The Thick of It, a Better Civil Service for Wales

In his blog yesterday, Gareth Hughes mentioned one of the conspicuous omissions from the new Programme for Government published by Carwyn Jones.

It contained many worthy aspirations, but the one major area that might determine whether his programme sinks or swims was missing. In Labour's manifesto they had the intention:

"to review and seek realignment of the governance and performance of the Assembly civil service, better to reflect the developing requirements of devolution whilst remaining part of the Home Civil Service."

Now it wasn't by chance that this appeared in the manifesto. It wasn't one of these meaningless commitments thrown into bulk out the document. It was heartfelt. It appeared because many ministers in the last government felt that the civil service was "not fit for purpose." Not up to the job, but Ministers weren't able to do anything about it. Hence, their determination to change things. They really thought that if it went into the manifesto it would happen.

But today, nothing, not a whisper. Oh, never underestimate the basic conservative instinct of civil servants.

Sir Humphrey has ensured that his comfortable little number will not be scruninized by the Hackers of this world. How confident can Carwyn Jones be that his “Progamme for Government” will be met if it’s left to an unreformed civil service to carry out?

Gareth Hughes, 27 September 2011

My reaction to this omission is, as people might expect, a little different. If all you have to offer is a lacklustre set of proposals, it probably helps to be able to blame someone other than yourself for the lack of ambition behind them. Who better to blame than the Civil Service? They're hardly the best loved of public servants, anyway.


And yet—by one of those coincidences that can only be described as excruciatingly embarrassing rather than merely unfortunate—on the very same day that Labour in Wales admitted that they aren't going to bother to try and make the Civil Service work better for Wales, a report has been published showing how the Civil Service in Scotland has been successfully transformed, and transformed for the better. Click the image to download it.


The report was written by Sir John Elvidge, who is the former permanent secretary to the Scottish government. This is a short summary of it from eGovmonitor:

Scottish Government Leads the Way on Radical Civil Service Reforms in the UK - New Paper

Whitehall can learn more from the successes of the civil services reform north of the border in Edinburgh, a new paper from the Institute for Government (IfG) written by Sir John Elvidge, former permanent secretary to the Scottish government has claimed.

In his paper, Northern Exposure: Lessons from the first twelve years of devolved government in Scotland, he articulates how he as the senior most civil servant in Scotland worked with the minority SNP government, to radically transform the structure of government so it works together around a "common national purpose". These measures included reducing the number of ministers and abolishing departments and aligning the whole Scottish public sector around a single framework of national purpose – whose outcomes would be tracked and measured: "at the heart of [this] was the concept of government as a single organisation ... the idea of "joined up government taken to its logical conclusion".

In stark contrast to the Whitehall civil servants who were criticised recently by a Parliamentary Committee for lack of inertia and flexibility, the Elvidge paper praises the civil servants in Scotland for the role they played in the reforms. "As well as providing essential continuity of understanding about the processes of government, it has displayed agility and energy in assisting the adaptation of that understanding to fresh challenges," he said.

He says the model of Scottish government structure reforms was based on "an explicit rejection of departmentalism as a basis for effective government and involves the abolition of a departmental structure within the Scottish government."

"In partnership between civil service and political leadership, a radical Scottish model of government has developed since 2007, building on the learning from the earlier period of devolution. It is based on the effort to have government function as a single organisation, working towards a single defined government purpose based on outcomes, and establishing a partnership based on that purpose with the rest of the public sector which is capable of being joined by other parts of civil society," he wrote. "It places strategic leadership and the facilitation of co-operation between organisations and sections of society at the heart of the role of central government, rather than a managerialist view of the relationship of central government to others."

The former top civil servant in Scotland highlighted the role played by the Scottish public leadership forum, which brings together all Scottish public sector leaders, in ensuring the changes were not just limited to Edinburgh. He argues "my central proposition is that we are making less use than we could and should within the UK of the opportunities for transferable learning from the experience of devolution."

Lord Adonis, the former Labour Cabinet Minister and now the Director of the IfG echoed his thoughts and said the Scottish model does offer a successful alternative and it's time for Whitehall to "wake up to the changes" north of the border in Scotland.

eGovmonitor, 27 September 2011

I can only echo that alarm call. Wake up, Carwyn. If you swallow your pride for long enough to read what has happened in another devolved administration, or take any pride in the idea of a similar "common national purpose" for Wales, you might learn about some practical ways to implement what you said you wanted to do in your party's manifesto.

It appears to me that this is exactly what we in Wales need. Not just as an effective way of implementing policy, but a more efficient way of doing it.

It is also worth pointing out that Scotland does not have a separate Civil Service (although Northern Ireland does) but shares a common Home Civil Service with us in Wales and with Whitehall. So implementing changes of this sort does not require any constitutional change, and therefore is in line with your manifesto commitment. It just requires reorganization to move away from the departmental rivalries and entrenched interests that characterize the way Whitehall works. Make no mistake, we in Plaid Cymru would want to go further, but this would be a very big step in the right direction.

And, in purely practical terms, this model was set up during a period of a minority Scottish government. Therefore these ways of working will be particularly appropriate for the difficulties your current minority government is inevitably going to face in Wales. So don't use the Civil Service as an excuse, Carwyn. Make it work for Wales in the same way as the SNP have made it work for Scotland. If you're prepared to get into the thick of it, you'll certainly have cross-party support from Plaid Cymru.

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A joke that's no longer funny. It's time to act

Catching up with some of the television I missed during the week, I came across this snippet from Dafydd El Cid on Sharp End:


No serious constitutional changes at all, eh? No devolution of police and the justice system? No devolution of broadcasting? No control over our natural resources? No control over energy? No powers to set taxes?

How can we possibly have "self determination" when control of all these things lies outside Wales?

No wonder this man can think of little else than joining the Labour Government at the first opportunity. I can't help thinking that this would be the perfect place for him, for Carwyn Jones isn't really serious about devolving more to Wales either. They both clearly think the referendum in March was quite enough and that our constitutional settlement shouldn't be progressed any further.


As far as I'm concerned, Dafydd El ceased to have any relevance to Wales when he chose to join the House of Lords. I didn't mind him continuing to be a member of Plaid simply because of his record before then. When he then became a member of the National Assembly, things just about worked out because he took the position of Llywydd, which precluded him (or at least should have) from being an active party politician in a similar way as applies to the Speaker of the House of Commons. But when he hinted in December last year that he no longer wanted that job, I said that I thought there was no place for him as an elected politician within Plaid Cymru and that the party should act to prevent him standing if it was his intention to step down from being Llywydd.

But we didn't do that, and we are now suffering the consequences, because loose cannons are dangerous.

There is simply no room in Plaid Cymru for people who are content with the current constitutional settlement for Wales. For many years the first and foremost aim of the party, as stated in the party constitution, has been:

2.1 To promote the constitutional advancement of Wales with a view to attaining Full National Status for Wales within the European Union.

Plaid Cymru Constitution

But even this statement has now been superseded, because at conference this year delegates voted in favour (I think it was unanimous, for even the one person who spoke against the motion did not actually vote against it, but it easily got the two-thirds majority necessary) of this change:

(Canton and Llandaf branch / Caerffili Constituency / Pontllanffraith and Maesycwmer Branch)

1. Conference reaffirms its support for independence for Wales in Europe.
2. In order to clarify the party’s constitutional stance, conference agrees to delete paragraph 2.1 of the constitution and insert:

“secure independence for Wales in Europe.”

Plaid Cymru Conference Handbook, 2011

This means there can be no place in Plaid Cymru for people who do not share this aim. In fact, it is clearly set out in the constitution (4.2i) that members must "agree to further the aims of the party as described in this Constitution". The five aims, as amended in accordance with the vote at conference, are:

2. As the National Party of Wales, Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales's aims shall be:

2.1 To secure independence for Wales in Europe.

2.2 To ensure economic prosperity, social justice and the health of the natural environment, based on decentralist socialism.

2.3 To build a national community based on equal citizenship, respect for different traditions and cultures and the equal worth of all individuals, whatever their race, nationality, gender, colour, creed, sexuality, age, ability or social background.

2.4 To create a bilingual society by promoting the revival of the Welsh language.

2.5 To promote Wales’s contribution to the global community and to attain membership of the United Nations.

We need to be clear that there is plenty of room for disagreement over individual policy issues ... and indeed we have very lively debates over what our policies should be, as do all democratic parties. But there can be no place in the party for those who are openly opposed to the party's fundamental aims as set out in its constitution.


Dafydd Elis-Thomas has put himself on record as not only being opposed to independence for Wales, but of being opposed to the constitutional advancement of Wales. These are his exact words:

"I wouldn't advocate any serious constitutional changes at all."

If Plaid Cymru continues to tolerate the likes of Dafydd Elis-Thomas as even a member of the party, let alone one of our elected representatives, we will make ourselves a laughing stock in the eyes of the people of Wales. If we are seen as a party that doesn't take its own fundamental aims seriously, how can we ever expect the people of Wales to take us seriously?

We need to get rid of this dead weight.

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Taxi for Clegg

Thanks to the Independent for the cartoon.


What sort of taxi did you think I meant?

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Still time to get that amendment in, Carwyn

As a result of Peter Hain's performance in front of the cameras over the last few days, Change of Personnel today asked a question about who is seen to be leading, or at least speaking for, the Labour Party in Wales.

But despite the accolades it got me wondering, if you didn’t know any better and let’s face it most people who watched across the UK and further afield wouldn’t, you’d believe from last week that Peter Hain was Wales’s First Minister and leader of the Welsh Government, not simply the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales.

He managed to totally out think and outmanoeuvre Carwyn Jones (admittedly not a particularly difficult task) who was there and met with families but remained in the background as Peter with help from his advisers took the lead on every front from the start of the unfolding tragedy. Everything from talking with the families, appearing with the police at press conferences and updating the gathered media to launching the appeal for families - would Alex Salmond, Peter Robinson or Martin McGuiness have allowed their respective Shadow Secretaries of State to take the lead in such circumstances in Scotland or Northern Ireland? I sincerely doubt it.

So why is Carwyn Jones, who is after all supposed to be the man elected as Wales’s First Minister, so willing to let Peter Hain do it in Wales? Is what’s best for the Labour Party still more important than doing his job and leading the country, especially during such a dreadful tragedy?

Change of Personnel, 19 September 2011

I don't particularly want to concentrate in this post on the tragedy that has unfolded over the last few days. That is something that rightly puts politics into the shade. I thoroughly dislike the idea of any politician taking more of the media spotlight than the police, the rescue teams and people speaking on behalf of the families. So although I think Peter Hain should have said very much less than he did, I would apply that to any politician. I saw Carwyn Jones, Bethan Jenkins and Gwenda Thomas interviewed about what happened, as well as some local councillors (there may have been others that I missed) and I think their shorter contributions were much more appropriate than those made by Mr Hain, who even when he wasn't speaking seemed to take inordinate trouble to be seen in the background.

Yet the question about who is seen to be leading the Labour Party in Wales is important, even though overshadowed by the tragedy at the Gleision Colliery.


First, we need to realize that Carwyn Jones is only the leader of the Labour group in the National Assembly, and is First Minister because of that. There is no Welsh Labour Party; there is just one Labour Party with Ed Miliband as its leader. Peter Hain and Carwyn Jones have to fight between themselves about which one of them is the most prominent Labour politician in Wales, with the right to speak for Labour in Wales.

Carwyn Jones is disadvantaged not only by his own lack of drive and ambition (something Peter Hain could never be accused of) but by the fact that the Labour Party itself regards what is decided by Labour in Westminster as more important than what is decided by Labour in Cardiff Bay. A good example of this was that the Labour manifesto for the Assembly election in 2011 was opposed to nuclear power, but a week before the election a Labour spokesman said that the party's definitive position on the issue was in fact in their Westminster manifesto of 2010, which supported nuclear power on Ynys Môn. As John Dixon noted, the clear message was that whatever the party in Wales thinks is irrelevant if it clashes with what the party in Westminster wants.


At present the arrangement in Scotland is exactly the same as it is in Wales; but they are now set to change it, as reported here only a week ago:

Scottish Labour breaks free of Miliband

Labour has announced plans to create a new Scottish leader and a beefed-up party north of the Border to fight back against electoral dominance by the SNP. The radical reforms, to be made following the crushing loss to the SNP in May's Holyrood elections, will lead to the loosening of ties with the UK Labour movement with UK leader Ed Miliband no longer in charge of party fortunes in Scotland.

The results of a review into the Labour trouncing at the polls were made public yesterday and were billed as the biggest shake-up of the party in Scotland for 90 years. They come a week after calls for the Scottish Conservative Party to be transformed and mean that the two leading UK parties are now undergoing changes that could bring a weakening of their bonds with Scotland. Further reforms to Scottish Labour will see local party associations, which are currently drawn on Westminster seats, being scrapped and reformed along Holyrood's boundaries in a move designed to shift the party's focus to Edinburgh and away from Westminster.

The moves were agreed by the party's ruling Scottish Executive committee yesterday, but they still have to be ratified by the UK Labour Party at its conference next month. The reforms were signed off in Glasgow after the three-month review led by MSP Sarah Boyack and MP Jim Murphy. They said that while the party had delivered devolution, it had failed to follow the same principles itself.

"This is about turning the Scottish Labour Party into Scotland's Labour Party. Today, we are completing the devolution of the Scottish Labour Party," Murphy said. "From now on, whatever is devolved to the Scottish Parliament will be devolved to the Scottish Labour Party."

Boyack said: "Labour devolved Scotland when we set up the Scottish Parliament in 1999, and we are proud of that. Labour used that Scottish Parliament to deliver important reforms for Scotland, but we didn't reform ourselves. Now we need to make devolution a reality within our party too."

Scotland on Sunday, 11 September 2011

As it happens, the Labour Party conference is next week rather than next month, but it seems fairly clear that the plan for the Labour Party in Scotland to be separately constituted, able to make its own policy in the areas devolved to Scotland, and with one clear elected leader, is going to be approved.

Therefore the obvious question is why this should happen for the Labour Party in Scotland but not for the Labour Party in Wales. The areas devolved to Wales might differ from the areas devolved to Scotland, but the principle should surely be the same.

Now, I can well imagine that someone in Labour might say that there now needs to be a separate Scottish Labour Party in response to their poor showing in the election in May ... but that nothing needs to change in Wales because Labour are doing perfectly well as they are. Why fix something that isn't broken? But my answer is that this change actually has nothing to do with Labour's poor performance in Scotland. The idea was in fact a key plank of Ed Miliband's campaign to become leader of the Labour Party back in June 2010:

Miliband says Scots Labour must make own policy

Labour leadership contender Ed Miliband says the party has to embrace differences north and south of the Border.

On a campaigning visit to Holyrood yesterday to meet MSPs he backed the idea of the Scottish Parliament going its own way from Westminster on legislation, and of the party in Scotland having complete control over policy.

"The policies in Scotland for Scottish Labour should be decided in Scotland – that should not be controversial," he said. "Under my leadership we would lighten up about difference.

"The whole nature of the devolution settlement is accepting that within a United Kingdom we can learn from each other and there will be particular policies and ideas which would be appropriate to Scotland and that Scotland should be able to pursue."

The Herald, 1 July 2010

Remember that this was said at a time when Labour were miles ahead in the opinion polls in Scotland, and when nearly everyone expected them to form the next Scottish Government. So the issue actually has nothing to do with Labour having lost heavily to the SNP; the principle would have applied even if Labour had managed to form a government in Scotland, and therefore applies just as much to Wales, even though Labour have been able to form a government here.


Now of course I have no way of knowing what the agenda for Labour's party conference will be, though it's a safe bet that this subject will be on it somewhere. But will the motion only talk about a separately constituted Scottish Labour Party ... or will fairness and consistency demand that Wales is treated in the same way as Scotland?

If you were ever serious about standing up for Wales, it's not too late to get that amendment in, Carwyn.

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Another example of Labour's insouciance

Following Chris Bryant's failure to understand what the word insouciant means, Neil Kinnock has kindly stepped in to provide us with a perfect definition. Referring to reports in the press that his son Stephen is gay, he said:


“When you are up against garbage like that, the only way to respond is with a shrug and a smile."

Wales on Sunday, 18 September 2011

But did he just shrug it off and smile? Of course he didn't.

According to Wales on Sunday he's reacted with "fury" and "launched a blistering attack" on the media. He called what was written about Stephen "a lot of bilge" and said it was an example of one of "the most vicious forms of personal attack".


Isn't it strange that Labour politicians like Neil Kinnock and Chris Bryant say one thing, but in fact do the exact opposite of what they say?

Why is it that remarks about a person's sexuality result in furious and very vocal complaints from both these politicians, but others are expected not to kick up a fuss or complain when their language is attacked?

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Dydd Owain Glyndŵr

Campaigning for independence ... and two national holidays for Wales!


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Welsh Independence

I've only just found out that the Welsh Independence blog has been brought back to life, and looks set to do some kicking. Definitely one to add to our bloglists.


Two articles are well worth highlighting. The first is a video report from Russia Today last week, which I've embedded below. The words that go with it are here.


The second is a slightly fuller version of an article by Siôn Jobbins which appeared in Cambria Politico last month. There aren't that many differences, but it's worth reading again anyway.

     Too Poor to be Independent – the same old story

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Dafydd El Cid ... echoes of Carwyn

We rightly laugh at Carwyn Jones for the spineless hypocrisy of not wanting tax-setting powers for Wales, yet at the same time expecting Wales to be offered them if Scotland or Northern Ireland manage to get them. But I laughed out loud when I heard Dafydd El say almost exactly the same thing about independence, citing Catalunya as an example:


"Wales is a legislative region of Europe. Anything the Catalans think they want, I'd like to get."

He obviously hasn't been able to keep up with what's happening in Catalunya since he's been strapped onto that horse. Time will tell, but as I read the situation Catalunya doesn't want to be a legislative region of Europe, but to be an independent nation alongside all the other independent nations in Europe, wanting equal status with them both in Europe and in the World.

These Catalans certainly want independence as a nation, and aren't afraid to use either the n-word or the i-word.



Nor are they afraid to decide for themselves what they want, rather than passively say "me too" only after other countries have done all the hard work.

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In Profile

While catching up with the BBC's coverage of the Plaid Cymru conference, I couldn't help but notice this strikingly handsome individual among the delegates.


Yes, it's me.

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Ignore the BBC, Plaid Cymru still opposes Wylfa

In a story on their website that was predominantly about Plaid Cymru taking a more explicit position on independence for Wales, one particularly blatant piece of BBC misreporting stood out like a sore thumb. It said:

Earlier, a motion that would have committed Plaid to opposing the building of a replacement for the nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey was narrowly defeated by 42 votes to 41.

BBC, 10 September 2011

The vote in question was an amendment to one clause of what seems to have become an annual motion at conference. As always, it's best to look at the whole thing:

(Newport Branches / European Parliamentary Group)

Conference notes:
1. The tragic consequence of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan which led to the dangerous situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, namely that fuel in the reactors produced considerable amounts of heat which led to a full meltdown, causing radioactive material to leak.
2. That the incident at Fukushima, occurring on the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, heightens concerns for the safety of nuclear energy.
3. That as a result the European Commission has proposed stress tests on all current nuclear reactors.
4. That as a result, Germany has announced that all the country’s nuclear power plants will be phased out by 2022. Switzerland has also committed to phasing out nuclear power by 2034.

Conference further notes:
1. The essential principle of energy independence given Plaid’s long term ambition for devolved sovereignty and independence.
2. That as a net exporter of energy with massive undeveloped renewable energy potential new nuclear developments are not required in Wales in the long term in order to meet energy demand.
3. That cost per KW of production for some forms of renewable power generation are lower than nuclear.
4. That the long term costs of nuclear decommissioning are not calculated.
5. The proven evidence of the effect of carbon emissions towards catastrophic climate change, also the growing pressure on fossil fuel resources including significant commodity price escalation as we approach peak fossil fuel production.
6. That the current coalition government’s policies on the carbon price floor will serve in the short term to raise consumer fuel bills and will leave the nuclear industry by the far the biggest beneficiary and also therefore fail to optimise the potential investment in renewable energy that variants of this legislation could bring.

Conference reaffirms:
1. Plaid Cymru’s belief that all energy decisions should be devolved in full to Wales.
2. Plaid Cymru’s total opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations.

Conference calls:
1. For Plaid at all levels to officially oppose new nuclear projects on the basis that even apart from the risks they are superfluous to Wales’ energy needs.
2. For Plaid at all levels to lobby the coalition Westminster government to restructure Carbon Price Floor legislation in order to exempt nuclear power from receiving any form of public funded subsidy.
3. For the EU’s nuclear stress tests to be carried out by independent experts and to be based on robust criteria.
4. On Plaid Cymru to welcome Germany’s decision to phase out all nuclear power stations and to encourage other governments across the world, including the United Kingdom, to follow their lead.
5. For greater investment by the Welsh government in renewables and energy efficiency measures.


Amendment 1 (National Assembly Group / Ynys Môn Constituency)
Add to paragraph 2 under further notes ‘Further investment is required into developing the potential of wave and tidal technologies which when commercialised could lead to Wales becoming more self sufficient in renewable energy.’

Amendment 2 (National Assembly Group / Ynys Môn Constituency)
At the end of paragraph 2 after Conference reaffirms, add ‘if the Westminster government gives the go ahead for a new nuclear power station at Wylfa, we should make sure that the investment recognises the need to employ local people, invest in training to maximise local employment and make sure that indigenous companies benefit from supply chain opportunities.’

Amendment 3 (National Assembly Group / Ynys Môn Constituency)
Delete point 1 in the paragraph Conference calls.

Amendment 4 (Ynys Môn Constituency)
At the end of paragraph 3 under Conference notes add, ‘and the UK government has called on the Chief Nuclear Inspector to carry out a review of nuclear installations.’

Plaid Cymru Conference Handbook, 2011

For the sake of the record, all four amendments were passed, and the amended motion was then passed.

The only vote that was close was on Amendment 3, and this was the one passed by 42 to 41 after a recount. However, as everyone can see for themselves, this vote was definitely not about "committing Plaid to opposing the building of a replacement for the nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey". In fact, exactly the opposite is true, for the motion explicitly reaffirms:

Plaid Cymru's total opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations.

And, just in case Elfyn Llwyd decides to make another attempt to deny it, Amendment 2 makes it perfectly clear that conference considers any replacement nuclear station at Wylfa to be "a new nuclear power station", and that conference is therefore totally opposed to it.


So what was the narrowly approved amendment about? The clause that was deleted was for conference to call:

For Plaid at all levels to officially oppose new nuclear projects on the basis that even apart from the risks they are superfluous to Wales’ energy needs.

I found this clause a little disturbing because of its ambiguity. It can be taken two ways: the operative words are either "at all levels to officially oppose" or "on the basis that even apart from the risks they are superfluous to Wales’ energy needs". Talking to people afterwards, it was clear to me that different people took different views as to which interpretation was uppermost in their minds when voting.

For those who took the key words as being "at all levels to officially oppose", the matter was whether certain levels of the party were able to take a stance that differed from that of the party as a whole. For them it was about whether individuals like Ieuan Wyn Jones, Dafydd Elis Thomas and Elfyn Llwyd had the right to openly oppose party policy, or indeed whether individual branches could do so. My view on that is that no party can force its members to do anything, and that these people will still stand against party policy irrespective of the motions that are passed by conference. After all, they have a track record of ignoring, and sometimes misrepresenting, conference motions on this subject.

But for others I spoke to the key words were that new nuclear power should be opposed "on the basis that even apart from the risks they are superfluous to Wales’ energy needs". For them it was not about whether Plaid Cymru is opposed to nuclear power, but why the party is opposed to it. For many people the risks of a nuclear accident (or even a deliberate attack) are the paramount reason for their opposition to nuclear power, and therefore it is irrelevant whether other sources of energy could meet our needs or not.


But whatever might have been uppermost in the minds of delegates as they voted, we need to make it clear that the deletion of one clause in the motion has not in any way reversed conference's total opposition to any new nuclear power stations, including opposition to the proposed new nuclear power station at Wylfa.

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Bowel Cancer

This morning's Western Mail carries a story in which they claim that:

Wales is lagging behind England in tackling bowel cancer

But the figures they use show that exactly the opposite is true. Wales has 5,000 cases of bowel cancer per 100,000, of which 18 die ... a death rate of 0.36%. England has 4,600 cases per 100,000, of which 17 die ... a death rate of 0.37%.

Why the incidence of bowel cancer is greater in Wales than in England is a separate question; but the figures show that Wales is actually more successful in treating those who have the disease than England is.

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Bon cop de falç

As today is Catalunya's National Day, I thought a rousing version of one of the better national anthems in the world would be in order.


It's called Els Segadors, which means The Reapers, and is a song of breaking the chains and driving away the conceited and contemptful Spanish.

With the way Spain is treating the Catalans, I wouldn't be surprised to see a repeat of last July, when more than a million people were on the streets of Barcelona. We can be with them in spirit.

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Four more Welsh-medium schools

As this is the start of a new school year, I thought it would be good to celebrate the new Welsh-medium schools that are opening their doors for the first time.

Ysgol Tan-y-lan, Swansea

This is the first new WM school to open in Swansea since Llwynderw in 2002, and it is long overdue. Morriston is one of the parts of Swansea with the where the demand for WM education is strongest, but this is the first school in the area.



As we can see from the photographs, it is by no means a large school. When it was home to Graig Infants, it had a capacity of 113 which would imply an admission number of about 14.

But the demand for places at the school far outstrips that. As we can read here, the school will start with 20 children, and another 15 are due to start after Christmas and Easter. So it seems very clear that Swansea are having to admit children on a basis that will be unsustainable in the long term. They will therefore need either to open another school or find new premises for this school within about three years.

Swansea are set to open another new Welsh-medium school in Bon-y-maen on the east side of the city next year. However I still think that the best solution to meet the demand in and around Morriston will be to re-open Arfryn Primary as a WM school and adjust the catchment areas accordingly.

Seedling School at Maindee Primary, Newport

This new school is Newport's third WM primary and is being housed within Maindee Primary, just behind the Rodney Parade rugby ground, which has a very large number of surplus places. The school at Bettws, Ysgol Ifor Hael, was only opened in 2008.


There will be space for an annual intake of 17 children, although I'm don't know how many are starting this week. Eventually Newport will have to find a permanent location for the school, probably within three years.

Ysgol Dewi Sant, Llanilltud Fawr, Vale of Glamorgan

This is one of two new WM schools established in the Vale of Glamorgan this year. They are both described as "Starter Schools" and are in temporary buildings. This one is just next to the comprehensive school and leisure centre in Ham Lane East. No photographs as yet, but these are the plans:


I have to say that, as temporary buildings go, the quality is very much higher than would usually be expected. The layout is good, and I've been told that everybody is pleased with how light and airy the space inside is. There are 18 children starting this week, and if the numbers grow as expected it will need to be extended in a couple of years time.

It's perhaps worth noting that this sort of solution can be implemented very quickly. Only ten weeks ago, local MP Alun Cairns and headteacher Helen Jennings were standing in an empty playing field. Then the new school arrived on the back of six lorries.


Ysgol Gwynfor, Y Barri, Vale of Glamorgan

This starter school is the grounds of Ysgol Gyfun Bro Morgannwg. The design is identical to Dewi Sant, except that an additional double classroom unit has already been added, and the plan is for a further extension to be added in due course. As with Ysgol Dewi Sant, headteacher Sian Owen is very impressed with the standard of accommodation.


There are 17 children in the reception class, and another 10 in the nursery with more expected after Christmas and Easter.

The school has been given the temporary name of Ysgol Nant Talwg, but I'm sure that this is only because it isn't yet housed in a permanent building worthy of Gwynfor Evans' name.


Although the quality of both these demountable buildings is very high, they will eventually need to be replaced by permanent buildings, almost certainly on the same site. But when this happens, there is absolutely nothing to stop them being moved to a new site to start another new school, either in the Vale or somewhere else.

A few years ago, the Vale of Glamorgan undertook a comprehensive survey of parental wishes regarding Welsh-medium education, found that the demand was much higher than their current provision and, to their credit, then acted quickly to meet the need. This is an innovative solution, and other local authorities could learn from what they've done.


Maybe four new schools are not as many as we'd like to see, but every one is a step forward. They represent the hard work of those who have campaigned for them, often for many years, and that's something to thank them for and celebrate.

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Getting a direct rail service to Heathrow

I'm very pleased to see the news that the UK government is planning to build a rail link from the Great Western Line to Heathrow Airport from the west. This would mean that rail passengers from south Wales and south west England would not have to travel into Paddington and then back out again, saving about an hour.

     Plans unveiled for £500m rail scheme linking Wales to Heathrow
     Hammond Heathrow £500m rail link plan consideration

As the Western Mail story notes, the case for a link was put forward with new urgency a couple of months ago by Mark Hopwood of First Great Western. But in fact the key to its viability was not to consider this link in isolation, but to combine it with the spur from the new High Speed 2 line which provides a direct link to Heathrow from Birmingham and, in due course, further north. Although I haven't seen the plans, the written description exactly matches the proposal I outlined in this post:


If the spur does go ahead as reported today, it finally kills off any idea of the Heathrow Hub on the Great Western line itself, as had been proposed by Arup. I think that's a shame, but it won't be the only good idea that's not been built. However the effect of the decision is that High Speed trains from the midlands and north of England will terminate at Heathrow rather than pass through Heathrow, so the frequency of service will be limited.

The key for passengers from south Wales and south west England will be whether the station is designed to allow normal intercity trains to pass through Heathrow on the existing Heathrow Connect/Heathrow Express line. If it is, there will be the potential for more direct services between south Wales and Heathrow, because these trains will also carry people travelling on to London. But if it isn't, the number of direct trains will be limited by the numbers that want to go to Heathrow. I'd be very surprised if the numbers would justify more than one or two trains a day, if that, so it is much more likely that the normal pattern of service would be a shuttle between Reading and Heathrow, with passengers having to change at Reading.

Obviously changing at Reading is better than having to go into London and then come back out again, as at present. But it would be even better if at least one train every couple of hours was direct, which could only realistically happen if trains passed through Heathrow. So if we want a direct service to Heathrow, there's still some lobbying to be done.

Update - 6 September 2011

I have no idea why this link was reported as something that would particularly benefit south Wales, yet it seems to be the main topic of debate elsewhere. So perhaps it's worth clarifying that this link will benefit everybody who wants to get to and from Heathrow in not only south Wales, but the whole of south west and southern England from Southampton westwards, plus the Thames Valley and Cotswolds.


I think we should also question the timescale. 2021 seems like a very remote date, and I can't see why it should be left that late. The link will be useful from the time that the GW main line is electrified, but this will be done in stages, from east to west, and the section to Reading will be complete by 2016 or 2017. So there's no reason why a shuttle from Reading couldn't operate from that date.

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The Tories need a dose of reality

Once again the news that the number of prescriptions issued in Wales has gone up has been met with the same old response from the Tories: "It's because they're free, and we should start charging for them again."

So once again I have to write a post explaining that the rise has absolutely nothing to do with how much they cost. Year on year, the number of prescriptions issued in both Wales and England goes up by about 5%. The 61.9% rise in Wales over the past decade is actually less than the rise in England, which has seen a 67.9% increase over the same period even though their prescription charge has kept on rising.

In fact the only thing remarkable about last year's 3.3% increase in Wales is that it is so low. As we can see from the link, the rise in England last year was 4.6%.


Yes, the number of prescription items per head is higher than it is in England; but it has been higher for many years, largely as a legacy in the form of chronic industrial diseases. The gap hasn't suddenly appeared as a result of free prescriptions.

The only explanation for this knee-jerk response must be that the Tories are suffering from the same sort of disease: a chronic inability to put statistics into perspective. But sadly it's contagious, because we'd expect a healthy news media to have picked up on this by now and do some analytic reporting, rather than just collating quotes and figures. For if the BBC has got it bad, the Western Mail's version is much worse. For them, the number of prescriptions has not just risen, the figures are now "massive" and "staggering". So perhaps a strong dose of sedatives is required too.

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