Independence Index

Your in-depth guide to Welsh independence.

Assembly

The big news from the National Assembly of Wales.

Bridgend

Politics and developments from Bridgend County.

Laws

Coverage of proposed Welsh Bills and laws.

Committee Inquiries

All the major inquiry reports from the National Assembly's committees.

Election 2015

Coverage and analysis of the 2015 House of Commons election (starts late March 2015).

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

AMs demand action to close education gap

Up to 74% of children who are eligible to receive free school
meals in Wales won't get 5 A*-C grades at GCSE.
(Pic : alexdonohue.co.uk)

Last week, the National Assembly's Children & Young People's Committee reported back on their inquiry into the educational attainment of pupils from low-income households (pdf).

Aside from quality of teaching and school standards themselves, household incomes are the biggest factor that influences how well a child will progress through school, and how they will perform compared to their peers.

Monday, 2 March 2015

A St David's Day Deposit


Legend says the ground beneath St David rose so all of his audience could see and hear him.
Like his namesake, the ground beneath David Cameron rose too, but it was a steaming mound of dung.

Most people don't care about the constitution, what powers the Assembly has or the intricacies of how devolution works. They're more concerned about public services, and what the decisions made by politicians mean for themselves and their families.

Some of us realise the constitution determines what decisions politicians are able to make in the first place – all of which has a direct impact on the public.

As you probably all know, the Silk Commission published two reports between 2012-2014 as part of "the next step in Wales' devolution journey" etc.

The first report (Silk I) covered taxation powers for the National Assembly. Those powers are now on the statute book in the Wales Act 2014, meaning from 2018 the Assembly will have the power to set landfill tax, stamp duty and the aggregates levy. It also means the Assembly can call a referendum on whether they should have the power to vary income tax - which the First Minister is already attempting to scotch. This is despite the inclusion of a new funding review, which Carwyn Jones said would be required for his government to back a referendum.


Holding a referendum on such a technical subject is, as Borthlas said today, "one of the silliest ideas ever to be proposed by a government" and very easy to lose.

As I've said before (Marching out of lockstep) a referendum on a general principle of fiscal powers - i.e. "Should the National Assembly have the power to fund devolved services by borrowing money and collecting taxes devolved to Wales?" - would be a juicer topic for the public to have a debate on and would definitely necessitate going to the polls to get a mandate from the electorate.

The second report (Silk II) covered extra powers, which was taken forward by the Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb MP (Con, Preseli Pembs.), who set a deadline of 1st March – St David's Day – for a cross-party, cross-government consensus on Silk II's recommendations. You can read the full report, which was published last Friday to great fanfare, here (pdf).

Whisper it quietly, but I've been impressed with how Stephen Crabb has gone about his job. He's done more for Wales in 8/9 months than his predecessors have in the best part of a decade. I don't blame him personally for this brown whale, rising from the depths of the bowl to mock Ahab.

This may well be another "step forward on Wales' devolution journey", but it's also one last blast of Westminster's brand of constitutional Poodigree Chum out of the tradesman's entrance before the election.

What's been agreed?

  • A reserved powers model, which should clear up what the Assembly's powers are by listing what the Assembly can't do. Except it won't clear anything up because of the piecemeal nature of Welsh devolution. Reserved powers would be like putting the current Schedule 7 in a mirror (if you see what I mean).
  • Inter-governmental relations – Puts relations between the two governments on a more equal footing, with better co-ordination of policies in areas like training, economic development, cross-border rail routes and franchises as well as cross-border health services.
  • Ports policy and development.
  • Speed limits.
  • Bus and taxi regulation, along with Traffic Commissioner functions.
  • Places a duty on the UK Government to consult with the Welsh Government, and take into account Welsh energy policy, when approving energy projects of up to 350MW. This effectively means the Welsh Government will have a veto on "fracking".
  • Sewerage and some aspects of water (with further negotiation).
  • Marine licensing.
  • At least one appointee to the Supreme Court should have an understanding of Wales.
  • Local government elections.
  • The Assembly itself – The Welsh Secretary will no longer have to appear before the Assembly, or have a right to participate in Assembly proceedings. The Assembly will also gain control over the age to vote in Assembly elections, the size of the Assembly and its name/branding. The National Assembly will also be recognised as "permanent".
  • The First Minister should have the power to recommend appointments to Lord Lieutenancies (more on this from me later this month).

What's been taken off the table?

Some significant stuff – arguably the only significant powers outlined in Silk II.

  • Youth justice and probation services.
  • Policing (all aspects).
  • There'll no longer be a review of devolution of the criminal justice system (courts, prisons, criminal law) in the 2020s.
  • Drink-driving limits – this has already been devolved to Scotland.
  • Network Rail funding – Scotland currently receives a population-based proportion of Network Rail's UK-wide funding (around 9%). In 2013, just 1% of Network Rail's budget was spent in Wales compared to a population share of ~5%. This means Wales will continue to, in nominal terms, "subsidise" English rail projects, resulting in significantly less than our "fair share" to invest here.
  • The Crown Estate – It currently generates a £9.4million surplus in Wales, and is devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • State funding for S4C and appointment of S4C board members.
  • Any and all aspects of social security - aspects of which will be devolved to Scotland.
  • Responsibilities in relation to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
  • Teachers' pay and conditions.
  • The civil service.

What does this mean?

Thanks to the efforts of Nick Clegg and the "true party of Wales", the
National Assembly is set to have power over shit. Literally.

Not only are the UK Government hamstringing devolution, but there are people in and around the Assembly doing so as well.

The reason criminal justice powers have been taken off the table – the devolution of which would've finally put Wales on a near equal footing with Scotland – is because the Welsh Conservatives oppose it and must've vetoed it.

Welsh Labour probably did too, but they support devolution of policing at least (What's all this then?) – though Ed Miliband doesn't even want to go that far, promising some bizarre role in report-writing. It doesn't help that Owen Smith is arguably the most devo-sceptic Welsh Secretary-elect since 1999. He has to justify his position somehow.

The UK Government have also, quite literally, devolved shit to Wales. So we need to be grateful for the existence of Nick Clegg. Without Nick, Wales wouldn't have powers over faecal poltergeists and used tampons – but, at the same time, we're not good enough to run policing. Lib Dems should put that on their election leaflets.

I'm sure quite a few AMs from all parties will be underwhelmed by the St David's Day agreement, but this is a mess partly of their own making, as they put far too much faith in the "proper process" to the point of being gullible. In short, the UK never has been, and never will be, a union of equals; while constitutional reforms are pushed through in reaction to immediate threats to the status quo, not political consensus and grand commissions.

The UK is a very dysfunctional "family" indeed.The Scots have proven that if you want something you need to rattle your sabres. In political terms that means electing nationalists but, unfortunately, even then Wales would have very few sabres to rattle.

I'm not going to use the same old tired clich
és about Wales "being slapped in the face" or "insulted" or "offered third-rate devolution" because this is exactly the outcome I was expecting :

The question there is if Scotland votes no in September, and as a result acquires further devolved powers or devo-max, Wales will be left behind yet again when - based on this report - Wales is tantalisingly close to achieving parity with Scotland (if criminal justice powers were devolved in future).
- See more at: http://www.oggybloggyogwr.com/2014/03/silk-ii-wrath-of-paul.html#sthash.TZafNehB.dpuf
The question there is if Scotland votes no in September, and as a result acquires further devolved powers or devo-max, Wales will be left behind yet again when - based on this report - Wales is tantalisingly close to achieving parity with Scotland (if criminal justice powers were devolved in future).
- See more at: http://www.oggybloggyogwr.com/2014/03/silk-ii-wrath-of-paul.html#sthash.TZafNehB.dpuf
The question there is if Scotland votes no in September, and as a result acquires further devolved powers or devo-max, Wales will be left behind yet again when - based on this report - Wales is tantalisingly close to achieving parity with Scotland (if criminal justice powers were devolved in future).
- See more at: http://www.oggybloggyogwr.com/2014/03/silk-ii-wrath-of-paul.html#sthash.TZafNehB.dpuf
04/03/2014 : "....if Scotland votes no in September, and as a result acquires further devolved powers or devo-max, Wales will be left behind yet again when - based on this report - Wales is tantalisingly close to achieving parity with Scotland (if criminal justice powers were devolved in future)."

The question there is if Scotland votes no in September, and as a result acquires further devolved powers or devo-max, Wales will be left behind yet again when - based on this report - Wales is tantalisingly close to achieving parity with Scotland (if criminal justice powers were devolved in future).
- See more at: http://www.oggybloggyogwr.com/2014/03/silk-ii-wrath-of-paul.html#sthash.TZafNehB.dpuf
he question there is if Scotland votes no in September, and as a result acquires further devolved powers or devo-max, Wales will be left behind yet again when - based on this report - Wales is tantalisingly close to achieving parity with Scotland (if criminal justice powers were devolved in future).
- See more at: http://www.oggybloggyogwr.com/2014/03/silk-ii-wrath-of-paul.html#sthash.TZafNehB.dpuf
There have been several opportunities down the years to put the devolved powers issue to bed once and for all and ensure Wales has a settlement that would last more than a decade. People like me can then shut up about independence and further powers, and AMs can concentrate on running the country, safe in the knowledge that they would be on a clearer footing within the UK's constitution.

Nope, not going to happen. Again.

A cross-party commission's reasonable and proportionate recommendations have been watered down. Again.

Scotland is moving leaps and bounds ahead of Wales. Again.

Powers which, by rights, should be devolved (like abortion limits, medicine licensing, drink-drive limits, and Network Rail funding....because subjects like health and transport are devolved) have been taken off the table. Again.

The only person who has a right to be chuffed with this is the Llywydd, Rosemary Butler (Lab, Newport West). Her recommendations (Assembly Commission steps up to the oche) are included almost word for word.

So don't worry. The National Assembly might, in future be called Welsh Parliament because "National Assembly" isn't a good enough name for Wales....but it is for France, Greece, South Korea, Hungary, Pakistan and South Africa.

Oh, and all those 16 year olds chomping at the bit to vote may be able to (The X-Factor). Great stuff. Meanwhile, the "Assemblement" will be able to block "fracking" but won't be able to control any energy project that produces more power than a BMX dynamo. The UK Government will retain ultimate control.

I look forward to the recommendations of the Baroness Kirsty Williams Commission on Devolution for Wales in 2024, which will outline a lasting settlement and put the issue of constitutional reform to bed for....

Sunday, 1 March 2015

A New Look



Dydd
Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

Saturday, 28 February 2015

WAG/Election Watch - February 2015


  • Figures revealed to BBC Wales showed the Control of Horses Act 2014 – passed by the National Assembly as emergency legislation – has only been used by 11 of Wales' 22 local authorities to deal with stray horses. Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W & S. Pembs.) said the law needed proper funding and should be enforced by councils as a statutory responsibility.
  • The Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, Daniel Kawczynzki, called for an investigation into the impact of ambulance service delays on cross-border care, after patients were waiting for several hours outside Wrexham Maelor Hospital, which serves northern Shropshire.
  • The National Assembly's Environment Committee said the Planning Bill needed to be “more democratic” in their Stage 1 report, after concerns were raised by legal experts that some of the Bill's clauses will reduce the ability of local communities to argue against developments that could impact their lives.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Detention for Donaldson?

Is the Donaldson Review a "radical" transformation of the school curriculum?
Or just a moderate number of tweaks to the existing system?
Let's see.
(Pic : Wales Online)
Yesterday, Professor Graham Donaldson reported back on his long-awaited review of the Welsh National Curriculum. It's the most extensive review of its kind since the National Curriculum was established in 1988.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

New Law to Reform Social Care

In the wake of several scandals relating to treatment of people in care, the Regulation
and Inspection of Social Care Bill aims to tighten up professional regulation.
(Pic : nursingcarehomesincornwall.co.uk)

Yesterday, Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), introduced the second major piece of legislation reforming social services this Assembly term.

The Regulation and Inspection of Social Care Bill (Bill [pdf], explanatory memorandum [pdf]) outlines a number of reforms to how social care services are regulated and inspected....funnily enough. More info from the National Assembly's In Brief blog.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Ratings, Redevelopments & Rebellions

Bridgend Council Rated
Although the recent school bandings made overall good reading for Bridgend Council,
there are high levels of dissatisfaction with local services on the whole.
(Pic : Jaggery via BBC Wales)

Last week, the Welsh Government released the latest annual report (pdf) on the performance of Wales' 22 local authorities. Caebrwyn has covered where Carmarthenshire stands, while Plaid Wrecsam has highlighted areas where Wrexham Council are under-performing.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Vice Nation : Alcohol III - Booze & Independence

At its core, any Welsh alcohol policy needs to change how we drink.
(Pic : lexleader.net)
The Challenges

Alcohol policy – unless it's directly to do with public health – is currently non-devolved. Alcohol licensing is explicitly non-devolved in Schedule 7 (12) of the Government of Wales Act 2006, while alcohol taxation is also set to be retained by Westminster post-Silk. Scotland has a wider range of powers.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Vice Nation : Alcohol II - Costs & Benefits

Alcohol plays a key part of the hospitality industry, while Wales
has more than 150 brewers and distillers.
(Pic : SA Brain)

The Alcohol Industry


Alcohol remains an important part of the hospitality and manufacturing sectors. The most obvious example would be Brains, based in Cardiff – one of Wales' largest companies with a turnover of £122million in 2014. Brains, of course, isn't only a brewery but a wider hospitality company running pubs, hotels and coffee chain Coffee #1.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Vice Nation : Alcohol I - Our Drinking Culture

Does Wales have a drinking problem?
What could a Welsh alcohol policy look like?
(Pic : The Mirror)
This is the first in a series of posts – spread out like Life, Ethics & Independence (all linked here) – which looks at the....sinful....aspects of everyday life, and how that plays into Welsh independence.

I've already covered narcotics (I, II, III, IV, V, VI), and in later instalments I intend to look at things like tobacco & e-cigarettes, the sex industry (including sexual crimes and sex education), guns, fireworks, tattoos and gambling.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

National Assembly Bites the Ballot

The UK electoral system was aptly described as "steampunk" in the National Assembly
earlier this week. Could bringing it into the 21st century re-engage young people?
(Pic : laweekly.com)

Earlier this week there was another interesting Individual Members' Debate, this time on voter registration and election turnouts.

That's all the more important, as the switch from household to individual voter registration has caused serious problems in the run up to May's House of Commons election; particularly amongst students who were usually registered by their universities when moving to a hall of residence.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Major Changes to Renting Revealed

The Renting Homes Bill aims to reform and simplify the social and
private rental market in Wales, but it's not without controversy.
(Pic : Getty Images via BBC Wales)
Earlier this week, the Renting Homes Bill was introduced to the National Assembly by Communities & Tackling Poverty Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham).

The Bill follows a 2013 white paper (Renting Homes White Paper). The paper outlined changes after serious reservations were raised by the Law Commission and housing organisations, who said the current rental market is confusing. Meanwhile, many owner-occupiers were dissatisfied with renting.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Supreme Court overrules Welsh law

The UK Supreme Court has struck down a backbench Welsh law,
ruling that it fell outside the powers of the National Assembly.
(Pic : The Guardian)

I'm afraid this one's for the anoraks (also touched on by National Left).

In 2012, Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) introduced a Member's Bill called the Recovery of Medical Costs of Asbestos Diseases Bill (aka. Asbestos Disease Bill - more here). Its key proposal was for insurers
, on behalf of employers, to reimburse the Welsh NHS (via the Welsh Government) the cost of treating work-related asbestos diseases. This is potentially worth between £1-3million.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Bridgend Budget 2015-16

Bridgend Council's proposed budget for 2015-16 is to be discussed by BCBC's
cabinet tomorrow, with more than £11million outlined in cuts and savings.
(Pic : Wales Online)

It's budget season in Welsh local government. That means it's time for my annual look at what Bridgend Council (BCBC) propose in terms of cuts and capital spending both next year and for the medium-term.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Bridgend to celebrate historic merger

John John W. J. J. John William Wanklyn John
- inventor of cheese and chips, harvester of countless souls.

Bridgend Council have given the go ahead to a celebration to mark the monumental merger between cheese and chips.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Rhiw Redevelopment Plans Unveiled

After more than a year of on-off speculation, a planning application has been
submitted for a major redevelopment of the Rhiw car park.
(Pic : Holder Mathias Architects via Bridgend Council)

We've known for a while that some sort of development would take place at The Rhiw, and it was subject to a bid from Bridgend Council (BCBC) for Welsh Government Vibrant and Viable Places funding (Vibrant & Viable Bridgend?). BCBC were eventually awarded around £6million, which is significantly less than they wanted.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Local Reform for Local People

Welsh Local Government; a world of secret legalese code, unopposed
elections and jobs for life - though perhaps not for much longer.
(Pic : via Tumblr)

UPDATE : 06/02/15 - There's another take on this from someone who's had more than her fair share of run-ins with the dark side of Welsh local government - including some important points in the white paper I missed (shock, horror!) - and that's Carmarthenshire Planning.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Bridgend school "traffic lights" & Councillor leaves Labour

The first colour-coded school categorisations were released last
week, and it makes relatively good reading for Bridgend.
(Pic : South Wales Evening Post)
Last week, the Welsh Government unveiled the first school rankings using a new "traffic light" system, which replaces the old system of school bandings.