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.

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