Lipdub per la independència de Catalunya

With a hat tip to FranklyFrancophone this lipdub was shot in Vic, one of the hotbeds of independence in Catalunya, only last weekend.

So, who's going to organize something similar in Caernarfon?

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The Bourne Hypocrisy

It was interesting to read Nick Bourne's thoughts on "important discussions being carried out behind closed doors" with respect to the Assembly budget.

     Independent budget review needed says Welsh Tory leader

Can he really be so unaware that his own party in Westminster most certainly did not carry out its recent spending review in a transparent way? And, if we are to believe the allegation Glyn Davies made recently in his blog with regard to S4C that:

Previous discussions at private meetings between the Culture Secretary and Plaid Cymru seemed to have become public within minutes.

A View from Rural Wales, 23 October 2010

... it should be obvious to everybody that the Tories are very anxious to ensure that any discussions they have are held behind closed doors. It's yet another example of double standards.


But let's give Nick Bourne the benefit of the doubt. If he really does believe that:

"Scrutiny and debate are essential to an open and transparent assembly government. This simply isn't happening at the moment and the culture of secrecy has got to stop."

And that Wales needed:

"independent budget projections and recommendations"

... then I hope he will press for exactly the same independent budget projections and recommendations in regard to his own government's decision about S4C. After having made himself so clear in one case, it would be hypocrisy for the Tories not to do it in the other.

If Tories in Wales want to make good on their claim to support Welsh language broadcasting, let's see them stand up and call for an open, transparent and independent review of the decision they've just made about S4C.

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Who could possibly be interested in Scotland?

This short clip from last night's Question Time perfectly demonstrates the BBC's complete inability to grasp the realities of devolution:


Leaving David Dimbleby's patronizing arrogance to one side, we need only ask ourselves one simple question to demonstrate the sheer hypocrisy of the situation: Are questions and comments about Westminster's policies on things like the health service or education to be banned from all editions of Question Time on the basis that viewers in Wales, Scotland and the north of Ireland would not be interested in what was happening only in England?

Of course not.

It's another example of the usual double standards, so deeply ingrained that most people in the British establishment are blind to it. For them the UK and England are one and the same thing. The BBC expect people in Wales and Scotland to be interested in England (and of course we are) but they can't imagine that anyone in England will be interested in Wales or Scotland.

And listen to the clip again to hear Chris Bryant's contemptuous ridicule of the idea that anybody outside Scotland could be interested in the Scottish economy ... for if he says that about Scotland, we can be damn sure that he thinks exactly the same about Wales.

Much as Labour want us to believe otherwise, the contempt agenda is not limited to the Tories and LibDems.

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A port in Wales for our growing wind industry

Let's start with the good news. It's right that the UK government has decided not to cut the £60m fund earmarked for the development of ports from which to build and maintain offshore windfarms. There was definitely a question mark over whether this money would survive the spending cuts, so I'm very glad it has.

But the bad news is that the UK has decided that only ports in England can bid for this money, as we can read in these reports:

     Call for 'level playing field' on wind turbine subsidy
     Wind farm scheme biased, says Welsh MP

I was going to write something short and scathing about this decision when I heard about it on the news this evening, but soon realized that the matter isn't quite as black and white as it appears.

The first thing to say is that Wales, Scotland and the north of Ireland will get a Barnett consequential from this England-only spend. For Wales, this will work out to about £3.53m under the present arrangements. However it should be said that if the ConDem government introduces the "Barnett Floor" as recommended in the Holtham Commission report, we would get 117% of this, i.e. about £4.13m. This should be a timely illustration of why we cannot let the matter of fair funding for Wales continue to go unaddressed. In times like this, every half million counts.


But if we are going to get our share of the money anyway, why exactly are Ieuan Wyn Jones and Albert Owen making such a fuss? Well, they haven't made that clear, but I hope at least one of the two will have thought of it like this:

£60m is not a lot of money. Any sort of construction work in order to develop a port to be able to handle the size of wind turbines involved is going to cost many tens, if not hundreds of millions of pounds. So for any grant from government to actually make a meaningful difference, the £60m pot of money can only realistically be divided between two or three ports. £20m will be a significant investment which should be enough of a sweetener to attract the rest of the investment necessary, but £5m won't make any real difference one way or the other. So even if we were to get our full £4.13m, we could not use it for a Welsh port in such a way as to compete if the UK government chose to give that money to say Liverpool, Barrow or Avonmouth.

The second factor in the equation is that DECC only this week signed a letter of intent with the Crown Estate setting out a strategy for the UK as a whole, rather than one that recognized the devolved administrations. We can read the details here:

     The Crown Estate and Government
     Signal Boost for UK Offshore Wind Supply Chain

So we have the classic muddle of one department of the UK government (Energy and Climate Change) working on a UK basis, while another department of the same government (Business Innovation and Skills) just thinks about England, because the money is classed as industrial support ... or at least that is what the UK government is saying in order to justify its decision to invest the £60m only in England.

Where, we have to ask, was our Secretary of State for Wales when this was being decided? It's her job to make sure that this sort of muddle does not happen ... but Cheryl Gillan has once again failed to do her job.

The end effect of this decision is clear enough. There will almost certainly be one manufacturing and maintenance port on the west coast of England, and either one or two on the east coast. A glance at this map of the new Round Three wind farm zones should make it obvious why: the largest new wind farm zones are in the North Sea.



But on the west coast by far the largest Round Three zone is in the Irish Sea and, as the second map shows, the closest large port to it is Holyhead. So if the decision on where to provide money to help build new port facilities on the west coast is limited to England, it becomes pointless for us in Wales to provide a duplicate ... not that our £3.5m Barnett consequential could compete with the £20m or £30m that a port like Liverpool or Barrow could be awarded anyway.

That's why this decision is unfair. We have the potential to make Ynys Môn the nerve centre of the offshore wind industry in the Irish Sea, but Westminster seems determined to make sure that a port in England is given an unfair advantage over one in Wales, even though Holyhead is in a much better location for it. It's yet another example of the contempt agenda. Westminster simply concentrating on what's best for England, rather than working with the devolved administrations to develop a joined-up strategy.

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Except for the taxis

The news that the Labour controlled council at Rhondda Cynon Taf is threatening to make 10,000 of its staff redundant in order to re-employ them on worse terms and conditions beggars belief.


For me, it brought back memories of the same sort of thing happening with the Labour council in Liverpool in the eighties.


... out-dated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs ... and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council—a Labour council—hiring taxis to scuttle round the Valleys handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.

Except for the taxis, what's so different? What's so wrong with talking ... with trying to negotiate a mutually agreed solution? But instead of that, we see a Labour council that votes to let a Labour executive bully its very own workers.

Yet how many people in RCT will still keep on voting for an out-dated, misplaced party that has become irrelevant to the real needs of the people it's meant to serve?

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Much more than slightly misleading

At the beginning of this month, I wrote this article on the amount of power produced from renewable energy sources in Wales.

    Slightly Misleading

It was prompted by an article in the Western Mail which got a few things wrong, but those faults pale into insignificance compared with this story on the BBC website today, which is an almost incredible mixture of fact and misinformation:

     Wales misses wind farm energy target

So let me try and unravel the two. Firstly, the TAN 8 target set in 2005 is quoted correctly:

The provision of electricity from renewable sources is an important component of the UK energy policy, which has an established target of producing 10% of electricity production from renewable energy sources by 2010. The Assembly Government has a target of 4 TWh of electricity per annum to be produced by renewable energy by 2010 and 7 TWh by 2020.

In order to meet these targets the Assembly Government has concluded that 800 MW of additional installed (nameplate) capacity is required from onshore wind sources and a further 200 MW of installed capacity is required from offshore wind and other renewable technologies.

TAN 8, Section 1.4

So far, so good. But this is what the Welsh government is now claiming:

Five years on, the assembly government said Wales produced in excess of three terawatt hours of electricity from renewable sources.

A spokeswoman added: "Whilst we have not met the 2010 target, there is an additional five terawatt hours of electricity either in the planning system, consented or under construction, that would allow us to significantly exceed it.

"This means we are on course to significantly exceed our previous 2020 target of producing seven terawatt hours of renewable electricity annually by 2020."

The first claim is completely wrong. In fact it is so completely wrong that it can only be called a barefaced lie.

Now I don't know what the electricity figures for 2010 are; as we are still in October, nobody can know that. But we do know what the figures for 2009 are, because they were published in DECC's Energy Trends for September in the section starting on page 25. This is the table:


As we can see, Wales generated just over 1.6 TWh of renewable electricity in 2009. Of course the figure for 2010 is almost certain to be higher, mostly because of the Rhyl Flats windfarm. But adding 90 MW of capacity is only likely to deliver something like 275 GWh of electricity, and any other increase in capacity is going to be much smaller. So the 2010 figure will still be less than 2 TWh.

This cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be called "in excess of three terawatt hours of electricity from renewable sources".


Jane Davidson is the Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing. By allowing this sort of rubbish to be published, she is making it obvious that she is not in control of her department ... well, unless she is in control, and therefore responsible for this outrageous piece of misinformation. We need to call her to account for this.


But let's look again at the second paragraph of the TAN 8 statement:

In order to meet these targets the Assembly Government has concluded that 800MW of additional installed (nameplate) capacity is required from onshore wind sources and a further 200MW of installed capacity is required from offshore wind and other renewable technologies.

To me this shows the total lack of realism in the document itself, which was put together when Carwyn Jones was in charge of the department. These are the actual figures for installed capacity, taken from this spreadsheet

2004 ... 230.9 MW of wind ... 429.5 MW total
2005 ... 329.8 MW of wind ... 528.8 MW total
2006 ... 359.0 MW of wind ... 558.8 MW total
2007 ... 363.2 MW of wind ... 558.8 MW total
2008 ... 375.4 MW of wind ... 574.4 MW total
2009 ... 532.6 MW of wind ... 753.3 MW total

Even if we are charitable and say that the increase promised in TAN 8 was based on the 2004 figures, we have only managed to increase our total installed capacity for wind generation by just over 300 MW. This is less than a third of the target set out by Carwyn Jones in 2005. If we take the 2005 figure as a baseline, the increase is only 200 MW or about a fifth.

That's enough to make a grown man cry. We have had a bunch of clowns in charge of our energy policy in Wales. Well meaning, perhaps, but still inept.

And yet, more by luck than judgement, there is a silver lining to this cloud. Although I am generally in favour of windfarms, I believe that the targets as set out by Carwyn Jones in the second paragraph were flawed. Offshore wind generation is much, much better than onshore wind generation. The load factors are higher, and building them offshore reduces at a stroke the vast majority of problems such as noise, flicker, transport and visual intrusion. If Carwyn Jones had any basic grasp of the issues involved, the figures would have been the other way round ... a 200 MW increase in onshore wind, and a 800 MW increase in offshore. So no marks for him, either.


But in spite of this ineptitude, we will probably meet the 2020 target ... though certainly not in the way he imagined. The next big windfarm to come on line will be Gwynt y Môr. It's capacity of 576 MW will produce maybe 2 TWh of electricity a year. After that we have the even bigger Round 3 windfarms in the Irish Sea and Bristol Channel, as I mentioned here. So the picture is not as grim as it might appear.

Yet it has to be said that these windfarms have had nothing to do with the Welsh government. We have a government that likes to make out that it is really quite green, but that it is being held back by Westminster. That's why their statement says:

"Unfortunately, most of the elements that are key to us meeting the target are outside our direct control."

But where are the schemes that the Welsh government is proposing? I don't know of any big renewable energy schemes that we are putting pressure on the UK government to let us build. Our energy ministers have always seemed happy to sit back and let Westminster make the running.

Of course I want decision making power for energy projects over 50 MW to be devolved to Wales. But devolving that power is only half of the story ... we also need to elect a government that is as ambitious for renewable energy in Wales as the SNP has shown itself to be in Scotland.

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Assembly elections on 2 June 2011

A vote was taken in the Commons yesterday to hold the AV referendum on 5 May 2011. Because the Bill is at committee stage it would still be technically possible to change it in a later vote on the whole bill, but for all practical purposes this vote has confirmed the date of the AV referendum. The voting figures of 335 to 207 show that any subsequent rebellion would be unlikely to get the date changed anyway.

As I'm sure everyone reading this will know, this is the same day as the elections to the Welsh and North of Ireland Assemblies and Scottish Parliament are due to be held. There has been quite some protest about the clash, but the ConDem government at Westminster has simply gone ahead anyway. It's not often that I agree with Chris Bryant (although the work he does with regard to teenage pregnancies is an honourable exception) but this is one occasion where I fully agree with what he said:

Mr Bryant, shadow justice minister, said there had been an "extraordinary" lack of consultation with devolved assemblies about the proposed poll date and its impact on devolved elections.

There was a "firm view" among these assemblies that the date was a bad idea and it showed a lack of respect to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, he suggested.

"It would just seem to be common human decency to be able to consult," he told MPs, adding this "betrayed the rather London-centric view of the government."

BBC, 25 October 2010

This is matter has been on the table for some time. Back in May, in one of the first bilateral meetings between the Welsh Government and the new Welsh Secretary, the subject was raised ... but Cheryl Gillan did nothing to relay those concerns to the Westminster government, saying that she did not do so because the request wasn't made in writing. We can read about it in this report in the Western Mail in July:

     Wales ‘strongly opposed’ to election date clash

This is the position of the One Wales Government on the issue:

An Assembly Government spokeswoman said: “We do not believe that the UK Alternative Vote referendum should be held on the same day as the people of Wales choose their AMs for the next four years. There should be no distraction from the National Assembly election. That is why we have agreed with other parties in the Assembly that our own referendum should not be held on the same day as the Assembly elections. Indeed, we have raised with the Secretary of State the possibility of deferring the Assembly election so that there is a longer gap between the referendum poll and the Assembly poll.

“The First Minister therefore intends to make clear to both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales at the earliest opportunity that we are strongly opposed to the AV referendum being held on the same day as the Assembly election.”

And there was even dissent from some Tory MPs:

Tory MP Bernard Jenkin told the BBC that most of his Conservative colleagues would support the principle of a referendum as it was part of the coalition agreement.

But he added: “I am astonished to hear that they are thinking of putting this referendum on the same date as the elections in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly because that’s going to lead to differential turnouts in the referendum in different parts of the country. In Scotland and Wales they will be thinking about who runs Scotland, who runs Wales, they won’t be focusing on the main question of the referendum.

“It’s clearly an attempt to stoke the turnout in areas of the country which already have different voting systems which is why I presume there will be less resistance to change to the UK system.”

My own view is that I'm not against the idea of holding different polls on the same day in principle, but I am against this particular clash. Rather than repeat myself, I set out my reasons in this post in May:

    When it is right, and wrong, for polls to clash

But what's done is done. The AV referendum is going to be on 5 May 2011 despite our objections. But all is not lost. There is a simple mechanism in Section 4 of the Government of Wales Act by which the date of the Assembly elections can be put back (or indeed forward) by up to a month.

This provision mirrors a very similar provision in Scotland, but in Scotland's case they are able to make that decision for themselves. In our case the decision is not up to us, but up to Secretary of State Cheryl Gillan. What's more, she can do it with or without the consent of the Welsh government ... she is merely under an obligation to consult with the Welsh Ministers.

So the question for the Welsh government is simple. If the protests made by Labour MPs in the Commons are more than just complaining for the sake of "having a go at" the Tories, our First Minister must now make a formal request to Cheryl Gillan to have the date of the Assembly elections moved to 2 June 2011.

The ball will then be in her court. But if she wants to hold on to the last remaining shreds of the ConDem government's much vaunted "respect agenda" for devolved government in Wales, she'd better say yes.

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S4C ... Management and Commissioning

In my post yesterday, I focused on the proposed new funding model for S4C, saying that I thought the principle of S4C receiving the bulk of its funding from the television licence fee was acceptable, subject to details about the actual sums of money involved and the need to establish this funding base in the long term. However I think it's worth repeating that I am talking about S4C receiving this money from the TV licence fee directly as a designated, ring-fenced sum. The principle of "top slicing" the licence fee has now been established for some years, and the way I read the DCMS/BBC agreement, it seems clear that this will continue.

He who pays the piper does call the tune. That is why it is important that we establish beyond any doubt that the sums designated to S4C from the licence fee are not the BBC's money, and that the BBC should have no control over how this money is spent. The way to ensure this is to write it into the new legislation rather than rely on the discretion of the parties concerned, and to set out a mechanism for determining what share of the licence fee should be given to S4C in the future.

One of the main reasons I think it's important to deal with funding separately is simple and pragmatic. In any negotiation "principles" and "money" are two terms which are notoriously difficult to separate. So if we can nail down the aspect of funding, it then makes it much easier to talk about the management and commissioning structure through which we get Welsh language television. It also makes sense from the perspective of what is happening politically, for it would be naïve for anyone to think that what has happened in the past few months, or indeed the last few days, has not been almost exclusively motivated by the desire to cut public spending. It is this that the government in Westminster has been primarily concerned about, not the quality or nature of Welsh language television.

The problems with the DCMS/BBC agreement

Management and commissioning are matters that certainly do need to be addressed, but the most important thing to note on this subject is that the agreement reached last week is between the DCMS and the BBC, with S4C having no place in the discussions. So even though I don't think it should particularly matter to S4C whether the bulk of its budget comes from government subvention or the television licence fee, I do think that any change to the management and commissioning structure of S4C cannot be decided without reference to them.

For that reason I fully support S4C's decision to seek a judicial review.

But we must be under no illusions about what we expect a judicial review to achieve. In all probability the most that will happen is that the DCMS will be told that it acted precipitously and that it should now undertake a proper consultation. But there will be nothing to stop the DCMS doing that, and then making exactly the same decision again. The judiciary deals with whether something is lawful or unlawful, and whether the proper procedures have been followed in reaching decisions. We cannot expect any judge to make political decisions.

As I have said a number of times, the Westminster government can do whatever it likes providing it can get a majority to pass the necessary legislation through parliament. It can abolish S4C completely if it can get a bill to that effect through parliament. Therefore the primary focus of our opposition to the Westminster government's proposal must be political. We must persuade MPs that the independence of S4C is of such importance to us that it would be politically unwise of them to push these plans through. That involves protest and demonstrations.

So what arguments should we use? Let's start by looking at the relevant clauses of the DCMS/BBC agreement:

•  Having decided to reduce its own funding for S4C as part of the CSR, HMG holds that a new partnership model with the BBC is the best way of securing the long-term future of the service.

•  There would be a BBC and S4C partnership along similar principles to BBC Alba to begin by 2013/14, with S4C coming under a BBC Trust Service Licence or other operating agreement which would be jointly agreed with the S4C Authority and which would set out the strategic goals and broad editorial requirements of the service.

•  A combined Board of the Authority and Trust would oversee delivery of the Service Licence or operating agreement.

•  The S4C service will be operated by a joint management board with a majority of independent directors, appointed by the BBC Trust and the Authority. The management board will operate its own commissioning structure.

•  Further discussion will be required about the exact form of the partnership, and the Government will play its part in those discussions.

•  The total content commissioning budget will be for independent producers (outside of the BBC's ongoing statutory commitments)

As I read it, this seems to indicate that the DCMS are going to retain the S4C Authority as the body which would receive funds, and that these would come from the television licence fee, a continued but reduced government subvention, and commercial activities. This is somewhat reassuring. The changes that are proposed seem not to affect the S4C Authority, but the management of the channel.


Now, although we do not know the precise reasons why Iona Jones left as chief executive of the channel, we do know that the S4C Authority made an announcement the very next day saying that it intended to get rid of the "arm's length" separation between the Authority and the channel's management team. This is what it said:

The S4C Authority has announced a change in S4C’s management structure that will lead to a closer working relationship between the Authority and the management team.

S4C Authority Chairman John Walter Jones said that the S4C Authority, the regulatory body that oversees S4C’s performance, would work closer with a leaner management team.

[He] said: “In order to ensure that the Channel’s future remains secure and that the organisation is run efficiently, the most fundamental change is that the concept of due separation between the S4C Authority and the management team will now cease. S4C is a unitary body and this unitary organisation should manage and safeguard the interests of S4C viewers and the Channel’s suppliers in the future.

S4C Authority Press Release, 29 July 2010

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Iona Jones left because she was not prepared to see the erosion of this due separation. It is also hard to escape the conclusion that the DCMS was none too pleased with this ... although that view might be heavily influenced by the BBC who, unlike the DCMS, would have a more informed understanding of the way the industry works. This was an unsavoury episode, made worse by S4C's complete disregard for transparency and the need for a public body to give some sort of public explanation of what was going on behind closed doors.

I don't want to take sides in that dispute, not least because I don't know enough to know which side to take. But it is clear that the Authority felt the need to step in and do the job it had previously entrusted to an arm's length management team. Therefore, if management and commissioning is seen to be a problem, it should come as no big surprise that the DCMS/BBC agreement should address that issue and propose what they think is a better arrangement. Nor should it be surprising that their preferred solution should be one that gives the BBC more control. The BBC are hardly disinterested observers ... they want what suits them. Who wouldn't?

The BBC's track record

But we need to be under no illusions that the BBC can be particularly ruthless in pursuit of its own ends, especially when its own back is against the wall. The unilateral announcement that it would cut spending on the Welsh language programmes it provides to S4C from £23.5m to £19.5m is an example of this. It is all the more remarkable because it was made on 8 October ... nearly a fortnight before any decision on the BBC's own funding been reached. It would perhaps be understandable to make such an announcement in response to a decision on BBC funding, but to make such a decision at a time when the BBC's income from the TV licence fee had merely been frozen, not cut, is surely proof enough that Welsh language programming is quite low on the BBC's list of internal priorities.

But if anyone is still not convinced of that, another way of illustrating the same point is to look at what has happened to the BBC's Welsh language output over the last 25 years. As I said last month in this post, when S4C was first set up in 1982 there were only three other free-to-air channels available (BBC1, BBC2 and ITV) plus non-peak Channel 4 programming. In 1982, the BBC broadcast could not have broadcast more than about 36 hours; but now, on one typical day, the BBC broadcasts 139 hours of programming to Wales, i.e. about four times as much as it broadcast in 1982. Although when repeats are taken into account, it might be a little less.

But what has the BBC done to increase its Welsh language output to match its increase in English language output? Well, hardly anything. It has voluntarily increased the programming it provides from 10 to 12 hours a week ... a 20% increase in contrast to its 400% increase in English language programmes. So it is very clear that the BBC doesn't regard itself as being under any sense of moral obligation to treat Welsh and English in the same way.

The lesson to be learned from this is that we cannot entrust the future of Welsh language broadcasting to the BBC. I am sure that there are many individuals within the BBC (and particularly in BBC Wales/Cymru) who do care passionately about it, but this does not extend to the corporation as a whole ... or at least the ranks of its most senior decision makers. Though equally it must be said that the BBC still has major problems coming to terms with adequately reflecting the current political landscape in the UK after more than ten years of devolution.


So in conclusion, although there are undoubtedly changes that need to be made to the way that S4C manages the channel and commissions the programmes shown on it, a forced marriage between S4C and the BBC resulting in a joint management and commissioning team is not the right way to go about it.

The principle at stake is plurality. If the editorial choices for all Welsh language broadcasting are made by one "joint management board" operating under one "service licence or operating agreement" then we will only be presented with one view of the world. It won't matter if the joint management board is made up of representatives from S4C, the BBC and a good number of independents. Nor is it a matter of one view being intrinsically better or worse than another ... the best, most informed, view is still only one view.

The BBC makes its own programmes in Welsh. The executive decisions and editorial standpoint of those programmes are for the BBC to decide, subject to its own internal guidelines and procedures. Some will be programmes produced in-house, others will be commissioned from independent producers. This is a good thing. S4C is slightly different in that it commissions all its programmes from independent producers. This is good too. Taken together, we have a model that delivers plurality. So why get rid of it in favour of a new model that by definition cannot and will not be able to deliver plurality?


The basic point of principle we must fight for is that the executive decision making and commissioning of programmes in both S4C and the BBC are kept independent of each other, as is currently the case. Of course this does not mean that they can't work together, for the two organizations already have a strategic partnership agreement. Also, there is nothing to stop the two organizations working together in other ways if it is of mutual benefit to them both. If sharing back office functions saves money then of course they should look at ways of doing it. But this is completely different from being forced to work together because it is dictated by badly thought through legislation.

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S4C ... The Proposed Funding Model

It's taken me a few days to consider all that has happened in the last week regarding S4C. We now have a proposal on the table which we know has been agreed between the DCMS and the BBC, and we know that the Westminster government is minded to impose this proposal on S4C irrespective of what S4C themselves or the Welsh government think of it. This is hardly a satisfactory situation for anyone. All the ingredients are there for a fight, and plenty of people in Wales are up for that fight.

In such a situation, we need to be able to strip away the inessential from the essential. We need to know what we can realistically hope and reasonably expect to achieve. So I want to set out what I think is realistic and reasonable.

In this post I want to concentrate on the proposed funding model for S4C, and I will address other issues such as its management structure and independence later.

The Principle

Whatever the causes of the economic mess we are in, we have to accept that public spending cuts are the primary way in which the elected Westminster government has decided to deal with the UK's deficit; therefore it is pointless to argue that any public service should be immune from spending constraints, including S4C. I think nearly everyone realizes that its funding model, and in particular the link between its grant and inflation, needs to be revisited. The question is how to do it fairly.

My first concern is that S4C is not singled out for unfair treatment. It is a public service broadcaster which receives the main bulk of its operating income from public funds, and I have therefore argued that the measure of how fairly it is treated should be to compare it with the BBC, which is in exactly the same position of receiving the main bulk of its income from the licence fee.

So in principle, I positively welcome the proposal to fund S4C from the television licence fee. It is a good idea, because in the long term it ensures parity of treatment between these two public service broadcasters. While S4C's income is linked to the licence fee, it means that S4C cannot be unfairly treated in the money it receives relative to the BBC.


But a few things about the TV licence need to be clearly defined. The main thing to be clear about is that it is not the BBC's money. Although the BBC fought for complete control of the money raised from it, their fight against "top slicing" the licence fee was lost some years ago when a proportion of it was set aside for the digital switchover. I'm sure the BBC hoped this might prove to be only a temporary arrangement, but we just need to look in detail at some of the points in the agreement just reached between the BBC and the DCMS to see that it's still there.

•  The current ring-fence of approximately £133m per annum will be raised to, and capped at, £150m per annum from 2013/4 to 2016/17 but re-purposed for broadband, consistent with the BBC’s public purposes.

•  The BBC will play an active role in supporting new local television services through a partnership fund providing capital costs of up to a total of £25m in 2013/14 for up to twenty local TV services, subject to any necessary regulatory approval. The BBC will also commit to ongoing funding of up to £5m per annum from 2014/15 to acquire content for use on its own services from these new services. Should capital costs be required earlier then this will be facilitated by access to the existing digital switchover underspend by mutual agreement.

So money from the licence fee is going to continue to be given directly to non-BBC organizations. In other words the principle of top slicing the TV licence fee is now firmly established.


When it comes to funding S4C, there are several sections of the agreement which provide an equal guarantee of this ring-fencing:

•  In 2013/14 and 2014/15, the BBC will contribute £76.3m and £76m respectively in cash in addition to its statutory commitments [i.e. the 10 hours per week of original programming]

•  In the event that a new partnership model does not prove viable for any reason, the Government will not take licence fee money itself for this purpose. But in this situation the Trust will propose a one-off reduction in the level of the licence fee which would be equivalent to the contribution that the BBC would otherwise have made to S4C.

Contrary to what some others have said, I think this last point is enlightening and reassuring. It sets out the principle that S4C's part of the licence fee does not belong to the BBC, and will not revert to the BBC if this proposed funding model breaks down. Elsewhere, the agreement says this:

•  Under the partnership, funding for S4C in future will come from three sources: the licence fee, a continued but reduced subvention from the Government, and commercial income

So it seems quite clear that S4C will continue to exist as an entity in its own right; but that, after a transition period, it will receive the bulk of its income from the licence fee (note that the agreement does not say "from the BBC") and will continue to receive a much smaller sum from the government, as well as its commercial income. Therefore, so far as the principle of the proposal to revise S4C's sources of funding is concerned, I don't have a problem with it. There are other things to fight about, but in my opinion we should not fight about this.

The Detail

However there are two points of detail about funding that should cause us considerable concern.

The first is about the the actual sums of money involved. It is not reasonable to expect S4C to be treated in a worse fashion than the BBC. So we should fight to make sure that it is not, and fully expect to win that fight.

The situation is not helped by a certain lack of objectivity, optimism, or simple spin coming from some quarters. In the video of the Westminster hall debate on Wednesday, Ed Vaizey had the audacity to call this proposed funding settlement "generous" to S4C. And in this post on his blog, Glyn Davies said that the only organization "with a genuine grouse that has real credibility" is the BBC. I'm sorry to say that neither of these assertions stands up to scrutiny.

As the BBC/DCMS agreement makes clear, the additional responsibilities that the BBC have agreed to take on are equivalent to a reduction in income of 16%. However the cuts proposed for S4C result in a loss of DCMS funding of 24%. I think we have a good case to fight for the reduction of funding from the DCMS to be 16% rather than 24%.

Now there are a number of ways of doing the maths, particularly when commercial activities are taken into account. But the shortfall is likely to be less than £10m. In terms of the DCMS budget of over £2bn and the BBC's budget of maybe £3.5bn this is peanuts, but £10m is a much more significant amount for S4C.

The second detail yet to be worked out is how to safeguard S4C's funding in future years, as this Comprehensive Spending Review only covers four years, and the TV licence fee is only set for six. In my view, the most equitable way of solving the problem is for S4C to receive a fixed proportion of the TV licence fee each time it is renegotiated. If it goes up, so will S4C's income from this source; if it goes down, so will S4C's income ... but it will mean that these two public service broadcasters are treated equally. The bottom line is that each round of licence fee negotiations in future must clearly define the sum that is to be paid to S4C. We must ensure that this is built into the new legislation now.


In discussing funding, my basic premise has been that it really doesn't matter to S4C whether it gets the bulk of its income by direct subvention from government or from the TV licence fee. Money is just money. We should accept that there needs to be a cut because everything else is being cut, but we should not expect S4C to suffer more of a cut than the BBC. A small adjustment of less than £10m per year should ensure this.

But the management of S4C is another matter entirely.

S4C needs to remain as an independent entity, and we must fight tooth and nail to make sure that its management structure and editorial independence is not subsumed into the BBC. This post is long enough, so I'll say more on that subject in the next.

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S4C ... The Westminster Hall Debate

This is a video of Wednesday afternoon's debate in Westminster Hall on the funding of S4C. It was arranged by Guto Bebb before the news about the DCMS/BBC agreement, but took place the day after the news had broken.


A few lowlights that struck me were:

•  Guto Bebb saying that an important element of S4C's early success was its mix of Welsh language and Channel 4 programmes. To me, that appears to indicate that he does not see S4C as a purely Welsh language channel in future.

•  Guto Bebb later claiming that S4C should serve non-Welsh speakers, and that it wasn't serving the people it was meant to serve. That seems to remove any doubts about what he meant before. To me, that is as ludicrous as saying that CBeebies was set up to serve those who want to watch news and current affairs programmes, or that Sky Sports 1 was set up to serve those who want to watch ballet and opera. But to be fair to him, he did make some rather more worthy points.

•  And Ed Vaizey, the minister responsible, winding up with a remarkably authentic impersonation of bombastic pomposity ... though I'm sure he was only acting out the part.

•  Alun Cairns congratulating the minister on the cuts, which the DCMS then went on to claim are "generous" to S4C ... obviously an orchestrated attempt to divert attention from the fact that the proposed cuts to S4C are much greater than those agreed with the BBC.

Alwyn has linked to the transcript, here.

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S4C ... The DCMS/BBC Agreement

So many balls are currently in the air with regard to the future of S4C and, although I'm working on it, I haven't quite got to grips with all the possibilities and ramifications as yet. But there is one thing that I would like to post now, to give people the hard detail of what was actually agreed between Jeremy Hunt of the DCMS and the BBC.

The full text of the letter is here, and Mabon ap Gwynfor has already linked to it here on his blog. But this an edited version as it applies to S4C:

Letter from Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
to Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman, BBC Trust



I am writing to confirm the Government’s decision to determine the level of the licence fee until the end of March 2017.

The BBC is one of the most respected broadcasters in the world and a national asset of extraordinary importance both to our country’s culture and its democracy.

I believe the agreement we have reached provides certainty and security for the BBC over the settlement period. The requirement on the BBC to take on important new funding obligations and efficiencies provides the value to licence fee payers necessary in the current economic climate.

This Government will respect the BBC’s editorial and operational independence both as a matter of principle and as an obligation for the full duration of its Royal Charter to 31 December 2016. Consistent with the Charter, any decision affecting the scale and scope of the BBC’s UK public services, and its commercial and other operations, will remain a matter for the BBC Trust. The Government undertakes to provide a full financial settlement to the end of the year 2016/17, with no new financial requirements or fresh obligations of any kind being placed on the BBC and/or licence fee revenues in this period except by mutual agreement. All necessary legal and other steps, including any necessary legislative changes and State Aid notifications that are required to give this agreement force will be sought and effected by the Government, in consultation with and where appropriate by agreement with the BBC Trust.

Financial parameters

•  Under the current licence fee settlement, the fee will remain at £145.50 in 2011/12 and 2012/13. This level will then be maintained in a new four-year settlement to 2016/2017.

•  The current ring-fence of approximately £133m per annum will be raised to, and capped at, £150m per annum from 2013/4 to 2016/17 but re-purposed for broadband, consistent with the BBC’s public purposes.

•  The BBC will assume responsibility for funding the World Service, BBC Monitoring, and S4C from the licence fee as detailed below.

•  The overall effect of this settlement will require the BBC to achieve a 16% cash-releasing efficiency target, net of implementation costs, over the four years to 2016/17.

•  The BBC will maintain its present borrowing limits for the BBC Group and BBC Commercial Holdings to the end of the Charter.

BBC commitments

As part of this new settlement, the BBC has undertaken to provide funding for some new broadcasting activities, set out below. We will now seek to agree with you the necessary amendments to the BBC Agreement.

Local media
( ... detail not shown)


BBC World Service
( ... detail not shown)


New partnership and funding model for S4C

•  The Government remains committed to a strong and independent Welsh language TV service, but has concluded that the S4C model is not sustainable in its present form.

•  The S4C service must retain its brand identity and editorial distinctiveness, as well as its special relationship with the independent production sector in Wales.

•  Public funding for the service must be maintained at agreed levels over the period covered by the Comprehensive Spending Review.

•  Having decided to reduce its own funding for S4C as part of the CSR, HMG holds that a new partnership model with the BBC is the best way of securing the long-term future of the service.

•  Under the partnership, funding for S4C in future will come from three sources: the licence fee, a continued but reduced subvention from the Government, and commercial income

•  There would be a BBC and S4C partnership along similar principles to BBC Alba to begin by 2013/14, with S4C coming under a BBC Trust Service Licence or other operating agreement which would be jointly agreed with the S4C Authority and which would set out the strategic goals and broad editorial requirements of the service.

•  A combined Board of the Authority and Trust would oversee delivery of the Service Licence or operating agreement.

•  The S4C service will be operated by a joint management board with a majority of independent directors, appointed by the BBC Trust and the Authority. The management board will operate its own commissioning structure.

•  Further discussion will be required about the exact form of the partnership, and the Government will play its part in those discussions.

•  The service would not be a BBC branded service

•  The total content commissioning budget will be for independent producers (outside of the BBC's ongoing statutory commitments)

•  In 2011/12 and 2012/13, the Government will continue to fund the service.

•  In 2013/14 and 2014/15, the BBC will contribute £76.3m and £76m respectively in cash in addition to its statutory commitments, while the Government will fund at £6.7m in 2013/14 and £7m in 2014/15.

•  There will be a further review of S4C’s strategy and finances, to conclude in good time before the end of the period covered by the Comprehensive Spending Review.

•  The exact level of BBC funding is not set beyond 2014/15. Whilst future funding will reflect continuing synergies and efficiencies it will remain consistent with the commitment to a strong and independent Welsh language TV service, with future services informed by the outcome of the proposed review.

•  In the event that a new partnership model does not prove viable for any reason, the Government will not take licence fee money itself for this purpose. But in this situation the Trust will propose a one-off reduction in the level of the licence fee which would be equivalent to the contribution that the BBC would otherwise have made to S4C.

BBC Monitoring
( ... detail not shown)

I also welcome the BBC’s plans to enhance its national DAB coverage in the period of this agreement, and to match its national FM coverage as a switchover date draws near.

Thank you for your constructive co-operation in reaching this settlement. It represents a good deal for all parties and reflects the economic environment we are in, while maintaining the independence and funding certainty of the BBC and, most importantly, giving value for money to licence fee payers.

To put the funding for S4C into perspective, this spreadsheet shows the DCMS planned expenditure for S4C, to give the following:

2011/12 ... £90.0m
2012/13 ... £83.0m
2013/14 ... £6.7m (+ £76.3m from BBC) = £83.0m
2014/15 ... £7.0m (+ £76.0m from BBC) = £83.0m

The total reduction in DCMS expenditure is 94%, the total reduction in S4C funding is 24%. In terms of its frozen licence fee funding, offset against these additional commitments, the BBC only faces a cut in funding of 16%.

I'll save the comment for later, except to repeat that this is an agreement between the DCMS and BBC, without any input from or consultation with S4C ... and certainly without their agreement. To that extent it only represnts the intention of the DCMS, since new legislation would be required in order to implement any changes to S4C's current funding arrangements.

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A nation, not a race

While I find Rod Liddle's explanation [comment at 12:37am, here] for his hatred of the Welsh to be much more laughable than he thought his original article was, I do want to sound a note of caution against those who are calling it racism.

Being Welsh is not a matter of race, and never has been. Nor is being English. The people of each of our countries are of many different races, with new ingredients constantly being added to the mixture ... whether over a thousand years, a hundred years or just the last decade.

Wales is a nation, and being Welsh is a matter of nationality, not race.

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More than 40% want Welsh-medium education

This is from the online edition of the South Wales Evening Post:

A Second Welsh language secondary school could be built in Neath and Port Talbot. It will mean an end to long and tiring journeys for pupils to and from the county’s only Welsh-medium secondary school, in the upper Swansea Valley.

Education director Karl Napieralla said demand for Welsh-medium education was exceeding capacity in some parts of the county.

“Research indicates more parents would seek Welsh-medium education for their children where schools are easily accessible,” he said. “Early indications from a survey of parents suggested more than 40 per cent of them would prefer Welsh-medium education for the children.”

South Wales Evening Post, 20 October 2010

There seem to be two strands to the story. In terms of secondary education, NPT has one WM secondary at Ystalyfera in the Swansea Valley. The decision to provide a new one seems mostly to be predicated on the decision to seek funding to build a new English-medium secondary to replace Cwrt Sart, Glan Afan and Sandfields. As we can read here, these three schools are in poor condition and in need of about £13m of repair work. They also have a huge number of surplus places. The intention is that the new WM secondary would be located on one of the vacated sites.

Obviously the proposals are welcome, but they are expensive. The new school would cost £27m, and the work to remodel one of the existing schools probably takes up most of the rest of NPT's £40m bid. There must at least be a question mark over this as a result of the UK government's spending cuts ... although it is certainly not out of the question. It strikes me that a sensible Plan B would be to close one of the three EM schools and move pupils to the other two, which have plenty of surplus space; then convert the third into a WM school. But the existing buildings will still need £13m of repair work.


But to me the more important and more encouraging part of the story is that 40% of parents of children who are not yet at school want them to have a WM education. There is no more detail as yet, but my guess would be that WM primary provision is relatively good in the more sparsely populated north of the county—which has good concentrations of Welsh speakers and a pattern of small traditional WM primaries—but sorely lacking in the south, which has just one WM primary in Neath and one in Port Talbot.

I believe that one of the three primary schools in the new Coed Darcy development will be a WM primary, and that NPT had thought that this would take care of some of the existing demand as well as the new demand from the development. Very clearly it won't. It will struggle to meet the demand from within the development.

This 40% is existing demand from parents who live in NPT. So the biggest question for the council now is how to provide more WM primaries, particularly in the south of the county.

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Inappropriate and unacceptable

The currently breaking news that the BBC is to take responsibility for funding S4C is very disturbing. It's obviously hard to comment without knowing the detail, but even without knowing the detail I can say this much:

The position of S4C and the S4C Authority has been established by Act of Parliament. No Act is sacrosanct, but changing the statutory basis of S4C requires repeal of the existing legislation and probably (but not necessarily, for S4C could simply be abolished) a new legislative framework. This will take time, time that needs to be spent on scrutiny of the proposals both by the public and by members of Parliament.

What concerns me is that deals are being made behind closed doors without any opportunity for discussion or debate. Obviously the ConDem government can form an opinion on what they see as the future of S4C, and it is perfectly proper for them to have discussions with S4C and the BBC to sound out opinion on the matter. But it is entirely inappropriate for either S4C or the BBC to agree to new arrangements for S4C behind closed doors.

Yet it is being presented, certainly here on Betsan Powys' blog, as a deal that has already been made between the Westminster government and the BBC in London ... with John Walter Jones of S4C only being told about it this evening. This is not acceptable. I've said it before, so of course I fully agree with Alun Ffred Jones when he says:

The future of S4C and its budget should be a matter of open and transparent debate among the people of Wales and not rest solely with a single UK government department.

It most certainly sounds like a "stitch up" to me.


In terms of a solution, I wouldn't object to S4C being funded out of a fixed proportion of the TV licence fee. But for that arrangement to work, it would have to be "top sliced" rather than for money to go first to the BBC coffers, and then only handed back at the discretion of BBC management. Certainly not after this decision.

Top slicing would at least ensure parity of treatment between two public service broadcasters, which is one of the main objections I and others had to Jeremy Hunt's plan's to unilaterally cut S4C's budget. It would mean the independent statutory structure of S4C could remain intact, with only the basis of its funding changed ... although the most outrageous part of the current arrangement is that the BBC's obligation to provide programmes for S4C has not changed since 1982, even though the hours of English language programming they produce has quadrupled since then.

However the BBC has up to now fought tooth and nail against top slicing as a way to fund national and regional news on ITV, so I doubt they would now agree to it in S4C's case. It would set a precedent ... but then again, it might be a very good precedent to set.

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Why Wales should build offshore tidal lagoons

I'm pleased to hear that the ConDem government has decided not to proceed with construction of a Severn Barrage, but I'm not at all pleased by the decision to do nothing about harnessing the renewable energy available to us from the Severn. So what I want to do in this post is try to explain from a technical point of view what the options are, what's good and bad about them ... and propose a way forward. For some, this will be an unnecessary lesson in how to suck eggs; but I hope it will be useful to others. Sometimes it's possible to be given so much technical detail that it is impossible to see the big picture. This is meant to be an overview of what matters and why it matters.

Types of tidal power

There are two types of tidal power. Tidal flow relies on the speed of the tide coming in and going out. It is harnessed by means of turbines, fairly similar to wind turbines, but underwater. The best tidal flow sites are around headlands or in the channel between islands, or islands and the mainland. For us in Wales, there are good sites off Ynys Môn and St Davids Head. The Severn estuary also has a good tidal flow, but this is at its best further out to sea than any location that has been proposed for a barrage.

The second type of power comes from tidal range. What matters here is the difference between low and high tides. The Severn estuary has one of the greatest tidal ranges in the world. The Bay of Fundy in Canada is first, and the Severn estuary is either second or third, vying with Baie de St Malo in Brittany. To harness this power requires building an impoundment to contain water at high tide, then to release it through turbines when the water level on the other side of the impoundment is at its lowest. In terms of operation, the turbines work in the same way as in any hydro-electric dam.

Types of impoundment

There are three different types of impoundment. A barrage is built across the mouth of an estuary, with the shores of the river/s which feed it forming the rest of the enclosure. An attached tidal lagoon or connected tidal lagoon is built against the shore but does not impede the flow of the main river. An offshore tidal lagoon or detached tidal lagoon is built close to the shore, but not right up against it.

Perhaps the best way of illustrating them is to look at this map showing the "long listed" schemes proposed for the Severn. Click it to open a larger version:


•  There are three barrages across the Severn: Lavernock-Brean, Shoots (or inner barrage) just next to the new Severn Crossing, and Beachley just next to the Severn Bridge.

•  There is one barrage across Bridgewater Bay, although this is called a lagoon.

•  There are two attached lagoons on the Welsh side: Russell between the Severn Crossing and Newport, and Peterstone between Newport and Cardiff ... and one on the English side at English Grounds.

•  There is one offshore tidal lagoon in Bridgewater Bay, plus an extension to it.

The line shown between Aberthaw and Minehead is not an impoundment, but a "tidal fence" ... a line of turbines designed to harness tidal flow.


The main factor in favour of barrages is that, if built in the right place, they are relatively short compared to the area of water contained behind them. However they have to cross the deepest part of the river, and building a structure up from the bottom of the river makes them more expensive than something built closer to the shoreline. Building something twice as deep costs four times as much; building something three times as deep cost nine times as much. This is because the only practical way to build the impoundment is to pile up rocks on the sea bed, so the cross-sectional shape is always the same, and the amount of material is therefore the square of the height.

The main disadvantage of any barrage is the fact that they can only practically generate electricity at low tide. The reason for this is twofold: first because the impounded area is constantly being filled by the river; but second—and more critically—because river water contains heavy concentrations of silt. The Severn and the tributaries which feed it are particularly heavy in silt from the lower lying areas of England. We can all see this silt at low tide, and a centimetre or so is left behind inland when the river floods. If it were not for this silt, it would be possible to generate electricity both at high tide and low tide ... and this is indeed what the French thought they would be able to do when they built La Rance in Brittany in the sixties. But after a few years they realized that the only practical way of stopping silt build-up was to operate it in one direction only.

Attached Tidal Lagoons

The reason I have classified the Bridgewater Bay "lagoon" as a barrage is because the River Parrett carries a good deal of silt, though not nearly as much as the Severn. The secret of building a good attached tidal lagoon is to minimize the amount of river water that feeds into it. Or, second best, to make sure that the river water is relatively silt free. The shorter, faster flowing rivers of Wales fit that bill; but the less water that feeds into the lagoon from rivers, the better. To the extent that these two criteria are met, the huge advantage of a lagoon is that it is able to generate electricity both at high and at low tide. Therefore lagoons produce twice as much electricity relative to their surface area compared with an estuary barrage.

However, what is even more important than the total amount of electricity produced is the fact that it is produced more frequently. Roughly speaking, a barrage will produce electricity for maybe a two hour period every twelve-and-a-half hours. A lagoon will produce electricity for the same two hour period every six-and-a-quarter hours. In terms of the way the electricity grid works, this makes a huge difference for the better. But better than that, as grace would have it, high tide around the coast of Wales varies by about five hours, and the Severn is not the only place where we can build lagoons. The stretch of coast between Swansea and Porthcawl is also good, and so is the north Wales coast ... because even though the tidal range in Liverpool Bay isn't quite as high as the Severn's, it is still good. A series of lagoons will be able to feed a more or less continuous supply of electricity into the grid.

Offshore Tidal Lagoons

A detached tidal lagoon has exactly the same advantages as an attached tidal lagoon with no rivers feeding into it, and therefore no problem with silting. In technical terms the differences are in the length and depth of the impounding structure.

The length of the impounding structure that needs to be built is shorter for an attached lagoon because the shoreline itself does part of that job. However the depth of water gets less towards the shore, so the electricity generating potential is not simply a matter of surface area, but of the tidal range across that area. The ideal place to build an offshore lagoon is on a relatively shallow area of sea bed just—but only just—beyond the line of the lowest tide. On the map above, it is beyond the beige of the exposed mud, in the lightest blue area. If we look in more detail at the map, this should explain why the offshore lagoon in Bridgewater Bay is where it is.

In my opinion an equally good area to build an offshore lagoon would be more or less where the Peterstone lagoon between Newport and Cardiff is, but with the inner wall on the line between beige and light blue. This would allow the Rhymni to continue to flow directly into the Severn estuary. The Russell lagoon east of Newport is in a less ideal place, because it does not harness the full benefit of the tidal range.

The second big advantage of offshore tidal lagoons is that is it relatively easy to link them together. By building the impoundment only slightly higher (say a metre or two) than the highest high tide, there is the potential to use any electricity produced from one lagoon in the middle of the night (when demand is low) to pump water into the other lagoon, to then be released back to produce electricity a few hours later when demand is higher.


But the main advantage of offshore tidal lagoons is ecological. There is a wealth of wildlife in the area between low and high tide, adapted to survive with that tidal cycle. Offshore lagoons do not interfere with this, leaving wildlife untouched. These environmental considerations may not rank highly with some people, and it is possible to argue that the damage might not be too bad. But why risk it ... after all, isn't the whole point of switching to renewable energy in order to save the environment? Yes, offshore tidal lagoons will cost more to build because the length of the impounding structure is longer, but this will be partly offset by being able to harness the full tidal range across the whole area of the lagoon.

Roads and Railways

I want to address this matter separately, because one of the reasons often cited for building a barrage across the Severn is that it can then also be used as a road or rail link. This is one of the reasons most often given by those who favour the Shoots barrage.

The impounding structure for a barrage used only for the purpose of generating electricity is a relatively simple to construct. It involves building up a pile of material from the sea bed up to the highest high tide. It does not need to be any higher than say half a metre above that, because it simply won't matter if waves break over the top of it in stormy conditions.

But once we start thinking about putting a road or railway on top of it, things become much more complicated. First, we have to build it higher so that waves don't break over the top of it, probably four or five metres higher. We also have to make the structure much more stable, because huge damage will be done to the road/rail surface if there is any substantial structural movement. This will increase the cost substantially. In contrast, if a simple impounding structure is damaged by a storm, it can be fixed relatively easily from a floating barge. The second factor is what to do about shipping. If any shipping is to pass, there needs either to be a swing or lift bridge section of the road/railway ... and I find it hard to imagine this being acceptable on, say, a new high speed rail line. We would therefore have to build the line higher than the shipping that would pass below it, and because the line would have to have minimal gradients we would in effect be building a bridge. The two structures simply do not mix.

If we want a barrage, we should build a simple barrage. If we want a crossing for transport, I think it will always be better to build a different structure rather than try to combine the two.


In my opinion it is insane not to make use of the best form of dependable renewable energy we have available to us in Wales. For that reason I would not have been entirely unhappy if the decision had been made to go ahead with the Lavernock-Brean barrage. Clean renewable energy for at least a hundred years, if not more, is not something that should be spurned. In fact I would prefer us to build the Lavernock-Brean barrage in preference to one of the other barrages.

But it is definitely one of what the French would call les grands projets. It is an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket solution that has the potential to go horribly wrong and cost many times more than anyone envisaged. Once started, there is no way of scaling it back if things go wrong. To the credit of the ConDem government, they seem to have recognized this and are not prepared to take the risk.

If I were English, the scheme I would build is the smaller Bridgewater Bay offshore lagoon – though I would design it in such a way as to allow for the expansion at a later date if the inevitable unexpected problems are not as bad as they might otherwise be. The lessons we learn from building the first will reduce the risks we take when building the second ... and so on.

But I'm not English. I want this energy for us in Wales. For that reason, of the sites shown on the map above, I would build an offshore tidal lagoon, roughly sharing the same footprint as the Peterstone lagoon. On the map below it is called "Cardiff". The locations shown are from the Tidal Electric website, and their preferred first option is Swansea Bay, for which WS Atkins have produced a technical study. The idea is to start small, and build up from there.


The politics of the matter is something else. Obviously I have my views on it, but I wanted in this post to concentrate on the technical reasons why I think a series of offshore tidal lagoons is a much better solution to harnessing renewable energy from the tidal range of the Severn estuary than any barrage could be.

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Salmond's Speech

I know that a few others have posted the text of Alex Salmond's speech this weekend, but it's not a patch on seeing and hearing it. So enjoy:


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Oscar Wilde is 156 years old today, but in his picture he looks as young as ever ... or should that be the other way round?


An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.

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Stand up for the things that matter

I've just read an article by Menna Machreth, the chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, which I hope she won't mind me publicizing. It's on the Lausanne Global Conversation website, and can be read by clicking the link below:

     Why I’m so passionate as an evangelical Christian about my Welsh identity

It's addressed to Christians across the world; many of whom will not know much about Wales, and probably know even less about our culture and language, and the threats it has faced and still faces.

But of perhaps greater interest to us who do know about Cymdeithas is her explanation of how protest and non-violent direct action dovetail with her faith. For me, these two paragraphs stood out:

Non-violent direct action means acting in a way which respects life without hurting or abusing anybody. This means accepting full responsibility for all actions and being ready to face the consequences and punishment. Within the Welsh Language Society, the ideal is no fist violence, no verbal violence, and no heart violence. It is emphasized to all members that we should not act out of reactionary feelings and should avoid contempt towards individuals within the authorities. Instead, the non-violent principle urges members to act out of a desire for change, a desire for justice in a reasoned and calculated manner. As Christians within the movement, we must act out of love at all times and must remember to love all the people we’re involved with. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ clears the temple but there is no suggestion of violence against people but towards the tables and throwing the animals out as a symbolic act. The life and teachings of Jesus Christ is the foundations of non-violent direct action for me; loving your enemies combined with a stance over truth and what is right.

Government and institutions are violent through their law and policies towards the Welsh, their language and identity. Using violence against this injustice will not solve anything. But we can choose not to conform to violence. I consider apathy towards injustice as co-operation with that injustice. In that sense, we are all guilty for our lack of action whether it is towards identity, world poverty or damaging the environment for example.

I want to say that I fully agree with her. And although I didn't do it in the specific context of faith, I outlined very similar principles on direct action in this post last year. I would urge people to think hard about it.

As far as the language is concerned, there is every indication that the government in Westminster will impose its agenda on Wales with little realization about the consequences of its actions. We will need to protest, and we might need to go further. Alongside that—and done for the same reasons and with the same lack of realization about the consequences of its actions—we will see economic and social injustice leading to resentment and anger on a scale that we haven't seen for decades.

Faced with this it is easy for us to get angry, but not nearly so easy to direct a justified sense of anger in a direction that will make a difference. This is a time for people of principle to think hard about how we stand up for the things that matter.

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Relief about S4C

The announcement that Jeremy Hunt is going to seek to amend the law concerning the funding of S4C is welcome news. Welcome because it means that the S4C Authority has not agreed to take a "voluntary" cut in funding.


If the ConDem government wants to change the terms of the Broadcasting Act, it is perfectly entitled to try; and if it can persuade a majority in Parliament to vote with them, it will get its way. But it will all have to be done openly, and will be subject to full debate and public scrutiny. In particular, it will mean that Welsh MPs will each have to stand up and be counted on the issue.

This is how it should be. It was wrong for the ConDem government to attempt to bully through changes behind closed doors. S4C is a public service broadcaster, and deserves its future funding arrangements to be debated and decided in public.

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Clegg in a Fluster

I've just read this very strange story in the Scotsman:

Nick Clegg: Time running out on dual poll

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has admitted that time is running out to find a solution to ensure the Westminster and Holyrood elections do not take place on the same day in 2015.

The Tory/Lib Dem government has come under fire for its plans to introduce a fixed term of five years that mean the two election dates clash. Opponents have said that it is evidence of a "disrespect agenda" with Scotland and other devolved nations, and that having the two polls on the same day would mean that the Holyrood vote would be overshadowed.

Mr Clegg has made it clear previously that he hopes to give the Scottish Parliament greater powers to move its election date from the one month variable power it has now.

However, giving evidence to the House of Lords' constitution committee yesterday, Mr Clegg said that the government was struggling to come up with a solution.

"There are no easy answers," he said. "I have looked at various suggestions which all have sorts of dilemmas of their own." The Deputy Prime Minister added that a solution needed to be found soon, "because with the devolved elections in May, bluntly, voters need to know what they are voting for."

The Scotsman, 14 October 2010

I find this ridiculous. Yes, it is important that the elections don't clash, but if the ConDem government is determined to have the Westminster election on the first Thursday in May 2015, the solution is to move the Welsh and Scottish elections so that they don't clash.

The power already exists to move these elections by four weeks (though Scotland can decide this for itself, but Wales needs the agreement of the Secretary of State ... that's an anomaly that should be fixed) but if this is not considered to be enough of an interval then it is a simple matter to legislate to allow them to move by more. Alternatively, I can't see it would make any real difference for one election to be on the first Thursday in April and the other on the first Thursday in June in those years when they clash, but on the first Thursday in May when they don't.

Nick Clegg is working himself into a tizz over something that is easy to sort out. Good grief, the ConDem government still haven't worked out what to do about the potential clash between the AV referendum and the Welsh and Scottish elections in May of next year, which is every bit as important an issue, but in much more urgent need of a solution. Why on earth is he getting flustered about something which is more than four years away, but not dealing with the more immediate problem?

It looks like Clegg is in headless chicken mode already!

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The rescue of the Chilean miners is compulsive viewing, though much better without commentary on the Guardian's stream than it is on the BBC.

This tweet was great:

Imagine being trapped under ground for a couple of months then coming out and having to hug David Cameron.

Yes, that's horrible enough, but I can think of worse ... much, much worse. Imagine coming up and having to shake hands with the Black Spider.

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Spiriting away our exports

In this post yesterday, I included a graph showing Wales' export performance relative to the UK as a whole, which I'll show again:


The main thing that struck me yesterday was how much better Wales' export performance had been over the last ten years compared to the UK as a whole ... at least up to the recession brought on by the banking crisis. Yet I was still a little disconcerted by the fact that the value of Welsh exports had gone down over the last twelve months, while the value of UK exports as a whole had gone up. So I decided to dig a little deeper.

Looking at the past few years in more detail, there has been just one place where the line for Wales went down, but the line for the UK as a whole went up: between the second and third quarters of 2009. This is unusual, because the two lines tend to go up or go down together ... although not necessarily by the same amount.

Footnote 7 of the document from which the graph is taken says this:

Exports are allocated to a region by the postcode associated with a company's VAT registration. Some adjustments have been necessary for exports to the EU, to ensure that manufacturing that takes place at branch premises is properly allocated to the region where the branch is situated. Exports to countries outside the EU already contain a regional coding.

That was enough to get my interest up, for I have long argued that the statistics for items such as corporation tax and VAT are based on the location of the accounting offices of the companies concerned rather than the location of the premises where the company does its work. This means that profits made in Wales tend to be under-reported in favour of head offices elsewhere in the UK, usually in south east England. Footnote 14 makes this point explicitly:

In July 2009 the Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number will replace the Trader Unique Reference Number (TURN) as the unique identifier used on Customs declarations. Customs declarations are the largest source of non-EU overseas trade data.

The Regional Trade Statistics (RTS) methodology uses the TURN to identify branches within companies. The EORI number will not be able identify branches as they will only be issued to a legal entity – sole proprietor, partnership or company.

The move from TURN to EORI means it may not be possible to allocate all trade at branch level for the RTS. On the basis of the EORI number, there will be an increase in non-EU trade being assigned to the region of a head office rather than that of a production branch.

The last RTS publication completely unaffected by EORI was the Quarter 2 2009 RTS, published on 10 September 2009. The intra-EU regional trade data in future releases will be unaffected.

This is likely to mean that some trade that would have been allocated to branches in Wales will be allocated to the head office outside of Wales and vice versa. The Statistical Directorate will monitor and review this in conjunction with HMRC. More information can be found here.

Note the date of the change: the beginning of the third quarter of 2009.

So let's look at the actual figures, from here. The fall in Welsh exports between Q2 and Q3 2009 was £324m (a fall of 13.39%) but the corresponding rise in UK exports was £1,199m (a rise of 2.21%). It therefore seems fair to say that because we would have expected a rise roughly in line with the UK as a whole, the change from TURN to EORI has made a difference of approximately £375m or 15% of the total recorded value of our exports.

And if this is true for our exports, it seems reasonable to assume that the same pattern will apply to our trade within the UK as well.

At present, this is merely an observation based on the figures available in the documents I've linked to. It could do with some more detailed research, if anyone's up for it. But it strikes me that even though the change of accounting rules is highly retrograde (since it provides us with less detailed rather than more detailed information) it is nonetheless one of the few indicators we have of the extent to which economic activity in Wales is accounted as having been done in England.

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Exports: The Bigger Picture

Reading the news that the value of Welsh exports has dropped by £1.6bn in the last twelve months, and that the decrease is greater than in any other part of the UK, is not exactly the best way to start a Sunday morning. But it's always best to look at the source figures rather than rely on the headlines, and those figures are here:

     Welsh Exports: Second Quarter 2010

The first thing that stands out is this graph on the front page. It is one instance where a picture really does paint a thousand words:


So yes, the downturn since the start of the banking collapse has been very severe for Wales; but for almost the whole of the decade since the Assembly was set up Wales has been very comfortably outperforming the UK as a whole. Right now, the line on the graph is a bit igam-ogam, but we are only fractionally behind the UK.

This is nothing to be complacent about, of course ... but nothing to beat ourselves up over, either. And if our strong growth in the last quarter is repeated again, we should be back on top in three months' time.

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Passport Problems

The news that the Passport Office at Newport has been singled out for closure will raise some interesting conundrums for whichever office in England is designated to take over its workload.

The Identity and Passport Service (though whether the "identity" part is still valid is now a moot point) has committed itself to provide a Welsh language service, as part of its approved Welsh Language Scheme. We can read it here:

     UK Passport Service Welsh Language Scheme, 2001

It contains the usual features of a WLS for a public body. For example that face-to-face, telephone and written enquiries can be made in Welsh and should be answered in Welsh, and that the standard of service should be as high in Welsh as it is in English; and that information booklets, forms, signage, etc. should be bilingual. This policy was reiterated and extended only in January of this year, as detailed in this guidance note to staff.


Now I have no objection in principle to the IPS closing one of its offices. But it will be very interesting to see how staff in the next nearest Passport Offices to Wales—London and Liverpool—will manage to provide the Welsh language service the IPS has committed itself to provide. It will be even more interesting to see how they meet their commitment to increase the numbers of Welsh-speaking staff they employ.

Interesting, but perhaps not completely impossible.

Let's consider some of the consequences. It will be nice to see fully bilingual signage in both Welsh and English in the London and Liverpool Passport Offices. It will be good to see bilingual recruitment advertising in the English press to try and attract suitable Welsh speakers from the ex-pat population in London and Liverpool ... although they might also do it by offering generous re-location packages for existing Welsh-speaking staff in Newport. They'd have to be generous, because housing in London isn't cheap. I'm sure the language training courses the IPS has committed itself to providing for its staff can be handled by colleges in London such as the City Lit (who already run some very good Welsh courses) and whatever the equivalents in Liverpool might be.

So yes, I suppose it can be done.

But on the other hand, it would almost certainly be a lot easier and cheaper not to single out Wales by closing the Newport office. It's only a suggestion, of course ... made in the interests of saving the ConDem government some money without falling foul of their legal commitments to provide an equal service in both Welsh and English. No government is above the law; but it would be particularly hypocritical for a Tory-led government to fall foul of the legislation on Welsh that they themselves introduced when they were in power before.

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