Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Christmas arrives early with Gimmick Government

Hundreds of 10 and 11-year-olds in some of Wales’ poorest areas will be first to benefit from a new scheme to provide free laptop computers to children, it was announced today.

The pilot project, which will cost £700,000 over the next two years, will initially see 1,200 school children in Communities First and Flying Start areas receiving the machines.

Conservatives have denounced the Assembly Government move as an expensive gimmick.

The scheme was a key pledge in the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition One Wales pact, with Labour Education Minister Leighton Andrews saying computers are now as essential as books and pens.

Plaid made the provision of a laptop for all 11-year-olds a central plank of its 2007 Assembly manifesto in which the party claimed: “The laptop is today’s equivalent of the pencil.”
The Assembly Government will provide £300,000 in 2009-10 and £400,000 in 2010-11.
Laptops funded through the pilot will belong to the school or local education authority but it is expected children will have the opportunity to use these for learning at home or in community buildings such as public libraries.
Children who receive laptops – plus their parents or carers – will be asked to sign guidance on “safe and appropriate” use of the internet.
The Welsh Language Board has agreed to provide free software for installation on the laptops.
Mr Andrews, launching the scheme in Newport today, said:
The Welsh Assembly Government made a commitment through the One Wales [coalition pact] to pilot the provision of laptops for children.

Computers have become as essential a part of school life as books, pens and paper. Having access to computers provides clear educational benefits such as offering pupils more creative learning experiences and giving them the opportunity to do projects and research on the internet.
A priority is to ensure that children from Wales’ poorest neighbourhoods gain experience with computer technology.

Rhondda AM Mr Andrews said:
A key element of the laptop pilot is to support digital inclusion. Research has shown that if you live in more deprived areas, you are more likely to be digitally excluded.

This is why the pilot is being carried out in schools within Communities First and Flying Start areas. Schools should therefore have arrangements for ensuring that the children receiving laptops are those most likely to benefit.

The project’s proposals offer innovative ways of using laptops to encourage children to engage in learning. They should also help pupils to improve their literacy, numeracy and ICT skills. I look forward to hearing the views of teachers, pupils and parents in the participating schools as the pilot progresses.
The Assembly Government will provide £25,000 of funding for staff training and evaluation.
Shadow Heritage Minister Paul Davies was not impressed:
This expensive and ill-advised scheme makes even less sense in this tough financial climate, particularly given that the gap in average spend per pupil between Wales and England has risen to £527.

This money could have been used elsewhere within the education system.

Yet again, the Welsh Assembly Government has failed to recognise the real priorities for education in Wales. Our schools need adequate funding not more gimmicks.

Philip Dixon, of education union ATL, gave an enthusiastic welcome to the announcement.
He said: “It’s an educational double-whammy. It’s improving children’s skills and tackling deprivation.
“They have to have those skills if they are going to survive in life and we know unfortunately in deprived areas the take-up of broadband and IT is much more limited.”
Plaid education spokeswoman Nerys Evans welcomed the funding:
In today’s world, many children are familiar with using the latest technology and new media. Integrating that into the way they learn from an early age is a natural step that can have a range of advantages for them.

Making this technology available in our schools is one way of ensuring that those who may not have the opportunity to use a computer at home do not lose out as a result. At a time when money is extremely tight, we have to look at using public funds in the most cost effective way. So looking at innovations such as the use of laptops in schools is an important step forward.

'Streamlining' reorganisation = reward for Assembly Government's Civil Servants

Serious questions are being asked today about a shake-up of senior civil servants within the Assembly Government that has led to more of them earning above £120,000.

Seven “director general” posts were created last year in a streamlining move aimed at cutting overall costs. But critics are unconvinced that the new arrangements are appropriate.

Concerns have also been raised about “back-up” appointments that risk eating into savings made as a result of the reorganisation.

It is understood, for example, that when Andrew Davies was Finance Minister, he resisted a request from Emyr Roberts – Director General, Public Services and Local Government Delivery – to appoint a Director of Public Services Delivery at a pay grade immediately below his own. We have now confirmed such an appointment is being made.
Meanwhile, concerns have also been raised about the general competence of civil servants.

A well-placed source said: “I have real worries about whether many of the senior civil servants we have in Wales are up to coping with primary lawmaking powers.
“It has been difficult to persuade people to go on attachment to Whitehall departments to broaden their experience. Imagine the value of spending some time working in the Treasury, for example.”
Professor Brian Morgan, of the Creative Leadership and Enterprise Centre at UWIC’s Cardiff School of Management, said: “It used to be the case that government departments had a permanent secretary with two deputy secretaries beneath them. that is obviously no longer enough for the Welsh Assembly Government.

“Now there are effectively seven deputy secretaries, all on salaries of over £120,000. In Whitehall terms, the Assembly is a small department and it makes no sense to have so many chiefs.”
Last November, the Permanent Secretary, Dame Gill Morgan, told the Institute of Welsh Affairs in an interview that she had reorganised management structure so senior civil servants working for the Assembly could communicate on equal terms with their counterparts in Whitehall departments.
Previously, there had been 16 executive members of a management board, although in addition to the Permanent Secretary only one had been designated a senior director.

Prof Morgan said: “This idea that you need to look people in the eye from a position of equal status and inflated salary is absolutely ridiculous. You gain respect by the strength of what you are saying and how you say it, not because of the status you hold. If you have to rely on some artificial status, it suggests you are not up to the job you are doing.

“The status argument can be taken further. If each director general is responsible on average for 20 senior civil servants, and they meet someone on the same pay grade in Whitehall who has 55 senior civil servants answerable to them, they are going to want more people in their empire.”
Prof Morgan said creating such a large number of directors general was a variation on Parkinson’s Law – a satirical creation which states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

“Having a top-heavy structure like this must have an impact on morale lower down,” he said.
Asked whether he thought senior civil servants in Wales were up to running an administration with primary lawmaking powers, Prof Morgan said: “It seems to me that civil servants who have come up through the Welsh Office have not had any experience anywhere else. Often they’ve relied on Buggins’ turn for promotion. I don’t want to state categorically that they’re not up to dealing with primary powers. We will have to see.”
Professor Kevin Morgan of Cardiff University, who chaired the Yes For Wales referendum campaign in 1997, said: “There is unprecedented pressure on the public purse, with what has been referred to as two Parliaments of pain ahead of us.

“The biggest challenge of all is how to achieve sustainability and fairness in the face of a decade of austerity.

“It is quite clear there is a need in Wales for us to fully acknowledge the extent to which we have screwed up in terms of costs and structures in the public sector.

“There is really deep disquiet about the scale of local government, with 22 councils, and how we then copied that with 22 local health boards. When that reorganisation took place, chief executives and finance directors were appointed, but when the number of health boards came back down to eight, they were allowed to keep their jobs.

“For ordinary people in Wales – and I count myself among them – what has happened beggars belief. We have to get things right in the public sector.”

On the question of whether senior civil servants are up to handling primary lawmaking powers, Prof Morgan said: “Hope springs eternal. It will certainly make more exacting demands on the current structure of the Assembly Government. I’m not sure people have really thought about this in the detail we should.

“Ultimately, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.”

A spokesman for the Permanent Secretary said: “The number of directors has decreased by over 25% since the restructuring of the senior Civil Service last year. This reduction has achieved savings of over £500,000 and reflects our commitment to a structured reduction in the number of senior civil servant posts over time.

“We do intend to appoint a Director for Public Service Improvement as part of a review of the Public Services and Performance department. This position will ensure we continue to deliver the Government’s ambitious public service improvement agenda, and is particularly important given the current financial pressures facing the public sector. The creation of this position will be accompanied by a reduction of seven senior Civil Service posts as part of the departmental review. This reduction represents a further net saving to the Assembly Government of just under £100,000.

“As a dynamic organisation, there will inevitably be further internal changes as we continue to reflect and deliver government commitments. Any appointment has to be justified by a comprehensive business case, and is fully considered by the independently chaired remuneration committee.

“Our skills strategy has been rated third of all UK government departments, and we are confident that we have the skills, capability and capacity to fully support ministers in delivering their commitments to the people of Wales.”

All it takes is a picket fence to hold up a not-so-rosy Government of Wales

An assembly debate is due to go ahead in the Senedd building later - in the absence of both government parties and has left this photograph as a lasting image of Welsh Assembly Government, and sadly casts a shadow over Welsh politics and devolved government in the UK.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said Labour and Plaid members "would be very concerned" about crossing picket lines of striking PCS union members.

The decision not to attend has been criticised as "silly posturing".

The Tories called it "absurd" and will debate a motion with the Lib Dems that the assembly government's programme is not delivering for Wales.

All assembly government business was moved to Tuesday's plenary session.

Civil and public servants across Wales plan to walk out for a third day of strike action on Wednesday in an ongoing dispute over cuts to redundancy terms.

Labour and Plaid refused to cross the picket line:

The strike, called by the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), follows a two day strike earlier in March which led to a plenary meeting being postponed. It will again involve jobcentre staff, tax workers, courts staff, driving examiners and Welsh Assembly Government staff among others.

First Minister Mr Jones said:
The whole Labour group and indeed the Plaid Cymru group... would be very concerned about crossing a picket line.

Speaking as far as the Labour party is concerned, its something that is ingrained in party thinking, that you don't cross a picket line.

A Plaid Cymru spokesperson said Plaid's AMs supported the right of the PCS union to withdraw labour during this dispute and would not be crossing their picket lines.

He said the Plaid group would write to Gordon Brown's UK government urging an immediate return to negotiations with the union.

'One Wales' debate

In the assembly government's absence Conservative and Liberal Democrats will debate a wide-ranging motion that the Labour-Plaid administration's 'One Wales' agreement "is not delivering for the people of Wales."

Welsh Conservative Leader Nick Bourne criticised the first minister's stance, accusing him of "silly posturing", and said for his group it would be "business as usual".

He's pushed himself into a ridiculous corner... it's absurd. It looks like he's afraid of coming in as first minister...

We weren't elected to start skulking around the Bay carrying out business from cafes. I think it's farcical but I think they're making themselves look silly and if they want to do that it's up to them.
Labour and Plaid members aren't expected to attend the Weds March 24th plenary session.
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams called for all Labour and Plaid members who refuse to cross a picket line to disclose whether they have asked the fees office to deduct sums from their pay as a result.
It is easy for Labour and Plaid Cymru AMs to cancel assembly business but people will rightly expect that as a matter of principle, if they refuse to cross the picket line to work, they should forgo part of their salary in proportion to the amount of time they spent not working, just like everyone else who was on strike.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Comment of the Week

In response to Labour's dossier lifting the lid on Conservative MPs, Welsh Conservative Assembly leader Nick Bourne hits back at the claims:

We’ll take no lessons from Labour on devolution when one of their own candidates describes AMs as part-timers, their First Minister dithers over calling for a referendum, and their Welsh Secretary is lukewarm on holding a referendum in the
first place...

For the last 11 years Conservatives have worked hard to make devolution deliver for the people of Wales. Our criticisms in that time have not been about devolution or the Assembly. They’ve been about the failures of the Assembly Government, led by Labour and now supported by Plaid Cymru.

We have always said it should be the people of Wales who decide on the Assembly’s future powers.

Meanwhile Labour’s First Minister Carwyn Jones couldn’t make his mind up over calling for a referendum, spent the best part of a fortnight before requesting it despite a unanimous Assembly resolution, and Peter Hain left the request on his desk to gather dust because he doesn’t really believe in it. If Labour spent as much time on reducing national debt, cutting unemployment, and fixing our broken economy as they’ve done on compiling this dossier, then perhaps the country wouldn’t be in such a mess.
Mr Bourne’s comment about a Labour candidate describing AMs as part-timers refers to a statement made by Swansea West Labour candidate Geraint Davies in a leaflet distributed in the constituency where he hopes to succeed Alan Williams as MP.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Lining the pockets of lawyers... Only in Wales?

The Welsh Assembly Government spent more than £3.8m on external legal advice in one year, according to figures revealed yesterday.

The biggest spending department on advice in 2008 was health and social services, which was responsible for £1,812,366, followed by economy and transport with £1,132,049.

Conservative Assembly leader Nick Bourne said he was “staggered” by the costs.

A further £319,086 was spent on hospitality – £210,844 by economy and transport.
In addition, furniture costs reached £690,497 – of which £685,636 was spent by central administration.
Mr Bourne said:
I am staggered that the Assembly Government has spent vast sums of taxpayers’ money on legal advice, hospitality and furniture.

It is particularly concerning that [the] Assembly Government incurred a total of £3,881,206 on external legal advice when they already have a sizeable team of legal advisers on the books.

With Wales in the grip of the recession and when people were expected to tighten their belts, it is also worrying that the Assembly Government seemed to think it appropriate to splash out hundreds of thousands of pounds on wining and dining.

Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said:

It is absolutely astounding that the Labour-Plaid government spent nearly £4m on external legal advice last year.

At the time, the Government’s chief legal adviser was Carwyn Jones, a fully-qualified barrister who is now the First Minister of Wales.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:

This is an astonishing bill, particularly at a time when the public
finances are severely overstretched.

The [Assembly Government] already employs internal legal advisers, which
makes it even worse that they have duplicated that cost by bringing people in
from outside as well.

An Assembly Government spokesperson said:

Our internal legal service is primarily focused on advising ministers on
the discharge of their statutory functions and on the delivery – including
drafting – of the legislative programme.

External legal advice is used to support the Assembly Government in
non-core legal areas, including commercial, property, corporate finance and
employment law.

Clearly, as a sizeable landowner, or when engaged in commercial
negotiations, it is essential that we receive suitable legal support to ensure
the best outcome for the Welsh taxpayer.

In addition, we do not employ an in-house litigation team, and therefore
need to ensure effective legal representation on issues arising from our
responsibilities as a highways authority, or to assist in the legal affairs of
the NHS – for example, when dealing with clinical negligence cases.

We have very strict rules in place to ensure such expenditure is kept to a
minimum and only incurred where absolutely necessary and with proper authorisation.


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A Sad Day for Devolution

The plenary meeting of the national assembly has been called off as a strike by civil and public servants continues for a second day, which could be described as a simple case of one step forward and two steps back for devolution in Wales.

Is democracy this fragile?

Up to 20,000 workers in Wales are expected to take part in the second day of a UK-wide industrial action over changes to redundancy terms.

It has caused the assembly to postpone Tuesday's scheduled meeting of all members until Wednesday morning, which must surely put back other business that was due to be discussed.

The UK government insists the new rules are "fair" to both staff and taxpayers.
The 48-hour stoppage by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union is affecting job centres, courts and the Welsh Assembly Government.

An assembly spokesperson said plenary would be held throughout the day on Wednesday.

This will allow the planned business for the week, both government and opposition, to be completed.
In reality, Assembly business will be behind and members would've lost an entire day, and all thanks to the weak decision of certain political parties in the National Assembly. PCS members will understandably lose two days pay for striking, but will Assembly Members lose out on pay? You'll always find there's plenty of backbench constituency work to do on days like this... problem solved!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

An Own Goal for Labour

The Ashcroft saga looks like it will end up as an own goal for Labour.

There is nothing illegal about the whole story. Not only that, but Lord Ashcroft wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth (sorry, socialists), as everyone knows he's a self-made man, and one of the success stories of the old Grammar School System.

What will come as a great shock for Labour luvvies is that he also pays tax on his financial and private affairs in the UK, making him a UK taxpayer.

In a nutshell, despite the media spin and fake outrage from Labour Ministers and supporters, it seems that the trustworthy UK public have worked out that it's a simple smear campaign, orchestrated (if somewhat slightly out of tune) by Brown's backstairs department.

This is going to end up an own goal for Labour as it draws attention to Labour's Non-Dom supporters.

Since 2001, Ashcroft has given £5,160,915 to the Tories. Mittal, Cohen and Paul all Non-Doms have given Labour £6,734,250. Paul funded at least one of Brown's election campaigns. Between 2001 -2008 Lord Paul sat and attended the House of Lords 1047 times and claimed £281,263 in expenses. Please tell me if I'm wrong, but Lord Paul has left the Government over Expense issues. Over the same period 2001 - 2008 Lord Ashcroft attended the House 285 times and claimed no expenses.

I'm saying nothing more, but make your own mind up about a so-called scandal, and where it lies.

Rhodri Morgan uses the internet for the first time...

Former Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan has been targeted by online fraudsters, MPs were told today.

Skills Minister Kevin Brennan said Mr Morgan, who stood down last year, was sent an email from a woman saying he was “exactly the kind of man she was looking for”.

During Commons question time, Mr Brennan – MP for Cardiff West – joked that the message had not come from Mr Morgan’s wife Julie, the MP for Cardiff North.

After setting out measures being taken to combat online fraud – particularly among vulnerable and older people – Mr Brennan revealed that 70-year-old Mr Morgan raised the alarm after receiving the email.

He said: “The former first minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan, has just taken up the internet and he recently in the office received an email which he showed to me from someone – from a woman – who said she was exactly the kind of man she was looking for.

“I did point out that it was not from the Hon Member for Cardiff North, his wife.”

P.S. More amusing news comes from Jonathan Morgan AM "Rhodri Morgan's mutterings from the back of the Senedd make him sound like Fr Jack, the old priest in BBC's Father Ted series!

BBC UK Politics

BBC Welsh Politics


Welsh Political News

UK News from Times Online

Telegraph Politics


Words © The Author [Posted by...] 2007 2008 2009 2010. Comments © their authors.


This is a personal blog - any views expressed are not those of the authors' employer(s), or organisation(s) they are involved with or represent.

Comments posted by readers of this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the authors.

We don't accept any responsibility for the content of any blogs or websites linked from this site. Links exist to provide a wider experience of politics and life on the internet or to reciprocate for links on this blog.

For further information please refer to our Terms and Conditions.
Copyright © Miss Wagstaff Presents 2007 2008 2009 2010
No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior written permission.

  © Blogger template 'Perfection' by 2008

Back to TOP