Just add "for Wales" and we'll swallow it

The Western Mail has made a big thing of an article it published today under this headline:


Gosh, I thought. Things must be quiet if these two men had time to write an article about Wales. There might be some good in them after all. And it would be quite a scoop for the Western Mail too, maybe they can halt their decline in sales.

So I read it, but something didn't quite ring true. Yes, they mentioned Wales a few times, but it wasn't really about Wales at all. So I googled one of the paragraphs and found that it was just a recycled version of a story that they had written for Politics Home last week:

     George Osborne and Danny Alexander: Govt credibility can boost infrastructure

Word for word, the story is exactly the same, apart from the fact that the words in bold have been rather awkwardly added to these four paragraphs:

The credibility the Government has earned by tackling the deficit is already benefiting millions of British taxpayers, families and businesses across Wales through consistently low interest rates.

With the Bank of England, we launched action to make loans and mortgages cheaper and more easily available, providing welcome support to families and businesses throughout Wales.

Last week we committed to the biggest overhaul of our rail system since the Victorian times – including electrification of the lines from Cardiff to Swansea and the Welsh Valleys.

But as coalition partners in these difficult economic times – as difficult perhaps as any our country or our continent has faced outside of war – we are totally committed to working together to 2015 to put our economy, and Wales’ economy, back on track.

It's a trick that's been pulled many times before, but we can draw these conclusions from it:

     •  First, that Osborne and Alexander were not writing for the Western Mail.
     The paper is just trying to big itself up to make it look as if it's more important
     than it actually is.

     •  Second, that Osborne and Alexander don't have any specific policies for
     Wales at all.

Who knows, perhaps the same story will appear in other newspapers with tags like "across the West Midlands", "throughout the North East", "including electrification of the line to Sheffield", and "Scotland's economy".

Or perhaps not.

Somehow I think we'll find that only the Western Mail thought people in Wales would be gullible enough to believe that this was a story about Wales.

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Closing Offa's Gap

In what is likely to be the defining theme of Leanne Wood's leadership of Plaid Cymru, she said:

Today, we're making a clear statement of our intent – that Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, links its own success with the economic success of the Welsh nation.

If achieving cultural self-confidence was the priority for the last century, then achieving economic self-confidence is the objective for the 21st Century.


So this introductory report from Plaid's new Economic Commission, co-chaired by Eurfyl ap Gwilym and Adam Price, will set the scene for the work it has to do. Click the images below to download it in either Welsh or English.


This is what Adam Price had to say about it:

Offa's Gap, the commission's initial report, makes for very stark reading. It is a sobering analysis of how Wales' economy has suffered because of its status within the UK over the past decades.

The first step in solving any problem is establishing its nature and its scale. Our commission's initial report does exactly this; acknowledging the economic realities that Wales' economy faces today.

With the launch of this report we are inviting everyone in Wales to participate in this essential process of discovering together the ideas and strategies that will offer our country a better economic future. There can be no monopoly on good ideas in this regard. Indeed only by pooling our intelligence can we hope to begin the task of charting a different course.

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Silly Boy

At the beginning of June I noted that Dafydd Elis-Thomas was indulging in some very odd behaviour. He was clearly very unhappy with the decision of Plaid Cymru members not to elect him as leader, and unable to come to terms with the policy positions and direction that the party had decided to take even before the leadership contest.

But the conclusions I came to then seem even clearer in the light of today's events:

His ego wants him to become a cabinet minister, and Labour is his ticket to that. But if he chooses to walk, he knows he has absolutely no chance of being re-elected in 2016. Therefore his best hope is to be pushed ... or at least to make it appear that he was pushed.

He could then portray himself as the unfairly treated victim of Plaid's "new hardline Stalinist leadership" and hope to garner enough sympathy among local members to split the party, get some people to work for him, and give him at least a slim chance of being re-elected.

I can't do it myself, please push me – Syniadau, 2 June 2012

Dafydd has a simple choice to make. If he wants to leave Plaid Cymru he should have the courage to do that and accept the consequences of his decision. But he doesn't have that sort of courage. Instead he has, and I think will, increasingly resort to petty, sniping behaviour against the party and his colleagues in the party, knowing that we cannot keep on tolerating it and will eventually have to take action against him to prevent him making a laughing stock of the party.

After what he said today I don't think we had any real choice but to withdraw the whip from him. What he does next will determine whether or not it is withdrawn permanently.

I'm sure psychologists would call what he's doing a classic case of manipulative, passive-aggressive behaviour. But in simpler terms, he's behaving like a silly boy and needs to be treated like one.

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Closed to business

I suppose Tory politicians can't help it, but their most hackneyed cliché must surely be "open for business". Cheryl Gillan is as prone to it as the rest of them, telling us yesterday that the electrification of the Great Western Line from Swansea and the Valley Lines would mean that Wales was open for business.

     Electrification across South Wales shows 'country open for business'

It's hard to know whether she meant anything by this or whether it was a natural and involuntary emission of air. But were we to take her seriously, then her message must be that south Wales and the Valleys won't actually be open for business until somewhere after 2017, and that the rest of Wales will remain closed to business for the foreseeable future.

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Public opinion on financial powers for Wales

The reports in the media hardly do justice to the wealth of information and detail in the ICM/John Curtice/Richard Wyn Jones research document prepared for the Silk Commission and published this morning.

There isn't a link to it on either the BBC website or WalesOnline. So in case anyone hasn't figured out how to download it, just click the image below:


There's lots to say about it, and one or two things in it that raised my eyebrow. More on that later.

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Sharp End Question of the Year

This question by Paul Flynn was so sharp that it made any answer Carwyn Jones might give sound rather silly. So I'll spare him the embarrassment of showing it.


Your recent arguments have been that an independent Wales would not have a new nuclear power station in Wylfa and would not have Trident at Milford Haven. Are these arguments for, or against, independence?

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S4C's viewing figures rise again

S4C published its Annual Report yesterday, which people can read for themselves here. This is how the news was reported in the media:

     Dod â gwasanaeth Clirlun S4C i ben
     S4C: Welsh broadcaster to axe high definition service
     S4C faces cuts of 36% and will axe its HD service
     S4C yn gwneud colled o £6 miliwn

But perhaps we can't blame them too much for that, because this is exactly what S4C's own press release had focused on.
That's a shame, because for me the more important question is how well the channel has performed in terms of the quality and popularity of its programmes. How many people think S4C's programmes are worth watching?

The good news is that under nearly every measure more people watched the channel in 2011 than in 2010. These figures are from page 46/47 of the report, with the 2010 figures first:

15 minute monthly reach

Across the UK ... 797,000 ... 802,000 ... + 5,000
In Wales ... 607,000 ... 635,000 ... + 28,000
Welsh speakers in Wales ... 241,000 ... 276,000 ... + 35,000

15 minute weekly reach

Across the UK ... 381,000 ... 390,000 ... + 9,000
In Wales ... 309,000 ... 325,000 ... + 16,000
Welsh speakers in Wales ... 149,000 ... 178,000 ... + 29,000

3 minute weekly reach

Across the UK ... 616,000 ... 618,000 ... + 2,000
In Wales ... 467,000 ... 474,000 ... + 7,000
Welsh speakers in Wales ... 197,000 ... 223,000 ... + 26,000

3 minute annual reach

Across the UK ... 5,334,000 ... 5,261,000 ... - 73,000
In Wales ... 2,002,000 ... 2,007,000 ... + 5,000

Online viewing sessions

1,600,000 ... 2,500,000 ... + 900,000

S4C Annual Report, 2011

These increases follow on from similar increases last year, as I noted here.

So whatever criticisms we might have of S4C and the way it's been treated over the past year or so, it is clearly getting some things right.

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A new Welsh-medium school in Tenby?

For some time now—since the 1980s, to be precise—there has been a Welsh-medium stream at Tenby Infants and Tenby Junior Schools, which are on the opposite sides of Heywood Lane in Tenby, just over 100 metres apart. The junior school is above and to the top left of the satellite image, the infants school to the bottom right and below it.




Pembrokeshire Council has been under pressure to establish a new Welsh-medium school in Tenby for the last few years, and in February they announced that meetings had been held with education chiefs, governors and staff to consider three possible options:

Option 1 – Tenby Infants and Junior Schools to remain unchanged on two sites.

Option 2 – Amalgamation of both schools to a primary school on the Tenby Juniors site.

Option 3 – Amalgamate to a Welsh-medium primary school on Tenby Infants site and English-medium primary school on Tenby Junior site.

Option 3 was described as the "likely preferred option". Since then a series of preliminary public consultations has been held, resulting in this report by the Director of Education and Children's Services to Pembrokeshire's Cabinet last week.

In essence, the report says that there are considerable educational advantages to be gained by combining separate infants and junior schools into all-through primary schools on one site. In addition to that, the number of parents choosing the Welsh-medium stream has risen considerably in the past few years (there are currently 5 children in Year 6, but 13 in the Reception Year) and the numbers are projected to grow by 85% in the next four years.

So all in all, it does seem like a fairly obvious choice to create an all-through English-medium primary in the larger junior school building and a new Welsh-medium primary in the smaller infants school building; and this is what the report recommended. As we can read here, Cabinet agreed, and a formal consultation will now be launched.

If everything goes smoothly, the two new schools will open in September 2013.

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Bad, twice as bad, or three times as bad?

On Wednesday, Gerald Holtham said this in his evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee looking into the economic effects of Scottish independence on the remainder of the UK:

[Wales] is not economically in good shape. It is running a deficit of 25% of GDP.

Wales Online, 4 July 2012

A video of the session is here. At first I thought that he had made a simple mistake, and had meant to say that there was a deficit of 25% between public spending in Wales and taxation accounted as having been raised in Wales. This would be in line with the findings of the Holtham Commission, which (in round terms) produced these figures:

Tax collected by UK treasury ... £17bn
Tax collected locally ... £2bn
Total tax take ... £19bn
Total expenditure ... £25bn
Fiscal deficit ... £6bn

Holtham Report, Section 4.17 onwards

But in this report on Dragon's Eye on Thursday, he repeated the claim in terms which made it very clear that he was talking about Wales' total economic output, i.e. our GDP:


We don't have GDP figures for Wales, but GVA is broadly equivalent to it and we can see from this table that Wales' GVA is £45.5bn. So if Wales' fiscal deficit is 25% of this, it would mean it is somewhere in the region of £11bn or £12bn a year ... in other words that it is roughly twice as bad as had been previously reported.

Now of course things probably have got worse since the Holtham Report, based on 2007-08 figures, was published. Companies will be employing fewer workers and be less profitable, reducing the tax take; and more people will be out of work, increasing welfare expenditure. But it seems highly improbable that Wales' fiscal deficit could be almost twice what it was only a few years ago.

And the plausibility of what he's saying is cast into yet more doubt when he goes on to say that Wales' fiscal deficit is the equivalent of us borrowing some £6,000 for every man, woman and child in Wales. As there are roughly three million of us, this would put Wales' fiscal deficit at about £18bn a year ... which is roughly three times as bad as in the Holtham Report.


Although we don't always see eye-to-eye in political terms, I definitely have time for Gerry Holtham's economic opinions. But I have to say that on this occasion the statements he made at the House of Lords and on Dragon's Eye appear not only to be self-contradictory, but also to contradict the figures in the Holtham Report.

I hesitate to say this, but I wonder if he isn't being rather sloppy with his figures in order to make a political point. There is a huge difference between £6bn and £12bn a year, and an even bigger one between £6bn and £18bn a year.


I, and I'm sure everyone else in Wales, would like to know what our fiscal deficit is. We know we have a problem, but don't have a hope of effectively dealing with the problem unless we are realistic about how bad it is, which was one of the things the Holtham Commission was set up to do. So my challenge to Gerry is to clarify what he has said this week and how it relates to the figures in the Holtham Report; and if the figures in the Holtham Report are now wrong, to provide us with the evidence to support whichever new set of figures is correct.

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Holtham's evidence on Scottish independence

I don't have time at the moment to write about Gerry Holtham's evidence to the House of Lords committee on the financial and economic consequences of Scottish independence, but it seems that others do. So please feel free to talk about it in this thread.

For those with an hour to spare, the video is available here, and David Williamson, who we can see taking notes in the background, wrote about it here in the Western Mail.

I've transferred the lengthy comment from the other thread to start the ball rolling. Have fun, and I'll join in later.

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Face to Face with Leanne Wood

I managed to miss Leanne Wood's interview with Adrian Masters on Face to Face a couple of weeks ago, and only found out about it when I got Plaid's newsletter yesterday.

So for anyone else who might have missed it, or those who want to relive it in all its glory, here it is again.


That hair, Leanne. That hair!

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