A Party Without Principles

It all seemed so reasonable. A few weeks ago 77 prominent Labour figures including 39 MPs put their name to this letter in the Guardian:

Next year we have the opportunity to vote for a fairer voting system – one in which everyone's vote counts and every MP is required to get the backing of a majority of voters. It means that every Labour party member and supporter, in every seat in the country, can cast their vote for Labour and then mark any other preferences, knowing their vote won't be wasted.

First past the post isn't working. When just a few thousand people determine every election result in a few swing seats, the interests of the Labour party and the people we represent go unheard. The alternative vote means the majority get their voices heard; it will shut the door on extremist parties like the BNP.

When people switch off from politics it damages Labour, not the Tories. That's why the Tories don't want fairer votes. They don't want change; they say no! Labour is the party of fairness and change. Labour says yes. It's time for change.

Guardian, 8 December 2010

The four Welsh MPs included were Peter Hain, Chris Bryant, Susan Elan Jones and Kevin Brennan.

The sad thing is that the No to AV group have just released their list of Labour MPs who are opposed to the change ... and it is much, much longer with 114 MPs in total including eleven from Wales: Ann Clwyd, Geraint Davies, Chris Evans, Ian Lucas, Alun Michael, Paul Murphy, Nick Smith, Mark Tami, Albert Owen, Nick Smith and Mark Tami.

Should I laugh or should I cry?

What is there to say about a party that simply isn't capable of operating on the issue of principle? In the Yes group, the one thing that seems to matter most is that the Tories are against the Alternative Vote ... which means, to put it more bluntly, that these people in Labour think that AV will be of more benefit to themselves in Labour than to the Tory party.

Unfortunately (I say that because I support the change to AV, even though I would prefer STV) there are even more Labour MPs who think the opposite. Yet the No camp seem to be even more involved in narrow party politics. For example, they say that they:

challenged the Yes to AV campaign to "come clean" on their links to the Liberal Democrats

No to AV, 23 December 2010

But what on earth is wrong with being associated with the LibDems on a matter in which fairness should transcend party politics? I can only conclude that whole swathes of Labour MPs, who previously were committed to the Alternative Vote (and in fact went so far as to offer to introduce AV without a referendum if the LibDems got into bed with them rather than the Tories) have changed their minds only because they hope that a No vote on 5 May will put pressure on the ConDem coalition and lead to its collapse.

It's blatant, cheap opportunism that brings politics as a whole into disrepute.

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New Welsh-medium school in Risca "a priority"

I'm not entirely sure how the story could break on Boxing Day, but it was very encouraging to read this in the South Wales Argus:

Mixed welcome for new Risca Welsh school

Councillors in Risca have mixed views regarding a Welsh medium primary school being built in the area. The idea put forward by council officers will be explored further in the new year, with it listed as a priority to be built between 2012 and 2015. It features in Caerphilly Council's 21st century schools programme and would cost £6 million.

The local authority’s leader Cllr Lindsay Whittle said a major challenge is satisfying an increasing demand for Welsh medium education. Risca was highlighted as an area with no Welsh medium provision.

Risca East councillor Stan Jenkins said: "Do we really need it? I can't see the demand. A few people speak Welsh here, but it’s not a really big Welsh-speaking area. It shouldn't be forced on people."

If plans go ahead, he is concerned one of Risca's three primaries – Ty Isaf (with around 110 pupils), Risca (350) and Ty Sign (500) – could make way for it. He added: "Even if they do learn it at primary, the comprehensive doesn’t teach it, so where would they go from there?"

A possibility is that Risca Comprehensive could provide English and Welsh-medium secondary education.

The local authority’s plans propose a Welsh-medium facility for ages seven to 14 in Islwyn, with Risca Comprehensive governor and Risca East councillor Betty Toomer suggesting it could be a suitable site. She said: "Governors thought it could be used for English and Welsh education, it's big enough and this idea has been put forward."

Risca East councillor Rhiannon Passmore said she will wait until plans are more advanced before forming a view.

Rhian Williams of the Cylch Meithrin Welsh-medium playgroup in Caerphilly said partly because of Assembly Government legislation, more parents are learning Welsh and sending their children to Welsh-medium schools. She said: "Most primary schools teach England and Welsh, which they probably do in Risca's primaries. So, parents are thinking, why not send their children to a school that teaches Welsh all the time? We live in Wales, so Welsh should be our first language."

South Wales Argus, 26th December 2010

As people might guess, I'm delighted to see any proposals to increase Welsh-medium education. But this one is particularly satisfying for me because I set out the case for a new Welsh-medium school in Ricsa in this post in Sepetember last year.

What I said back then should go some way to giving Councillor Jenkins an answer to his question about the level of demand. For Cylch Meithrin Dewi Sant in Ty Sign already provides WM nursery provision in the area, but there is then no primary school for the children to go to.


I don't have any details of Caerffili's proposal as yet, but it is clear that this proposal for a new school was part of the 21st Century Schools capital funding bid that each local authority submitted to the Welsh Government earlier this month. Obviously there are some question marks over the extent to which these projects will now be funded. There is money allocated in the draft budget, but it still is not clear whether Leighton Andrews intends to defer some or all of the final tranche of the School Building Improvement Grant and whether this will have a knock-on effect. The statement promised two weeks before Christmas has yet to appear.

But the important thing is that Caerffili has put the Risca proposal into Band A, at the top of its list of priorities, so it does have a very reasonable hope of being built, even if delayed by a year or two. The contrast between Caerffili with 11 WM primaries (although none in this corner of the county) and neighbouring Blaenau Gwent, which only has one WM primary and has put a second right at the bottom of its list of new school priorities, could not be more stark.


As a note of caution, I would only say what I've said a number of times before in similar situations. It is all well and good to increase WM provision by building brand new schools, especially because it avoids the sensitive issue of closing English-medium schools even though they have large numbers of empty spaces. But if the bid isn't successful, or is deferred, what is Caerffili's Plan B? The point I made in the previous post was that Ty Isaf Infants was an underused building with a large number of surplus places ... and, as an infants-only school, would probably not sit well with the current education policies in any case. So my Plan B would be to consider using its surplus space in the short term to set up a new Welsh-medium starter school, this would then give a year or two of breathing space if the proposed new build WM school is delayed for any reason.

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Nadolig Llawen

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm as much into Siôn Corn and the magic of Christmas as anyone else, so I hope everyone reading this gets what they want most for themselves and for those they love at this time of year.

I thought this ecard from S4C was particularly appropriate.


But Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. And, as Ian Anderson put it back in 1972, we'd do well to remember the things he later said.


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Don't let students vote

For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, it seems that the LibDems have the right to set the date of the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. They have opted for 13 January and, as the Independent notes here, the reason for such an early date is obvious: it is before the start of next term, and means that over 1200 students studying at the Huddersfield University campus in Oldham will still be on holiday when by-election takes place.

For a party that owed some of its good results almost entirely to students who relied on their pledge not to increase tuition fees, not even the LibDems would be stupid enough to let those whom they let down so badly have a say in determining the outcome of this by-election.


Unfortunately, Plaid aren't standing, so the voters of Oldham East and Saddleworth aren't exactly spoilt for choice. The interesting thing for us will be to see whether the Tories—who got 26.4% of the vote last time—will run a deliberately lacklustre campaign to tacitly encourage their supporters to vote LibDem. Between them, the two parties got 57.0% of the vote, so even a small switch by Tory voters would easily be enough to get the LibDems in.

If this is what happens, it will give us a very clear idea of how the LibDems and Tories might act in our own Assembly elections a few months later.

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The Corridors of Power

I've just stumbled upon a rather interesting political blog called The Corridors of Power, by Emma McFarnon, a postgraduate newspaper journalism student at Cardiff University.

Her most recent article is on the growth of the Welsh speaking community in Cardiff.

As her profession might suggest, the blog comprises longer articles which seem to be well researched and make good use of sound and video material. I've only skimmed through a few of them, but it looks well worth reading on a regular basis.

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The War You Don't See

Last night I watched John Pilger's documentary, The War you Don't See, on ITV. It was the most hard hitting couple of hours of television I have seen for some time.

This is a short trailer which gives a flavour of what it's about:


Nothing in the documentary particularly surprised me. From what I've written here and elsewhere, people should know my opinion of what Pilger calls the "rapacious wars" the UK government and some of its allies have been and are engaged in. Nor are some of the things reported new. But so much of this film's strength lies in the thoroughness of its approach in showing the failure of the mainstream news media to give us a balanced picture of what happens in these wars.

So I'd urge anyone who missed it to carve out some time to catch it here on itvplayer.

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Yes for Wales gets off to a terrible start

I must admit to being absolutely horrified by the first of the leaflets put out by the Yes for Wales campaign. This is an extract from it:

At a time when all the talk is about cuts to public services, it’s good to know that our National Assembly is protecting schools, skills and hospitals.

Important services for the most vulnerable are also being protected, like free bus travel for pensioners and disabled people.

This has got nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the subject of the referendum. The things that are listed are policy decisions made by the Welsh Government, and indeed the line about "protecting schools, skills and hospitals" is directly from that government. It is very doubtful whether, say, Tory or Liberal Democrat AMs will agree that these particular policy decisions made by the One Wales coalition are "good" or not. I personally might think they are, but we must recognize that it is a matter of political opinion.

In short, the Yes for Wales campaign seems to have fallen at the very first hurdle. It has confused the policies that the present Welsh Government has chosen to adopt with the constitutional matter of the extent to which the National Assembly can pass primary legislation.

I have been one of those who has most actively criticized True Wales for the lies and disinformation they have circulated over the last few months. But just because one side of the argument resorts to such tactics, that doesn't justify the other side confusing the issue as well.


I have to admit that I see the advantage of concentrating on "bread and butter" political issues rather than the much more obscure and more difficult to understand constitutional issue which we will be asked to vote on. First, it's what most voters are familiar with; and second, these issues are much more directly important to people than the issue of what laws the Assembly is able to pass.

But the Yes for Wales campaign is in grave danger of producing party political pamphlets for the Labour Party and, though perhaps to a lesser extent, Plaid Cymru. This is not good for democracy.


Now of course the Yes for Wales campaign is free to do whatever it likes at the moment because it hasn't received any public money. But if I were in the Electoral Commission, I would be very concerned about whether Yes for Wales would be capable of not making party political points when the official campaign starts and public money is given to it. And as a potential donor to the Yes for Wales campaign I would be very wary of giving my money to an organization that confuses the issue at hand in the referendum with the more general issues of party politics.

There is an agenda at play. The Labour Party has made no secret of the fact that it wants to use the campaigh for a Yes vote as a springboard towards its own campaign for the Assembly elections only a few weeks later. If the other messages that the Yes campaign put out are of the same party political nature as this first leaflet, then donors to the Yes for Wales campaign might well find that they are simply giving money that will end up improving the Labour Party's chances of doing well in the Assembly elections that follow.

I would therefore urge people to think very hard before donating to this campaign, and not do so until and unless it demonstrates that it will concentrate on the issue at hand rather than on party politics on behalf of the One Wales Government. And I would urge those people from other parties, including my own, who have a say in determining the direction of the Yes for Wales campaign not to be naïve about Labour's intentions.

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One rule in law kept, another broken

In Paul Flynn's blog a few days ago, he mentioned an exchange between himself and Steve Webb, the Minister of State for Pensions:

Paul Flynn: If a private company alters its contractual obligations to pay its customers, it is likely to end up in court on a charge of fraud. The Secretary of State admits that CPI increases at a slower rate than RPI. Is not the measure just a simple theft of money from pensioners?

Steve Webb: No, it is not. Each year the Secretary of State has a duty to assess the general increase in prices; that is what the law requires him to do. If the law required him to link state pensions, for example, to RPI, that would be a different matter, but that is not the duty. The duty is to assess inflation fairly, which is what we are doing. I also announced today that, when companies have RPI written into their rules and no provision for changing those rules, the Government will not allow schemes to change them, precisely for the sorts of reasons that the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Read My Day, 12 December 2010

I don't want to detract at all from the point Paul was making about pensioners. But it struck me as highly significant that the spokesman for one Secretary of State should make the point that if the law required that state pensions were linked to RPI, he would be obliged to stick to it. He also make the point that the ConDem government would not allow any companies to change pension provisions that were linked to RPI.

So if laws linking funding to RPI are such an important point of principle for this UK government, why should another Secretary of State—the one for Media, Culture and Sport—be allowed to break the link between RPI and the funding of S4C?

It's another example of the blatant double standards that exist, and are allowed to exist, within the Westminster government.

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The Goddess of Health and Safety ... Gone Mad

To me "soteria" has always meant salvation or, in the Greek of the New Testament, to be made whole or in other words healed. But the Greek word is feminine—as with most abstract concepts—and so I don't much mind that the consortium that will tomorrow be announced as the PFI contractor to run search and rescue services around Britain say "Soteria is the Greek goddess of safety, deliverance and preservation from harm" ... although the more mischievous side of me thinks that in this age she might be better called the Goddess of Health and Safety.


But leaving the name to one side, this is yet another example of the privatization of what used to be a public service. And although it's been brought to fruition under the ConDem government, I'm afraid it was the Labour government before it that set the contract up back in February of this year.

     Private firm to run search and rescue helicopters

The party that is now making so much noise about what is happening to public services is the very same party that is in fact responsible for this privatization. And if there are question marks over the level of service—and of course there are, as we can read here—any blame must lie with the Labour party that instigated this privatization rather than anywhere else. That should be a sobering reminder for anyone who is still thinking of voting for the Labour party in the Assembly elections next year in response to what the ConDem coalition is doing in Westminster. Don't be fooled. There is no difference between them.


Now I don't know to what extent the rescue services that we rely on in Wales, based at RAF Fali and RAF Chivenor in Devon will be affected. Things should be clearer tomorrow. But this much is certain: the PFI contract will be for 25 years; so even though the cut backs might arguably be necessary in the present economic crisis, the chances of restoring the levels of service back to what they were after the economic situation improves are going to be severely limited by the terms of the PFI contract. For, as with any contract, things are fine when the service required can be clearly defined, but any subsequent variations to the contract that change the level of service will not come cheap.

And although the offer from Soteria looks attractive in technical terms, do we really want to be stuck with a level of service in 25 years' time that is state-of-the-art today? Of course not. That would be as silly as saying we would today be content with the same level of rescue service that we had 25 years ago. Times change and technology improves. So it is complete folly for a government to tie itself into an arrangement in which any improvement will be at whatever extra price the PFI consortium cares to name.


So why on earth are we doing it? In part it is the fetish of privatization so loved by first the Tories, then Labour, and now by the Tories and LibDems together ... but only in part. Up until now we have generally relied on our armed forces to provide the backbone of such a service, at least in terms of the equipment and facilities. There is an obvious synergy between the two, for when our island is not threatened by war we have trained pilots whose skills on the battlefield will be just as valuable when used for rescue. And our armed forces also have the flexibility to respond to any disaster without being followed by a set of accountants eager to work out how much the PFI consortium should be billed.

But the UK can now no longer follow a model that has worked well for decades. Because the UK government prefers to use our armed forces not for our defence, but to attack, invade and maintain a military presence in other countries, our armed forces are stretched to breaking point. This privatization is necessary because of that, and is in fact a direct result of the UK's foreign policy.

Now of course it is up to government to decide what our foreign policy should be. I would simply note that a very large chunk of the £6bn that this contract was due to cost back in February (or whatever the revised cost turns out to be when announced tomorrow ... and whatever the inevitable additional costs will be because of the factors I explained above) will be directly attributable to our continued presence in Afghanistan ... and whatever country the US invites us to invade next.

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. The UK has gone mad.

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A few more kicks to the head

We've seen it on too many TV dramas. Someone gets beaten up by a gang and is left lying in a dark side street. Then, from out of the shadows when the big boys have gone, someone comes and delivers a few more kicks to the head.

It's not a new storyline, but we saw it acted out again today.


I am going to stand up for S4C. Whatever its failings, I don't think any purpose is served by attacking it in a way that seems, to me at least, to be vicious and vindictive rather than constructive.

We should ask ourselves why, if this is what Dafydd Elis-Thomas thinks, did he not offer some constructive criticism at a time when it might have made a difference. And I found it sad that even now he had nothing positive to offer as a way forward for S4C ... he just wanted to slag people off.

Our politics needs to be better than this.

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I'm not proud of it ... it's so unfair

Here's a short video interview with Joel Barnett which appeared on the BBC yesterday:


Is the Barnett Formula a thorn in Lord Barnett's side these days?

Well, in one sense it is: in the sense that it's so unfair and my name is attached to it ... I'm not proud of having my name attached to something that's so unfair now.

He's not saying anything new, but it's a timely reminder of why it needs to be replaced with the sort of needs based formula worked out by the Holtham Commission. And of the fact that it gives Scotland extra money at the same time as it short changes us.

But Labour did nothing to change it when they were in power, and now the Tories and LibDems are refusing to do anything about it either ... on the prextext that they have to sort out the UK's finances before they can be bothered to deal with something that's patently unfair to Wales.

But if we in Wales complain about it, we're called whingers. Remember that in next year's Assembly elections.

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Wait, wait, wait ... until 2023

In the South Wales Argus yesterday was a story about the executive in Blaenau Gwent passing their bid for capital funding under the 21st Century Schools programme. In itself, there's nothing wrong with that. The deadline for each council to make their application is today, so those that hadn't finalized their bids needed to put them together quickly.

But the exercise does have a certain degree of unreality. The BBC have collected information from a lot of the local authorities, and many of them are putting in bids that are way above anything the Welsh Government will be able to fund given the severe cutback in the Welsh block grant. They report the total so far as £2.86bn, of which £905m is for the three years from 2012 to 2015. Only about half that money is now likely to be available.

But even so, the applications do give us some idea of the priorities of each local authority. These are the priorities of Blaenau Gwent:

Blaenau Gwent council's first proposed phase, Band A costing £23.5 million and scheduled for 2012 to 2014, includes a £10 million refurbishment and remodelling of Abertillery Comprehensive School.

It also includes £7 million to remodel and address surplus pupil places at Coed-y-Garn, Roseheyworth and Ystruth schools and review the catchment areas for Abertillery, Blaina and Nantyglo.

Band A also includes the £500,000 clearing and removal of asbestos from the former Nantyglo Comprehensive School site, £500,000 to review regional provision of Welsh medium secondary education and transforming the Garnlydan School site into a £2.5 million base for the PROTEUS project, for children with emotional or behavioural difficulties.


Band B, covering 2015 to 2017 and costing £66.5 million, includes potentially closing Tredegar Comprehensive School and a primary school in the area to make way for a new three to 16 school.

It also includes building two new schools in Ebbw Vale, one in Abertillery and enlarging another Abertillery school to 420 pupils.


Band C, costing £17 million and scheduled for 2018 to 2020, includes establishing two 420-place schools to replace the existing primary schools in the area and reviewing religious schools.


Band D, costing £45 million and scheduled for 2021 to 2023, involves reviewing schools in Brynmawr and building a second Welsh medium school on a vacant school site.

South Wales Argus, 9 December 2010

Now if the initial band of £23.5m seems rather low compared with other authorities, it is because Blaenau Gwent is getting a large tranche of funding for The Works, which will include money for a brand new 3-16 school, and the relocation of Pen y Cwm Special School as part of a new Integrated Children's Centre. The original consultation document is here.

Two existing primary schools – Waunlwyd and Pont y Gof – are to be closed with their pupils transferring to the new school in September 2012. Some of the other aspects of the scheme might be problematic, but so far as primary age provision is concerned, both schools seem very eager to move to the new premises, and both are less than a mile from the site of the new school.


In September this year a Ysgol Bro Helyg opened its doors as a much needed replacement for Blaenau Gwent's only WM school in Brynmawr. Here's the video of the official opening last month:


It's a nice school ... despite its rather peculiar fenestration. Yet for reasons which made no sense to me, it was only built as a one-and-a-half form entry school with a capacity for 315 children, plus nursery. As I noted here it is already inadequate to meet the parental demand for WM education, but the council seemed to have no plans for providing a second Welsh-medium school, saying that this new school was intended to be for "the whole catchment area of Blaenau Gwent".

And now, as we can see from their 21st Century Schools bid, a second WM primary is at the very bottom of their list of priorities ... something they don't intend to start building before 2021, to be ready by 2023. It doesn't take a genius to realize that with the Welsh Government only able to provide a fraction of the funding of previous years, the projects at the bottom of the list will be delayed well beyond these dates. It certainly looks like Blaenau Gwent want to kick any plans for a second WM primary into some extremely long grass.


But it needn't be that way. In September 2012, Blaenau Gwent will have three existing school buildings available, any one of which could be used as a second WM primary. As I see things, Waunlwyd is rather remote and therefore not a good location. The other two sites seem better. Pont y Gof is more central to Ebbw Vale but perhaps tricky for buses to get to:


Pen y Cwm is a little further from the centre but without any transport problems. It is right next door to Beaufort Hill School.



Of course it would be nice to have a brand new school building. But we don't need to have one, and economic circumstances mean that we'd be very unlikely to get one any time in the foreseeable future. So instead, I think Blaenau Gwent should be looking to set up a new WM starter class this coming September with the aim of establishing a new WM primary in either the Pen y Cwm or Pont y Gof building in September 2012.

If local people want to see this happen, one way to make your views known is by completing the council's online Education Transformation Survey.

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Poor academic performance ... or just poor?

It goes without saying that the results of the 2009 PISA survey published yesterday are disappointing. But although everyone knows there's something wrong, not many people are giving a coherent reason why.

However the answer one person has given does seem to me to be more plausible than most. Professor David Egan wrote this on This is my truth today ... though it's only an extract from his full article, which is here.


Far more significant, however, was the extremely strong relationship that exists in Wales, compared to more successful countries, between living in relative poverty and disadvantage and not doing well in PISA. That is again likely to be the most important cause that explains our overall performance and it is also possible that we will have slipped further in this respect relative to other countries, including England, who have begun to address the relationship between poverty and educational performance.

Put quite directly, where you are born in Wales, who your family and friends are and the community you live in has a profound effect, despite the raw talents and potential that may be your birthright, with what you will achieve in education and thereafter to a large extent in life. In essence if we want to explain PISA, we need to look no further than the insidious effect which poverty continues to have on our nation and its people, particularly our children.

Today, one day after the PISA results were published, this article in the Western Mail shows how Wales' GVA relative to the UK as a whole has slipped yet further.

     Wales confirmed as UK's poorest nation

The full data are here but the critical figures are:

Wales GVA per head relative to the UK as a whole

1989 ... 85.4%
1999 ... 77.4%
2010 ... 74.3%

This shows that there is a fairly good correlation between Wales' worsening GVA figures and our decline in academic achievement. That, of course, does not prove a connexion, but it certainly adds weight to the probability.


It is fair to say that the link between educational achievement and poverty is a subject that Professor Egan has raised on a number of occasions, for example here in March last year. I thought the figures in this table were particularly informative:

The percentage of children not meeting the expected grade in the lower Cynon Valley:

•  Age seven ... 25.1%
•  Age eleven ... 32.9%
•  Age fourteen ... 58.8%
•  Age sixteen ... 77%

Assuming this pattern is going to be pretty much the same for other areas of higher poverty in Wales, this probably does most to explain why Wales does relatively well compared with England in the early key stages, but that performance then declines markedly when children enter secondary school ... and it should be remembered that the PISA tests are taken by those aged fifteen. It would also explain why Wales then starts to do relatively well (at least when the Welsh Baccalaureate is taken into account, as I noted here) in post-GCSE education. This would be because children from more disadvantaged areas are less likely to be taking A levels and the Welsh Bac Diploma.

It is not a matter of poverty, but of relative poverty. Many of us will remember a generation where we were much poorer than we are now in absolute terms, but in a situation where the gap between rich and poor is widening rather than being narrowed, those who are already poor must feel an increasing sense of hopelessness about whether education—which always used to be the obvious route out of poverty—can now still bridge a gap that is continually widening.


If this analysis is true, then it would seem to suggest that the problem of our poor academic performance is not really going to be solved by focusing only on education, and in particular will not be solved simply by spending more money on education. To me, that solution seems to be a knee jerk response. People will suggest it either because they feel we have to "do something" no matter what, or because they are involved in education and want to see education cushioned from the severity of the cuts.

Money, particularly investment, is needed. But I think the target should not so much on changing the way we teach, for the changes we have made in the past few years seem to me to be perfectly reasonable, and need time to work through before we can judge them. Instead, the more pressing need should be to change the attitude of hopelessness that seems to be growing as the relative poverty of the most disadvantaged parts of our communities increases. I think Professor Dave Adamson's quote in this clip from the link above hits the nail on the head.


There's almost a social isolation that can occur, and young people can get locked in a local culture where they have very low aspirations. They don't expect to do well in school, their parents don't expect them to do well and, sadly, their teachers often don't expect them to do well. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy that they won't do well.

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Liar Liar

With a hat tip to Bella Caledonia, here is the video of a song by Captain SKA that they hope will be this year's Christmas No. 1


I hope it makes it. It's relevant, fun, and definitely for a good cause:

"Liar Liar" official Launch date is 12th December. Will be available on all digital platforms. All proceeds will go to: Crisis, Disability Alliance, Women's Health Matters and FalseEconomy.

Launch gig is on 13th Dec at the Vibe Bar in London, featuring Captain SKA, comedian Josie Long, The Hackney Colliery band and DJ Jamie Renton (Chilli Fried).

Tickets from WeGotTickets search for 'Captain SKA vs The Cuts'.

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The WRU and its Vice Royal Patron

In view of some of the comments, and with the benefit of a good night's sleep, I thought I should clarify that my previous post was not in any way directed against the monarchy (I can do that in other posts) or against William Windsor personally. Nor, for that matter, has it anything to do with the English bid for the World Cup; which I'm sad they lost, but don't think they ever had any realistic chance of winning.

The organization I most wanted to address was the Welsh Rugby Union.

The WRU is the sort of organization that frequently drives me to despair. It should be one of the prime focuses of Welsh national identity, but all too often seems to deny its Welshness. Perhaps this is understandable since, in historical terms, sport has been one of the few ways in which our national identity could be expressed, but it had to be done within an over-arching sense of Britishness because to do anything else would have been considered disloyal if not subversive. This led to a certain "over-compensation" in which the WRU had to make a particular show of its loyalty ... and this in turn led to it having more than its fair share of sycophants, each (as Macsen put it in one of the comments) eager for their OBEs.


But something that happened over the weekend gave me hope that things could be different. The BBC fiasco over the start of the Wales v New Zealand game resulted in deserved criticism from nearly every quarter in Wales. Roger Lewis, chief executive of the WRU, made the point particularly well in his article in the Western Mail on Tuesday, but it was the way he closed it that particularly caught my attention:

The creeping perception of the irrelevance of Wales in London by the media and for that matter by the politicians must be addressed. The voice of Wales, our voice, must be heard. It must be heard in Wales and in the corridors of the decision makers and opinion formers in London as well as in Cardiff.

If we want Wales to win, not just in rugby but beyond the field, we all have to take responsibility.

We have to take responsibility for ourselves. And that means convincing the powers that be, wherever they are, to have confidence in us and our abilities to make the right decisions.

To do that, we must have the confidence in ourselves.

All of us in Wales, in whatever walk of life, must be prepared to take control of our own destiny. In the tough times ahead we must be loud as well as proud, and we must be prepared to stand up together for what we believe to be right and fair. Wales may not have a haka, but we have a passion and a pride and an ability to shape our future around our own unique national identity.

Western Mail, 30 November 2010

As he made clear, he was talking about much more than just a bad decision by the BBC, more than just rugby, and more than just sport. He was talking about Wales as a nation. If we are to take control of our own destiny, then there is one small but highly significant step that the WRU could take to demonstrate that we do indeed have confidence in ourselves and our own abilities. It can insist that William Windsor resigns his position.

As I said, this is not because of anything that's wrong with him as a person, but because he has now chosen to identify himself as English ... which means that he can no longer identify himself as Welsh. By being British, he could identify himself with each of the nations of Britain ... that might at times have been awkward, but his position was just about tenable. Now it isn't.

Two things have come together in the past week: an expressed willingness on the part of the WRU to shape its future around our own unique national identity, as Roger Lewis put it; and William Windsor's own choice to identify himself as English. So let us raise our voices to make sure that he steps down as Vice Royal Patron of the WRU. There could not be a better time to do this than now, and the impending changes to his personal life provide a perfect opportunity for it to happen in a seemly fashion.

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We English love football

The position of the royal family with regard to the nations of Britain has always been a bit of a muddle. We've seen some members give support to one or other of these countries, and that's fair enough. Neither is it unusual to support another nation, especially if your own is not involved.

But on the news this evening, we can see William Windsor say that he is English, which is a very different thing from saying that he supports England ... or indeed that he backs their bid to host a sporting event.


I'm sure most people have never been in any doubt that he's English, even though he likes to call himself Wales. But for him to actually admit it in such an impassioned way must surely make his already dubious position as Vice Royal Patron of the Welsh Rugby Union completely untenable.

It's now time for us to insist that he resigns.

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Enviroparks wins planning permission

I'm very pleased to see that Enviroparks have been granted planning permission for their proposed waste treatment and energy plant in Hirwaun.

     £120m waste energy park for Rhondda approved

I wrote an article in March explaining why I thought this was a much better way of dealing with waste than any other process currently available. It's too long to repeat here, but this is a short extract which explains the basic technology:

The process is multifaceted, but involves recycling, the separation of food and non-food waste with food waste going to an anaerobic digester to produce gas to be used as fuel, the plasma gasification (as opposed to incineration) of other waste to again produce gas, and burning the gas from both sources to produce electricity. This animation shows how these processes work together:

The crucial difference between this and incineration is that burning the gas is clean, whereas burning waste directly gives rise to high emissions of dioxins, nitrous oxide, toxic metals and particulates. The plasma arc breaks these down into individual atomic elements.

The Wiki article is here, including a list of projects planned or already operational. Enviroparks own website is here.

Enviroparks ... a better way to deal with waste, 5 March 2010

There was quite a lively discussion in the comments section of the original post. But the way I see it, it is only by embracing this sort of technology that we can avoid the much more damaging effects of waste incineration on both public health and the environment.


Update: This video from the Enviroparks website should give some idea of the size and layout of the plant:


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A Preview

For those who've been waiting so long for it, this is the logo for the Yes Campaign:


And if you're into facebook, the Yes for Wales / Ie dros Gymru page is here. Still a few days to go before the official launch.

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It was THIS big ... honest

It's not often that I venture into the murky world of misinformation on the Western Mail's letters page, but this peach of a letter from a certain D Matthews must certainly be one of the favourites for this year's award.

£125m for Welsh

SIR – I note with interest and amazement that Jane Hutt, the WAG Business Manager, has given preferential treatment to the Welsh language in her draft Welsh Assembly Budget proposal.

Why does promotion of the Welsh language have a capital budget of £125m? The Welsh Assembly obviously feels it is more important to get everyone in Wales speaking Welsh than looking after our health service, education, employment etc, which have all received cuts to their budgets.

How are we going to attract desperately needed new businesses to Wales when the Welsh Assembly are hell bent on insisting that Welsh should be our first language and that all businesses will have to use it, whatever the cost to them. What sort of Welsh Government do we have, that puts the Welsh language above all else in these times of austerity. Why would we want to want to vote to give WAG more powers, when they are already abusing the powers they have?

Newbridge, Gwent

Western Mail Letters, 30 November 2010

Just one slight problem. The draft budget is here and we can see, on page 17, that the figure is not £125m but £125,000. D Matthews was only exaggerating by a factor of a thousand.

Well, make that two slight problems. The £125,000 is the figure for the current financial year. The proposal in the draft budget is for this to be reduced next year by £50,000 to £75,000 ... a cut of 40% in monetary terms, but of course more in real terms because of inflation.


But perhaps the much bigger problem is that the Western Mail is so quick to print such demonstrably obvious trash. Any junior editor who had the slightest knowledge about Wales should have been able to spot the "mistake".

Unless, of course, it was an orchestrated part of the paper's anti-Welsh agenda as we approach the referendum next March.

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Airplane ... the Final Landing

I just heard on the news that Leslie Nielsen's mother was Welsh.


Yes, I'm amazed too ... and don't call me, or her, Shirley.

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The Demand for WM Education in Newport

Two weekends ago I wrote about Newport's plan to open a third Welsh-medium primary school in the city. But I've only just read the survey of parental demand (thanks to Ceri for telling me where to find it) that helped inform Newport's decision to do so.

The survey was conducted in April and May this year by Opinion Research Services, whose previous survey for the Vale of Glamorgan was very impressive. This one is equally thorough and professional.

     Newport City Council - Survey of School Preference 2010

It's worth reading the whole thing, but I'd like to highlight a few things that particularly stood out to me.

Firstly, parents were asked if they would like their children to be able to speak Welsh and whether or not they believed their children would benefit from a Welsh medium education.

Two thirds (66%) stated that they would like their children to be able to speak Welsh, whilst over half (55%) believed that their child would benefit from a Welsh medium education.

Not bad for Newport. But the diagrams below illustrate very clearly that parents are much more likely to choose WM education for their children if there is a WM school close to where they live:


The percentage who would choose WM education increases from 28% to 53% if a WM school is within two miles of where they live. It is true that the second figure is always higher than the first, but it is very much higher in Newport than it is elsewhere in the more Anglicized parts of Wales.

This is shown in another way when parents were asked to rank four factors that affect their choice. For all parents (i.e. including those that wanted and did not want their child to have a WM education) these were, in order of importance:

•  Distance from your home
•  Another child already at the school
•  Ease of access/transport to school
•  Main language used in school

70% of parents said that their maximum acceptable journey time was 20 minutes each way. 97% thought that a journey of 30 minutes or more was unacceptable.


Now of course, as in every survey of this sort, not all parents responded. So it is wrong to conclude that more than half the children in Newport would go to WM primary schools. But it is equally wrong to conclude that those who didn't respond have no interest in WM education for their children. So ORS have done a good job of projecting both the current and latent demand, and the report explains how they did so.

At present only 3.7% of children in Newport are in WM education. But there is a growing curve: the average for children aged 8, 9 and 10 is about 2.5%, but the average for children aged 3 and 4 is about 5.4%. ORS calculate the current demand for WM education to be 6.9%, and the latent demand 14.1%.

That's why more Welsh-medium places are so badly needed; and Newport are to be congratulated for not only commissioning the survey, but for acting upon its findings. Other local authorities could learn from their example.

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Shedding Darkness on the AV Referendum

I caught up with the Politics Show on iPlayer, and was completely amazed by the level of ignorance shown by the so-called expert that the BBC interviewed on the Alternative Vote referendum. Professor Russell Deacon made one or two complete howlers; see if you can spot them:


AV is not "the weakest form of proportional representation" ... it is not proportional in any way at all. It is not designed to, as Aled ap Dafydd suggested, solve the problem of the LibDems—or the Greens or UKIP for that matter—not getting a share of seats in the Commons that more closely represents the proportion of the overall vote that they get.

Because AV is not proportional, it won't make the prospects of getting a government with an absolute majority in Westminster any more or less likely than under the present first-past-the-post system ... but both interviewer and interviewee were happy to give the impression that it was.

Finally, Professor Deakin suggested that the additional member system that we use in Wales for Assembly elections was a means of expressing a second preference ... equating it with the second vote in London Mayoral elections (which is like AV, but you are only allowed one other choice). The man quite simply doesn't know what he's talking about.


So what is the point of AV? It solves one big problem with the current system:

     It does away with the need for tactical voting

Voters who want to keep a candidate from a particular party out will no longer be put into the awkward position of voting for a second or third choice candidate instead of the candidate they really want to vote for. They can put a "1" against their first choice candidate, and a "2", "3" and "4" against any other candidates they prefer ... not voting at all for the candidates they want to keep out. This will make it almost impossible for candidates and parties that polarize public opinion to be elected. For example, virtually no-one will put the BNP second ... a few extremists will put parties like the BNP first, but almost everyone else will put every other party before them.

Because no vote will be wasted, it should also increase voter turnout at elections. This is because more parties will stand and those people who don't vote because they don't like the politics of the established parties might find an alternative that they think is worth getting out and voting for.

For these reasons I will be voting "Yes" in the AV referendum and I would urge others to do the same. Unlike the much more important referendum that will be held in Wales next March, the Yes Campaign for AV has already been set up.


Just in case anyone hasn't read what I've said before on electoral reform, I would much prefer to see STV because it has the same advantages as AV, but is also proportional. I think it is better to take one small step in the right direction now than continue with all the unfairness of the current first-past-the-post system indefinitely.

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The Opposite of Centralization

When Kim Howells says:

everywhere I go in Wales has an Assembly building – a great huge shining edifice. I'm not sure what they all do in there, and why we need so much government?

BBC, 27 November 2010

... I'm tempted to say that he obviously doesn't get to see many towns in Wales. But seriously, what would he prefer?

Devolution is not just about making the political decisions that affect Wales for ourselves; it is also about making sure that the people who work hard to implement those decisions are employed in Wales rather than being based somewhere else in the UK.

So would he prefer civil service jobs to be based in London or somewhere else in England rather than in Wales? And if they are based in Wales, would he prefer them all to be clustered in and around Cardiff? Perhaps he would ... after all Pontypridd is only a short commute away, and he surely wouldn't want to see these jobs shared out fairly among the different regions of Wales when they could all be on his doorstep, would he?


What's the opposite of devolution? Perhaps that isn't so clear in English as it is in Welsh; but the opposite of devolution is centralization. So why is it any surprise to hear that an old-fashioned state socialist like Kim Howells feels "ambiguous and confused" about decentralizing primary lawmaking powers from Westminster to Wales?

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S4C viewing figures ... in high definition

A few weeks ago, ITV Cymru produced an edition of Y Byd ar Bedwar which focused on the crisis S4C is currently facing, and included figures from a poll they commissioned from YouGov. I've embedded the video for those who want to see it again.


Some of the poll figures which struck me were that:

•  19% of Welsh speakers don't watch S4C at all

•  30% watched less TV than 5 years ago, but 39% watched less S4C

•  35% of Welsh speakers wanted S4C to remain wholly Welsh, but 36% of them thought that it should show English programmes too

•  Most people watched S4C for its sports coverage

It goes without saying that these were rather disappointing figures. So I asked YouGov for some additional information, particularly because one of the other polls they published based on the same data included a breakdown by fluency in Welsh. ITV have kindly given their permission for YouGov to publish this data and it is now available here.

YouGov in fact asked two separate questions on Welsh, in this order:

Can you understand, speak, read or write Welsh? Please tick all that apply.

•  Understand spoken Welsh
•  Speak Welsh
•  Read Welsh
•  Write Welsh
•  None of the above

How well, if at all, would you say you can speak Welsh?

•  Fluently
•  Fairly well
•  Not very well
•  Not at all

The first question was chosen because it is identical to the question asked in the census, and this was used to weight the raw data; but the second question gives a rather clearer picture of people's ability in Welsh.

In answer to the first question, 222 out of 1206 or 18.4% said they could speak Welsh, which was then weighted to 16.8%. (If this seems low, it is probably because YouGov asked adults, but the census figures are for all people over 3 years old, and the highest percentage of Welsh speakers is for those at school.) But in answer to the second, the raw percentages for ability to speak Welsh were:

Fluently ... 6.7%
Fairly well ... 7.3%
Not very well ... 33.1%
Not at all ... 52.9%

What this shows is that there is quite a flexible "middle ground" in which people's views can be characterized as falling into one of two responses, either:

"I am a Welsh speaker, but I don't speak Welsh very well."


"I don't speak Welsh very well, therefore I can't really call myself a Welsh speaker."

The purpose of giving this explanation is in order to help us understand the more detailed information within the survey. The programme itself only made mention of the breakdown between Welsh speakers and non Welsh speakers based on the first question. In fact it is almost certain that the programme makers did not know what the cross-break (to use the jargon) for fluency in Welsh was, since that information has only been put together in response to my request.

For that reason, I want to stress that I am not accusing ITV of presenting misleading information. The figures they quoted are accurate ... but just not as helpful as they could have been. So with this in mind I now want to look again at what the more detailed information shows us.

How many Welsh speakers watch S4C?


So the headline figure that 19% of the Cymry Cymraeg don't watch S4C gets reduced to only 7% of those who speak the language fluently. 93% of fluent Welsh speakers watch S4C at least sometimes, and 71% watch S4C at least once a week.

Do we watch S4C more or less than we did 5 years ago?


The way the figures were presented on Y Byd ar Bedwar was that the fall in S4C viewers was worse that the general fall in television viewing. So these more detailed figures are quite startling. Yes, it is true that people generally watch less TV than we did five years ago, but the percentage of fluent Welsh speakers who watch S4C has actually gone up ... 36% watch S4C more than before, only 23% less.

What do we watch on S4C?


It is of course true that most people who watch S4C watch it for sport, but for those who are fluent in Welsh, sport is not the main type of programme watched. Drama, news and current affairs, and entertainment programming are each higher up the list than sport.

Do Welsh speakers want English language programmes on S4C?


One of the major points made on the programme was that even Welsh speakers, even though only by 36% to 35%, wanted S4C to remain wholly Welsh. But the more detailed figures show that this was certainly not the opinion of those who speak Welsh fluently or even fairly well.


I've highlighted these points because they go some way to explain the more surprising figures presented on the programme. S4C is a minority channel, primarily aimed at those who speak Welsh ... although of course open to anybody who wants to watch. There are at least 30 other channels in English for those who want programmes in English.

What these figures seem to show is that S4C is actually doing a very good job of providing a range of Welsh language programmes for those who want drama, entertainment, news, current affairs and the like in Welsh rather than in English. The percentage of those fluent in Welsh who watch S4C is very high indeed, and these people watch more S4C now than we used to five years ago. Surely that is a mark of S4C's success.

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Speed Cameras in Wales

When I read an article yesterday which mentioned the number of fixed speed cameras in Wales, I asked a friend how many he thought there were. He said several thousand, and I too thought there would be at least a thousand or so.


But apparently the figure is 198 ... and only 68 of them are working.

I think this is scandalous. Any motorists who drives too fast is breaking the law, and speed is a contributory factor in accidents. Speed cameras are probably the most effective way of both reducing speed and freeing up the police to do other things. They are an exemplary way of using simple technology to good effect.

So it is a disappointment to read that we only have 68 of them in Wales. I for one would definitely like to see a good few hundred more.

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A Third Welsh-medium Primary in Newport

Back in this post in September, I noted that Ruth Salisbury, the Education Policy and Research Officer at Newport, had told a meeting at the National Eisteddfod that the city was actively planning to open a third WM primary school. I'm delighted to see that these plans have now been made public with the launch of a consultation on setting up a new school to open in September 2011.

New Welsh-medium primary planned for the city

Due to increasing demand, the council is moving to formal consultation on plans to open a temporary school at Maindee Primary School in September 2011. It would then look at finding a permanent location for a new school.

There are currently two Welsh-medium primary schools in the city - Ysgol Gymraeg Casnewydd in Ringland and Ysgol Cymraeg Ifor Hael in Bettws. A report to councillors says there are currently 77 places available in each of the school’s year groups, with a combined total of 89 in the reception classes. But a survey carried out by the authority found that 105 reception places would be needed in 2012 and more than 140 would be needed in 2013.

The increase in demand means that the two schools, which are already over their foundation phase capacity, will no longer be able to cope past 2011. The council is therefore seeking to create a seedling school at Maindee Primary School, which will accommodate a total of 120 pupils from nursery to Year 1 and potentially Year 2.

The report says the city centre location of the school will allow as many pupils as possible from across Newport to have access to Welsh-medium education within two miles of their home.

If it gets the go ahead the facility would be open for a maximum of three years, which will give the council the opportunity to consider plans for a permanent location for a third school under its 21st Century Schools Programme. Until then the temporary school would operate under its own name, identity, governing body and staff, the report says.

South Wales Argus, 18 November 2010

As we can see in the picture below, Maindee Primary is a fairly new building, close to the centre of Newport, just behind Rodney Parade rugby ground.


Based on the admission number of 65, the school has a capacity of 455 excluding nursery. But it currently has only 317 children, so there seems to be plenty of room for what is in effect going to be a starter school until a new permanent home is found. The best place for this will be in the west of the city, though the centre will probably do just as well.


Capital funding has taken a very severe hit in the allocation of the Welsh Block Grant, and the draft budget issued yesterday indicates that the capital budget for education will fall from a baseline of £183m this year to £173m, £161m and £144m over the next three years. That's a 21.3% fall in monetary terms, and in real terms is even worse because of inflation. But this doesn't mean that no new schools will be built ... it means that only about two out of every three schemes will be able to go ahead.

It's obviously too early to say whether the new permanent school will be one of them; but it's equally true to say that if the parents of 63 more children in Newport each year want them to have a Welsh-medium education, there will be 63 fewer children going to English-medium schools. So building a new school will not be the only way of meeting the increasing demand.

The figures also show beyond any doubt that Newport will need to set up its own WM secondary school in the next few years. At present children from Newport have to travel to Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw in Torfaen.

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Improving Our Rail Services

After two excellent articles by Mabon ap Gwynfor and Welsh Ramblings it might seem a little superfluous for me to write something else on Plaid Cymru's proposal for a not-for profit-company to take over the train operating franchise currently held by Arriva Trains Cymru; but I will, because transport is a subject that particularly interests me.


The first thing to say is that I'm very pleased with this development, not least because it's something that I have argued for, as I said here a few months ago.

Arriva Trains Wales were awarded a 15 year operating franchise in December 2003. This was before the 2005 Railways Act and 2006 Transport (Wales) Act ... in other words before responsibility was devolved to the Assembly.

One of the problems with this is that the service criteria were set when the franchise was awarded, so it is quite difficult to negotiate new services or improvements to services. As things stand, the franchise will not expire until 2018. There is a performance review due in 2013, but unless ATW do something wrong I'm not sure it can be used as a pretext to cancel the contract. However, as soon as it can be done, I would like to see the franchise taken over either by the Welsh Government, or by a not for profit company (or one which reinvests them) which can be more flexible to service improvements as laid out by the WG.

Now of course I was just one of many who wanted to see this. The context in which I said it was in answer to a question about how we were landed with Arriva in the first place. So although there's plenty to be said about profit (which I'll come on to later) for me the main reason for being dissatisfied with the present model is because it severely limits our ability to improve the standard of rail services in Wales.

Ramblings has noted that the political consensus for privatization—something shared equally by both Labour and the Tories in Westminster—is what resulted in the current model by which railways operate in the UK. Like him, I don't think very highly of the model, but we have to accept that this is the way things are, so we need to work within those parameters in the immediate term.

In setting down 15 year franchises, the idea was to provide the TOCs with a term of contract that was long enough to enable them to make a long term investment, and each tender was bid for on the basis of providing a certain level of service. Now of course there would be nothing to stop a TOC improving the level of service if it could make more money by carrying more passengers; but that model was much more suited to lines that made a profit than to those that didn't. The rail service in Wales is not one of those that makes a profit (it receives about £150m of public money a year) so the franchise holder would certainly have no incentive to do anything more than maintain the service at the minimum agreed level.

The problem is that we in Wales want to improve our rail service rather than just keeping the same sort of service as we had in 2003. In order to do that, the Welsh Government has had to negotiate with Arriva to provide new services or levels of service, which we have had to pay for in the form of increased subsidies. As with any contract, the initial bid may well have been very competitive, but the price for additional services once the contract is in place is never going to be competitive.

For this reason we have been paying over the odds for the service improvements since 2003, and will continue to do so for any further improvements we want.

Others have mentioned that Arriva Trains makes £10m net profit after tax each year. The full figures for the last two years are here. They are very healthy figures, particularly in a time of economic crisis.

But a comparison with the figures for the Arriva Rail group as a whole is very illuminating, as this article from the Western Mail shows:

Arriva Trains Wales sees profits affected by recession

Arriva has said its Wales business was "significantly affected" by recession last year.

The company, which operates the Arriva Trains Wales service, said UK rail profits slumped 64% as expectations for passenger revenues growth on its CrossCountry franchise proved too optimistic.

The rail division made an operating profit of £12.1m, down from £33.7m a year earlier.

WalesOnline, 3 March 2010

The first thing to notice is that Arriva's business in Wales was not negatively affected by the recession at all. Instead of falling, their operating profit in Wales increased by 15.4% ... or just under £2m. But in addition to the Welsh rail franchise, Arriva Trains holds the CrossCountry franchise, which made a loss. The Welsh operating profit of £13.8m more than accounts for their total operating profit of £12.1m.

Now why should this be? It seems clear to me that being able to name their own price for the service improvements in Wales must be a major factor in enabling Arriva to not only avoid the effects of the recession unscathed, but to actually increase their profits instead. The Welsh franchise has proved to be a nice little earner, because they know that the franchise system is set up so that the only way we can get service improvements is to pay through the nose for them.

And that is why it is so important to make sure that we do not fall into the same trap again. When this franchise was awarded in 2003, responsibility for rail transport was not devolved and we had no say whatsoever in the model that was imposed on us. The 15 year contract is subject to review every 5 years, so there might be an opportunity to do something in 2013. That is why it is an important issue for the Assembly elections next Spring, as it will be something for the next Welsh government we elect to deal with.

What we do then might well be limited, because Arriva are only doing what we would expect any other company to do ... they are providing as little as their contracts oblige them to provide in order to make as much profit as possible. But I believe it would be well worth buying them out of that contract in 2013 if we can, placing the franchise instead with a new not-for-profit company, because it is only when Arriva are out of the way that we can introduce new and better services at a competitive market price rather than at the extortionate price we now have to pay for service improvements.

But even without the service improvements we so badly need, Wales is losing out to the tune of nearly £14m a year. Dividends of £10m a year go straight to the state owned Deutsche Bahn in Germany, and £3.9m in tax goes to the Treasury in London.

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Nil Satis Nisi Optimum

It looks like Oriel y Parc in Sir Benfro was designed by an Everton supporter:


Only the best will do.

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S4C Poll for Y Byd ar Bedwar - Updated

For those of us who like looking at numbers, the full data for the S4C poll that featured on Y Byd ar Bedwar on Monday have just been published, here.


Update: One thing that did strike me as strange is that there is no breakdown by ability to speak Welsh. The poll was conducted at the same time as these other polls:

     Welsh Westminster Voting intention
     Welsh on deficit
     Welsh Assembly cuts

Yet the first of these had a breakdown of Welsh speakers and non Welsh speakers, and by level of fluency too. That data is far more relevant to the S4C survey than to these others, so the omission is odd. Hopefully it is just an oversight.


Update 2 [13:06 12 November]: YouGov have confirmed that it was just an oversight, and have put up a revised version with a breakdown for Welsh and non Welsh speakers, here.

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Not Only in the Assembly

Reading the reports of what Adam Price thinks of the quality and skills of elected politicians, I can't help but note that it is being interpreted as specific criticism of members of the National Assembly.

Here is the BBC's header:

Assembly Members "lack skills", says ex-MP Adam Price

A former Plaid Cymru MP often tipped as a future party leader has attacked the quality of Welsh Assembly politicians ...

BBC, 10 November 2010

And therefore, as surely as night follows day, the reaction from Assembly politicians has been completely predictable. The LibDems see it as "belittling the Assembly" and even Helen Mary Jones seemed to be on the back foot when she said the Assembly was a "better representation of Welsh society than Westminster".

I watched the piece on CF99 last night, and the clips that were shown seemed to confirm that view. But I had also watched Newyddion, and this is a clip from it:


The BBC's line in this piece too was that Adam Price was specifically attacking the standard of Assembly politicians. But that wasn't the point Adam was making. For those who don't understand Welsh, he said:

... not only in Wales, but everywhere—even in Westminster—the same thing is true.

So why wasn't that remark picked up in either the BBC's story on its website or in CF99 itself? It can only be the most amazing oversight or an attempt to misrepresent the point Adam was making. He was talking about elected politicians in general, not Assembly members in particular ... though of course the points apply every bit as much to AMs as to other elected politicians, and he is obviously more concerned about Wales than anywhere else.

In the discussion that followed on CF99, Daran Hill made the point that the problem of career politicians was in fact worse in Westminster than in Cardiff Bay. Yet he might not have needed to make that point if he had known that Adam Price had already said it, but that it had been edited out of the CF99 version.


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A strange sort of animal

I've just started reading through the proposed modifications to Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which lists the subject areas in which the National Assembly will be able to pass primary legislation following a Yes vote in the referendum.

This one brought a smile to my face:

In this Part of this Schedule “animal” means—

     (a)  all mammals apart from humans, and

     (b)  all animals other than mammals;

and related expressions are to be construed accordingly.”.

Amendment of Schedule 7 to the GoWA 2006

I wonder what's so wrong with simply defining “animal” as “all animals other than humans”. But why should we expect the Wales Office say something in one line when they can say it in two?

Does this count as yet another example of the wasteful, unnecessary duplication that moving away from the LCO system will finally put an end to?

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Crisis in BBC Cymru Wales

The news that Menna Richards, head of BBC Cymru Wales, is to step down has sent shockwaves through the industry and has called the very future of the organization into doubt.

     BBC Wales head Menna Richards to leave in 2011

Her unexpected departure has led to speculation about a behind the scenes rift between the management of BBC Cymru Wales, the senior management in London and the BBC Trust. London has not given any reason for her departure, and pressure is mounting for Mark Thompson to resign as Director General of the BBC for refusing to explain the situation.


We should expect this crisis to dominate the headlines of the Western Mail for the next few months, and be the subject of any number of TV documentaries and current affairs programmes ...

... shouldn't we?

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Meeting in London for Catalan Independence

If anyone is in London next Monday, Albert Marti Bueno of the Catalonia Direct blog will be giving a talk in English on the Benefits of Independence for Catalunya:


First México and next stop is London. I’ll be holding the conference “The Benefits of Independence” that I already held in Mérida and Guadalajara in México but this time in English! So if any of my English speaking readers in the area are interested in knowing more about the current political situation in Catalonia and its future independence this is an excellent chance you’re going to have to hear about it first hand and ask as many questions as you want. You are all welcome to join us.

I’ll be talking about Catalonia’s history and political background, the popular movement towards independence that started a few years ago and gained strength last year after the popular referendum in Arenys that has spread to more than 400 towns all over Catalonia. I’ll talk about the financial reasons for Catalonia’s independence and how this will be achieved through democratic means.

After the conference there’ll be, as always, a round of questions and finally we’ll toast with some nice Catalan wine for the independence of Catalonia and for the good results of Reagrupament, the political association I volunteer for, on the upcoming Catalan elections that take place on November the 28th.

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