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Friday, January 16, 2009

The elephant in the room

I am going to make an exception to my usual style and begin this post by agreeing with the Welsh Affairs Committee.

They have produced a report that accuses Whitehall officials of “forgetting” about Wales. They also argue that a breakdown in communications between Cardiff Bay and Whitehall over skills training has left key employers scratching their heads. They believe that neither side has taken enough notice of policies on the opposite side of the border.

This was the theme of a debate tabled by the Welsh Liberal Democrats last year when we argued that the One Wales Government's obsession with keeping services within Wales was disadvantaging those living on the eastern and northern borders of the country.

The starkest example of this was the now-abandoned plan to send neurosurgery patients from North Wales to Swansea and Cardiff, but there are a whole range of anomolies including Welsh patients being disadvantaged at their nearest (English) hospital and problems with using the Assembly's OAP bus pass on the other side of the border.

In this case the Welsh Affairs Select Committee concentrate on different training and qualification regimes. They say that employers are left unsure over whether training qualifications taken in Wales count for anything in England, and vice versa. They argue that Ministers have repeatedly focused on the need to develop a highly-skilled workforce to mitigate against the worst effects of the recession but there is no joined-up thinking between the two administrations:

An example of the difficulty, highlighted by the MPs, is Airbus, which employs 7,000 people just within the Welsh border at Broughton.

The aerospace giant says it feared the development of an “extremely confusing and disparate qualification system...changes being proposed are seen as a significant potential risk”.

In evidence to the committee, Airbus also raised concern that the planned National Apprenticeship Service for England would lead to further differences between Wales and England.

The report notes that communication between the Assembly Government and the UK Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) on the issue has “not been sufficiently effective” and has only added to confusion.

“There is a need for officials within Whitehall to have a better understanding of devolution as there is an impression that some officials believe that it means they can ‘forget’ about Wales,” the MPs say.

“Similarly there is a need for officials and Ministers in the Welsh Assembly to take a greater interest in developing policies across the border."

For once this is not anti-devolutionist rhetoric, it is a recognition of the barriers that mis-perceptions of devolution can throw up. Having a Welsh Assembly does not mean closing our borders and pretending England does not exist, nor does it mean that the English can ignore us. There needs to be greater effort and understanding on both sides to make it work, learning from each other and adopting best practice.

The other issue that the Welsh Affairs Select Committee highlighted was the £61 million funding gap between the cash available to Welsh universities and their counterparts in England. This is evidenced by a number of bodies, not least the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and yet the Welsh Assembly Government seem determined to prove once more that denial is not just an Egyptian river. They responded by saying that they disagreed with the committee's findings and claimed the level of funding is on a par with English levels.

Quite apart from the problem that this is contrary to the facts, it is a completely different tune to the one being sung by Plaid Cymru in the four years leading up to their being seated in ministerial limousines and it is also contrary to what Labour were saying during the second Assembly, when they agreed to close that funding gap. Yet another abandoned Plaid Cymru policy.
"...Welsh Assembly Government seem determined to prove once more that denial is not just an Egyptian river." - very dry (unlike the Nile).

As regards Elephants in the Room, I'm quite fond of the TV show "QI", perhaps we could get Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Bill Bailey et al to host WAG?

The ruling group would do particuarly well at General Ignorance!
Ah yes training in Wales, would that be for shelf filling, or road cleaning, nope cannot be for that Labour does not allow road cleaning, so it must be a skills for Tesco.

Or we can all piss off to North Wales making wings.
Perhaps you should get yourself a cut out of an Elephant, secure it to a lenght of either dowelling or door stop and then you could keep it under your desk for the next time "There's a Elephant in the Room" then wave it about in Triumph!

Robert >> the training is for signing on, and writing a CV! Not that having a CV will get you a job in Wales.

Except shelf stacking, cleaning offices specifically call-centres, and making telephone calls in call-centres.
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