According to the Daily Mail, the population density of Wales is "expected" to be 258/km² by 2015.

As the area of Wales is 20,779km², this means that our population will rise to 5,360,982 in just two years ... a relatively modest increase on the 2011 census figure of 3,063,456 or 148/km².

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Nadolig Llawen

I'd like to wish everyone who reads Syniadau a peaceful and happy Christmas.

For those who didn't get up before the crack of dawn this morning for Plygain, here's a taste of what you might have missed.


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Conference on Catalan self-determination

A couple of months ago I attended a conference on the self-determination process in Catalunya, organized by DiploCAT and hosted by University College London.

It was well worth it, and I came away with so much infomation that I wasn't able to condense it into a blog post, even though that had been my intention at the time. Thankfully, the feeling of guilt that has nagged me since then has now been assuaged, because I've just found out that the whole thing has been put up on the web for everyone to see.

So if anyone finds themselves with a few hours to spare over the Christmas holiday, I'd recommend it. Highly. I can't think of a better, more complete picture of what has been happening and is happening there, or a better analysis of the political, diplomatic and legal issues involved ... not just for Catalunya, but also for Scotland, particularly with respect to the EU. Just click the image below:


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Two pieces of good news about energy

There have been two interesting pieces of news about energy this week. The first is that the European Commission has formally confirmed that it will hold an investigation into the legality of state subsidies for the proposed Hinkley C nuclear power station.

Hinkley Point C nuclear subsidy plan queried by European Commission


Officials promise to investigate, saying they doubt claims of market failure and fear UK will start a "subsidy race".

The Guardian, 18 December 2013

This shouldn't come as a surprise, as Le Monde had flagged up the story a few weeks ago, which was then picked up by the Telegraph, as I mentioned in this post. In fact, Le Monde reported it as an open-and-shut case of illegal state aid, so the outcome is probably not in any real doubt. The Guardian's article has all but confirmed this, quoting Günther Oettinger, the European Union's Energy Commissioner, saying that he thought the huge subsidy was "Soviet" in style; and Joaquín Almunia, Vice-president for Competition Policy, describing the aid package as a complex measure of an unprecedented nature and scale, and warning that it risked setting off a "subsidy race" between member states.

Ed Davey was putting a brave face on it in this Ministerial Statement, but it is hard to see how the UK government can defend itself, and some sort of financial sanction is almost certain to be imposed on the UK government as a result, which is the usual way the European Commission would enforce a judgment. The real question is how big this will be. In the face of some £17bn of state subsidy, it would need to be very substantial; for if it isn't, the UK government might well just decide to add it onto the bill that taxpayers have to pay. After all, what's another few billion?

Of course there is also a political dimension in that EDF is state-owned, so the French Government is obviously not going to object to UK taxpayers putting large, or even larger, amounts of money into French pockets. But on the other hand, Germany is hardly going to want to see nuclear power proliferation spread across the continent. Nor will it want to see the financial framework of the EU single market distorted out of all recognition by state subsidies and protectionism, especially as Germany effectively underwrites the EU's finances. So a great deal is at stake.

At the very least, this investigation should serve to put the UK Government's plans for more new nuclear power stations back a few steps, which is very good news for those of us who oppose building a new nuclear power station in Wales.


To add to that good news, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has just published the latest set of energy statistics, available on this page.

It's good news in this sense. Scotland produced 40.3% of the electricity it consumes from renewables in 2012, up from 36.3% in 2011 and 24.1% in 2010. This is from the Scotsman:

Two-fifths of electricity in 2012 from renewables


Statistics from the UK Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) showed 40.3 per cent of energy consumption in 2012 was met by the sector – up from 36.3 per cent the previous year and 24.1 per cent in 2010.

The Scottish Government believes it is on course for half of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2015, an interim target ahead of the goal of having the sector generate the equivalent of 100 per cent of electricity needs by 2020.

Scotland continues to produce more energy than it uses, with 26 per cent of electricity generated last year being exported. Nuclear power provided 34.4 per cent of electricity generated in Scotland in 2012, while 29.8 per cent came from renewables, 24.9 per cent came from coal, 8 per cent from gas and 2.8 per cent from oil and other sources. While 29.8 per cent of electricity generated north of the Border was from renewables, in England the sector only produced 8.2 per cent of electricity, while in Wales and Northern Ireland renewables accounted for 8.7 per cent and 15.9 per cent.


Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said: “These figures show renewable electricity in Scotland is going from strength to strength, confirming that 2012 was a record year for generation in Scotland and that 2013 looks set to be even better. We can already see from the first nine months of 2013 that generation is 4 per cent higher compared to the same period in 2012. These figures show that renewable generation in Scotland was at a record high last year, meeting around 40 per cent of our electricity demand at a time when Ofgem [the energy regulator] are warning of the ever-tightening gap between peak electricity demand and supply.”

Director of environmental charity WWF Scotland, Lang Banks said: “It’s great news that Scotland’s renewable energy capacity and output both continue to grow, and this year looks like being another record breaker. However, in order to remain on target Scotland will need to deploy significant amounts of offshore wind in the near future. It’s therefore vital that the UK Government gives a stronger signal of its ambition on the growth of offshore wind in Scotland’s seas.”

He added: “While the rest of the UK has become distracted by gas fracking and new nuclear power, Scotland has quietly got on with the business of deploying renewables at scale. By combining Scotland’s superb renewable energy resource with greater energy efficiency and investment in the grid, Scotland can continue to avoid the need for polluting forms of energy.”

The Scotsman, 19 December 2013

This shows the huge difference in attitude between the Scottish Government and the UK Government. Although energy is not technically devolved to Scotland, the Scottish Government is able to use its planning powers and the ability to set different tariffs for ROCs to effectively control its own energy policy ... at least in terms of how it develops. The Six Counties can also do this.

As a result, 29.8% of the electricity generated in Scotland was from renewables (the difference between 40.3% and 29.8% is because Scotland exports so much electricity to England and Ireland) as was 15.9% of the electricity generated in the Six Counties.

Wales has renewable resources that are almost equal to those of Scotland on a head-for-head basis (less in wind resources, but much more in tidal resources) and better than those of the Six Counties. Yet we lag behind on 8.7% from renewables, only marginally ahead of England's 8.2%. The problem is therefore one of policy. Wales cannot decide its own energy policy using the tools that are available to Scotland and the Six Counties, and therefore is forced to accept England's energy policy, based on England's priorities.


Because of projects already in the pipeline, it is almost certain that Scotland will reach the target of producing half of the electricity it consumes from renewables by 2015. And if it continues with these policies there is no reason at all why it shouldn't reach 100% by 2020. Scotland is showing us what can be done.

We in Wales could easily do the same if we were able to concentrate our efforts on developing the renewable resources we have in abundance, rather than being forced off course by the UK Government's obsession with fracking for gas and new nuclear power stations.

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Ysgol Bro Alun's newest pupil

Close colleagues of Huw Lewis have, for the last few weeks, been strenuously denying that he needs to go back to school in the light of Wales' poor perfomance in the PISA tests. Yet it appears that the rumours were true ... for here he is, being officially welcomed as a new pupil by headteacher Osian Jones and the three pupils who have agreed to act as his mentors while he adjusts to the new experience.


The choice of a Welsh-medium school has raised some eyebrows among his colleages in the National Assembly. But, to his credit, Huw has been trying hard to learn Welsh, and feels that a couple of terms of language immersion a long way away from the distractions of Cardiff Bay should be enough for him to become fluent. Staff at the DfES are so delighted that they have decided to take the next two weeks off in celebration.

More pictures here.

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Deprivation, inequality and independence

I was particularly interested by two pieces of information published over the last week.

The first was the publication of GVA figures for the nations and regions of the UK. Although the headlines talked about Wales' economy growing faster than most of the rest of the UK, this needs to be set against the more disturbing undercurrent of an ever-widening gap between London and everywhere else. The figures themselves are here and I would like to show some graphs from the report to illustrate how bad things are. Click to enlarge them if required.


Figure 1 shows variations in GVA per head indexed against a UK average of 100. In 1997 the north east of England was poorest at 73.1 and London richest at 164.6 ... a spread of 91.5. In 2012 Wales was poorest at 72.3 and the London was again richest, but at 174.8 ... a spread of 102.5. Regional inequality in the UK has therefore risen by a huge 12% in only fifteen years.

There has been convergence in only three areas. In the north east and north west of England the index of GVA per head has improved; and in the south east of England (which was already above average) it has reduced ... which is actually a good thing in terms of reducing inequality.


Figure 6 shows the variation between the richest and poorest regions in each member state of the EU which is large enough to have regions. As we can see, the inequality in the UK is very much greater than anywhere else. By that standard, the UK is a failed state. It has allowed itself to become more economically imbalanced than any other member of the EU and, as Figure 1 shows, the inequality is increasing rather than decreasing.

As I see it, this is not a failure of government that could be put right by political parties adopting different policies. It is a structural failure that it is impossible to put right unless the UK is dismantled.


Figure 5 shows something slightly different. It is the gap between the richest and poorest areas of the regions and nations of the UK. With the exception of London the spread is probably not too dissimilar to most of the countries of Europe. But London itself has to be shown on a different scale.

One important thing to note is that, at £13,928 per head, the poorest part of London is roughly on a par with the poorest parts of other regions of the UK. This shows that the variation in wealth between different communities in the same city is just about as great as it is in the UK as a whole.


The second thing that I'd like to draw people's attention to is the publication of an Ipsos-MORI poll on Scottish independence for STV News. The full details are on this page, and this is the slide presentation from it.


Although the headline figure was a 3% increase in those intending to vote Yes, there was one point about the detail which I thought was particularly significant. The Yes/No percentages are broken down not only by the usual factors such as age, gender, location, socio-economic group and party voting intention, but also by a number of other factors, the most interesting of which is the deprivation of the area in which people live.

Areas of deprivation are broken down into quintiles, and these are the results for each from those who say they are certain to vote:

20% most deprived areas ... Yes 47% ... No 45%
Lower middle quintile ... Yes 41% ... No 48%
Middle quintile ... Yes 39% ... No 50%
Upper middle quintile ... Yes 23% ... No 65%
20% least deprived areas ... Yes 26% ... No 68%

Overall ... Yes 34% ... No 57%

I find the scale of this difference in voting intention quite astonishing. This is not a measure of the wealth of the region in which people live, but of the deprivation of the local communities in which they live. It distinguishes between those who live in, say, the posh suburbs on one side of a city and those who live on the run-down estates on the other side of the same city, using (I would guess) postcode data referenced against the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.

This isn't new news, for the graph in slide 11 shows that the difference has existed for some time. It has in fact been bigger than it is now, then reduced, but now seems to be increasing again.


Drawing these two pieces of information together, my point is this. The UK is the most unequal member state of the EU, and the inequality between rich and poor regions getting larger, rather than reducing. It is also a state which encourages wholesale population movement as the main way accessing relative wealth for the upwardly mobile—and, in the opposite direction, using poorer areas as a dumping ground for the less well-off—rather than taking positive steps to encourage the economic growth of poorer regions. And as well as regional inequalities, there is also vast inequality between rich and poor communities, even in the same cities.

It probably isn't a surprise to find that those who live in comfortably well-off areas will feel quite content with the way the UK works, and therefore won't be particularly inclined to want to change things by dismantling it.

But what of those who live in the more deprived areas? Historically, this has been addressed in voting patterns for political parties. The well-off always did, and still do, tend to vote Tory; the worse-off have always tended to vote for parties of the left. Yet now, there is hardly any difference between the policies of Labour, the LibDems and the Tories. Their packages are wrapped in paper of different colours, but the content of those packages is virtually identical. Remember that Labour were the party in power in Westminster for most of the 15 years between 1997 and 2012, when regional inequality rose by 12%. Yes, Labour are the party of rich areas like London getting richer while poor areas like Wales get relatively poorer.


In Scotland, a new way is opening up. Instead of voting for a political party in the hope that they will change the way the UK works, there is now the opportunity to let the increasingly dysfunctional UK go its own sweet way, and vote instead for Scotland to become an independent country that will not need to dance to the tune of London.

It seems clear from the polling evidence that people in the more deprived areas of Scotland are aware of this, and this would explain why a far greater percentage intend to vote Yes to independence in more deprived areas than in more well-off areas.

In my opinion, the lesson is twofold. First, that deprivation and inequality would seem to be one of the most fruitful grounds for the Yes campaign in Scotland to focus on between now and September next year. And second, that it would probably be the most fruitful ground for us to focus on if we want to increase support for independence for Wales.

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Figures for Welsh rise again ... at least a bit

While reading through Estyn's report on Welsh in the Foundation Phase published last week, I noticed in paragraph 23 that 22.9% of pupils in Wales were assessed in language, literacy and communication skills (Welsh) at the end of the Foundation Phase (Key Stage 1) in 2012.

This figure is different from the one quoted in the latest annual report on progress towards meeting the targets in the Welsh Government's Welsh-medium Education Strategy, which states that the percentage of Year 2 learners assessed in Welsh first language in 2012 was 21.9% (7,229 out of a cohort of 32,960).

I asked Estyn which figure was right, and the bad news is that their 22.9% was a typographic error. They will correct the online versions, though that is obviously going to take a little time. But the good news is that the figure for 2013 is 22.4%.


As I mentioned in this post a couple of weeks ago, progress towards meeting the targets in the WMES has been painfully slow. The figures for Outcome 1, the percentage of seven-year-old learners being taught through the medium of Welsh, had only increased by 0.1% over three years. So I can now, at least unofficially, update the table.

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%
2013 ... 22.4%

Progress to date ... 1.4% ... still 2.6% short of 2015 target

It's not a huge increase, but it's certainly better than being at a standstill.

However this increase, welcome as it is, doesn't detract from the point I made in that previous post. The Welsh Government has admitted the targets won't be met, but they plan on doing absolutely nothing about it until after the 2015 figures have been released. This is shameful and unacceptable. The whole point of annual progress reports is to ring alarm bells so that remedial action can be taken before it is too late. But instead of doing that, Huw Lewis and Carwyn Jones have put their fingers in their ears.

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PISA ... looking back three years

As with probably everyone else in Wales, I've had to reflect hard on the PISA results announced this week. However when I read Professor David Egan's comment on what Victoria Winkler had to say in this post on the Bevan Foundation blog, it prompted me to look back to what I wrote three years ago.

It strikes me that nothing much has changed, and therefore I hope people won't mind me recycling it.

Poor academic performance ... or just poor?

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

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


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

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

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

     Wales confirmed as UK's poorest nation

The full data are here but the critical figures are:

Wales GVA per head relative to the UK as a whole

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

My original post is here, and I'd advise people to look at it because of the quality of the comments and discussion afterwards ... which we can perhaps continue here.

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Rolihlahla (Nelson) Mandela

I'd like to add my tributes to the millions of others that have and will be paid to Rolihlahla (Nelson) Mandela, which he so richly deserves.


If it wasn't for his stature, influence and grace in the face of the injustice he suffered, it is hard to believe that South Africa could have made such a peaceful transition from white minority rule to democracy. Heddwch i'w lwch.

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PISA incredulity

Rather than join in with the accusations and recriminations about the PISA results announced today, I would instead like to look at the sort of questions that were asked.

Apparently there are six levels in the mathematics section, and a sample question from each level is here. The first four levels are so easy that they're not worth bothering with, so I'll concentrate on the sample questions for Levels 5 and 6.

Level 5 Question

The Gotemba walking trail up Mount Fuji is about 9 kilometres (km) long. Walkers need to return from the 18 km walk by 8 pm.

Toshi estimates that he can walk up the mountain at 1.5 kilometres per hour on average, and down at twice that speed. These speeds take into account meal breaks and rest times.

Using Toshi's estimated speeds, what is the latest time he can begin his walk so that he can return by 8 pm?

Level 6 Question

Helen rode her bike from home to the river, which is 4 km away. It took her 9 minutes. She rode home using a shorter route of 3 km. This only took her 6 minutes.

What was Helen's average speed, in km/h, for the trip to the river and back?

Assuming that these sample questions reflect the actual degree of difficulty of the test itself, my problem is that I can't see how people could fail to answer them correctly. Yet the OCED average getting the Level 5 question right was only 13%, and the UK average 12%. For the Level 6 question the average for both the OECD and UK was only 3%.

So I would like to ask a genuine question. Are there people reading this who weren't able to work out the answers? Please don't be reticent, because according to PISA you'll be in good company. 7 out of 8 got the first one wrong and 32 out of 33 got the second one wrong; and I'd imagine the maths ability of the average 15 year old isn't too far removed from that of the average adult.

If these figures are even remotely accurate, it points to the whole of the so-called developed world being in a mess. And therefore it seems rather pointless to argue the toss about whether Wales would be doing OK if our figures suddenly rose to 1 in 6 and 1 in 25.

Update - 17:20, 10 December 2013

The full set of PISA maths questions for 2012 is here.

Unfortunately, it isn't clear from the paper what the time limit is, or whether calculators are allowed. However, as some square root calculations are required, I would guess they are.

Have fun.

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Nuclear state subsidies illegal

I was delighted to read a report in the Telegraph saying:

The European Commission is close to concluding that Britain's nuclear programme at Hinkley Point breaches EU state aid rules and may have to be revised, a move that could lead to long delays and even cause the complex deal to unravel.

Sources in Brussels say the chief concern is a £10bn loan guarantee for the construction of the plants, insurance against a meltdown, help with decommissioning costs and the inflation-linked “strike price” of £92.50 per megawatt hour for 35 years.

The Telegraph, 1 December 2013

It's worth reading the whole article. One French newspaper, Le Monde, has reported that these subsidies have already been deemed unlawful, and that it is now only a matter of determining what sanctions will be imposed.

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