Unequivocal about independence

Leanne Wood's interview on Sharp End last night was music to my ears. She said exactly the right things. In particular, I liked what she had to say in answer to the question about whether Wales can afford to be independent in economic terms.


All in all it was a very assured performance which demonstrates her growing political stature. This is why we elected her as leader.

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Leanne's IWA interview, and article on poverty

For any who haven't seen it, this is the video of a discussion between Leanne Wood and Lee Waters of the IWA hosted by Prifysgol Glyndwr last week. The audience was quite small, but the quality of the questions they asked at the end more than made up for it ... and the answers weren't too shabby either.


Lee mentioned an article Leanne had recently written for Prospect magazine on poverty. That was news to me, but just click the image below to download and read it.


Leanne's article is entitled Plaid Cymru, independence and closing the wealth gap. It's always good to see the argument for independence put into the context of what we need independence for.

As Scotland's Future highlights, under the Westminster system we are locked into one of the most unequal economic models in the developed world. Since 1975 income inequality among working-age people has increased faster in the UK than in any other country in the OECD. The increasing geographical imbalance concentrates jobs, population growth and investment in London and the south east of England, but no action has been taken to address this by successive Westminster governments. The only way to change this is to take responsibility for ourselves.

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No sense of urgency ... and the WG doesn't care

Last weekend RhAG, Parents for Welsh-medium Education, held their annual conference in Cardiff. The event was reported by the BBC in Welsh, but not in English ... another example of the BBC continuing its policy of not bothering to report things that are of equal, if not greater, concern to those who don't speak Welsh than to those who do.

So I thought it would be a good idea to translate it for others to read:

RhAG: Growth in Welsh-medium education "too slow"


Parents for Welsh-medium Education (RhAG) have called on the Welsh Government to set more specific targets for local authorities to increase the number of Welsh-medium schools. During the organization's conference in Cardiff at the weekend, members said that "progress in expanding the Welsh-medium sector is far too slow".

According to RhAG, more needs to be done to ensure that the targets contained in the government's Welsh-medium Education Strategy [the BBC link is to Welsh in Education Strategic Plans] are met.

The government has acknowledged that they are likely to miss the targets, but said that it is the responsibility of local authorities to plan the provision of education in their areas.


RhAG claimed that the strategy is currently failing to facilitate the provision of new Welsh-medium schools, and that there was "a disconnect between central government strategy and what is happening locally".

The conference was held at the new Ysgol Treganna in the capital, which is not far from the Grangetown area. There has been considerable debate and protest in these areas of Cardiff, as in many other areas in Wales over the years, because of concerns about the provision of Welsh-medium education.

Lynne Davies, national chair of RhAG said, "We note that some counties have been proactive but others are still dragging their feet. As a result, progress in expanding the Welsh-medium sector is far too slow. There is still a gap between the aspirations of the Welsh Government in relation to Welsh-medium education and the progress needed to achieve the targets set out in the Welsh-medium Education Strategy.

"The Welsh Government has set a target that 25% of 7 year olds in Wales are educated through the medium of Welsh by 2015, increasing to 30% by 2020. At the moment, the strategy fails to facilitate the provision of a new Welsh-medium schools. The Welsh Government should set specific targets for local authorities to expand the number of Welsh-medium schools. There is very little hope of reaching this goal unless the Government issues clear instructions to ensure that local authorities take action."

"Responsibility of individual authorities"

In response to RhAG's comments, the Welsh Government has acknowledged that they are unlikely to meet these targets, but said it was the responsibility of individual authorities to plan Welsh-medium education.

A Welsh Government spokesman said, "We are increasing our support for Welsh-medium education and last week a campaign to provide information to parents was launched. However, we have to be honest in saying that we are not likely to reach the ambitious targets that were set in our Welsh-medium Education Strategy. These will be re-assessed in 2015 as part of the review of the Strategy and Action Plan.

"Earlier this year, the School Standards (Wales) Act 2013 was passed, which makes it a statutory requirement for local authorities to prepare Welsh in Education Strategic Plans. Subject to certain conditions, some authorities will need to measure the parental demand for Welsh-medium education and produce plans showing how they will respond to it. It is up to local authorities in Wales, not the Welsh Government, to plan the provision of education in their areas."

BBC Newyddion, 25 November 2013

There are two halves to this story. The first is to look at the targets in the Welsh-medium Education Strategy to see how much progress has actually been made. Very helpfully, though perhaps they regret it now, the Welsh Government publishes annual progress reports which can be downloaded from this page. After three reports, these are the figures showing progress to date on the first two key outcomes:

Outcome 1
More seven-year-old learners being taught through the medium of Welsh

Baseline (2009) ... 21%
Target for 2015 ... 25%
Target for 2020 ... 30%

Actual percentages
2009 ... 21.0%
2010 ... 21.8%
2011 ... 21.9%
2012 ... 21.9%

Progress to date ... 0.9% ... still 3.1% short of 2015 target

Outcome 2
More learners continuing to improve their language skills on transfer from primary to secondary school

Baseline (2009) ... 16%
Target for 2015 ... 19%
Target for 2020 ... 23%

Actual percentages
2009 ... 15.9%
2010 ... 16.0%
2011 ... 16.3%
2012 ... 16.8%

Progress to date ... 0.9% ... still 2.2% short of 2015 target

To save you from having to read a thousand words, I'll say it all with a picture instead.


But the second, and more damning, half of the story is the Government's response to this failure. This is their strategy, and it is totally unacceptable for them to wash their hands of it and try to put all the blame on local authorities instead.

Nor is it acceptable for them to say that they will wait until 2015 before taking any action. If the targets are not going to be met—which is perfectly obvious from the progress so far—ministers need to start banging a few heads together to make sure that things are addressed with a greater sense of urgency. Both Huw Lewis, as Education Minister, and Carwyn Jones, as Minister responsible for Welsh, need to act now. New interim targets need to be set prior to the 2015 review, and local authorities need to face some sort of sanction (probably financial) if they fail to meet them.

The opposition parties in the Assembly must also take their share of blame for not holding the Welsh Government to account when the annual progress reports were published. If we just sit on our hands and stay quiet when we should be standing up and speaking out, we let the Welsh Government get away with it.

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The story beneath another anti-Welsh headline

The Western Mail and its sister paper Wales on Sunday have a sorry record when it comes to reporting about the Welsh language, and they have made it yet worse with this story today:

     Autistic children banned from school canteen - because they
     do not speak Welsh

To start, some background information would probably be helpful. Brynglas Primary School was closed in July because it had an unsustainably large number of surplus places. The building was then taken over in September this year by Ysgol Bro Teyrnon, Newport's third Welsh-medium school, which had been temporarily housed at Maindee Primary School. I wrote about it here. It was probably not an ideal site for Ysgol Bro Teyrnon because it is to the north of the city and very close to Ysgol Ifor Hael in Bettws, but Welsh-medium education is growing so quickly that there was little choice but to locate it in the first building that became available.

However there is a small unit for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders on the same site. It is the newer building with the pitched roof to the left of the main building in the aerial image below, and the second image shows it as seen from street level. Rather than making it part of Ysgol Bro Teyrnon, Newport Council made the decision that the ASD unit would be run as a satellite of Maes Ebbw School, the existing special needs school in south west Newport.



Underneath Wales on Sunday's damning headline about autistic children being "banned" from the canteen, the facts of the story are rather different:

First, the children at the ASD unit were not banned from using the canteen by Ysgol Bro Teyrnon. That was a decision taken by the teaching staff of the ASD unit and Maes Ebbw School. Apparently they thought it would be confusing for children with ASD if the children they were mixing with were speaking a language they didn't understand.

Second, even though teachers at the ASD unit decided it was better for the children not to mix, there is nothing to stop the ASD unit pupils from using the Ysgol Bro Teyrnon's canteen at a different time. That proposal was made in the very first week of term.

Third, it seems that the head of Maes Ebbw School has written to the parents of children at the ASD unit asking them what they would prefer to do. If they disagree with the teachers' initial decision and want the children to mix with children speaking Welsh, there's no reason why they can't. If they want them to use the canteen at another time, there's no reason why they can't. If they want them to eat in the classroom there's no reason why they can't. The only proviso is that there needs to be agreement between parents and teachers at the ASD as to which of these three options is best, as it obviously wouldn't be practical to have some mixing, some using the canteen at another time, and some eating in class. Lack of agreement is what seems to have triggered this story.


It seems clear that the parents of seven children at the ASD unit are not happy, and nobody can blame them for that. But it would appear that their unhappiness is due to rather more than just their children's eating arrangements. Despite what the head of Maes Ebbw says, it is very hard to see how "being part of the Maes Ebbw family" is of any practical benefit to children in the ASD unit because Maes Ebbw is 5km away on the other side of the city. The arrangement is one of administrative convenience, not one that is designed to meet the educational needs of autistic children. The lack of opportunity for contact with other children is the root of the problem.

In educational terms, and subject of course to individual assessments and the level of disability, it is generally right for children in an ASD unit to have a good degree of contact with children in mainstream schools, and the very last thing anyone would want is for them to be isolated. Autism is isolating enough in itself without making things worse. The best way to deal with this is to have small ASD units attached to mainstream schools ... but they must obviously be attached to schools which have the same medium of instruction.


What has happened is that Newport's plans have been badly thought through, and create as many problems as they are designed to solve. As can be seen by reading the documents on this page, the council had planned to close the ASD unit at Brynglas and establish a new ASD school on the premises currently occupied by Gaer Infants, again in the south west of the city. But this would mean closing the current Gaer Infants School and moving the pupils to Gaer Junior School, which is obviously contentious. [Note: The decision to close Gaer Infants has now been confirmed. See comments for details.] The two buildings are shown below, with the infants school on the right.


But the next problem is that Gaer Infants is much too big for twelve autistic children, and the documentation makes it clear that the only way the plan would be viable would be for the new school to admit additional pupils with ASD from outside Newport. The fundamental flaw with this proposal is that it involves educating autistic children further away from their homes, as well as concentrating more of them into one building, which is the exact opposite of trying to integrate them as much as possible with children in mainstream schools.

There are plenty of English-medium schools in Newport with surplus places, and it should be possible to choose one, or maybe two, of them and remodel some of that surplus space to suit the additional requirements of autistic children. Those children would be educated closer to their homes, and doing things this way would actually safeguard the future of one or two English-medium schools which might otherwise have to close, which is a win-win situation.

However it would appear from the documentation that the amalgamation of Gaer Infants and Juniors is probably justified anyway on the grounds of rationalizing surplus places; and if that is the case I would suggest that a better use of the Gaer Infants building would be to establish a much-needed fourth Welsh-medium primary school in the south west of the city.

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Hug a Husky

From Peter Brookes in the Times:


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Live in Wales: Learn in Welsh ... the video

Following the lowest of low-key launches for the Welsh Government's new campaign telling parents about the benefits of Welsh-medium education, I've just discovered that they've put up this video on their YouTube channel.


It's a great video but, as I write this, it has only been viewed 21 times.

So I'd like to invite people reading this to change things by sending the YouTube link to everyone you know using Twitter, Facebook or just plain email.

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The myth about high levels of immigration

The news that Ireland now has the highest level of net emigration per 1,000 inhabitants of any country in Europe is naturally a matter of great concern for the Irish. I wouldn't want to detract from how serious that is in any way.


However what struck me about the graph above from An Sionnach Fionn is that net immigration into the UK is not particularly great. It is only just above the EU average, with twelve other European countries having greater, and sometimes far greater, levels of net immigration.

Denmark, Finland and Belgium have greater net immigration than the UK. Germany, Austria, Sweden, Lichenstein and Italy have net levels of immigration more than twice that of the UK. Malta has three times more. Switzerland and Norway have four times more. Luxembourg has more than eight times more.

The raw data are available here on EuroStat.

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Public ownership and control

One of the best lines in Leanne Wood's speech at the Plaid Cymru conference last month was:

"The Wales that we want to create will be operated by a fairly fundamental principle: that services run for the benefit of people can only be properly managed in the interests of the people."

Leanne's speech to Conference, October 2013

She didn't use the exact word "owned" by the people, but it was clear from what she went on to say that the model that best seems to fit our circumstances now is that of a non-profit-distributing company along the lines of Glas Cymru ... which is effectively the same thing.


I don't quite know how I missed it at the time, but only a few weeks ago YouGov conducted a survey about public ownership and control of key sectors and services. The results are summarized here, and the full details are here.

These are the levels of support for public ownership and management of four key sectors:


This graphic shows the level of support for public ownership and management of energy and rail services by voting intention for political parties:


I think two things are surprising. The first is that even a majority of Conservative voters support nationalization of energy and rail services. In fact the margin of support is bigger than the graphic might suggest, for only 39% of Conservative voters wanted railways to continue to be run by private companies, and only 38% wanted energy to continue to be run by private companies. The rest were undecided.

The second surprise, to me at least, is that such a high percentage of UKIP voters are in favour of nationalization.


Another set of questions was about whether government should have the power to control prices:


Although the margin favour of private sector rent control was quite small, public opinion ties in exactly with what Leanne said at conference:

"Due to the failure of successive Governments to build sufficient council housing and cool the housing market, many young people are forced to rent from private landlords well into their twenties and thirties. This is Generation Rent.

"There are 190,000 households renting in Wales. 14% of all households are in the private rented sector.

"Even during this long recession, rent rises have continued to outstrip inflation. In Wales over the last year rent has on average risen by 5%, well above the UK average.

"This is completely unsustainable. I am therefore announcing our intention today to reintroduce rent control for the private rented sector during the next Assembly term."

These are ideas whose time has come, and it should be clear to everyone that we in Plaid Cymru have our finger on the pulse of public opinion to a far greater extent than other parties.

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An awareness campaign ... but don't tell anyone

Thanks to Golwg 360, I found out about the launch of a new campaign to make parents aware of the benefits of Welsh-medium education for their children. It was also featured on Newyddion 9 last night:


Since then, I've searched through the rest of the media to see if this new campaign had been reported anywhere in English. So far as I can see, it hasn't been reported on the BBC, ITV, the Western Mail or the Daily Post. The only mention of the campaign in English is on the Welsh Government's website.

How on earth can we take a so-called awareness campaign seriously if no attempt is made to have it reported in the English language media. After all, the target audience of the campaign is specifically parents who do not speak Welsh, not those who already can.

In part, this is the fault of the Welsh Government for not taking enough trouble to have the campaign publicized in the English language media. But it is also the fault of the media organizations for not bothering to do it ... especially the BBC, since they have must have taken a conscious editorial decision to report the story in Welsh, but not bother to report it to the very people the campaign is meant to be aimed at.


So, in an attempt to spread the message to those who only speak English, let me reproduce what it says on the WG website:

First Minister launches Welsh-medium education campaign

First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has today launched an information campaign to raise awareness of Welsh-medium and bilingual education, Live in Wales: Learn in Welsh?


The First Minister launched the campaign at Ysgol Gymraeg Trelyn, Blackwood, where he met with parents and read a Welsh language story to children in the reception class.

The three year campaign will target expectant parents and parents with children aged 0-3, offering them information and advice so that they are fully informed when making a decision on whether to send their child to a Welsh-medium or bilingual school or not. The campaign aims to dispel some of the myths around Welsh-medium education.

The First Minister spoke to parents who do not speak Welsh about their experience of sending their child to a Welsh-medium school. The First Minister said:

"Parents are not always aware, or do not have easy access to information about Welsh-medium schools. This three year campaign will raise awareness of Welsh-medium and bilingual education so that parents can make an informed choice.

"I understand the concerns some parents may have about sending their children to Welsh-medium and bilingual schools, especially if they don’t speak Welsh themselves. This campaign is designed to ensure parents have all the information they need to be confident that whatever choice they make is the right one for them and their child."

Education Minister, Huw Lewis said:

"Our Live in Wales: Learn in Welsh? campaign aims to dispel some of the myths around Welsh medium education, such as that non-Welsh speaking parents are unable to help their children with homework and their development.

"Welsh-medium education can offer children new skills and can be a very enriching experience. We know that some parents are put-off because of a lack of understanding of the support available for those who are non-Welsh speaking. Our campaign aims to inform and reassure parents when making the important decision about their child’s education."

The growth in Welsh-medium education has been very successful, especially in the Caerphilly area which has seen the largest growth across Wales in Welsh-medium education during the last ten years. As people said in Y Gynhadledd Fawr, building on this success is key to ensuring the language continues to thrive.

For further information about the campaign, parents can visit the Welsh Government website and the Choice-Dewis facebook page.

Welsh Government, 18 November 2013

I've tried to find a copy of the booklet featured in the video and on the facebook page, but can't find it. So to me, it looks like a very half-hearted start all round. It matches the tone of what Carwyn Jones said in the Newyddion 9 interview. Instead of emphasizing the benefits, his message was, "Well, it's up to parents. There's nothing stopping them."

Let's hope it gets better.

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A raft of financial powers

Today's Guardian reported that ministers in Westminster and Cardiff have welcomed the UK Government's response to the Silk Commission as something that will "hand over a raft of financial powers to Wales".

Never has a description been quite so apt.


If they had implemented Silk's recommendations in full, Wales would have received something rather more useful.

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A Green Yes

Just ahead of the SNP government's white paper on independence, the Scottish Green Party today launched their own campaign for a Yes vote in next year's independence referendum.


I think it's worth highlighting this line from the BBC report:

The Greens' message here this morning is that they're not nationalists. Instead, the party's belief in independence is rooted in a desire to transform politics and society. It's the kind of radical change, they argue, that Westminster is increasingly unlikely to deliver.

BBC Reporting Scotland, 15 November 2013

It echoes something that I've said before, but want to say again. Many of us in Plaid Cymru want independence for unashamedly nationalistic reasons: we believe that the people of Wales should decide how Wales is governed because that's what nearly every other nation in the world is able to do, and we deserve no less. That's a good reason to want independence and one that I fully support.

But some of us perhaps don't understand that others are indifferent—and sometimes quite opposed—to nationalism, and want independence not so much on principle, but more reluctantly, because they have come to realize it is the only alternative to being dragged along the ever-rightward political path that the UK has been relentlessly following for the past three decades, and is clearly going to continue to follow whether led by blue Tories or red Tories.

This is what the Greens in Scotland have decided is best for Scotland, and I have every reason to believe that people with the same views in Wales will come to the same conclusion. With that in mind, I'd recommend reading the Vision for Independence that the Scottish Greens have just published.


Much as I like the SNP, this is rather more "spiky" ... and therefore more in tune with many of our values in Plaid Cymru.

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What the Western Mail refused to publish

In this post yesterday, I criticized Plaid Cymru for not publishing any detail about our proposal for a sugary drinks tax or levy. As it happens, this was not entirely our fault because we had produced an article that explained the proposal in much greater detail. We asked the Western Mail to publish it, but they refused to do so.

This is an important policy from a party that might well lead the next Welsh Government after 2016. It impacts on two policy fields which are of crucial importance to Wales.

The first is that we have an obesity crisis that is getting worse. Dr Nadim Haboubi, a consultant at Nevill Hall hospital in Abergavenny and chair of the National Obesity Forum for Wales has said:

[Wales' obesity problem is] huge, massive, worse than England, worse than anywhere in the UK and among the worst in the western world, I would argue. The worst is probably the USA but we're certainly not far behind.

It's a drastic epidemic and it's worsening. It's because of so many reasons, such as inequalities, social deprivation and unemployment.

BBC, 31 August 2012

The second factor is that we have an acute shortage of doctors in Wales. This is from an article in the Daily Post in June:

Call to act now over Wales' doctor shortage crisis

Wales has fewer doctors per head of population than Kazakhstan and Moldova and lies 22nd in a league table of 24 European countries for clinical staff, Plaid Cymru claimed.

Analysis of World Health Organization figures showed Wales had 24 physicians per 10,000 people compared to 38 in Kazakhstan and 36 in Moldova. Only Poland and Romania employed fewer doctors by comparison.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said that the Welsh Government had to tackle urgently its doctor recruitment problems if district general hospitals were to function properly. A shortage of clinicians has been a major factor in decisions over where to site specialist services, and were a key consideration in the suggested move of intensive care for premature babies to the Wirral. Ms Wood said: “These figures highlight the long term failure by the Welsh Government to effectively plan for the recruitment of doctors.”

Ceredigion AM Elin Jones said Plaid Cymru propose financial incentives to encourage graduate doctors to stay and work in Wales; investment to encourage talented Welsh students to study medicine; and promotion of Wales as a place to live and work, with increased recruitment from other EU nations. She said: “It is essential that the Welsh Government takes action to increase the number of doctors recruited to Wales. Wales is currently in the EU relegation zone when it comes to the number of doctors.”

Dr Richard Lewis, British Medical Association secretary in Wales, said: “The inadequate number of doctors applies to general practitioner numbers as well as hospital doctors. It is little wonder some patients find difficulty in accessing appointments in general practice. The answer isn’t in asking more of the already stretched GP numbers, but in increasing the GP workforce to adequate levels.”

Daily Post, 5 June 2013

To which I would add that decisions like the one to downgrade Accident and Emergency services at Llanelli from a doctor-led service to a nurse-led service, as reported here, would not be necessary if we did not have a such a shortage of doctors.


It amazes me that the Western Mail should refuse to publish details of a policy that would make a big difference in two areas which are of such major concern to the Welsh public. It speaks volumes about the paucity of serious news coverage in Wales. The editors and proprietors of Western Mail should, quite frankly, be ashamed of themselves. It is blatant political bias which, on this occasion, allowed Carwyn Jones to both blatantly misrepresent our policy and claim that we had been "entirely silent" about it. We weren't silent, we were gagged.


This is the article that we asked the Western Mail to publish, which is has now been put up on the Plaid Cymru website:

Leanne Wood on the sugary drinks levy

A Plaid Cymru government in 2016 would have tax powers if the recommendations of the Silk Commission’s first report are implemented.

The Silk Commission says that Welsh Government should be able to adopt new and innovative taxes, particularly those with policy ‘nudge’ implications, like our proposed sugary drinks tax.

We have long had ‘nudge’ taxes to reduce consumption of tobacco and alcohol products and our sugary drinks tax should also be considered a public health issue.

Across the former coalfields of the south, more than 60% of the population are overweight. Excess calories contribute to weight increase. Rising levels of type 2 diabetes suggests a further link with sugary products.

Although innovative in Wales, taxing sugary drinks is not unique. The majority of US states have some form of ‘soda excise tax’ while Finland and Hungary both tax these products. A new tax was introduced in France last year and the Republic of Ireland has been considering the idea for some time.

According to the British Soft Drinks Association, an average of 227 litres of soft drinks is consumed per person per year. 39% of these are ‘regular’ drinks compared with 61% which are low calorie or no added sugar products. However, products with no added sugar can still be high in sugar, and can often contain other ingredients which are not good for you in excess, such as caffeine or aspartame.

The BSDA distinguish between a range of products. These include carbonated drinks (such as cola drinks), dilutables (such as squash), fruit juice and smoothies, still and juice drinks, energy and sports drinks (with energy drinks in particular often having large quantities of both sugar and caffeine), as well as bottled water.

61% of carbonated drinks consumed are considered ‘regular’ sugary drinks alongside 24% of dilutables and 58% of still and juice drinks.

Final details for a sugary drinks tax would be ironed out in consultation and legislation, of course. Plaid Cymru would consider the inclusion of all drinks which include additional sugar, as well as those which are high in natural sugars such as fruit juices and smoothies.

The Party of Wales believes that fruit juices and smoothies cause no problems when drunk in moderation, and will consider whether a full or reduced level of tax should be levied.

Our proposals are for a 20p per litre tax on sugary drinks (broadly 7p on a 330ml can, or 10p on a 500ml bottle).

We propose a tax on volume rather than price for two reasons. A tax on price would allow supermarkets to absorb the increase into the standard cost or discount bulk purchases, removing its impact. A tax on volume ensures consistency of pricing structure. Plaid Cymru considered whether a tax per gram of sugar should be implemented and concluded that this approach will be too complicated to introduce in the short term but should be re-considered at a later date.

Wales drinks approximately 306 million litres of sugared drinks, with a further 58 million litres of fruit juice and smoothies. At the full 20p tax rate on these, the take would be around £72.8 million or £61.2 million not including fruit juice and smoothies.

The overall aim is for public health rather than to raise tax revenues. In France, where the tax rate of 7c per litre was introduced, there was an immediate 3.3% sales drop. Using a higher tax rate, closer to that we suggest, academics estimate an elasticity of demand of around 8-10% for soft drinks.

Assuming a full 10% fall in sugared drink consumption, the tax take would be around £65.5m or £55m without fruit juices and smoothies.

The public health effect due to reduced consumption, based on models in the similarly sized Republic of Ireland, would be to reduce obesity by 10,000 people. In total, 15,000 people would no longer be overweight – with all of the related healthcare complications that being obese or overweight create.


Plaid Cymru is committed to the introduction of 1,000 additional doctors to Wales. Currently, Wales has fewer doctors per head than almost every other country in the European Union and fewer than any other country in the UK.

Wales requires a range of doctors – with different grades and specialisms. Taking the median mid-point pay scale for various types of doctors would give an average wage for a consultant of around £82,000 p.a., general practitioners £70,000 p.a., associate specialists £62,000 and junior doctors around £33,000. There are further on-costs relating to employers’ NI and pension contributions in particular.

Assuming a mix, for example, of 100 consultants, 300 GPs, 200 associate specialists and 400 junior doctors and allowing for 20% for additional on-costs this would be around £66m.

Of course, this would not have to be funded from a hypothecated health tax. Incremental increases in doctor numbers could also be met by providing for an increase in the budget each year. An extra £13m per year over 5 years within the budget for a health priority should not be a problem. Savings from the £50m per year spent on agency and locum staff should also be possible if we have better staffing numbers and availability.


These are bold, innovative and ambitious Plaid Cymru policies. The Welsh Government says that we can’t do it. We say that we can.

That ‘can do’ attitude and ambition to improve Wales is why Plaid Cymru must be the next Welsh Government.

The Slate, 14 November 2013

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Allowing Labour to punch us in the face

Here is the exchange between Leanne Wood and Carwyn Jones from yesterday's questions to the First Minister:


When we announced the plan for a tax or levy on sugary drinks as a means to both reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and employ a thousand additional doctors in Wales, the first thing I did was was check to see whether the figures added up. It didn't take more than a couple of hours for me to see that they did, and I wrote this post about it.

The main point I made was that any policy announcements we make need to be backed up with enough detail to show that our proposals are practical and properly costed. But, despite my plea, we did not do this ... and the direct result of our failure to provide this detail has been to allow our political opponents to land the sort of punches on us that Carwyn did yesterday.

Carwyn is wrong. The purpose of the tax or levy (it will be a tax if we are allowed to introduce new taxes under the proposed Wales Act, but if the Assembly is not given these powers it can be introduced under existing powers as a levy) is to reduce the consumption of sugar as a public health measure designed to combat the very high level of obesity in Wales. Yet even after allowing for this reduced consumption, the money raised will fund a thousand additional doctors. It is a win-win proposal.

But I'm sorry to have to say that Carwyn had a point when he said that we have been silent on the issue and called the proposal a cheap and uncosted political slogan. Unless we publish the detail to back it up, that is all it is.

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A retraction

With a hat-tip to Tris at Munguin's Republic, this tweet from David Low is worth sharing with a wider audience:


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The Welsh language in Wrecsam

I've just come across details of an event in Wrecsam next week on the future of the Welsh language in the area.

The history and future of the Welsh language in Wrexham will be the subject of a free talk by one of its greatest champions. Organised by Glyndwr University, O Groesffordd i Groesffordd (From Crossroads to Crossroads) will take place at the new Welsh-medium primary school, Ysgol Bro Alun in Gwersyllt, on Tuesday November 19th.


Meirion Prys Jones, former Chief Executive of the Welsh Language Board, will give a talk on how the language developed in the town and what challenges lie ahead for his native tongue, before hosting a Q&A session.

He is excited at the prospect of sharing his passion for Welsh, and said: “This presentation will be a journey through the recent history of the Welsh language as a lesser used or minority language. We’ll look initially at the use of the Welsh language in the Wrexham area and then we’ll broaden the horizons and consider the situation of the language at an all-Wales level and also the influence of the Welsh language on a European and international stage.

“We’ll also consider what are the strengths and weaknesses of the current structures that support the language and also whether the position of Welsh is being strengthened or not.”

The event takes place from 6.30pm to 8pm. For information, and to book a place, email Sarah-Lou Gaffney at s.l.gaffney@glyndwr.ac.uk or call 01978 293575.

Wrexham.com, 10 November 2013

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What we now call the First World War brought home the senseless horror of killing as a way of resolving conflicts.

Yet a solemn ceremony of remembrance for a generation that was mown down by the militarism of political leaders more concerned about power and influence than about people has now been turned into something which upholds the very same militarism that sent them to their deaths. A white poppy is one way of taking a stand against this.


Yes, it is right to remember the millions who have died and those who are still dying, but we also need to remember the millions who they have killed and are still killing. We are slow to learn. We must repudiate those who resort all too readily to armed force as a means of projecting power and influence around the globe. If war is ever justified, it can only be in defence.

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Public opinion on devolution of income tax

As expected, the referendum on devolution of income tax powers to Wales was addressed in First Minister's Questions yesterday. This is the Wales Today report:


Carwyn Jones made the assertion that a referendum on income tax powers was at present unwinnable, but might be winnable at some point in the future. This is a completely ridiculous thing for him to say. The survey evidence shows that most people in Wales already want income tax powers to be devolved.

This is a graphic from an ICM poll for the Silk Commission published in July 2012, click it to see a larger version. The full document is here.


64% want income tax powers devolved to Wales. Interestingly, the percentage is substantially higher for women than men, for younger adults than older adults, for Welsh-speakers than non-Welsh-speakers, and for those who see themselves as Welsh rather than British. Yet in every single category there is a clear margin in favour of setting Welsh rates of income tax.


For what it's worth, the document says that this finding is consistent with previous research that has been conducted by ICM and other polling organizations. I'm not aware that there have been many surveys that have specifically asked about income tax, but these two surveys should be helpful:

At present, the Welsh Assembly has no tax raising powers. Which one of these statements comes closest to your view?

It should have the power to increase or reduce all taxes in Wales ... 28%

It should have the power to vary some, but not all taxes in Wales, within limits agreed by the UK Government in Westminster ... 36%

It should not have the power to increase or reduce any taxes in Wales ... 32%

Don't know ... 4%

ICM survey for BBC, February 2012

Should the Welsh Government have the power to vary income tax, in your opinion?

Yes ... 46%

No ... 36%

Don't know ... 17%

Beaufort survey for Western Mail, March 2012

The BBC question is rather vague, but some taxes "within limits agreed by the UK Government" would include income tax, because the UKG has in fact now agreed to us having the ability to set Welsh rates of income tax if we vote for it.

If people are aware of any other surveys, I'll be very happy to add them.


This evidence shows that there is absolutely no foundation for Carwyn Jones to claim that the referendum on income tax powers is unwinnable. But the tragedy is that we've heard it all before. It's exactly the same line that Peter Hain used when he kept claiming that the referendum on primary lawmaking powers was unwinnable.

It shows that Labour are completely out of touch with what people in Wales actually think.

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Borrowing, Taxation and Barnett

There are two types of borrowing. One type of borrowing is invariably bad. A couple of examples of particularly unwise borrowing are that Labour funded the abolition of the 10p tax rate in 2008 by borrowing (or didn't fund it at all and simply left it as a deficit, which amounts to the same thing); and the decision by the Welsh Government in May last year to fund the backlog of road maintenance by co-ordinating the borrowing powers of local authorities in Wales (see here). Apart from short-term borrowing in an emergency or to smooth fluctuations in cash flow, borrowing is only good if the investment produces a return, or avoids the necessity of paying a greater sum for something else.

But even if borrowing meets these criteria, there is a second question to be asked: Who benefits from the return on the investment, or from not having to pay greater sums of money for something else?


Take building a new school as an example. Imagine two small schools each with surplus places, both housed in old buildings which with a considerable backlog of outstanding maintenance work, and with little of no insulation costing a small fortune in energy bills. It would clearly make sense to invest in one new building with minimal maintenance costs and with vastly reduced energy requirements, which would pay for itself in maybe 15 years.

In this instance the savings in energy and maintenance costs would be retained by the local authority, so it would make sense for the local authority and the Welsh Government (because a large part of local authority income is distributed through the WG) to borrow the money to pay for it. Wales would pay the costs of financing the investment, but in the long term the financial benefits of the investment would accrue to Wales.

Now that the Welsh Government has been given borrowing powers, we should have no hesitation in setting out a long-term programme of investments of this nature, because they will pay for themselves and Wales will get an overall financial benefit from the investment. There is in fact a huge backlog of investment of this sort in Wales because we, very wisely, did not expose ourselves to PFI to the same extent as England and Scotland have done ... not that we had more sensible ways of investing, we simply didn't invest to anywhere near the same extent at all, which is why our backlog is now so big.


But let's take another example: new roads. The decision to build a new road such as the proposed new motorway around Newport, or a maybe a new bridge over the Menai, is not only a matter of doing a benefit-to-cost ratio analysis. It is also a matter of questioning who gets the benefit and who pays the cost.

In the case of a new road the benefits are not direct, but indirect. A new road might well mean fewer delays, and time is money ... but whose money? In the first place it will go to increase the profits of businesses who rely on the route, or enable those companies to expand and take on more workers, or attract new companies to locate on or near the route. These are good, positive results for the companies and workers concerned. But there will also be an indirect return through more workers paying income tax and national insurance, companies paying corporation tax and national insurance, and shareholders paying tax on dividends. If those extra workers had previously been unemployed, then there will be savings on social security benefits. If there are more vehicles on the road (which inevitably happens when any new road is built) there will be more vehicle excise duty, fuel duty and VAT from fuel sales. In other words there are any number of indirect ways to get an economic return on investment to build a new road.

However all the indirect returns I've just listed will go to the UK Treasury in Westminster, not to the new Welsh Treasury. This means that the Welsh Government are playing a mugs game if they use the new borrowing powers they have just been given to build a new M4 at Newport, a new bridge over the Menai, or any other similar scheme. Yet this is exactly what they say they want to use the these borrowing powers for, and what the media reports have focussed on relentlessly.

All that will happen is that Wales would end up paying interest on the construction cost (which would mean having less to spend on other public services) while the economic return from the investment would, albeit indirectly, be reaped by the UK Treasury rather than by us.

The lesson is clear. Borrowing cannot be separated from taxation. It is therefore economic madness for the Welsh Government to welcome one, but reject the other. Strictly speaking, the Welsh Government doesn't actually need the power to set rates of taxes, but there does need to be a mechanism by which taxes, all taxes, are apportioned to Wales. The principle that should be applied is that if an investment results in an increase in the tax take, that increase needs to go into the coffers of the Welsh Treasury, not the UK Treasury. However once there is a system of apportionment, it would be only a very small and uncontroversial step to then take control over setting the rates of these taxes.


But this raises another question. Since it is economic madness for the Welsh Government to borrow money to pay for things like new roads because there is currently no mechanism for the economic return from the investment to accrue to Wales, how should projects like new roads in Wales be funded?

The answer is that it must be done by a consistent application of the Barnett Formula. In essence, the Barnett Formula is very simple: if the UK Government spends money in England, it must then give the devolved administrations a proportionate amount for them to spend in Wales, Scotland and the Six Counties.

This issue came to the fore only last week with HS2. At first, it looked as if Wales had got a Barnett consequential on the first, albeit quite small, tranche of Treasury expenditure on HS2. Then there was a flurry of claims and denials, but in the end (I think this article by Jon Antoniazzi is probably the most helpful) it became clear that we had got it, although whether the sums were worked out properly and whether the consequentials will continue in future is still open to question.

I am in no doubt that Wales, Scotland and the Six Counties should get consequentials on capital expenditure of this sort. In fact I believe I was the first person to call for Wales to get a Barnett consequential when HS2 was given the go-ahead in January 2012, and I'm pleased that others have picked up that baton both in Plaid Cymru and now in other parties as well. I don't think it's valid to argue that places not served by HS2 should accept that someone has to be first and wait their turn, because of the long timescales involved. Wales' turn might not come for another 50 years. After all, we should remember that electrification of the main line from Glasgow to London was started in 1959 and it has taken more than 50 years to get a commitment to do the same for the main line from Swansea to London. The problem is that there are no rules in place to ensure that Wales, Scotland and the Six Counties get our share of money spent in England, because the UK Treasury acts as judge and jury in its own cause.

A Barnett Formula that was properly and consistently applied—which would require some sort of arbitrator independent of the UK Treasury to ensure fairness—is at present the only fair way of funding capital projects such as new roads. The principle is that because the return on investment accrues to the UK Treasury through an increased tax take (and reduced benefits expenditure) as a result of increased economic activity, then it is right that the UK Treasury should bear the cost of any borrowing required to pay for them, not the devolved administrations.


My fear is that in our euphoria over being granted borrowing powers, nobody seems to have grasped this. Even in Plaid Cymru, we put out a press release welcoming borrowing powers for Wales that said:

"Borrowing powers have great potential to revive the economy across Wales, they could allow us to revolutionize our transport and communications infrastructure in all parts of the country. Broadband, the reopening of Beeching-cut rail lines, a national house-building programme, investment in school buildings and a home energy efficiency scheme are all shovel-ready schemes which will create jobs."

Plaid Cymru welcomes Silk announcement, 1 November 2013

We cannot lump all borrowing together in this way. All the things listed above are good (I especially like the re-opening of rail lines) and probably have a positive benefit-to-cost ratio. But that is not the only question to ask. In considering what schemes should be funded by Welsh Government borrowing now that we have been given the power to borrow, we must also ask the question whether the return on that investment will accrue to Wales or accrue to the UK. If the bulk of any return on the investment will go into the coffers of the UK Treasury, that borrowing should continue to be funded through the UK Treasury and given to us as part of the block grant and Barnett consequentials.

The Welsh Treasury should be careful to use its new borrowing powers only to fund schemes that will bring an economic return to Wales. New and improved schools, hospitals and home energy efficiency schemes fall into that category. New roads (unless they are toll roads) definitely do not.

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An early referendum on tax powers

The devil is in the details, but the announcement by David Cameron and Nick Clegg that there will be a referendum on the National Assembly getting tax-setting powers is very welcome.


     Wales to get referendum on tax-raising and borrowing powers

     Cameron announces plans for referendum on tax-varying powers
     for Welsh Government

The official Ministerial Statement was published this morning, here, but doesn't say very much more than yesterday's media announcements. More details will be published before the end of the year.


The recommendations in Part I of the Silk Commission's report were put together as a package. As such, it was compromise that took care to balance a range of different viewpoints. But ever since its publication different parties have been calling for only parts of it to be implemented.

Labour has always wanted the borrowing powers, but not the taxation powers. Therefore its position has been to call for immediate borrowing powers and immediate control over some minor taxes, while at the same time saying that a referendum on major tax powers such as income tax should only be held at some, yet to be specified, point in the dim and distant future. This has never been a credible position. The argument that Wales should get borrowing powers on the strength of control over a handful of small taxes simply doesn't stack up, not least because these taxes are likely to be reduced rather than increased.

The only credible way forward is for borrowing and taxation powers to be given at the same time; and if this requires a referendum, that referendum needs to be held before we get either borrowing or taxation powers.


There is plenty of time to do this. We need—and are clearly going to get—a new Government of Wales Act (or perhaps Wales Act) at some time before the next Westminster election in May 2015, and the most obvious time for its provisions to come into force is May 2016. The referendum could therefore be held as late as, say, March 2016. This would mirror what happened in March and May 2011 over primary lawmaking powers.

But it would probably be better for the referendum to be held before this. If we can agree that the Welsh Government should have taxation and borrowing powers sooner—and I think we can get cross-party consensus on this—then there is no reason why the referendum shouldn't be held considerably earlier.

Carwyn Jones has on several occasions made the point that the UK Government needs to give Wales significantly more powers as a sign that it will give Scotland considerably more powers within the UK, in the hope that fewer Scots will then vote for independence. There is some merit in this, especially because the income tax arrangements outlined in Silk Part I are in fact more advanced than those contained in the Scotland Act 2012. So if Carwyn is consistent, he would need to press for our tax referendum to be held before September 2014.

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