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.

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