade delegations and creating links between senior decision makers and business people from Wales.

The money spent included:
  • More than £24,000 with the Cathay Pacific airline on one credit card account.

  • The most expensive individual purchase was £6,606 from a staff member in Hong Kong, again paid to Cathay Pacific.

  • The cheapest was 89p, by a member of staff from the New York office, which is listed as being paid to the McDonald's restaurant in Swansea.

  • Over the 12 months, more than £36,000 was spent with Virgin Atlantic airlines, with another £25,000 on other Virgin flights.

  • There were nearly £250 worth of purchases at various Starbucks coffee houses around the world.

Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, should allow his department to look into 0% balance transfer deals which could help out during this recession. There are a lot of offers on the table at the moment.

* with credit and acknowledgement going to a certain banking institution from the 1980's.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

We've dined at this restaurant before

The BBC report that TV chefs have a rival in the shape of the Welsh Assembly Government.

A new recipe booklet promising "mouth-watering dishes" has been produced by ministers to promote Welsh seafood. It also offers advice on choosing fish and sustainable local sources.

Rural Minister Elin Jones, launching it at the Cardigan Bay Seafood Festival in Aberaeron, said she believed Welsh produce is among the best in the world. We have, however, been here before. Strict vegans will have to wait until next year for the third installment of the complete cook book.

The assembly government said the promotion of Welsh fish and seafood was a key part of its strategy to support the "development of viable and sustainable fisheries".

Ms Jones said the assembly government "is committed to working closely with major retailers to offer consumers a range of choices in sustainably produced and harvested fish and shellfish".

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Another AM stepping down

She may not have held the world in her arms. or even Wales for that matter, but she was a fiercely loyal Labour backbencher. The BBC reports that yet another member of the Welsh Assembly has announced that she will not be standing at the 2011 election.

Irene James, the Labour AM for Islwyn since 2003, told her constituency party on Friday night that she will not be seeking re-election.

Mrs James said: "The time has come to make more time in my life for family and friends."

Former Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy paid tribute, saying the AM would be "sorely missed in Welsh politics".

In her statement Mrs James, who is in her late fifties, said she had worked for jobs in Islwyn, for investment in education and in health.

"It has been a pleasure to work with our Welsh Labour First Minister Rhodri Morgan and our great team of representatives in Welsh Labour. I remain fully in support of our work and will give my all until the election arrives in 2011.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Price: Over-patriotic or playing to the Plaid pack

Here we go again! The Welsh MP for Welsh Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, in Welsh Carmarthenshire, in Welsh Wales - Adam Price -demonstrates that this alone will not be his only poor lack of judgement during his time as an MP.

Just what is it with Price and the Welsh identity?

Mr Price's latest outburst is against the Welsh National Opera company, which has an international reputation built up from years of consistent high achievement in its productions. But why does he attempt to hit yet another high note when it comes down to deciding what's good for Wales and what isn't?

Mr Price doesn't seem to be suitably impressed with its reputation for excellence, high artistic standards (considering the funding), or even the use of superb professional home-grown Welsh talent in Dennis O'Neill, Eric Roberts, Rebecca Evans, Laura Parfitt, Wynne Evans, and Bryn Terfel, to name but a few. He prefers to criticise the Welsh National Opera company for not producing enough Welsh opera. Just where does this small minded obsession come from? Mr Price claims to be a music lover but his actions show that he only wishes to see his type of real Welshness and Welsh identity in most aspects of Welsh life.

Now I'm definately not anti-Welsh, especially as I have roots in these parts ever since coal was merely plant remains (not as much as some though), but even I can fully understand that the Welsh National Opera is a world renown opera company because of its wide repertoire of international works, perfect casting and amazing production crew - both the Welsh and the non-Welsh variety.

Broaden your horizon Mr Price. Just as you saw fit to step outside Wales in your youth and continue to do so as an MP, transform this into your constricting view on the Welsh identity. If you do happen to feel the need to spew out your authority on the Welsh identity and Welshness, use your Welsh-built website in order to nitpick at what's truly Welsh and what isn't (surely a possible name of a future pamphlet of his), and stop filling up the newspapers with stories that knock Wales' achievements. Join national debates that your constituents and the general public are talking about, rather than trying to make up your own.

Wales doesn't stand out on the world stage in many walks of life. Cherish those areas where we do.
Welsh National Opera needs to do much more to prove its Welsh credentials, according to an MP.

Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price says despite the company’s strong reputation for artistic excellence, it doesn’t do nearly enough to encourage Welsh composers.

Mr Price, a music enthusiast who represents Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, said: “To what extent is WNO representative of Wales and Welsh culture? In the whole of its existence, it has not had a musical director who was Welsh.

“I am not so parochial as to suggest that its musical director should always be Welsh – like the coach of the Welsh rugby team you expect to see people from outside Wales doing the job – but as a nation we are not exactly renowned for our lack of musical ability.

“You would think that at some stage in the last half century a Welsh musical director would have had a look in now and then.”

Pointing out that WNO was the only body that received funding from both the Arts Council of Wales and Arts Council England, Mr Price said: “That explains why it spends so much of its time touring England, which is fair enough. But perhaps it would be more accurately called the English and Welsh National Opera, which happens to have its home in Cardiff. One of the problems is that it has been many years since it commissioned an original opera from a Welsh composer. In the Seventies, it commissioned an opera from Alun Hoddinott, arguably the greatest Welsh composer of the 20th century. But although it has since commissioned the occasional choral piece, it is a long time since there was a major commission of a new opera from a Welsh composer.”

In 2004 Hoddinott, who died last year at the age of 78, told the Western Mail: “Their [WNO] performance standards are first class and technically they are excellent. But I wish they would pay more attention to Welsh music.

“Their record in the production of Welsh opera is abysmal. Scottish Opera puts on a couple of works by Scottish composers every year.

“WNO has put on perhaps four or five Welsh operas over 20 years. And the record of the WNO’s orchestra as far as Welsh music is concerned is also bad. I have not seen one work by a Welsh composer in any of its concert programmes. Full stop.

“They just seem to have an anti-Welsh music bias. I am sad that they do not do something for Welsh composers, especially young ones.”

Mr Price said: “It seems clear that for commercial reasons the company chooses to concentrate on performing productions of well-known operas. Is that what we want from our national opera company? Some would say yes, but others, myself included, would like to see more original work commissioned from Welsh composers. Otherwise, doubts will continue about whether we are getting our bang for the buck put into WNO from public funds in Wales.”

WNO chief executive and artistic director John Fisher said: “Welsh National Opera prides itself on being not only a world-class flagship for Wales and Welsh culture, but also one of the world’s major international opera companies. We work with outstanding Welsh creative talent every day of the week, in Wales, England and overseas – and we’re proud to do it.”

WNO was founded in Cardiff in 1946. Annually, it gives more than 120 performances of eight main scale operas. In Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Llandudno, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Southampton and Swansea, it regularly performs to more than 150,000 people in total.

In 2004, WNO acquired its first permanent home with the opening of the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay.

WNO boasts it is Europe’s busiest touring opera company and the largest provider of touring opera in the UK.

The company’s most recent published accounts, covering the 17 months to September 2007, show it had an income of £20.1m, of which £8.7m came from Arts Council England, £6.3m from Arts Council of Wales and the remainder from box office receipts and other sources.

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