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.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Gun to the head blows "bits and pieces"

Following on from Monday, the Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas has said the Assembly Commission had agreed to all the report's proposals.

The commission, which includes representatives from all four parties, took the decision on behalf of AMs.

Sir Roger Jones's report, Getting it Right for Wales, followed a 10-month investigation of the pay and expenses of AMs.

The report's implementation will mean

  • After the next assembly election in 2011, AMs will no longer be able to claim mortgage interest on second homes.
  • Some 25 of them will, however, be able to rent accommodation within five miles of the assembly in Cardiff Bay, half the number of AMs currently entitled to a second home allowance.
  • AMs will not be able to employ family members in future but any existing arrangements will continue.
  • The current link between AMs' pay and MPs' salaries will also be broken.
  • AMs' salaries will be increased in line with inflation next year and in future be linked to changes in average earnings in Wales.
  • The current "daily allowance" of £30.65 for members on assembly business to spend on meals will also be scrapped "as soon as possible".
Lord Elis-Thomas said work would begin "immediately" on implementing the changes.
That these changes have been endorsed during the year in which we mark the tenth anniversary of devolution is a testament to the assembly's maturity and is a signal that the assembly is committed to operating in ways that are right for Wales.

[The report] addresses the contentious issues of remuneration and financial support - issues which have been such a stumbling block to people truly engaging in the democratic process.

But of equal importance, it places a strong emphasis on ensuring the capacity of the assembly and Members to undertake our work - to represent the interests of Wales and its people, make laws for Wales and hold the Welsh government to account.

Earlier, Conservative AM and commission member William Graham told the BBC Wales that the plans "were agreed with ease" at a meeting on Tuesday evening.

Labour commissioner Lorraine Barrett said there were "bits and pieces" in the report that not all AMs would like, but "you can't unpick it".

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Holtham tells them what they want to hear...*

A commission considering the way the assembly government is funded says Wales is losing out by £300m a year.

The commission chair, economist Gerald Holtham, warned the underfunding could reach £8.5bn over the next decade, or £2,900 for everyone living in Wales.

The report, for Welsh ministers, concludes that a new funding formula is needed to reflect the actual cost of providing services for Wales.

A further report on taxation and borrowing powers will follow next year.

The commission was established as part of the coalition deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru after the assembly election two years ago.

Mr Holtham said the Barnett formula, drawn up by the Labour government in the late 1970s, was "arbitrary" and in "urgent need of reform".

When the UK government increases funding for departments such as health and education in England, the formula is used to decide how much money the devolved governments in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast receive.

The needs-based system the commission favours would take into account factors such as the age of the population and levels of poverty.

Mr Holtham admitted the commission did not suggest any "magic bullet" to replace the Barnett system.

He indicated the commission's second report, due around the middle of 2010, would include research on what should be included in a new needs based formula.

*... and what the rest of us already expected.

The Commission will be:

Looking at the pros and cons of the present formula-based approach to the distribution of public expenditure resources to the Welsh Assembly Government; and identifying possible alternative funding mechanisms including the scope for the Welsh Assembly Government to have tax varying powers as well as greater powers to borrow.


The Commission began work in autumn 2008 and reported to the Welsh Assembly Government Ministers on the first part of its remit in July 2009.

The Commission is due to report to the Assembly Government on the second part of its work in summer 2010.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Will it be panel beating of a different kind?

An independent panel investigating pay and expenses among members of the Welsh assembly is about to report back.

The findings will come after almost a year of investigation and following recent controversies over expenses.

Panel members have held more than 20 meetings - including two in public - and compared procedures at other parliamentary bodies.

The panel say the aim is to reward AMs fairly for their work, but with the emphasis on transparency.

"We have adopted a number of principles to guide us in our work. One of these is that our recommendations must be based on evidence," said Sir Roger Jones, who chairs the panel.

"We want to get this right - to ensure not only that any new system of pay and allowances is fair, transparent, and recognises and rewards AMs' skills, but also that it provides value for money."
The panel was established in August last year to "look at all aspects of financial support available to AMs."

The independent review panel includes chair Sir Roger Jones, pro-chancellor at Swansea University, Jackie Nickson, a senior human resources manager, Nigel Rudd, the former chief executive of the East Midlands Regional Assembly, and Dafydd Wigley, the former Plaid Cymru president.

To be put on a pedestal

The One and Other project will see a different person standing on the 'fourth plinth' every hour for 24 hours a day over the next 100 days.

Housewife Rachel Wardell, 35, will take her place as the first "living statue" when the event kicks off in a few minutes at 0900 BST.

More than 14,500 people from across Britain have so far applied to take part in the event.
Ms Wardell will be followed at 1000 BST by Jason Clark, a 41-year-old nurse from Brighton.

Other people to take to the plinth on the first day include Jill Gatcum, 51, a consultant from London, Suren Seneviratne, a 22-year-old Sri Lankan student and artist, and Ishvinder Singh Matharu, a 31-year-old optometrist from Chigwell in Essex.

Heather Pringle will be celebrating her 20th birthday on the plinth
The oldest among July's 615 participants is pensioner Gwynneth Pedler, 83, from Oxford, who plans to signal with semaphore flags.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time

While some dead wood, for which the Assembly has found little use, will be cast adrift at the next Assembly in 2011, Labour has wasted little time in fighting wood rot.

As part of its slow rejuvenation, Welsh Labour have chosen an impressive figure as candidate for Cardiff South and Penarth at the next Assembly election.

Vaughan Gething, a Cardiff solicitor, was Wales TUC's first black president and at 34 was also the youngest. Vaughan Gething lives in Cardiff, is a member of the GMB and a partner at Thompsons Solicitors.

Wales prepared for 'swine flu'?

The BBC has reported that there are NINE more cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Wales, taking the total to 26.

Among the latest cases is a 25-year-old local man who works at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

Health officials said this case is not connected to that of another hospital employee confirmed at the weekend, but was travel related.

The man is no longer at work and there is no further risk to patients or staff at the hospital, they said.

Everyone who has been confirmed with swine flu in this latest batch - involving people in their early twenties from Cardiff, Swansea and Caerphilly - have been offered antiviral medicine and are recovering well.

So far 201 people have been investigated for swine flu in Wales and only one person has been taken to hospital. Sixteen cases are still under investigation.

New cases:

  • A 21-year-old man from Cardiff who is a direct contact of a confirmed case in Leicester.
  • A 19-year-old woman from Swansea who is a direct contact of a confirmed case in Exeter.
  • A 20-year-old woman from Swansea who is a direct contact of a confirmed case in Exeter.
  • A 20-year-old woman from Cardiff who is a direct contact of a confirmed case in Exeter.
  • A 19-year-old woman from Cardiff who is a direct contact of a confirmed case in Exeter.
  • A 19-year-old woman from Cardiff who is a direct contact of a confirmed case in Warwick.
  • A 19-year-old woman from Bridgend County Borough who is a direct contact of a confirmed case in Exeter.
  • A 22-year-old woman from Caerphilly who is a contact of a confirmed case in Oxford.
All are recovering.

While Dr Roland Salmon from the National Public Health Service for Wales added: "Because this particular type of swine flu is new, people have little or no immunity to it. For this reason, we know it will spread across the country eventually."

... the Welsh Assembly Government's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jewell has said the authorities were prepared for the virus outbreak and have "robust procedures" in place. "While we are prepared for this, we are not complacent and people must be vigilant."

How can you prepare for something that is new, particularly as each outbreak may be different in terms of strain, and each person will respond to the virus in a different way to another? It seems that Dr Jewell has been in management posts for longer than he cares to remember.

NHS Direct can be contacted on 0845 46 47.

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