.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winning the lottery

I was a bit stunned but very pleased yesterday to discover that my name has been drawn to introduce private members' legislation in the Welsh Assembly.

My aim is to impose stricter controls over Park Home site owners. If I am given leave to proceed my Bill will aim to provide better protection to those who own property within Park Home (Mobile Home) sites and monitor and regulate site owners.

At present there is little protection for residents from unscrupulous Park Homes site owners, a minority of which may exploit their position for personal gain. Problems can include poor site management, and vetoing or deterring legitimate sales.

Meetings between potential buyers and site owners will be independently monitored and a system of arbitration will be established for for park home owners who feel that they have lost money as a result of undue interference.

The Bill will also develop a “fit and proper” persons test for park home site owners, acting as a licensing system, so that park home owners can be confident that their park home site is effectively managed.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kissing and making up

We are about to embark on one of the largest public strikes for some time because talks between the unions and government have supposedly broken down and the position is irretrievable, and yet according to today's Independent, that may not be the case at all.

The paper says that a meeting between Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, and Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, alongside other union leaders, could be scheduled for next week.

This is likely to lead to two weeks of "intensive negotiations" in an attempt to strike a broad deal on pension reform by Christmas. The paper adds that senior sources on both sides of the dispute say that, despite the increased public rhetoric surrounding the strike, a deal to head off future industrial action is "entirely achievable".

If that is the case then why are these strikes even taking place?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Plan B?

In fact the Chancellor's statement on Tuesday does not constitute a fully fledged Plan B because the billions of pounds extra he plans to spend on infrastructure projects has largely come from savings. Nevertheless. a refocusing of expenditure can deliver a more beneficial multiplier effect, especially as much of this expenditure is designed to lever in huge sums of private money.

The Independent says that plans for a £30bn infrastructure programme will be a key element in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. In addition the Government will underwrite loans of up to £40bn to small businesses and will increase the levy on the banks' balance sheets:

Among the first projects to get the go-ahead tomorrow will be a £600m programme of school building to create some extra 40,000 places, mainly for primary-age youngsters, over the next three years.

The cash will be targeted on major cities facing demographic pressures. Other plans will be announced to build roads, bridges, public transport and telecommunications links and power stations, as well as to roll out broadband across the country. Mr Osborne hopes the schemes will generate contracts for industry, safeguarding and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

He will attempt to increase the amount of credit flowing in the economy by underwriting up to £40bn in loans to small and medium-sized companies. The move will enable the banks to borrow more cheaply, passing on the savings to firms in the form of lower interest rates.

From the Welsh perspective, we will be waiting to see how this re-ordering of Government spending translates into consequentials for the Assembly's budget. It is not a straightforward 5.9% as it depends on whether we have already had a consequential from previous spending plans or not.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Daily Mail publishes a correction?

It would be nice to think this were real!

No going back to the 1980s

And thank goodness for that! The main message from Nick Clegg's interview with today's Observer is that this is not a Conservative Government nor is it driven by ideology in the same way as Thatcher's early governments were:

The deputy prime minister is in overdrive, dismissing questions that challenge his views. "Hang on a minute," he says repeatedly, before ploughing on with his original arguments. He paints himself as the one key figure in the coalition who can understand the concerns of those struggling in today's sickly economy — and temper the sink-or-swim approach of the Tories.

"I'm acutely aware, probably more than anyone else sitting around the cabinet table, as the only senior cabinet member from a big northern city suffering some very, very difficult times, how important it is not to repeat the mistakes of the 1980s and to take remedial action now."

He points to a series of measures, including his £1bn Youth Contract to tackle rising unemployment among 16-24-year-olds that he announced on Friday, as evidence of the Lib Dems' distinctive approach and influence — and of his own personal political priorities.

"Whether it's on youth unemployment, whether it's on youngsters, whether it's on getting behind advanced manufacturing and not putting all our eggs into the City of London basket, I don't think that would have happened without the coalition."

Getting the economy back on track of course is not easy, and means that difficult decisions have to be made. Many of those decisions were avoided by Labour simply because they were too hard.

What is important is that the influennce of the Liberal Democrats continues so as to ensure that the needs of the less-well-off are paramount and that it is the wealthiest in our society who are hit the hardest.

All the advance briefings about the Chancellor's statement on Tuesday indicate that this message is getting through and is being translated into Government action.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Paper-free democracy

The Welsh Assembly has striven to be paper-free but it seems they still have a lot to learn the Dutch Senate.

According to this article they have decided to distribute meeting documents to its 75 Senators by tablet computer:

At the start of the first session after the summer recess, the Senators each received an iPad with an application (App) designed especially for the Senate. The Members of the Senate can use this modern communication tool to consult and manage the complete information flow of calendars, legislative bills, parliamentary correspondence and other meeting documents.

Perhaps we need to get the Welsh Assembly's ICT system more stable before embarking on such an adventurous departure from tradition.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pravda in Wales?

To be honest I thought that we had moved on from the mindset that top-down state intervention could solve every problem, however it seems that Plaid Cymru continue to live in the 1970s and so it is no surprise that one of their AMs has written a piece for Wales Home today calling for the Welsh Government to take over the Western Mail newspaper.

I think we should be clear, there is nothing radical about a state buy-out. That sort of lazy politics should lie some distance behind us. These types of solutions defer decisions, they do not resolve anything.

I was though particularly taken by the reaction of Trinity Mirror as reported on the BBC. They said that they were "not going to dignify this with a comment".

Important as journalism is to the effective scrutiny of government and political life, it is difficult to get away from the fact that the Western Mail is a business and that it stands and falls on how many papers it can sell and what revenue it can derive from advertising.

I am not in favour of a state owned press. Such a concept conjures up images of Soviet Russia. If we were to go down that route then we would see an end to objective reporting and the holding to account of the Welsh Government by independently-minded journalists.

I think that the Welsh Government has enough on its plate in trying to sort out the economy, education and the health service without asking them to sort out the problems of the Western Mail as well. Equally, I am not prepared to hand over to Ministers the ‘national newspaper of Wales’ so that they can turn it into their own propaganda sheet.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Employee relations the Labour way

Labour have a bit of a reputation in South Wales for the way they deal with their employees. In Rhondda Cynon Taf they imposed new terms and conditions on their staff, Neath Port Talbot lost £20 million of taxpayers’ money in Icelandic banks whilst at the same time cutting the wages of their staff and, in Bridgend, Labour have delivered a job evaluation outcome that was described by one Unison official as the worst example he had seen in Wales in terms of outcomes for particular workers.

Now the Western Mail reports that Rhondda Cynon Taf actually paid a solicitors' firm nearly £100,000 for advice on how to cut the pay and conditions of workers. No wonder they could not afford to pay a fair wage to their staff.

Abuse of the day

This morning's Western Mail reports that a prospective Plaid Cymru candidate who lives within my region has withdrawn plans to stand for election after posting some dodgy jokes about Raoul Moat on Facebook and Twitter.

Apparently, he does not like me either, describing me as dull, humourless and tedious. You would think he had actually met me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hacks and hacking

If one thing has become clear from the Leveson Inquiry, it is that the unsaid understanding by many people that the illegal interception of voicemails was "much more widespread" than just the News of the World.

The Independent reports that Mark Lewis, who represents some of the victims of phone-hacking, told the Inquiry into press standards that illegally accessing the phones of celebrities and other people in the news was "too easy to do" for journalists:

He suggested that reporters, at least initially, thought of the practice as no worse than driving at 35mph in a 30mph zone.

Mr Lewis said the News of the World was the paper caught out hacking phones because its private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, kept such detailed records.

He told the inquiry: "In a way, I feel sorry for the News of the World, or certainly the News of the World's readers.

"Because it was a much more widespread practice than just one newspaper.

"It was just simply that their inquiry agent, Glenn Mulcaire, had written things down and kept the evidence.

"The fact that evidence doesn't exist in written form doesn't mean to say that the crime didn't happen."

This inquiry is going to open our eyes to many journalistic abuses, which it will hopefully translate into recommendations for action. Balancing those with the need to retain the freedom and independence of the press is the big challenge.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Funding political parties continued

Given that Nick Clegg gave a clear signal only last week that it is impossible to ask taxpayers to provide more money to fund political parties during this a time of austerity it is difficult to see where exactly today's report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life is going to go.

Following a 15 month inquiry they have recommended that an extra £23 million a year of taxpayers' money, the equivalent of 50p per voter, should be used to fund political parties as part of an effort to clean up the system. This would then enable a £10,000 cap on individual donations and restrictions on trade union funds.

Committee Chair, Christopher Kelly has at least acknowledged that his committee's findings will not make "comfortable reading" for the political parties, but added: "We think they are nonetheless justified.":

Launching the report, he said: "The issue of party funding cannot be shelved until the next scandal brings it to the fore.

"All three main parties now depend on large donations from a very small number of rich individuals or organisations for the funds necessary for their survival.

"This cannot be healthy for democracy."

Mr Kelly called on party leaders to show the "political courage" to adopt his proposals to clean up party funding.

He warned: "For as long as the system remains as open to corruption as the present arrangements, the possibility of another scandal will remain.

"Trust is very hard-won and easily lost."

Despite all that, and the very strong case to adopt these reforms, it is hard to see how this report will avoid doing anything but end up on a shelf somewhere gathering dust.

Monday, November 21, 2011

How the Lib Dems continue to restrain Tory extremism

Yesterday's Observer contains more details of the sort of discussions going on within the UK Coalition, both publicly and in private, that demonstrates the way the Liberal Democrats continue to restrain the Conservatives in Government.

What is important about these divisions, as the paper terms them, is that they give the lie to claims that the Government are acting in an ideological way so as to pursue the interests of a privileged elite. There may well be one or two with that agenda, but all the evidence points to a pragmatic government working to maintain a social justice agenda, whilst enabling the poorest in our society to improve their lives.

The issues that the Observer highlights are the continuing controversy over the 50p tax rate, trade union law and benefits policy. They say that Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, challenged a claim by Francis Maude, the Conservative Cabinet Office minister, on possible changes to trade union laws by dismissing the idea of linking the current strikes to a potential threshold on trade union strike ballots.

Danny Alexander also underlined Liberal Democrat unease about George Osborne's plans to reduce the welfare bill next year by changing the way payments are calculated. The chancellor is uneasy about using the current method – uprating payments in line with the previous September's rate of inflation – because it reached a high of 5.2%:

Alexander told Sky News: "We have made some very difficult decisions over the past 18 months to make savings in the welfare system … They haven't been arbitrary one-off changes. Of course, in looking at this uprating issue, which as you say we are looking at, we need to make sure that we handle it in that same way. I am not going to get into what we are going to be announcing in ten days' time but those discussions are still going on but both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are committed to not balancing the books off the backs of the poor and it is very important that we stick to that principle."

Lib Dem sources said Alexander would be pressing hard in the quad this week for the status quo to be upheld in uprating benefits, but that the party may have to give ground. "We don't have a majority Lib Dem government," one source said.

Alexander also challenged the assertion by the chancellor in his budget in March that the 50p top rate of tax would be a "temporary measure".

Osborne announced in the budget that he had commissioned HM Revenue & Customs to see how much revenue the 50p rate raises, amid Conservative suspicions that it acts as a deterrent to business.

Alexander challenged this view, saying the focus should be on cutting tax for the least well-off. "We'll see what the numbers show. I suspect it will show that it is bringing in money for the government. But we'll have to wait and see.

"Insofar as we have the capacity to cut taxes, and that capacity is very, very limited because of the difficult circumstances I was talking about earlier, I think the focus should be on low- and middle-income earners, that's why we have set out our first income tax priority is to ensure no one earning £10,000 pays any income tax at all."

As it said in the article, the Liberal Democrats are not in a majority and cannot get their way all the time, however they are fighting hard for what is right and I have confidence that our Ministers will work in the best interests of the country to keep the government's focus on those most in need of government support.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Is Jo Swinson the fourth Welsh Lib Dem MP?

Radio Wales' Sunday Supplement this morning, had an intriguing piece based on a book by Professor Norman Davies (Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe) in which he reveals an ancient Welsh speaking people were based along the River Clyde and ruled there for the best part of the first millennium.

Research elsewhere on the internet reveals that these Brithonic peoples founded the city of Glasgow and supplied us with our earliest examples of Scottish literature, written in Welsh. The BBC's Birth of a Nation page has more:

Sailing up the Clyde towards Glasgow there is a vast and imposing sentinel guarding the river at Dumbarton. As a fortress it has a long and proud history, and, in fact, has a longer recorded history than any other in Britain.

The rock was the centre of the Kingdom of the Britons, that stretched along the River Clyde, north into Stirlingshire and south into Ayrshire. Known as Dun Breatann - ‘Fortress of the Britons’ or 'Alt Clut' (Rock of the Clyde). It was the centre of a flourishing Britonnic culture that spoke Old Welsh, or Cumbric, which is now almost entirely forgotten.

They continue: Early Britonnic kings, such as Rhydderch Hael (c580-612 AD), helped to secure Christianity in Scotland by supporting St Kentigern (aka. St Mungo), the founder of Glasgow.

By the mid 7th century only Dumbarton, of all the Britonnic Kingdoms of Scotland, had survived the Angles’ onslaught. This has left us with the image of the Britons as doomed, heroic losers of the Dark Ages - an image depicted by their own poetry and their seemingly hopeless strategic position, trapped between the powerful Picts to the north and the Angles to the south. However, this is a mistaken image. The Britons were perfectly capable of defeating even the mightiest of their opponents.

This Kingdom was eventually brought to an end by Olaf the White, the Norse King of Dublin though this led to the emergence of a new kingdom, further up the river at Strathclyde.

East Dunbartonshire of course is represented by the very Scottish Liberal Democrat, Jo Swinson, who comes from the area. This leads one to pose the fanciful question, is she actually the fourth Welsh Liberal Democrat MP?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Spoof Twitter accounts

As the last couple of days has been all about Twitter for me, I thought this item on the Wales on-line site was particularly apt.

They have highlighted ten spoof twitter sites, some of which are funny whilst others are in rather bad taste. Number one naturally, is a Welsh Twitter spoof focussing on Business, Enterprise, Technology and Skills Minister, Edwina Hart.

They say that RedwinaHartski is just about the funniest of all the Welsh sham Twitter accounts out there, making light of the Business and Enterprise Minister’s left-wing credentials. It describes Mrs Hart, who recently said she “regrets capitalism”, in Stalinist terms as the “Commissar for Business and Enterprise in SSR of Wales”.

Among the missives fired off from the account include an update to her 270-odd followers that she’s “enjoying a coffee at Tsarbucks”.

Subtly highlighting the irony of a leftist heading up Wales’ business policies, Redwina was keen to comment on the recent “Occupy Cardiff” protest by anti-capitalists.

“As Minister in charge of business, I support wholeheartedly the #OccupyCardiff protest aiming to stop me having to meet any businessmen,” she tweeted.

Also featured is Carwyn Jones in an account called Carwynsitting. This account has been quiet of late, last posting in July, though the description of the First Minister as “part time First Minister of Wales, part time popular BBC weatherman” is a non-too-subtle reference to the apparent inter-changeability of Carwyn with Derek Brockway.

My favourite tweet from this account is: my welsh gov will call for devolution of energy from small streams and puddles to Wales. Rivers and waterfalls to remain Westminster issue

Friday, November 18, 2011

Will Britain end up joining the Euro?

The more Euro-sceptic, Tory-supporting press, has jumped on the words of German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, that the UK will have to adopt the euro 'faster than people think' as if it is a major threat to life, the universe and everything.

The Daily Mail in particular is rather scathing, describing the comment as an astonishing claim that comes despite deepening crisis that threatens the existence of the single currency. They also say that Germany has drawn up secret plans that could prevent Britain holding a referendum, which could lead to powers being clawed back from Brussels.

If all this is sounding a bit 'Hello, hello', then that is because it is. Germany has its own position to protect as does Britain, but neither country is going to allow the other to interfere in any process that is in their own national interest. Nevertheless, Mr. Schäuble is not quite in the real world when he suggests that all of Europe will eventually have to adopt the single currency:

He told a German news agency that his government 'respects' Britain's decision not to join the euro, but predicted that when the currency stabilised the whole continent would queue up to join, and added: 'It will perhaps happen faster than some in the British Isles currently believe.'

I would suggest that the rush to sign up new members to the Euro club irrespective of their economic stability is part of the present problem. Germany would do well to consolidate what they have and bring the Euro currency nations under a single central bank before they even start looking to expand it further.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Paperless Government

The Welsh Assembly has already made attempts to run a paperless Government, with varying success. All the agendas come to us electronically and we print them off for committee meetings. Having said that though, I believe we do generate less paper than we could do if we did not have this reliance (some would say over-reliance) on ICT.

Now it seems that the UK Government is trying to follow suit, though I do not expect to see computers on the benches of the House of Commons anytime soon. According to the Telegraph the days of ministers lugging round heavy Red Boxes filled with official papers could finally be coming to an end. This is because Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has indicated he wants to see them computerised.

Mr Maude believes that the UK should be emulating Estonia, where paperless systems are already in place:

He told how on one visit to the country he had gone into the Cabinet room and seen that ministers were all working from screens rather than notes.

''We need to get our technology much better,'' he said. ''The technology that we had in the Cabinet Office that I inherited... I could not take my Red Box home on disc.''

I have to say that despite a lot of Ministerial work in the Welsh Government taking place by e-mail, it is my observation that Ministers here still take home traditional boxes stuffed with paperwork. Perhaps they should follow the UK Government's example.

More importantly, why are Welsh schoolchildren still using paper and pens when in parts of England they work off their own computer tablets? It really is time we caught up.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Clegg rules out more funding for political parties

The Guardian report that the Deputy Prime Minister has ruled out extra state funding for political parties for the whole of this parliament.

Nick Clegg believes that it is impossible to ask taxpayers to provide more money for politics at a time of austerity, though the paper believes that this pronouncement raises questions over the value of a report due to be published next week setting out plans for a reform of party political funding.

They say that one of its central proposals will be an increase in state funding by as much as £100m over the course of a 5 year parliament to fill a void that would be created by a loss of donations due to the imposition of a £10,000-a-year cap on individual and union donations:

The report is in danger of being stillborn since Labour has said it opposes planned reforms to the union party link and the Tories oppose a cap being set as low as £10,000. Clegg's rejection of state funding at this stage means all three parties are opposed to key aspects of the proposals due to be published next Tuesday.

Despite this Clegg says he would like to proceed with as much cross-party consensus as possible and claims he is determined to achieve what reform he can. Frankly, though the initiative is looking dead in the water.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Baroness Trumpington unimpressed by Lord King comments


NFU and Badger Trust work on joint TB vaccination project

Some good news on the bovine TB front comes with a press release from the Badger Trust which reveals that the National Farmers Union and the Badger Trust are working togther on an initial project to vaccinate badgers on two farms owned by members of the NFU.

They say that NFU chief farm policy adviser John Royle and Badger Trust Director Simon Boulter have agreed a joint project in which the badgers on two farms owned by NFU members will be vaccinated. In addition, the Badger Trust has identified five other landowners around the UK wishing to vaccinate badgers and is working independently with them as part of the initial trial project:

Vaccination on all seven farms started in October after surveys were carried out to identify active badger setts and licences have been granted by Natural England. The vaccination project will run until the end of November 2011 and resume in May 2012.

It is hoped that the two programmes, although small in scale, will help to identify whether the injectable vaccination of badgers is practical and cost effective. The NFU and the Badger Trust will continue to encourage research and development into an orally-delivered badger vaccine.

This is a welcom sign that at least one Farmers' union is prepared to engage on this issue and look at alternatives to a cull.

Another potential Downing Street scalp?

The BBC has news of yet another Government special advisor who, it is alleged, is not up to the job and is in danger of dismissal.

In this case it is Larry, the cat brought in to tackle Downing Street's mouse problem. He is under pressure after reports that a mouse appeared at a recent prime ministerial dinner. The BBC say that David Cameron was with other ministers, including Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, when the offending creature appeared.

Rather worryingly, Larry has had the political equivalent of the Chairman's vote of confidence in the football manager, when a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said there were no plans to sack him: "Larry brings a lot of pleasure to a lot of people."

He said the cat was "doing well" in his new home and although he was "not very keen on men", he had made an exception in May when he was happy to be stroked by US President Barack Obama.

Four-year-old Larry came to Downing Street from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and was said to have "a high chase-drive and hunting instinct", developed during his time on the streets.

A spokesman said he had also shown "a very strong predatory drive" and enjoyed playing with toy mice.

Larry has struck up a friendship with Maisie, a cat who lives at the nearby St James' Park keeper's cottage. Let us hope Maisie is not distracting him from his other duties.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Diversity or bust?

A headline like "Give MPs more benefits, says diversity report" is bound to raise a few hackles, which is presumably why the Independent chose to use it, however on reading the article it soon becomes clear that the sub-editors were thinking of a different piece.

The suggestion is actually that candidates, not MPs, should have a statutory right to time off work and state funds to cover loss of income in an effort to encourage more diversity. However, it is not clear how the authors propose to fund this, nor how they suggest we get acceptance amongst businesses or the public for what effectively is a backdoor way of funding political parties.

I am though sympathetic. They are correct in identifying that the cost of candidature both in terms of money, time and the impact on family life is a major deterrent to some high quality candidates. Unless there are support mechanisms in place then many people are not in a position to put themselves forward. That though is a matter that should be addressed by the political parties themselves.

The quickest way to secure more diversity amongst the political elite who do get elected is to change the voting system so as to make it fairer. At least then those who are interested in standing will know that there is a chance of success, simply because the way people vote will be reflected in the outcome.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Welsh Labour and those elusive mandates

Maria Pretzler has an excellent blogpost on Welsh Labour proposal to replace the Assembly's semi-proportional voting system with first-past-the-post. As she points out, the effect of this would be to create a permanent Labour majority in Cardiff Bay.

This is how she believes it would impact on Labour in Wales:

■ May 2011 (AMS): 42% of the vote, 50% of the seats (30 of 60)
■ Estimate for double FPTP in May 2011: 42% of the vote, 68% of the seats (41 of 60)

Under the new system, the 55% voting for the other three parties in the assembly would be represented by just 19 seats.

Labour's excuse for this gerrymandering is that any changes to the balance between constituency and regional members as a result of boundary changes has no mandate. A lack of mandate of course has never worried Labour in Government before. After all, where was their mandate for taking us into an illegal war in Iraq, or introducing tuition fees and top-up fees in defiance of promises in their manifesto?

This is a flimsy excuse but even if it weren't, I would argue that a switch to 30:30 as a result of a constituency review has far more of a mandate than the proposed system now being propagated by Peter Hain and Carwyn Jones.

In fact the mandate for the Assembly's voting system lies in the 1997 referendum, when voters supported a partially proportional system of electing AMs, in which the constituency boundaries were tied to those for Westminster. There have been boundary changes since then, which have passed without protest, though of course the total number of constituencies were not reduced. Then again, that has always been a possibility, even on a conventional review. How would Labour have coped then?

What clearly does not have any mandate is a switch to 60 members elected in 30 constituencies by first past the post. If such a system had been put to voters in 1997 then it would have guaranteed a 'no' vote.

Labour are playing with fire in putting their own narrow, sectional interests above those of Wales. They have already fiddled with the system once, in 2006 when they restricted the rights of candidates. Is Peter Hain to lead another attempt to undermine Welsh democracy?

Green agenda parked in lay-by

This morning's Independent reports that, following the decision by the UK Government, David Cameron today faces a revolt of business leaders, councils, environment campaigners and unions furious at his decision to cut funding for household solar energy, severely undermining his claim that the coalition would be the "greenest government ever".

The 55 individuals and groups warns that the Government will "strangle at birth" Britain's booming solar panel industry, threatening 25,000 jobs by halving the state subsidy for the popular "feed-in tariff" scheme:

The feed-in tariff scheme is one of the most popular environmental measures introduced by any government. It has already been adopted by 100,000 private and housing association homes, and was championed by David Cameron within weeks of him becoming Conservative leader.

Yet last month ministers announced that, from 12 December, the subsidies would be cut in half, despite claims they were consulting on the plan.

A letter by a broad alliance – from the Federation of Small Businesses and house-building organisations to council leaders from all three political parties, as well as the Town and Country Planning Association – has been organised by Friends of the Earth and the Cut Don't Kill campaign, which is pressing for the Government to temper the reforms. Mr Cameron and Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, are also under pressure from the Confederation of British Industry, whose chief, John Cridland, said the measure was an "own goal". Mr Huhne has also been warned that 20 Liberal Democrat MPs – more than a third of the parliamentary party – are fighting the proposals.

In scathing language, the letter tells Mr Cameron: "This could only knock confidence in the UK's determination to build a low-carbon economy and hugely undermine your determination to lead the 'greenest Government ever'."

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Group in the Welsh Assembly have also publicly denounced the cut. The Party's Environment Spokesperosn, William Powell has written to Chris Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, to urge him to reconsider. We are particularly appalled that the cut has been made before a consultation on reform has concluded.

I am concerned at the impact of these changes on local jobs. One Swansea-based electrical company who contacted me expressed serious concerns about the speed with which this change is being implemented. They said that the backlash from customers has been massive already; with many cancelling, and requesting refund of their deposits. At the same time, his company are attempting to secure two to three times the proposed levels of stock, to allow them to get through as many customers as possible within the time allocated. They did not know if the company would survive the week.

There is no doubt that the FITs scheme has been a victim of its own success, with nearly three times as many applications received than anticipated, making the initial rates unsustainable in the medium to long term. However, I believe that by making this premature announcement, while the consultation on FITs reform is still underway, the UK Government is risking our long term renewable energy requirements for short term savings.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More top ten lists

Having already indulged myself once this week by blogging about Silvio Berlusconi's top ten gaffes, japes and pranks, it seems only right that I should also make reference to Republican Presidential Candidate, Governor Rick Perry of Texas and his Top 10 excuses for a disastrous debate performance.

The Daily Telegraph refers to what it describes as excruciating footage of Mr Perry, once the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination and seen as the main challenger to Mitt Romney, struggling for 53 seconds during the debate whilst failing to remember the third government department he would abolish:

From the moment the debate in Michigan ended, the Perry campaign decided the only thing it could do was admit the mistake, use it to try to make the candidate seem human and attempt to create a minute of television that might trump the "brain freeze" footage.

Mr Perry went some way to achieving that by taking the stage on the David Letterman Show on CBS in a feature entitled: "Top 10 Rick Perry Excuses".

Smiling broadly and showing some fine comic timing, self-deprecatingly Mr Perry reeled off his excuses. Number nine was: "I don't know what you're talking about. I thought it went well.

Perhaps the best received was number six: "You try concentrating when Mitt Romney's smiling at you. That is one handsome dude!"

Number four was: "I had a five-hour energy drink six hours before the debate." There were enthusiastic responses for number two, a reference to a rival accused of sexual harassment: "I wanted to help take the heat off my buddy Herman Cain."

Mr Perry's top excuse was a play on the story that a teenage singer had allegedly made a fan pregnant during a brief backstage encounter: "I just heard Justin Bieber is my father."

Unfortunately, the ploy does not appear to have worked. Still Mr. Perry can always take up a new career as a stand-up comedian.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Meanwhile, back in Scotland

Whatever you think of Alex Salmond, you have to give him credit for forcing others to address his agenda. The question though is whether it is the right agenda at the right time? Do people really want the Government to be focussing on Independence in a time of economic crisis?

David Cameron clearly has a problem with this. Judging by this article in the Independent he is finding the whole debate very distracting and would like Scotland's First Minister to get it over with so that everybody can move on.

The paper says that the Prime Minister is considering a UK-led referendum on Scottish independence to prevent the Scottish Nationalists from setting the terms, question and timing to suit themselves:

Some of the Prime Minister's aides want him to organise a Scottish independence referendum, set and run by Westminster – and they are in discussions with Labour to seek cross-party support. They believe this referendum could be held in 2012 or 2013 – much sooner than the 2014-15 timetable favoured by Scotland's SNP First Minister, Alex Salmond – and it would contain a straightforward Yes/No question on independence.

It is understood that the Prime Minister has yet to make up his mind but he has allowed soundings to be taken, both on his own side and on the Labour benches, to discover whether there is widespread support for this ploy of hijacking the referendum issue from the SNP.

This makes a lot of sense, especially as Scotland is not in a position to decide its own fate. Whatever the outcome of that referendum the consent of the rest of the United Kingdom will be necessary for any change. I am sure Nationalists will find that fact unpalatable but that is the way it is.

The main motivation behind this latest move though appears to be a desire to prevent Alex Salmond using the referendum for his own political ends and ensuring it focuses on the matter in hand:

One of the other issues which Mr Mundell has been exploring is whether the Coalition Government might be able to amend the current laws to force the Scottish Government to ask a clear Yes/No question on independence.

Mr Salmond has made it clear he favours a three-option referendum with the Scottish people being asked to back full independence, the status quo or "independence lite" – a settlement which many unionists believe would leave Scotland independent in all but name.

There have also been suggestions from the Nationalists that Scots would be able to choose more than one option in the referendum – prompting critics to warn that the SNP could secure independence even if this was only the second-best supported option.

Conservative ministers at Westminster want to stop all these developments, moves they believe are simply attempts by Mr Salmond to manipulate every part of the referendum process to suit himself. As a result, plans have been discussed for a "Clarity Act".

Modelled on a Canadian law of the same name, the Act could force the Scottish Nationalists to put just one simple question to the Scottish people. It is understood that ministers are considering inserting a new clause into the Scotland Bill which would perform the role of a full Clarity Act by setting strict terms for any referendum on Scottish independence.

It is an issue that will be well worth watching over the coming months.

Update: Wikipedia has more on the Canadian Clarity Act:

On September 30, 1996, Dion submitted three questions to the Supreme Court of Canada constituting the Supreme Court Reference re Secession of Quebec:

1.Under the Constitution of Canada, can the National Assembly, legislature, or government of Quebec effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally?

2.Does international law give the National Assembly, legislature, or government of Quebec the right to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally? In this regard, is there a right to self-determination under international law that would give the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec the right to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally?

3.In the event of a conflict between domestic and international law on the right of the National Assembly, legislature, or government of Quebec to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally, which would take precedence in Canada?

As soon as these questions were made public, both parties of the National Assembly, the Bloc Québécois and numerous federalists denounced Ottawa's gesture. An Act respecting the exercise of the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State was passed in the National Assembly of Quebec by the Parti Québécois government two days after the Clarity Act had been introduced in the Canadian House of Commons.

On August 20, 1998, the Supreme Court answered, concluding that Quebec does not have the right to secede unilaterally under Canadian or international law. However, the federal government would have to enter into negotiations with the Quebec government if Quebecers expressed a clear will to secede. It confirmed that the Canadian Parliament had the power to determine whether or not a referendum question was clear enough to trigger such negotiations. The Canadian constitution would remain in effect until terms of secession were agreed to by all parties involved, and these terms would have to respect principles of democracy, minority and individual rights as outlined in the Canadian constitution.

Both the government of Quebec and the government of Canada publicly stated that they were very pleased with the opinion of the Supreme Court, which stated both that Quebec could not legally separate unilaterally from Canada and that the Canadian Parliament would have a 'political obligation' to enter into separation negotiations with Quebec in the event that a clear majority of its populace were to vote in favour of independence.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Speaking a different language

As unlikely as it seems, today's Western Mail article about dealings between Welsh teachers' unions and the Department of Education in Westminster actually offers no surprises to those who have regular dealings with UK politicians and civil servants.

The paper says that Elaine Edwards, general secretary of Welsh teaching union UCAC, believes that there is an “ignorance about Wales” emanating from London which does not reflect well on the DfE:

Ms Edwards questioned the department’s understanding of devolution after a recent conversation about a focus group on new professional standards.

She said: “I told the official I could nominate a teacher from a Welsh-medium school – a former president of UCAC – to join the group, as had been requested.

“I had already assured her that whoever was nominated would be prepared to speak with her in English, but she reiterated this in an e-mail and during our telephone conversation she asked: ‘And can he speak English?’

“I was astounded by her question.”

Although the majority of education is devolved in Wales, teachers’ pay and conditions are currently dictated by the Coalition Government.

But Ms Edwards, who is calling for the devolution of pay and conditions, said there remains confusion over what Westminster is and isn’t responsible for.

She said: “Initially, when the official from the DfE telephoned she said proposals were at an early stage and that they would be holding regional focus groups with teachers – but there were none in Wales. I was told it was too late to do anything about it.”

Ms Edwards warned a senior official against “disenfranchising” 38,000 teachers and eventually managed to secure a Welsh focus group.

“There seems to be a lack of clarity and confusion of who is responsible for what,” she said.

“If pay and conditions aren’t going to be devolved to Wales in the foreseeable future government officials have to be made aware of Wales’ place on the radar. There is an ignorance about Wales.

“It may be a one-off, but I’d like to see greater awareness of devolution and the respective responsibilities of both governments, where education is concerned.”

Another union official, Dr Philip Dixon, who is the director of education union ATL Cymru, is also unsurprised:

“The ignorance of Wales at Westminster seems to grow rather than diminish. We have had all sorts of strange questions posed to us, possibly because heads are spinning from almost daily madness emanating from their Education Secretary.

“We should be very grateful for devolution. Westminster must get its act together and realise there’s a world outside London and there are devolved nations which have control over their own internal affairs.”

You would have thought though that after 12 and a half years, Westminster officials would have grasped the issues and be able to deal with them sensitively.

Update: Just to be clear I do not support the devolution of teachers' pay and conditions to Wales. I do not think such a move would be in their best interests.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Gaffes, japes and pranks

It is never wise for any politician to start listing the gaffes of others, however I was intrigued by this article in the Telegraph that may act as a short commentary on the rapidly diminishing career of Silvio Berlusconi.

The paper lists Silvio Berlusconi's top 10 gaffes, japes and pranks, most of which do him little credit as a European leader. Here is a sample:

3. March 2009. The 72-year-old self-made billionaire said his response to the global economic crisis was different to that of President Obama because "I'm paler".

"I'm paler because it's been so long since I went sunbathing. He's more handsome, younger and taller," quipped the media mogul.

Also accused of being racist, or at least gauche, in November 2008 when he hailed then President-elect Obama as "handsome, young and also sun-tanned".

Mr Berlusconi accused his critics of lacking a sense of humour, and a few days later repeated the observation about Mr Obama's mixed-race skin tone.

4. January 2009. Causes outrage by saying that although he was considering deploying 30,000 troops to Italy's cities, there would never be enough soldiers to protect Italy's many "beautiful girls" from rape.

5. At an awards dinner in January 2007, Berlusconi said to a former showgirl and men's magazine model, Mara Carfagna: "I'd go anywhere with you, even to a desert island. If I weren't already married, I would marry you straight away."

His wife, Veronica Lario, reacted by writing a letter published on the front page of La Repubblica newspaper calling for a public apology.

She duly received one. Mr Berlusconi later made Ms Carfagna his equal opportunities minister.

I do not believe that any other European leader would have survived a list of episodes of this nature.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Resorting to the courts

This morning's Telegraph contains an interesting article on the SNP's much-talked about Independence Referendum.

This is particularly relevant given that a number of Plaid Cymru figures are already pre-empting the result of that plebsicite and demanding that we make contingency plans for an emasculated British state. I would contend that not only are they taking the vote for granted but also that they are deliberately misleading people on the process should a 'yes' vote emerge.

The paper says that one of Scotland's leading QCs has claimed that the planned independence referendum has a “high chance” of being struck down by the courts as illegal.

Aidan O’Neill says that only Westminster has the authority to hold a vote on breaking up Britain, but adds that he believes that Mr Salmond may seek “political advantage” by crying foul when his proposals are declared unlawful.

The UK Supreme Court would ultimately decide on whether the referendum was legal, he says, but he notes that both the First Minister and Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Minster, have “form” in attacking its judges.

The Prime Minister has also hinted that he will take charge of the referendum if Mr Salmond continues to refuse to ask a single “straightforward” question. At the same time the Coalition Government is examining the legality of the First Minister staging the vote amid widespread expectations of a third-party legal challenge on the grounds constitutional affairs are reserved to Westminster.

This is far from a straightforward matter but then I expect Alex Salmond knows that and is counting on these sorts of challenges to bolster his own support in Scotland.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Twitter, Scotland and Wales Home

I have an article on Wales Home today regarding the Scottish Parliament's decision to ban the use of Twitter in its chamber. Pop over and have a read.

Looking for the money

A number of stories today relate to the spending of the £14 billion or so given to Wales by the Welsh Government. In particular the Western Mail highlights the report of the Assembly Finance Committee on the draft budget and the damning criticism contained therein of the lack of transparency and accountability surrounding that document.

The all-party Committee says: “[We] remain concerned that few specific targets or objectives with measurable outcomes were clearly presented for scrutiny, against which committees could consider the potential impact and effectiveness of the allocations proposed in the draft budget, and evaluate value for money achieved with resources allocated. In the current financial climate, with limited resources available, we consider it to be critical that those scrutinising public expenditure – as well as all individuals involved in delivering public services – are clear about the ultimate outcomes that are intended to be delivered by such expenditure.”

It continues: “We recommend that in presenting future draft budgets, the Welsh Government seeks to make all relevant and requested information on proposed budgetary allocations [available] to National Assembly for Wales committees, providing a sufficient level of detail for scrutiny in a consistent and co-ordinated manner, at the time of the draft budget’s publication, or as close to it as reasonably possible.”

The Committee also expresses concern that the Finance Minister did not seem to realise that her Cabinet colleague had frozen all new health capital spending for the time being, and also articulated considerable doubts as to whether health spending could be contained within the budgets set for it.

This leads us onto two other stories, one of which is directly due to a concession won by the Welsh Liberal Democrats that all Welsh Government spending above £25,000 will now be published monthly by ministers. This provides useful information by which we can scrutinise Ministers, unfortunately it comes after the fact. If we had anything approaching this level of detail when approving the budget then we would be able to question it far more effectively.

The BBC report that Welsh government has spent nearly £42m on IT, marketing and management consultancy in the first five months of this financial year. As a Management consultant says on their site this spending may well be perfectly justifiable, however there is no getting away from the fact that it dwarfs the £34.5m given to the voluntary sector in the same period.

This £42m is rougly equivalent to four new Primary Schools or one and a half new Comprehensive Schools. That is why we need more than just the published figures but a proper justification for the expenditure.

Finally, the BBC also report that the NHS in Wales is spending £700,000 a year paying managers whose posts were scrapped during a shake-up of the health service in 2009. A total of 120 managers who lost their jobs were kept on and had their salaries protected.

Naturally this is concerning at a time when health service budgets are being squeezed. However, the most astonishing part of this story is the criticism of the policy by a Plaid Cymru AM, when it was his party in government who put it into effect and constantly defended it in committee and Plenary meetings.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Illegal stop and search?

When I saw a tweet a few days ago from a reputable source suggesting that passengers at a London transport venue were being asked for identification by police I thought it was strange but, as I had no more details I moved on.

Today though, a story in the Observer leads me to believe that it could have been part of an operation whereby Border agency officials are conducting unlawful passport checks on buses and other public transport to try to catch illegal immigrants.

The paper says that documents it has seen suggest that staff from the UK Border Agency have been "regularly" targeting coaches at bus stations "to prevent illegal migrants from making use of the public transport network".

They add that the practice appears to be illegal, with officials only authorised to examine passengers at air or sea ports. One bus passenger subjected to the identity checks is quoted as describing them as "harassment" and behaviour that had no place in a democratic society.

One victim of these checks wrote to complain and gave an account of what happened to him:

British-born Pete Clark, 56, from Liverpool, has described that he had no idea who the officials were when they physically blocked him leaving a National Express coach travelling to the city from Leeds until the passengers revealed identification "deemed suitable."

"None of the persons involved gave an explanation of who they were, what they were doing and on which authority." he said "Their attempt to prevent passengers from going about their lawful business amounts to harassment."

He said that he had recently been working in Africa and had witnessed the heavy-handed behaviour of police and state officials acting on suspicion of illegal behaviour: "I have always considered the country of my birth to be free of this sort of constant intimidation. Sadly, this seems not to be the case. Such routine actions under repressive regimes worlwide have no place in a free democracy such as the UK."

In a letter to Clark, the UKBA explain that the intelligence operations on coaches were permitted under the immigration act 1971. Yet the act itself states only: "An immigration officer may examine any persons who have arrived in the United Kingdom by ship or aircraft."

This is a very worrying development. Day-to-day operations of agencies are not of course supervised by politicians but, now that this is in the open, the Government should investigate and put a stop to any illegal practices.


Saturday, November 05, 2011

The threat to English Language broadcasting

Former BBC Wales Director, Menna Richards is right when she says that the debate on broadcasting in Wales has focussed almost exclusively on the future of S4C at the expense of all else.

She argued in the Welsh Political Archive's annual lecture at the National Library of Wales on Friday that the Welsh political class need to fight harder to protect English language broadcasting. She points out that between 2007 and 2011 the number of hours of English language television programmes broadcast by BBC Wales fell by 16% and contrasts the situation in Wales with that in Scotland:

"The BBC in Scotland is faced with making similar tough savings but I've always found it curious that the level of interest and engagement there is so much more intense.

"Scottish newspapers and politicians complain, write, criticise and attack the BBC's senior management in London.

"The BBC's top team would tend to sigh theatrically at what they saw as an excess of emotion in Edinburgh and Glasgow but you'd know that, usually, Scotland would get some concession just to keep them quiet.

"Because a fuss was being kicked up. There was a public debate. Newspapers were agitated. Politicians were angry.

"The BBC centrally needs to hear from politicians, newspaper editors and other opinion-formers that they are worried about the threat to English language services in Wales as well as the dangers facing S4C.

"You can bet they'd be doing so in Scotland."

Now that the future of S4C has been secured, we will no doubt turn our attention to this issue, however the contrast with Scotland is a little unfair, not least because they have been able to concentrate on the issue of English language content, whereas we have had our work cut-out monitoring proposals for S4C and fighting to get the right deal.

What I need to know more about is what areas this 16% cut in English Language content has fallen in. Is it news and current affairs or drama? How has the gap been filled? How does it compare to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

It is fair to say that if it has happened it has been hidden by the big investment in drama production in BBC Wales including the new studios at Roath basin by the Cardiff rivers estuary.

Public service broadcasters are facing huge challenges with shrinking budgets. It is important that as much of that resource as possible goes to providing content rather than administration and bureaucracy. However, because we have a dedicated Welsh channel it is also inevitable that Wales will end up spending more on Welsh language content.

Is Menna Richards asking us to change that balance?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Problems with the bins

First it was Oliver Letwin dumping confidential documents in a park bin, now we learn that Business Secretary Vince Cable has apologised 'unreservedly' after confidential documents were discovered in bins left outside his constituency office.

In Vince's case the paper says that unshredded paperwork, including correspondence from ministers and letters which contained personal details of his constituents, were found dumped in transparent recycling bags outside the Liberal Democrat's Richmond and Twickenham HQ over a nine month period. Clearly, this is a problem with the way that work is processed in his office which he has said that he will address. There really is no comparison.

However, what is most bizarre about this story is that acording to the journalist an unidentified local resident began collecting the hoard of sensitive documents from the office's recycling bags in February this year before handing them to a local newspaper. Surely, that is theft. Why does the Telegraph not address that issue?

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Welsh Government abandons scholars

Yesterday's debate on European funding and the decision by the Welsh government to end funding for the Prince of Wales Innovation Scholarships failed to change Ministers' minds but it did highlight their failure to understand the scheme and their own role in it.

As I said in the chamber, that decision has had a number of consequences, one of which is to send a signal to academics and investors outside Wales that we are not interested in commercially based research and that the Welsh Government does not understand the needs of business.

If we are to build the Welsh economy then we need to make use of the very important work that is going on in our universities and turn it into wealth creating enterprise and high quality jobs. That is something that POWIS was particularly good at. This is a scheme that has hit all the targets set for it. It has brought in £14 million of inward investment and assisted 72 companies.

Minister argue that their own audit of the scheme found that it was in breach of the terms on which funding was allocated to it, that it did not award scholarships to the best scholars and that there were issues about scholars and others benefitting from the firms they were working in. They have now circulated the executive summary of their audit which can be read here

However, the independent report commissioned from Price Waterhouse Cooper by the audit committee of the University of Wales provides a point by point rebuttal of these claims. It can be read here. The report says:

The business case for the POWIS scheme attempted at the outset to address a number of the issues that were expected to arise in the implementation of the scheme that would determine both the quality of the project and the basis on which it could establish its uniqueness in terms of how scholars were to be recruited, placed and monitored. The business case set out to re-emphasise on a number of occasions that unlike most post graduate placement programmes, the emphasis of the POWIS scheme was to be on the commercial aspects of the placement and the benefits to the participating private sector companies rather than on the academic development of the student. The case study specified that “It must be emphasised that it is the business and not the individual placement recipient or any academic institution which is the main beneficiary for this project.”

It is worth quoting in some detail from the PWC report on the accusation that scholars and others personally benefitted from the scheme. In fact the scheme was set up in that way from the start as should have been clear to both the Welsh Government and WEFO:

Our review of the operation of the POWIS scheme highlighted a number of factors relevant to a consideration of these issues. These are as follows:

As highlighted in section I of this report, the emphasis of the POWIS programme was on the need of the “company” and not the scholar

The purpose of the scheme was to match commercial requirements with academic resources to develop a research and development culture for the benefit of the private enterprise and ultimately theWelsh economy

Given these factors, it is almost inevitable that in a number of circumstances “mutually beneficial” relationships would develop between the parties to a specific project. For example, in a number of instances, scholars would be likely to receive offers of long term employment from the company (this must have been envisaged as a long term benefit of the programme, i.e. the ability to ensure high quality individuals came to reside and work in Wales). In addition, in order to lock the scholar into the long term success of the company, it would not be unusual to offer the individual either equity or an option to acquire equity.

Equity participation in relatively small high technology companies is often the norm where it is often difficult in the short term to pay the going rate for the skills required and therefore equity participation becomes effectively part of the employment package. UK tax law, for example, recognises that such remuneration packages are often the norm and have specific rules dealing with how such options and equity stakes are taxed in order to actively encourage the benefit of such relationships. Accordingly, the need to develop appropriate “POWIS Scheme Rules” to deal with such situations could have been envisaged if not from the outset then certainly as the scheme began to be implemented.

As is noted in the WAG report, POWIS had a process for dealing with conflicts of interest and the minutes of the Industry Panel contain a number of references to individual members of the Panel drawing attention to areas of potential conflicts of interest. However, this process in itself contained a number of weaknesses that needed to be addressed:

As actual or potential conflict of interests (either real or perceived) had not been anticipated and addressed at the time of preparing the business plan, no mechanism existed which established any of the following:

The parameters within which actual or perceived conflicts of interest would be dealt with at the time of the initial approval of the project or as the project developed

Where responsibility lay for determining the response of the POWIS scheme on how to resolve such conflicts of interest

Establishing within the POWIS scheme an appropriate method for recording conflicts

Establishing parameters within which scholars or other parties would not be prohibited from benefiting from involvement in a company, e.g. a rule could have been established that a scholar could participate in equity schemes once the 3 year placement period had ended or earlier if the scholar resigned from the scheme.

On the issue of the students the PWC report says that this was a genuine misunderstanding but one that should have been addressed earlier, especially as WEFO and Government officials were aware of practice from the start. They say:

In practical terms and based on my discussions with members of the POWIS management team, the recruitment methodology outlined in the business plan issued by POWIS management, was in reality an ideal or theoretical model of how it could work rather than intended to establish a strict code of practice on how it had to be undertaken. Given the unique nature of this scheme it is not surprising that actual practice evolved in a different way to that envisaged in the business plan. There appears, therefore, to be a gap between what WAG now insist in their recommendations should occur if the recruitment process varies from the programme and what POWIS management consider was accepted practice, particularly given the knowledge through Panel meetings that WAG and WEFO representatives and other stakeholders had of the actual process involved.

Given the unique nature of this programme, the precise recruitment methodology would inevitably be difficult to spell out in advance to the level of detail set out in the POWIS business case. In appendix K, we attach a copy of the marketing initiatives provided to us by POWIS, including the methods adopted to recruit scholars. It is clear from this analysis that a considerable number of the initiatives followed the ideas and methods set out in the business plan. However, despite this it is clearly the case that a number of scholars were not recruited in line with the methodology set out in the business case.

The extent to which this represented the evolution of the process (the view of POWIS management) or a material breakdown from laid down procedures (WAG) is a matter of interpretation. However, what is clear is that WAG are now formally, although both they and WEFO attended meetings at which this actual recruitment process was discussed, dissatisfied with the process. It would not be unreasonable to conclude that this could have been addressed at the time.

What is most surprising about the criticism is that both the Welsh Government and WEFO were represented on the Steering Group and Industry Panel of POWIS and were party to all the decisions that they have subsequently been critical of.

They say: “There is no evidence that any WAG or WEFO representatives raised any concern in respect of these issues as being ‘deal breakers’ for the POWIS scheme.”

They also say that: “There is nothing in the WAG report on corporate governance or conflicts of interest matters that they would not have been aware of from the Industry Panel and Steering Group meetings. It is therefore surprising that they now formally raise these matters in a way which questions the validity of the totality of the project rather than by addressing them at the time that they arose.”

In the light of this it seems to me to that the decision by the Government to withdraw funding is both perverse and against the interests of Wales and its economy.

Note: comments to this post will be carefully moderated.

Spiderman and the funding of the Welsh Assembly

In an echo of the motto from the Spiderman movies, that with great power comes great responsibility, the Secretary of State for Wales told MPs today that it was no longer acceptable for the Welsh Assembly to spend nearly £15 billion of public money without having some accountability for raising it.

She said the Welsh Government could be given powers to levy some taxes, depending on the findings of a body set up to explore greater devolution:.

Mrs Gillan said the Silk Commission could offer plans to levy taxes such as rubbish dumping costs, air passenger duty on flights and stamp duty when buying homes.

Opening a Commons debate, she said: “With power comes responsibility.

“It is surely better for the devolved institution to be accountable to the people of Wales not just for decisions on public spending in Wales, but by being responsible for raising some of the money needed to pay for those decisions.

“Even local authorities, despite receiving block grants, have responsibility for raising local council tax and, consequently, recognise the difficulty of raising tax monies before spending money.

“There is no reason why one institution should be immune from any tax raising and simply spend money and continue to ask for more.”

Mrs Gillan said the current system, where Westminster gives Cardiff Bay a cash handout, failed to provide enough accountability for Assembly Members (AMs).

She added: “I personally think that cannot be right.”

In a strange role reversal though her Labour Shadow, Peter Hain and his MPs were busy laying down road blocks to this sort of further devolution. Who would have thought that a Conservative Secretary of State could be more devo-friendly than the so-called radical Labour Party?

Of course I will claim some credit for the role of the Liberal Democrats in that, but nevertheless it is an interesting role-reversal.

Mr. Hain apparently believes that fiscal devolution to the Welsh Assembly will destroy” the nation. He seems to think that the outcome of the Silk Commission will be to limit Wales to only the income it can raise from Welsh taxpayers. As he points out the Holtham commission calculated that approximately £17.1bn of tax revenue is raised in Wales every year. Total public spending in Wales is around £33.5billion, almost twice the amount raised.

This is absolute nonsense of course, as was made clear by Cheryl Gillan. It is the kind of scaremongering and rabble-rousing that Labour often accuse the Liberal Democrats of indulging in. In actual fact we are too responsible to do so, unlike Labour.

Labour are seeking to prejudge the findings of the Silk Commission before it has even got underway, by effectively rewriting its remit. Their record on holding back devolution is bad enough. Today they have taken it to new depths. Do they have no shame?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

More on those small earthquakes

Today's Telegraph reports that the controversial ''fracking'' technique used to extract gas from the ground was the ''highly probable'' cause of earth tremors which hit Lancashire's Fylde coast earlier this year.

A firm of independent experts were commissioned to investigate after a tremor of magnitude 2.3 on the Richter scale hit the area on April 1 followed by a second of magnitude 1.4 on May 27. A summary published by the Cuadrilla, the company concerned, said that it is probable the fracking caused the tremors.

Fracking involves extracting gas reserves from underground by a process of hydraulic fracturing of shale rock using high pressure liquid to release gas, a process green groups claims is damaging the environment.

Cuadrilla said: 'The report concludes that it is highly probable that the fracking at Preese Hall-1 well triggered the recorded seismic events.

'This was due to an unusual combination of factors including the specific geology of the well site, coupled with the pressure exerted by water injection.

'This combination of geological factors was rare and would be unlikely to occur together again at future well sites.

'If these factors were to combine again in the future, local geology limits seismic events to around magnitude 3 on the Richter scale as a worst-case scenario.'

I am not sure what comfort that offers for areas that may also be subject to applications for fracking in the future.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Calm down, calm down!

David Cameron follows the tradition set by many of his predecessors today in criticising the bear pit that is Prime Minister's Question Time.

The Telegraph reports on the Prime Minister's interview with Grazia magazine in which he attacks the "gladiatorial, testosterone-charged" atmosphere of the occasion. He describes it as the most "unpleasant-looking thing that I have to do every week":

"It is confrontational, adversarial and quite difficult to be anything else unless you want to get completely squashed by the other side," he said. "I think that sometimes you can come across in a way that you don’t mean to, that’s not the real you. You come across as a macho, aggressive male and I think that’s what PMQs tends to push you in to."

Will he be telling Ed Miliband to 'calm down, dear' next time in an effort to ensure that more light than heat is generated in future?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?