Independence Index

Your in-depth guide to Welsh independence.


The latest news, debates and reports from the Senedd.


The major local political stories and developments from Bridgend county.


We gave AMs law-making powers; this is what's being done with it.

Committee Inquiries

Detailed scrutiny of how Wales is being run.

Wales and the World

Foreign Policy : How should Wales take its place amongst the global community?

Monday, 23 November 2015

Webcasts Update, City Deal & New Housing Strategy

Could webcasting Bridgend Council meetings finally be around the corner....again?
(Pic : Wales Online)

This week sees another round of Bridgend Council (BCBC) cabinet and full council meetings, so it's time to look at some of the key issues to be discussed.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

If you go down to the woods today....

You won't find teddy bears here.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

Strange goings on have been reported in woodland to the north of Brackla.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Parc Slip Restoration Proposals Revealed

Click to enlarge

It looks like the Parc Slip opencast saga could finally be inching towards a resolution.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Groundhog Day : Auditing the Welsh Media

(Pic : BBC Wales)
Last week, the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) published a thorough review of the state of the media in Wales....and it makes typically grim reading.

The IWA's online organ, Click on Wales, released drafts of the report's sections throughout October, but the full and final report is now available at around 150 pages long (pdf). It's an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

The state, and decline, of the Welsh media has been discussed on and off for the best part of a decade – such discussions being even more important this year in the context of negotiations on the BBC's Charter renewal. This site's no exception :

As you would expect me to do, I'm going to summarise what the audit found. Overall, it's an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

Television & Public Service Broadcasting (PSB)

  • Digital terrestrial television reach in Wales (97.8%) is marginally below the UK average (98.5%). Virgin Media's cable services only reach 23% of Wales and hasn't changed since 2004, this is well below the UK average of 44%.
  • Wales has the highest proportion of HD-ready televisions and take-up of HD services of the Home Nations (Wales = 76%; UK average = 73%).
  • Made in Cardiff – currently Wales' only local TV station – has a weekly reach of 196,000 viewers.
  • Overall viewing minutes have fallen consistently across the UK – particularly amongst children and the under-35s - but Welsh viewers spend longer watching PSB than any other part of the UK.
  • Over a third of viewers in Wales used "catch-up" services in 2014. BBC iPlayer, Sky, ITV Player and 4OD are the most popular services. Netflix has grown significantly in popularity since 2012. A majority of catch-up services are viewed on television, but increasingly on tablet computers too, while there's a decline in PC/desktop views.
  • BBC Wales, ITV Wales and S4C spent a combined £215.35million on PSB services in 2014-15, a decline of £19.25million (8.2%) on 2008.
  • Since 2008, there've been 545 fewer TV hours produced (all BBC and ITV; S4C saw an increase) and 1,187 fewer hours of radio programming since 2008.
  • BBC and ITV produced 17.5 hours of English language output per week in 2015, compared to 24.5 hours in 1990 – a 48% reduction. ITV Wales now only produces 5.5 hours, compared to 15.5 in 1990.
  • 63% of BBC's English language output was current affairs, news or politics. Just 2.8% was comedy, drama and the arts.
  • S4C's funding fell from £104.4million a year in 2010 to £85.7million in 2014-15 – a reduction of 18.4%. They spend, on average, about £31,000 per hour, though drama productions can cost up to £140,000 per hour.
  • In 2014, 3.2% of PSB network production spend was in Wales, compared to a population share of 4.9%. 65.4% was spent in London and Southern England.
  • BBC Wales and independent producers provided £60.3million worth of UK network shows in 2014-15, primarily dramas.


  • Average listening hours per week in Wales fell from 24.4 hours in 2007 to 22.4 hours in 2014 – however weekly listening hours are the highest of the Home Nations. Radio also had a bigger reach at 94.5% of the adult population, compared to 89.4% across the UK.
  • Wales has the highest share of BBC Network listeners in the Home Nations at 49% of listeners.
  • Reach figures for BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru have shown steady declines, from 435k and 155k respectively in 2008-09 to 418k and 119k respectively in 2014-15.
  • Ownership of digital radios (DAB) is also highest in Wales amongst the Home Nations at 47% (UK = 43%). This brings Wales very close to the 50% threshold set by the UK Government whereby they would consider a digital radio switchover.
  • BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru spent a combined £20.6million on programming in 2014/15 and cost per hour was near enough the same for each (£1.5k-1.6k).
  • Commercial radio has the lowest listening share in Wales amongst the Home Nations at 39%, compared to the UK average of 43%. Wales also generated the lowest commercial radio revenues of the Home Nations at £14.9million.
  • Only three companies control commercial stations in Wales – Global Radio, UTV and Town & Country Broadcasting. Digital switchover may mean commercial stations are "released entirely" from their local obligations.

Internet & Broadband

  • 78% of premises in Wales have taken up broadband services, compared to 42% in 2006.
  • 79% of Welsh households have access to super fast broadband – more than Scotland (73%) and Northern Ireland (77%).
  • 3G mobile broadband outdoor services reach 97.9% of Welsh households. However, outdoor 4G services currently only reach 62.8%, compared to the UK average of 89.5%.

Press & Online Media

  • Welsh newspapers have seen massive declines in daily circulations since 2008, ranging from falls of more than 50% for the Western Mail, South Wales Argus and South Wales Echo to just a 6.3% fall for the south Wales version of Metro.
  • These numbers are, generally, in line with declines in newspaper sales elsewhere, with some UK papers suffering even steeper declines.
  • Online there's said to be a "more level playing field" between Trinity Mirror and BBC, with Wales Online and Daily Post websites being competitive with BBC Wales Online services in terms of unique browsers. Use of Wales Online has grown by 586% since 2006.
  • 59% of adults access BBC online services, and online services are significantly more popular amongst those aged 16-24.
  • 27% of people said Facebook was now their main source of local news.
  • BBC Wales spent a total of £2.541million on their online services (£399,000 was spent on Welsh language services/BBC Cymru Fyw).
  • S4C Clic viewing sessions had increased by 232% since 2013-14, with an additional 500,000 downloads of S4C mobile apps.
  • With Trinity Mirror agreeing a takeover of Local World, most of the major national, regional and local newspapers in Wales are owned by just two companies - Trinity Mirror and Newsquest.
  • The number of journalists in south Wales has fallen from over 700 in 1999 to 108 in 2013.
  • There are said to be 46 "hyperlocal" websites active in Wales, and research has suggested around half of hyperlocal site owners in the UK have had some form of journalistic training – though most were self-funded and only 13% generated more than £500 a month income.
  • £1.85million in grants were made available to Welsh language publications in 2013-14, compared to £748,000 for English language publications. 50 papurau bro receive grants of up to £1,900 a year from the Welsh Government.
  • S4C launched a £1million digital fund in 2012 to create interactive media and other apps.

Key Recommendations

  • The Welsh Government should establish an independent media panel to monitor media trends and commission studies, working with relevant academic departments.
  • Investment in BBC Wales' English language services should increase by £30million a year, ideally via an increase in the licence fee. This must include programming other than news and current affairs.
  • S4C's funding and editorial independence must be maintained to avoid slipping into a "cycle of decline". Collaboration between BBC and S4C should be maintained, however.
  • BBC 2 Wales and S4C should be broadcast in high-definition.
  • The effectiveness of DAB coverage should be assessed before any decision is taken on a digital radio switchover.
  • Radio regulation should be devolved to the Welsh Ofcom advisory commission.
  • The abandonment of local radio obligations should be reconsidered.
  • BBC Radio 1 and 2 should provide an opt-out news service for Wales.
  • The UK Government should support BBC establishing an interactive online service for Wales.
  • Responsibility for broadcasting should be shared between the UK Government and devolved administrations.
  • BBC Audience Councils should be replaced with National Broadcasting Trusts, which would help shape the delivery of a national service licence.
  • All PSB broadcasters should lay their annual reports in front of the National Assembly.
  • The Welsh Government and Ofcom should commission a joint study into the future of local media in Wales, embracing community radio, papurau bro, hyper-local news websites and local newspapers.
  • The Welsh Government should create a "challenge fund" administered by the Arts Council for Wales and Wales Books Council to help develop new local news services.

What the audit missed

Magazines - Including (ironically), the IWA's own Agenda, Planet as well as others like Cambria, Barn, Golwg and New Welsh Review. It does mention "publications", particularly with regard papurau bro, but there was little evidence provided on the impact of grant funding cuts on English language magazines or their long-term prospects.

Films & Music - The Welsh film production industry only gets passing mentions, along with music. You would've expected music to have been in there considering recent rows between Radio Cymru and Welsh language musicians. Although this certainly crosses into "the arts", it seems the definition of "media" has been set rather narrowly.

"Citizen Journalism"/The Blogosphere – It's admittedly a grey area, reportedly written off by Culture Minister Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South) as "opinion-driven" during the suit-and-sandwich conference because, as we all know, there's little political bias in the mainstream media.

There was a throwaway line about the number of blogs increasing but being "about lifestyle rather than news" - thanks a bunch. I can only speak for myself, and I might get 2% of the South Wales Evening Post's unique browsers on a good day; but I don't know whether being left out is an insult or compliment (sites like Carmarthenshire Planning certainly do count as hyperlocals).

It doesn't really matter because in the absence of public funding, political backing, advertising or publicity it's clear the blogosphere is (relatively) successful and performs a unique function. The Welsh blogosphere's still languishing in the shadows of Scotland's fifth estate; it would take me 20-30 years to match what Wings Over Scotland gets in site metrics in a single year. There's also a high turnover; Green Dragon being the latest political blog to leave the stage. I'm probably not going to be too far behind.

Gaming – The Welsh games industry has grown over the last few years from being practically non-existent to including some breakout companies. It's also one of the most popular mediums around, and as big as, if not bigger, than the film and television industries at present. I'm surprised the IWA and politicians haven't cottoned on to that yet. What do they think people, particularly those under the age of 35, are doing if they're not watching television, listening to the radio or reading newspapers? (See also : More than just a game).

A Warning on Funding

Time for some mathematical gymnastics to serve as a warning on how to interpret the funding figures in the report and how that fits from a "value for money" perspective. The easiest way to do that is to compare the ratio of amount of money spent versus the audience.

Based on the figures provided for BBC's English language web services, for every £1 they spend, they get 85.5 unique browsers. BBC Cymru Fyw gets 11.5 unique browsers for every £1 spent.

For every £1 I spend directly on Oggy Bloggy Ogwr - without a publicly-funded newsroom, television and radio network to back me up and whilst only posting a few times a week - I get 5,272 unique browsers.

Oggy Bloggy Ogwr is, therefore, 62 times greater value for money than BBC Wales Online and 458 times greater value for money than BBC Cymru Fyw. *Jazz hands*

Not bad for opinion-driven non-media. 

Technically speaking, if I put more money into this site its "value for money" would mathematically decrease because the audience is naturally limited and no amount of extra money would change that. Hence that's why complicated political and investigative stories tend to cost a lot of money and get poor returns for broadcasters and publishers, which leads to a downward spiral in coverage.

It also, theoretically, means the "true value" of non-current affairs, non-mainstream television (i.e children's), radio programmes as well as blogs and hyperlocals is likely to be significant in terms of what they bring to the table - perhaps more so than was reflected in the report and in general discussions on the Welsh media.

It's therefore not entirely a funding issue because it doesn't buy you viewers or readers. It's an audience issue and comes down to the quality of the product and how efficiently it's produced.

When you compare what Wales gets from our broadcasters and publishers compared to what the Republic of Ireland gets – utilising similar sums of money and with a similar set up - we're clearly doing something wrong here.


It's an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

Individual AMs have made their own concerns known down the years, but it'll take the closure of one of the major Welsh newspapers – probably The Western Mail – or the subsuming of S4C into BBC Wales to actually force the Welsh Government into action. Calls for challenge funds and independent panels (yet another bloody committee) will fall of deaf ears as ministers can, justifiably, say it's not their problem as broadcasting is a non-devolved issue.

We can never, realistically, expect the UK Government to do anything constructive either; as long as UK-wide network shows continue to be watched or made in Wales, as far as they'll be concerned that's job done. A market failure – and that's essentially what this report implies very strongly – is just something that happens.

So it's worth saying again that it's an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

Television and newspapers will remain important for the time being. However, the only rays of hope for the future, it seems, are online – even though Wales Online is close to becoming a parody of itself, and doesn't generate anything close to the same revenues as Media Wales' print productions – and community radio, which is holding up particularly well and isn't getting the attention it deserves in this debate.

I'm concerned there's too much hand-wringing over Wales being seen at the UK level in network shows when major broadcasters and newspaper publishers can't even harness a captive audience at a Welsh level. The success of Y Gwyll/Hinterland has happened by accident because melodramas about troubled detectives with names like Smegm
ä Smegmässon are in vogue at the moment (to saturation point). That won't last forever, neither will network shows like Casualty and Doctor Who.

Nobody has really explained what they want either. Do they really expect a Welsh political story affecting less than 5% of the UK's population to be given equal treatment to an English one affecting 85% on  network news? News bulletins would end up three or four hours long.

There are only two reasons you'll see Wales on the front pages or in the main news bulletins : human tragedy and sport. The murders of April Jones and Tracey Woodford, as well as the Welsh national rugby and football teams, have probably got more coverage and column inches in the UK media than the Welsh Government and Assembly have in 10 years. A BBC network radio news opt-out - recommended in the report - or "Welsh Six" on TV might go some way towards addressing that.

As cynical as it sounds, maybe we just have to come to terms with the fact very little of interest happens in Wales. That's reflected in our politics, our economy and the small-c conservatism that forms the fabric of Welsh society. That's very well represented in our media – including this blog.

So to conclude, the report is an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Independence Minutiae : Public Holidays

(Pic :

Another minor area of public policy which could be determined in Wales post-independence are public holidays.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Ogmore Vale By-Election Result

(Pic : © Copyright John Finch and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence)

Residents in the Ogmore Vale ward went to the polls to elect a new Bridgend county councillor yesterday following the resignation of Independent Della Hughes back in September (Firefighters Sacked, By-Election Update & Pedestrianisation).

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Seeing through the Senedd

You can see through it, but how much can you see on the other side?
(Pic :

The ongoing discussion and debate over of transparency and openness within both the Welsh Government and National Assembly shows no signs of abating.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Major shake-up in store for Bridgend's schools?

As one new school opens, the prospect of a significant general shake-up
of Bridgend's schools looms on the horizon.
(Pic : Bridgend County Borough Council via Facebook)

Back in August 2014, Bridgend Council (BCBC) set up a special task group to look at the long-term future of how schools are managed and run in the county. This includes a reform of post-16 education (sixth forms) as well as how schools are organised – which could result in the closure or amalgamation of several schools and sixth forms.

An update on what the task group are working on formed a key part of a recent meeting of BCBC's Children & Young People's Scrutiny Committee - where councillors were presented with the snazzily-tiled report Strategic Review into the Development and Rationalisation of the Curriculum and Estate Provision of Primary, Secondary and Post-16 Education (pdf).

The Issues

  • Falling pupil rolls – It's a problem schools across Wales are having to deal with. Some schools are seriously under-capacity, putting their long-term future at risk. Others – particularly some Welsh-medium schools and schools on new family-friendly estates, like Maes-yr-Haul Primary in Broadlands – are overcrowded due to increased demand for a limited number of spaces.
  • Staffing Issues – An unspecified number of headteachers are nearing retirement age.
  • Finance – Another issue all schools are having to deal with as local authorities deal with budget cuts. See also : Seven Bridgend Schools in the Red.
  • 21st Century Schools Programme – A Wales-wide initiative to replace school buildings, which also provides an opportunity to rethink where and how schools are arranged. The most recent example in the county is the newly-opened Coety Primary at Parc Derwen.

The Welsh Goverment are pressing schools to consider alternative management arrangements, and have set out guidance on how to "federate" schools, as well as passing a law – the School Standards and Organisation Act 2013 – to deal with the often controversial issue of closing or merging smaller schools.

The Provisional Ideas

It's worth emphasising from the start that these are only working proposals and there's absolutely nothing final, but it does give you a good idea of what might be coming down the line as the task group continue their work.

School Organisation

  • School closures and mergers – BCBC are already considering this, notably the merger between Betws and Tynyheol Primaries in the Garw Valley.
  • All-through schools - Where 3-16/3-19 year olds are taught in the same campus.
  • Federated schools – Where schools share headteachers/leadership arrangements.

Post-16 Education

This is potentially the most explosive issue as the prospect of sixth form closures in Bridgend is raised for the first time. This has been proposed in other local authorities in Wales, and sometimes heavily resisted. It's said that, following consultation with schools and other providers, the current model can't remain due to funding cuts.

Welsh-Medium (WM) Education

There are two outline suggestions :

  • A starter class in an under-capacity English-medium school to deal with overcrowding at Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Bro Ogwr, which serves Bridgend town.
  • Collaboration with WM schools in Rhondda Cynon Taf and Bridgend College to deliver post-16 WM courses.
Feasibility work is already being undertaken on the latter.

Catchment Area Changes

The catchment areas should match the capacity of the nearest school. This could mean much bigger catchment areas, or even splits in current catchment areas – like at Maes-yr-Haul, where pupils who live in certain parts of Broadlands now have to attend Trelales Primary in Laleston even if Maes-y-Haul is geographically closer. It was also suggested that homes should be assigned a catchment area based on proximity to a safe walking/cycling route to school.

21st Century Schools Programme

The task group have come up with a formula to determine which schools are in the most need of upgrades or replacements. However, this work will need to be tied to the future management of schools (federated schools, all-through schools etc.).

As a result of all this, the report recommends that a strategic partner be found to review the plans and make a series of formal recommendations to BCBC's cabinet in the future, with Bridgend College part-funding the estimated £20,000 cost of the review.

What Next?

Could Bridgend be about to follow Neath Port Talbot's example on further education?
(Pic : Baily Partnership)
There's a potential storm brewing here - especially if sixth forms are threatened or parents object to sending their children to an "all-through school". I don't think the ideas should be dismissed out of hand and once a final review is produced, any proposals deserve to be considered on their own merits.

Some of these principles – like those relating to catchment areas – make sense when you're looking at it from a top-down view, but on the ground you could end up with next door neighbours attending different schools if any new catchment areas aren't flexible enough, as happens in Broadlands now.

My personal opinion is that, in the long-term, all post-16/pre-university education should be provided through FE colleges (or some sort of collaborative arrangement for WM-schools). This happens in Neath Port Talbot which, for a relatively deprived local authority, consistently produces good academic results and provides learners which many more choices with regard what they can study. NPT College offers at least 40 subjects at A-Level or equivalent; I'd be surprised if any of Bridgend's sixth forms offer more than 25.

However, Bridgend College simply isn't big enough to provide A-Level courses alongside vocational ones, and it would require a serious investment – possibly a completely new campus or even a merger - to see it through; plus all the additional costs like transport and hiring qualified staff.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Serious Business Party Announce Assembly Line-Up

The Serious Business Party have announced their candidates for the 2016 National Assembly election.

Like other parties seeking a foothold in Cardiff Bay, they're focusing on the regional lists, and won't stand any candidates in first past the post constituencies.

UK leader, Armitage Shanks, unveiled their hopefuls at their Autumn Piss-Up, alongside their party election broadcast (above), which they say makes a strong offer to the people of Wales.

In an impassioned alcohol-aggravated speech, he rallied party members and journalists, telling them, "We'll be out there pounding pavements, pounding doors and pounding faces.

"We're going to reinvigorate the lost skill of political rim-raiding. We're going to smash the Senedd's back doors in and keep going until the Cardiff Bay Establishment are crying in a corner...."

A flunky whispers in his ear, "....Sorry, I meant ram-raiding."

"People are sick and tired of politicians who have 'ideas' and 'long-term plans' to solve complicated problems. We're not interested in ideas. We're not really interested in power either. All we're interested in is punishing politicians by becoming politicians ourselves. So to the people of Wales, I say this :

"You think your local hospital's fine. You think your schools are turning out pupils ready for modern wage slavery, crippling living costs and disappointing life choices.

"You're secure in your mediocrity because you don't think about things too much and are willing to let others think for you. You believe tweaking a crap machine or hitting it every now and again will keep it going another twenty years instead of completely replacing it.

"Then when you do decide to replace it, you hire cowboys to do the work. Yeeeee ha!

"The next day, you're desperate for a crap," he points to a candidate, "but Mr Blobby here turns up on your doorstep wearing nothing but a Serious Business Party rosette and a scowl. He has no tools, he's had no training, and he's more than ready to twat you with a metal pipe for your idiocy.

"Keep punishing yourselves, you stupid, stupid people."

The audience applauds rapturously.

"This isn't a game," Armitage tells them straight-faced. "Every time you say you're going to vote for us, give yourself a punch in the face from me."

Asked whether he was considering standing in a Welsh seat, Armitage's face broke into his familiar baby-grin. "No, but between you and me," he retorted, "Taffs are good in the trenches and at playing rugger, but aren't officer material if you get what I mean."

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Election 2016 : Six Months To Go

The most exciting thing to happen at the Senedd since....
(Pic : Wales Online)
The thoughts of sitting and prospective AMs will start turning towards the 2016 National Assembly election with only six months remaining until polling day - as indicted by the countdown clock I've added to the top right.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Senedd debates draft Wales Bill

Following the stronger words said on the draft Wales Bill over the last
fortnight it was rightly time for more measured discussion on the issues it raises.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

Yesterday, following the suspension of standing orders, the National Assembly held an extraordinary debate on the controversial draft Wales Bill.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Pedestrianisation Petition & Heritage Hub Plans

Could regular traffic be about to return to Bridgend town centre?
(Pic : iComply)

As you might remember, a few days ago I mentioned a petition organised by Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) and 2016 Assembly Conservative candidate for Bridgend, George Jabbour, on pedestrianisation in Bridgend town centre.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Senedd Watch - October 2015

  • A ban on smoking in cars whilst in the presence of under-18s came into force on October 1st in Wales. Those who break the law will be liable to a £50 fine. Pro-smoking campaigners said the ban is unenforceable, though police forces said they would take an “educational and non-confrontational approach”.
  • A new colour-coded system for 999 medical emergencies was introduced on October 1st . Ambulance response time targets for all but the most life-threatening (Red) 999 calls will be replaced with outcome-based targets. Opposition parties accused the Welsh Government of manipulating targets to mask poor response times, but the Wales Ambulance Trust argued the changes make it “one of the most progressive in the world”.
  • Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb MP, said the chances of an agreement on further powers for the National Assembly were “very, very low”. It follows the publication of an academic report which suggests the proposed reserved powers model was “convoluted” and could result in law-making powers being withdrawn from the Assembly.
    • The UK Government unveiled the draft Wales Bill on October 20th, which includes new powers over Assembly electoral arrangements, energy, speed limits and sewerage services, as well as a reserved powers model. A row between the UK and Welsh Governments ensued over possible “veto” powers by English Ministers over Welsh laws.
  • An official who regulates bus and heavy goods traffic in Wales, Nick Jones, attacked UK Government policy on traffic commissioners, suggesting Wales was being treated “as a district of the English Midlands” and was subsidising English services. Traffic commissioner functions are non-devolved, though partial devolution has been sought since 2002.
  • A TUC report called for money to be directed towards job creation in the south Wales valleys following new EU rules which will allow public funding to be reserved for disadvantaged groups such as the long-term unemployed. Finance Minister, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) said, “We've got new powers and influence who....gets contracts for the public sector and get people into those jobs" promising to set up a task force to look into the proposal further.
  • The Stage 4 debate on the Local Government Bill – which outlines the process for voluntary local authority mergers – was postponed on October 6th, due to a likelihood the Assembly would vote against it. Peter Black AM (Lib Dem, South Wales West) accused the Welsh Government of arrogance for not seeking a consensus beforehand.
    • Following a deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru - which will prevent mergers happening before the 2016 Assembly election - the Bill passed by 26 votes to 17 with 9 abstentions on October 20th. Shadow Local Government Minister, Janet Finch-Saunders (Con, Aberconwy) accused Plaid of hypocrisy for criticising Labour (at the SNP annual conference) then doing a deal with them, while the Lib Dems said the agreement achieved nothing.
  • An Oxfam Cymru report stated Wales should accommodate 724 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016 to meet its obligations. It comes as Community & Tackling Poverty Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), updated the National Assembly on actions taken in Wales, in which she called for more information and clarity from the UK Government, adding that all 22 local authorities were willing to accept refugees.
  • Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Davies (Con, South Wales Central) told the Conservative party conference in Manchester that he led an “anti-establishment party” and that next May's election was a choice between himself and Carwyn Jones for First Minister. He described the election as a “referendum on the Welsh NHS”.
    • The Welsh Conservatives would scrap tuition fee subsidies if they won the 2016 Assembly election, claiming it would save £3.6billion over the course of the Fifth Assembly. Currently, tuition fees for Welsh students are capped wherever the study, but the Leader of the Opposition said the money should be redirected to the NHS and further education colleges.
  • Plaid Cymru health spokesperson, Elin Jones AM (Plaid, Ceredigion), announced her party would scrap local health boards, replacing them with a single national body to run hospital services – as well as abolish social care charges for the elderly and dementia patients - if they win the 2016 election. They also proposed fully integrating health and social care. Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), accused Plaid of wanting to “break up the NHS”.
  • A review of Welsh law-making by the Assembly's Constitutional & Legislative Affairs Committee recommended introducing a compulsory Report Stage, greater support for Members Bills, consolidation of Welsh law and more comprehensive public engagement. Committee Chair, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) said, “Clear, consolidated laws based on sound, well-thought-out policy are essential."
  • Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) criticised the Welsh Government for spending £19.8million on preparatory work for the M4 Newport bypass, calling for Labour to review the plans in their 2016 manifesto. Business & Economy Minister, Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower), defended the spending saying, “Roads will always be controversial, but 20 years after you've built them.... they're the norm.”
    • On 13th October it was revealed Jenny Rathbone had been sacked as chair of an EU funding committee for her comments. She criticised an “unhealthy culture” within the Welsh Government and Assembly which doesn't allow independent thought.
    • Welsh Labour accused Jenny Rathbone of not following the proper channels for raising policy issues, while the First Minister defended his decision in the Senedd chamber, saying the committee chair “should act in the spirit of collective responsibility” as it was a government appointment.
    • The Leader of the Opposition questioned Public Account Committee decisions – of which Jenny Rathbone is a member - as members of the Welsh Government are barred from being members of Assembly committees. He wrote to Llywydd, Rosemary Butler (Lab, Newport West), saying, “The comments made by the First Minister in the chamber ….are deeply damaging and bring into question the legitimacy and democratic nature of the Assembly committees.”
  • A Welsh Health Survey study revealed only 1% of e-cigarette users were previous non-smokers. The Welsh Liberal Democrats believed the findings undermine the Welsh Government's case for a ban on using e-cigs in public, as set out in the Public Health Bill.
  • Eluned Parrott AM (Lib Dem, South Wales Central) warned that key Valley Lines rail routes could miss out on electrification after being left out of the Welsh Government's National Transport Finance Plan. She said, “Whilst the National Transport Plan covers the next five years, these schemes don't even appear in the column identified for '2020 and beyond'”.
  • The Assembly approved a cross-party motion condemning the UK Government's Trade Union Bill as an “unnecessary attack on the rights of working people”. Public Services Minister, Leighton Andrews, said the Bill extended its scope into devolved areas and the Welsh Government will consider not laying a legislative consent motion (LCM) in front of the Assembly – effectively attempting to block the law from applying in Wales.
  • The National Assembly unanimously agreed regulations to introduce compulsory micro-chipping for newborn puppies. Deputy Minister for Farming & Food, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Mid & West Wales) said, “The ability to trace all dogs back to their owners should encourage more responsible ownership, breeding and help in the control of dangerous and nuisance dogs by creating a link between a dog and its owner.” The regulations will come into force on April 6th 2016.
  • LinksAir, operators of the subsidised Anglesey-Cardiff air link, had their safety licence revoked by the Civil Aviation Authority. The Welsh Government announced Danish operator North Flying will take over the contract. Shadow Business Minister, William Graham AM (Con, South Wales East) said, “communities will rightly ask questions and Labour ministers must provide swift assurances.”
  • Deputy Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), confirmed that the troubled Betsi Cadwaladr Local Health Board will remain in special measures for two years. The board was placed into special measures for 100 days following the Tawel Fan scandal, but the Deputy Minister said an extension was needed, “in order to tackle more fundamental challenges, particularly to improve mental health services in north Wales”.
  • At Plaid Cymru's annual conference in Aberystwyth, Leanne Wood asked Labour voters to “take a second look” at her party, saying Plaid will lead on “those issues that matter most”. She said Labour had taken people for granted and “rewarded long-term loyalty with inaction, incompetence and indifference.”
  • Andrew Davies AM called for Cardiff's taxi drivers to embrace controversial mobile taxi app, Uber, which was considering starting services in the city. He said, “As Conservatives we have a duty to level the playing field and to encourage competition between suppliers – not thwart it.” Unions representing taxi drivers have expressed concerns over safety and fare parity.
  • An independent review of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty said these areas needed to do more to foster vibrant communities and provide jobs. Studies estimate they're worth £500million to the Welsh economy and employ 30,000 people. Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM (Plaid, Dwyfor Meirionnydd) was appointed chair of a task force to explore the issues further.

Projects announced in October include : A £24million replacement for the flood-prone A487 Dyfi Bridge in Machynlleth; an £11million scheme to fund childcare to enable parents to return to work; £3.8million for workplace IT, construction and accounting skills; a consultation on indicators for a national well-being index; a Chinese-backed investment worth £2billion in two biomass power and food production plants in Holyhead and Port Talbot and the final go ahead for the Newtown bypass.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Vice Nation : Smoking IV - Smoking & Independence

(Pic : BBC Wales)

In the final part of this mini series on nicotine products, I look at the policy options that might be available to Wales in the event of further devolution or independence.

There are very few, if any, nations that don't have at least partial curbs on smoking. There are, of course, variations in how anti-smoking laws and regulations are enforced – China is notorious for its lax enforcement, and they're paying the price with an estimated 2 million people expected to die each year from smoking-related illnesses by 2030.

In Germany and the United States, smoking laws are decided at a state level and are patchy – 28 US states have public smoking bans, 10 don't have any state-wide bans of any kind (or at most require designated smoking and non-smoking areas).

It's also true to say that anti-smoking laws in Wales, and the rest of the UK and Europe, are particularly strict compared to most of the world.

Public Attitudes to Smoking

There's clear public support - even from some smokers - for public smoking bans.
(Pic : Newport City Council)
Before considering what policy options might be available, it's worth looking at attitudes towards current restrictions.

A YouGov poll from March 2015 on behalf of Ash Cymru found (pdf) :

  • 81% support the current smoking ban in enclosed public spaces (including 50% of smokers).
  • 60% support banning smoking in cars, while 54% support banning smoking in communal recreational spaces (i.e. playgrounds).
  • 70% support putting tobacco products out of sight in shops, while 83% support introducing licences for tobacco retailers.
  • 78% supported a "help to quit" scheme aimed at 11-25 year olds (none currently exists).
  • 38% of e-cig users said they used them to help them quit smoking, while 20% said they used them to cut down on the amount of cigarettes they smoke. Only 2% believe they're more harmful than cigarettes.
  • A majority (51%) support controlling the advertising and sale of e-cigs in the same way as tobacco.

Smoking Laws in Wales : A Recap

  • Health warnings started to appear on UK tobacco packets in 1971; by 2009 it was mandated that at least one full side of a packet should consist of a health warning.
  • Tobacco advertising was banned in stages between 1989 and 2005.
  • The age to buy tobacco products was raised from 16 to 18 in 2007.
  • Smoking was banned in all enclosed public spaces in Wales in 2007, though other smoking bans (on public transport etc.) have existed for longer.
  • Tobacco vending machines were banned in Wales in 2012.
  • Tobacco displays in supermarkets have had to be kept behind screens since December 2012; this was extended to smaller stores in April 2015.
  • Since October 1st 2015 it's illegal to smoke in a private vehicle whilst in the presence of someone under the age of 18 in Wales.
  • Plain cigarette packaging will be introduced in the UK in May 2016.
  • The Public Health Bill (Wales-only) proposes introducing a ban on smoking and using e-cigs in workplaces, a register of tobacco retailers, extending the age to buy e-cigs to 18 and – as mentioned in Part III – introducing a ban on using e-cigs in enclosed public spaces or designated vehicles.
What could an independent Wales do?

Flavoured tobacco and numerous additives were banned in Brazil in 2012.
(Pic : CBC)
All things considered tobacco is, without a doubt, the most heavily-restricted legal drug.

That means there's very little room to manoeuvre in terms of new smoking policies. If policy-makers are going to continue their clamp down on smoking post-independence, they'll have to be clever and innovative about it.

As I see it there are three broad categories where a final few policies can be squeezed out before we move towards total bans on smoking.

1. Tighter regulation of tobacco and tobacco ingredients

  • Brazil banned all flavoured tobacco in 2012, and only allows 8 additives to be used in tobacco (compared to the usual several hundred). They gave tobacco companies 18 months to withdraw all non-complying tobacco from sale.
  • Work at a global/international level to encourage tobacco farmers to shift from tobacco production to food, perhaps through an EU-ban on tobacco imports from countries that subsidise tobacco production.

2. Make smoking more expensive

  • Smoking employees could pay a tithe as compensation to employers for lost production due to unofficial cigarette breaks. British Heart Foundation research has found full-time smoking employees cost employers up to £1,815 a year, with a figure of £447 for part-time workers.
  • Further hikes in tobacco duties. The current price of a pack of 20 cigarettes ranges from £8-£10, which is a bit more expensive than the equivalent for e-cigarettes. It's been recommended by a cross-party UK Parliament group that the price of a pack of cigarettes should rise to £20, though long-term inflation is likely to take the price that high anyway.
  • Minimum price per cigarette (or equivalent) – if it's being considered for alcohol, then surely the same principle should apply to tobacco?
  • Deliberately introduce lower excise duties for e-cigs than tobacco products.

3. Make smoking more inconvenient

  • Ban supermarkets and convenience stores over a certain size from selling tobacco products, so they can only be bought from smaller specially-licenced retailers or pharmacies.
  • Make cigarettes and cigars smaller in length and thinner so they contain less tobacco and, subsequently, less nicotine. This would be trolling on a national level, but might help shift smokers to e-cigs as part of a harm reduction policy. It would probably have to be led at EU-level though.
  • Limit the amount of tobacco a person can buy at any one time – in the same way sales of things like paracetamol are limited to two packs at a time.
  • Ban smoking tobacco in all public indoor and outdoor spaces - effectively confining smoking to the home, private outdoor business property and private gardens.
  • As has been considered with foetal alcohol syndrome, consider making smoking during pregnancy a criminal offence.
Of course, an independent government could also go against the grain and relax some of the existing rules and restrictions by, for example, reintroducing indoor public smoking through the use of designated smoking rooms, or rejecting things like plain packaging. That's unlikely to happen though.

The Nuclear Option : Can smoking be banned completely?

New Zealand is one of several nations seeking to phase-out smoking over the coming decades.
(Pic : New Zealand Government)
There's a fairly good chance that within a generation or two smoking anywhere other than the home will be illegal. It probably wouldn't take much more effort after that to ban smoking completely.

Medical professionals support an outright ban on smoking, and I'm sure many politicians and public health officials would too. In 2014, the British Medical Association voted in favour of a complete smoking ban, phased in by banning anyone born after 2000 from purchasing or using tobacco.

The situation with regard e-cigs will be a bit more complicated, but once 80%+ of current smokers have switched - which on current trends could happen in the next 20-30 years – there'll probably be a strong enough case to bring the curtain down on cigarettes, cigars and pipes in the same way leaded petrol was replaced by unleaded petrol.

Nobody will really miss it as long as they have an alternative. So there's a decent chance smoking will die out even without a ban.

Only one nation currently has an outright ban on the cultivation, sale and consumption of tobacco products – the devout Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan, which passed a law in 2010. However, other countries are set on their way towards phasing out tobacco :

  • Iceland – A former Icelandic health minister introduced a Members' Bill which would have banned tobacco sales and made it a prescription-only drug.
  • New Zealand – In 2011, the New Zealand adopted a goal to make the country smoke-free by 2025.
  • Finland – In 2010, the Finnish Government set out to completely ban smoking by 2040 and already has some of the strictest anti-smoking laws in the world.
  • France – The French Government have long-term goals to abolish smoking over the next 40 years.

Smoking, in a twisted way, has its advantages to the state. It keeps the population down (meaning savings in welfare and pension payments) and it also helps keep income-based taxes down too; after all, you're taxing something people are addicted to so the money's going to roll in.

Like alcohol, if smoking didn't raise more in taxes than was spent on smoking-related illnesses, tobacco/nicotine would probably be an illegal Class A drug.

Imperial Tobacco's headquarters in Bristol.
Before considering whether a total smoking ban is a good idea, check your pension pot.
(Pic : TClarke)

Nevertheless, banning smoking is always going to come with a lengthy list of unintended consequences which would probably put the brakes on it :

  • Criminalisation - Unless they've already diversified, you'll be criminalising tobacco producers, manufacturers and executives overnight, turning them from monkeys in suits into Pablo Escobar. It could well shift tobacco underground and many of the current problems we see with narcotics (Wales on Drugs) - like legal highs, heroin and cocaine - will start to make their way into the tobacco trade. There are already huge problems with counterfeit cigarettes.
  • Legal action – A total smoking ban would almost certainly lead to hefty and damaging lawsuits from tobacco companies – the poor dabs – due to restriction of trade.There's a pretty good chance they would win against a single country, but if it were led a global level, their chances would be slimmer.
  • The economic impact – Criminalising tobacco would destroy the livelihoods of some of the poorest farmers in the world. Some countries actually subsidise tobacco production anyway, and there would well be positives if these farmers are encouraged to switch to food production.
  • The impact on pension schemes and investments – I suspect there's tens of billions of pounds in private money, including many pension schemes, tied up in tobacco companies. Local authorities are said to have up to £2billion of pension investments in tobacco companies alone.
  • Tax – As covered in Part I, smoking generated some £9.6billion in duties for the UK and £421million in Wales alone in 2014-15. Although there would be savings made in the longer-term resulting from a reduction in smoking-related diseases, all those who already have those diseases still require treatment, and there would be a funding gap that would have to be closed – probably by raising taxes elsewhere.

I don't think I could ever support a complete ban – a public use ban certainly, but I suspect that would be the absolute limit the population at large would accept.

Prohibition doesn't work and has never worked, and you imagine what damage it would do if tobacco ended up in an underground economy run by criminals in the same way as other drugs.

If people are going to want to use nicotine, and public health campaigns can't stub it out, then based on the evidence we have, we should be using policy to actively push smokers away from tobacco and towards safer alternatives for nicotine delivery – a policy of harm reduction.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Vice Nation : Smoking III - E-Cigarettes : The Facts

(Pic : Times-Herald)

One of the most contentious parts of the Welsh Government's Public Health Bill is a proposed ban on the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigs/"vaping") in enclosed spaces in Wales (Tattoos, Bans & Bogs).

In August 2015, Public Health England (PHE) published a updated report on e-cigs (pdf) which could be a game-changer in the debate.

What are e-cigarettes and how do they work?

E-cigs were introduced onto the market circa 2004 and work by atomising a liquid by heating it using a battery and filament. The user then breathes in the vapour/aerosol via a cartridge, mimicking smoking a cigarette. E-cig kits normally cost around £40-50 and are rechargeable.

In addition, the liquids come in different flavours – such as fruits - or even mimic the smell and taste of cigarette smoke. The liquid can even be sold without containing nicotine at all, though each refill cartridge can contain the same nicotine as 25 cigarettes and you can usually by a pack of them for under £10.

What chemicals are in e-cigs and their vapour?

The vapour released from e-cigs is riddled with deadly chemical dihydrogen monoxide.
9Pic : via Youtube)

E-liquids predominantly contain propylene glycol, vegetable glycerol, water, flavourings and nicotine.

Propylene glycol and glycerol are routinely used in food and pharmaceutical manufacturing and are almost entirely safe on their own – you have to be exposed to large, undiluted quantities to be harmed. However, it's true to say that these chemicals do change when heated and there's evidence that propylene glycol is an irritant when inhaled; it's actually used in theatre fog. People can also have allergic reactions to it (Grana et. al 2014).

There's little evidence on the long-term effects of inhaling heated propylene glycol, but some industrial chemical companies warn against inhaling it for long periods of time, while it's also been linked to behavioral changes and spleen damage.

Water is, of course, one of the deadliest chemicals known to man.

The flavourings are largely the same chemicals used to flavour jellies, sweets etc. which are themselves more concentrated versions of the chemicals that produce smells and tastes in nature. When these flavours are combined excessively, they might produce harmful compounds - though at a significantly lower level than cigarettes, to the point of being a background risk.

Nicotine is the active component of e-liquids. PHE reviewed 14 academic studies and found that although e-cigs leave deposits on surfaces, one particular study concluded the air in homes of e-cig users contained six-times less ambient nicotine than the homes of smokers (Ballbe 2014). The nicotine has the same effect as that found in cigarettes (on the circulatory system etc.) so isn't 100% safe in itself.

Who uses e-cigarettes?

As I demonstrated in Part I, smoking tends to be more common amongst deprived groups and in deprived areas. For e-cigarettes (p12), uptake has increased at the same rate across all social classes, though e-cig use is highest amongst ABs (managers and professionals) and C1s (skilled manual workers).

According to the report, a pilot with disposable e-cigarettes has been launched in three prisons in EnglandandWales as offenders and people with mental illnesses are more likely to smoke.  The report even says it's inappropriate to restrict the use of e-cigs in hospitals or prisons unless "there's a strong rationale to do so". Despite this, a ban on smoking in prisons in Wales and south west England is due to come into force in 2016 as part of a phased ban across EnglandandWales.

In terms of e-cigs and their impact on smoking behaviours, in England e-cigs have become the most popular quit smoking aid, overtaking over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies (like nicotine gum and patches) in 2012-13.

The report states a mix of curiosity, and a desire to quit smoking, are the main reasons for the take up of e-cigs, recommending that people finding themselves in that situation should be offered support to quit smoking completely.

Do e-cigs act as a gateway to cigarette smoking?

This issue has been in the headlines recently following experimental preliminary findings from the National Health Survey (pdf p6) – though it comes with a warning that the results haven't been properly weighted.

It says 6% of Welsh adults currently use e-cigs and 14% had ever used one.

More importantly, use of e-cigs is significantly more common amongst current and former smokers, with only 1% of adults who've never smoked ever using e-cigs, and no recorded current users of e-cigs had taken it up having never smoked before.

One of the Welsh Government's concerns is that e-cigs will normalise and encourage people to take up cigarette smoking ("act as a gateway"), undermining efforts to clamp down on it. There doesn't appear to be any current evidence of it.

However, this isn't necessarily backed up by the PHE report (p37-39), which suggests that although the very concept of the "gateway hypothesis" is flawed, there's a genuine need to carefully monitor "dual-use" (smoking and using e-cigs at the same time), particularly amongst young people.
What are the wider benefits of e-cigs?

There is some limited evidence emerging that e-cigs are useful in getting smokers to quit tobacco.
(Pic : via Pinterest)
A quit smoking aid – There's some evidence that e-cigs help smokers either reduce or completely quit smoking tobacco. The Cochrane Review of randomly controlled trials showed e-cigs which contain nicotine resulted in reduced smoking amongst users when compared to a placebo – however, it was cautioned that the confidence in the results was "low" (p46). Another trial in Flanders (Adriaens et. al. 2014) produced results where 34% of a group of smokers quit within eight weeks of using e-cigs, compared to 0% for those not given e-cigs. Many smoking cessation advisers and practitioners in England are now said to support the use of e-cigs as a quit smoking aid.

Only 4%-5% of the relative risks of smoking – Working to UK Advisory Council on Drugs guidelines, experts concluded that e-cigs have 4% of the relative harm of tobacco (including social harm) and 5% of the relative harm to the user. There's a note of caution : it's accepted there was "a lack of hard evidence for the harms of most of the nicotine products on most of the criteria" during the study. 

"Passive vaping" is unlikely to exist - PHE's report states e-cigs, "release negligible levels of nocotine into ambient air with no identified health risks to bystanders" and that the levels of nicotine absorbed by passive vaping were also negligible (p64-65). E-cig steam is exactly that - mostly water vapour with a trace of nicotine. There's certaintly an argument that public vaping is impolite, but it's massively less harmful than exposure to tobacco smoke.

What are the wider risks of e-cigs?

The major risks associated with e-cigs aren't necessarily related to health.
(Pic : BBC Wales)
The liquid can be poisonous if drunk directly – There are high-profile examples of young children being hospitalised after drinking e-cig liquids, and the PHE report says there's at least one unconfirmed death of a 2 year old, as well as attempted suicides through nicotine poisoning. Nearly all e-cig liquids post no real threat as long as they're used as intended and come in child-proof containers.

Poor labelling of contents
– The PHE report says poor labelling is now less common and poses "no major concerns", but there have been examples of nicotine concentrations varying from the label by between -17% and +6%, while trace nicotine has been found in e-liquids labelled as 0% nicotine. They say poorly labelled liquids are more likely to contain less nicotine that the stated amount, which makes it a trading standards issue rather than a health issue.

Faulty rechargers have been linked to house fires – Smoking is a fire hazard in itself, but there've been a number of incidents – including in Wales – where the e-cig chargers have started house fires. It was reported by fire services in EnglandandWales that up to 100 house fires have been linked to e-cig chargers since 2013. Fire services have subsequently issued warnings about the use of fake or faulty chargers.

E-Cigs in Welsh Politics

E-cig ban : The nanny state? Or simply taking precautions?
(Pic : Wales Online)
The Welsh Government are keen to make what they call "evidence-based policy" – meaning they use facts and research to guide policy-making. In the case of the Public Health Bill, Health Minister Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West) has publicly stated the Welsh Government "are not going to wait for proof of harm" with regard e-cigs and will press ahead with an enclosed space ban.

Although the British Medical Association, Public Health Wales and other public health professionals support the Welsh Government, some key opponents to the policy include Ash Cymru, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Tenovus
– presumably because they believe that e-cigs are significantly less harmful than tobacco smoking, so it's better to reduce harmful behaviours than try and change behaviour through force.

In addition, all of the opposition parties in the National Assembly - but the Welsh Lib Dems in particular - have spoken out against the proposal.

In June 2014, a petition was submitted to the National Assembly – which has since gone on to gather 1,200 signatures online – calling for the Welsh Government to re-consider the ban.

What the Welsh Government are doing is illiberal but, like it or not, there's a logic behind the Welsh Government's "precautionary" approach.
There are numerous examples throughout history of new products, chemicals and drugs being hailed as wonderful innovations but without the risks or side-effects being rigorously tested beforehand.

Radium and thalidomide are the two of the best examples. Radium was used in all sorts of things, from making glow in the dark paint for signs and clocks, to even being used in bread due to quackery surrounding the supposed "benefits" of being exposed to it. Thalidomide was hailed as a treatment for morning sickness in the 1950s and 1960s.

We now know radium is one of the most radioactive chemicals, and thalidomide led to serious birth defects (though it's still used to treat certain cancers and arthritis). We didn't know these things at the time, and there's always a danger that there could well be something in e-cigs we don't know about too.

Those worries may be misplaced as the quality of chemical and medical testing are as rigorous as they've ever been. If there were seriously dangerous side-effects to e-cigarettes, they probably would've been discovered by now - a few sensationalist headlines in the Mail and Express don't count.

That doesn't, in any way, negate the need for a ban on sales to under-18s, a ban on e-cig advertising, proper regulation of e-cigs and full research on the long-term effects of e-cig use.

It also doesn't, however, justify bans and curbs on usage based on nothing better than a gut feeling.

Part IV looks at the possible policy options with regard smoking and e-cigs post-independence.