Independence Index

Your in-depth guide to Welsh independence.

Assembly

The latest news, debates and reports from the Senedd. (Fourth Assembly stories are under 'Archive').

Bridgend

The major local political stories and developments from Bridgend county.

Laws

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

Committee Inquiries

Detailed scrutiny of how Wales is being run. (Fourth Assembly inquiries are under 'Archive').

Vice Nation: Sex

How could an independent Wales deal with issues surrounding sex?

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Bridgend 2017: Wards to Watch


With one week to go until polling day my coverage of the local elections is drawing to a close.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Bridgend 2017: Town & Community Councils

(Pic : Brackla Community Council)


In addition to the county council, Bridgend will also be re-electing our twenty town and community councils (their role is explained at the end of this post).

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Bridgend 2017: Key Issues - Llynfi, Garw & Ogmore

(Pic : Bridgend Council)

My final look at the some of local elections issues in Bridgend county goes north of the M4 to take in the Llynfi, Garw and Ogmore valleys. My look at Bridgend and Pencoed is here, and my look at Porthcawl area here.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Bridgend 2017: Key Issues - Porthcawl & Pyle

(Pic : Wales Online)

Following on from my look at county-wide issues and those in the Bridgend and Pencoed area, I move west to consider Porthcawl and the Pyle, Kenfig Hill and Cornelly areas.

Another reminder of who's standing where.

1. Porthcawl Regeneration

Relevant Wards: Newton, Nottage, Porthcawl East Central, Porthcawl West Central, Rest Bay


Firstly, the good news. Progress has been made on Porthcawl harbour, the Jennings Building and water sports facilities. The "sludge pile" is gone, Natural Resources Wales are looking at strengthening coastal flood protection and there are improvements to walking and cycling routes across the seafront in the pipeline (if not already delivered).

But when it comes to the bad news....it's bad. I don't want to repeat what I've said previously but, to date, the prime regeneration sites of Salt Lake and Coney Beach have seen very little activity and that's putting it politely. Yes, you can argue that supermarkets pulling out can't be helped, but clearly either the terms of the agreement between BCBC and the landowners are too prohibitive, or there's simply no way the areas are going to be regenerated as planned.

One of the big questions facing the incoming administration will be: "Should we restart the regeneration plans?"

If they stick with the current plans, it'll need patience and hope that a new development partner can come in. If they decide to change, any new master plan would have to balance the need for new housing with economic opportunities and the views of residents – in the case of the latter, long-standing calls for a swimming pool in the town which have been ignored.

The other big question is how will Porthcawl be connected to the South Wales Metro? I'm going to assume it'll be by some sort of fast bus service, though if money were no object it could be rail.

2. Events & Tourism Development

Relevant Wards: Newton, Nottage, Porthcawl East Central, Porthcawl West Central, Rest Bay


The Porthcawl area is the prime tourist destination in Bridgend county and, naturally, for economic reasons it needs to be made the most of.

BCBC and others are looking to make big investments in watersports facilities, and that's to be expected as Porthcawl has some of the best surfing beaches in south Wales. However, BCBC seeking to cut funding to beach lifeguard services (which have now been taken over by the RNLI) will inevitable raise safety concerns and perhaps harm development of water sports tourism.

Coney Beach funfair is still a big draw in the summer, if a little dated, and its place in regeneration plans is still uncertain (as mentioned earlier). Other than that Porthcawl is perhaps most famous for its Elvis Festival, held in September, which attracts people from around the world. It receives some support from BCBC, but it's a question of how long that will be maintained and whether Porthcawl has the accommodation necessary to allow events to expand.

The obvious thing would be to bring/continue to bring major golf championships to the Royal Porthcawl (which has already hosted the Senior Open and will again in July). If ambitions were set higher – hosting a Ryder Cup or Solheim Cup, for example - it would require serious investment and planning beforehand.

3. Regeneration of the Marlas Estate
(Pic : via Google Earth)


Relevant Wards: Cornelly

Orginally built to house the families of at the Port Talbot steelworks, North Cornelly's Marlas Estate has become a pocket of deprivation and usually ranks alongside the likes of Wildmill, Caerau Park etc. in national statistics.

Similarly to Wildmill, Valleys2Coast had a grand plan to revamp the estate including upgrades to green spaces and gardens, the creation of mixed-ownership housing and a new community hub (pdf). Presumably cuts and a lack of funding have put paid to that.

A bit of good news is that the area has a very effective youth group (KPC Youth), who've managed to reopen the Youthworks centre on the Marlas estate after its parent company, Groundworks, went into administration in 2014. These types of projects – not only in North Cornelly, but others – may be at risk due to a loss of EU funding post-Brexit and the scrapping of Communities First by the Welsh Government.

4. Future of Mynydd Cynffig Primary


Relevant Wards: Pyle

Plans were originally in place to move Mynydd Cynffig Primary in Kenfig Hill to a new build on the Cynffig Comprehensive campus, but in a dramatic turn of events, BCBC performed a u-turn and scrapped the plans just a few weeks ago due to runaway costs.

This poses a number of questions: Will the current split-site arrangement continue? Will BCBC look to building a new school at a more suitable site elsewhere? What does this mean for the council's capital spending plans if there are question marks over the school's future? Will BCBC do anything at all?

It's estimated the planning process had cost something between £250,000 to £300,000 without anything to show for it. You can argue that BCBC wouldn't have spent so much money if they didn't think the school move was worth it, but you can also say that this was lax use of taxpayers money if they had listened to concerns about road safety in the first place.

5. Future of Opencasting & Quarrying
(Pic : freeindex.co.uk)

Relevant Wards: Bryntirion Laleston & Merthyr Mawr, Cefn Cribwr, Cornelly, Pyle

For all the fuss about the failure to restore the Margam/Parc Slip opencast site – which is supposedly underway now - very little's been said about restoring the number of quarries in the area, particularly at South Cornelly and Stormy Down.

The quarries are perhaps more economically viable than opencast coal mines as the materials are essential for construction, with the Bridgend/Vale of Glamorgan area having large deposits of limestone.

OK, they aren't near any major built up areas, but they're potentially incredibly dangerous places.

For example, there's an abandoned quarry just south of Cefn Cribwr near the railway. A few videos have appeared on Youtube over the last few weeks of "urban explorers" going there, including children. Judging by the state of  the buildings, abandoned machinery and what's likely to be a deep and very unpleasant "lake" it's only a matter of time before someone gets injured.

If someone can dig this stuff up, then surely someone can fill the holes back in again. If they're unable to, then should they be allowed to quarry and mine in the first place?

BCBC has its own minerals planning policy which protects land that could be used for limestone quarrying, but ultimately it'll be for the Welsh and UK governments to take the lead in terms of the law and regulations (i.e. minimum distance from homes, restoration funding).

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Bridgend 2017: Key Issues - Bridgend & Pencoed

(Pic : Mirror)

Having looked at county-wide issues previously, it's time to look at some of the more localised issues, starting with the Bridgend town and Pencoed areas.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Bridgend 2017: Key Issues Countywide

Are these big green lorries about to deliver a big steaming pile of s**t for Labour?
(Pic : Local Government Chronicle)

The next few posts will go over the key issues in Bridgend's local election. This isn't an unlimited list and I'm sure all of you have your own concerns you would want to raise with candidates yourselves. Today, I start by asking what key issues will affect everyone in Bridgend county regardless of where they live?

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Bridgend 2017: Who's standing where?

(Click to enlarge)

There are 39 wards in Bridgend and for the first time they're all being contested, meaning nobody will be elected unopposed.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Bridgend 2017: How have Bridgend Council performed?


As you probably all know by now, on June 8th we'll have a snap UK General Election....if/when the House of Commons votes for one tomorrow. I won't come back to it until after the local elections are well out of the way.

In the meantime, on May 4th electors across Wales will go to the polls to elect new councils. After five years in charge, here's my verdict on how Labour have performed in Bridgend.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Locals 2017: Party Expectations

(Pic : Wales Online)

What should the parties (and Independents) realistically expect in May?

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Reckless Abandon?



The last day of term in the Senedd always seems to throw up curve balls, and just before AMs broke for Easter recess came the news – after a day of rumours and counter-rumours – that Mark Reckless had left UKIP to join the Conservative group.

Monday, 10 April 2017

A Welcoming Wales?: Realities of Refugees Lives

(Pic : Wales Online)

Europe is currently going through its worst migration crisis since the end of the Second World War, and Wales is doing its part to shelter those fleeing the Syria in particular.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Locals 2017: Councils to Watch


Before I turn to what individual parties should expect in the local elections in May, it's worth looking at councils  likely to provide hotly-contested polls (in alphabetical order).

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Automation: Resistance is Futile?


Continuing the running theme of the backbench members debates this term - the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" - AMs turned to automation, something that was once science fiction but fast becoming science fact.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

FMQs: Sport Wales, Gibraltar & Banks



This afternoon saw the final FMQs before an extended Easter recess, which will no doubt be taken up by local election campaigning.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Locals 2017: The State of Play

The smiles didn't last very long in Cardiff, did they?
It's unquestionable that Labour had an excellent result in 2012.
How have things gone since then?
(Pic : BBC Wales)


Before delving into the prospects for the parties and key contests etc. it's worth looking at the current state of local government in Wales and what conclusions we can draw.

See also:


The Present Map of Local Government



If you were to look objectively at the map you could draw a few conclusions:

Labour dominate (but don't have it all their own way) – Labour dominate the south, do sod all in the bit between the A465 and A55, then have a scattering of influence across the northern coast. Even their most optimistic expectations were exceeded in 2012, but most of their growth came in places where the party were already strong: the south Wales valleys and north east.

To hold on to their southern heartlands with such an iron grip is impressive, predictable and depressing in equal measure – aided no doubt by the electoral system. But the fact that a party with such political dominance can't make headway in places like Powys, Pembrokeshire and Gwynedd does suggest the "Three Wales Model" is a psychological barrier to a truly national polity, hurting Labour as much as the other parties and Welsh politics as a whole.

Independents: The "Second Party" of Local Government
– I'm not sure how things are elsewhere in the UK, but Independent candidates are a popular choice at local elections, to the extent they control three authorities and are part of ruling coalitions in a further seven. Some counties – like Pembrokeshire, Anglesey and Powys – have a long-standing tradition of voting for Independents, while others – like Wrexham and Vale of Glamorgan – end up with large independent blocks due to a failure of party politics at a local level leading either to defections or "hyper-local" parties and groups forming (like the Llantwit Major Independents and Porthcawl First).

It seems to be a mainly rural phenomenon, and it wouldn't surprise me if there's a correlation between low population densities and voting for Independents. As for why Independents do better in local elections than national ones: perhaps smaller wards distant from centres of power lend themselves to voters backing "truly local candidates"; maybe there's a belief amongst many people that party politics should stay out of local government; there's a failure of party politics on the ground (lack of canvassing/intelligence gathering, lack of candidates, poor performance by dominant parties).

Plaid Cymru still struggle outside Y Fro Gymraeg – Try as they might Plaid still can't shake off the "Party for Welsh-speakers" tag. Whenever they come close to doing so, there'll be some incident to drag them firmly back into that box – the Llangennech school row being 2017's. It'll go down well in Ceredigion, Angelsey and Gwynedd, will probably win them control of Carmarthenshire and shore up the vote in Pontcanna. Will it win them any votes in Rhondda or Merthyr or Blaenau Gwent? Places they need to take from Labour? Of course not.

It always seems Plaid are too keen to reinforce the vote they've already got instead of trying to break new ground and that looks like it's going to be the strategy again this year. The electoral system doesn't help them in the south, but they should be trying to put up as many candidates as possible to give people a choice and say "We are here". It could even be a condition of membership that members put themselves forward for, at the very least, town and community council seats.

Like him or loathe him, this is what Plaid need to learn from Neil McEvoy in spirit if not in practice: campaign on local issues not trendy "grand causes", don't bang on about institutions nobody outside the Welsh-speaking middle class care about (i.e. S4C, Welsh language standards), don't be afraid to call Labour out (but do it smartly). The only thing Neil isn't doing is tying things – no matter how minor - to the national cause. Many of the powers to deal effectively with drug-related litter, for example, are likely to only come via independence.

Very little influence for the Conservatives and Lib Dems – The last local elections took place during the middle of the previous Coalition Westminster government and amidst the Lib Dem's infamous u-turn on tuition fee caps. Both parties were going to get punished, but the Lib Dems came off worse, losing control (or joint control) of Swansea, Cardiff and Wrexham. That left them forming an unlikely ruling coalition with the Tories in Monmouthshire, where the Conservatives performed particularly poorly themselves – Tories losing Monmouthshire is like Labour losing control of Neath Port Talbot.

You could even say both parties, despite having a reasonable number of councillors between them, are a near irrelevance in local politics. Again, victims of the electoral system to an extent.

Will that change? That's for another post. What's becoming clear though is that this election will either seal the fate of the Lib Dems as a "dead on their feet party" in Wales, or start their revival. As I said after last year's Assembly election, as long as they pick their targets carefully they'll make progress – but the dream of them taking large numbers of seats in the likes of Bridgend, Ceredigion, RCT etc. are long over.

How have things changed since 2012?

I'm going to go into a more detailed look at the expectations each of the parties will have another time, but it's still worth looking at how things are at the moment and how they've changed over the last five years.

I should point out I've used total votes cast to calculate the vote share – that means counting every vote in every ward under the multiple member system (i.e. if Plaid put up three candidates in a ward, I count the combined vote received for all three). Personally, I think it's more accurate.


Click to enlarge


I put the above together at the end of February and it's already out of date. For example, Cllr. Ralph Cook – then a Green/Independent on Cardiff Council – has defected to the Lib Dems.

At a more local level, another Labour "purge" in Neath Port Talbot has increased the number of sitting Independents from 5 to 13, while the recent untimely death of long-standing Brackla Labour councillor, David Sage, has left a (technical) vacancy in Bridgend.

Labour have net-lost around 30 council seats since 2012 (2013 once Anglesey is included) – mainly through defections and suspensions than by-election defeats. They've also lost positions in ruling coalitions in two local authorities – Carmarthenshire and Wrexham. As Labour were way out in front in 2012, losing some ground isn't surprising and not bad news in itself. The real question is whether their current dire polling, or the creation of large number of spurned Independents through internal "purges" will "cause the dam to break".

Independents have made gains since 2012/2013 – some 47 councillors and also seizing overall control of Wrexham. Most of those gains will have come through defections and suspensions, though I don't remember any significant by-election victories for Independents.

Plaid Cymru have made modest progress – a net gain of 6 councillors since 2013, in addition to taking overall control of Gwynedd and forming a ruling coalition in Carmarthenshire. More positives than negatives, but they perhaps haven't made the progress they would've liked in the Cardiff by-elections.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are pretty much exactly where they were in 2012. Nothing more to add, really. That does, however, also mean they've managed to keep their respective numbers despite everything that's been thrown at the Lib Dems in particular - which is probably a good sign for them all things considered as it displays loyalty.

UKIP and the Greens aren't really doing much either. Technically UKIP has no councillors (they won seats in the Vale of Glamorgan and Merthyr Tydfil but have since lost them, their only councillor in Ceredigion sits as an Independent) and the Greens only one. The only other major talking point is the disintegration of Llais Gwynedd, having lost 6 councillors since 2012, including one of their leading figures in Louise Hughes.

Top-Down Pressures on Local Government

(Pic : Wales Online)

Finances – The Welsh Government decide the combined budget for local authorities, and the budget for the Welsh Government is in turn decided by the UK Parliament. If Westminster cuts the budget to Wales then inevitably Cardiff will pass those on to county halls (though they have a choice whether to do so or not). Once inflation is taken into account all Welsh local authorities have seen their budgets cut every year for the last five years – amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds – and despite the relatively "good" settlement for 2017-18, the cuts are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Social Services & Social Care – Due to a population that's living longer but not necessarily living healthier, there are a number of pressures facing social services departments across the UK, but particularly in Wales where the population is older and sicker than the UK average. A new law was passed by the National Assembly in 2014 which intends to provide more personally appropriate assessments of a person's social care needs and greater protection for vulnerable children and adults. Trying to fully implement those measures rests of the shoulders of local councils, amidst growing budget pressures and long-standing issues over the cost of full-time residential care.

Schools – During the Fourth Assembly it was Labour policy to protect school budgets at 1% above any change to the Welsh block grant. That policy has since been abandoned and it means that at a local level, schools budget are now "fair game". That doesn't mean councils will automatically cut there, but with the budgets having been largely protected for the last five years, some councils – Bridgend included – will make cuts. In the long run that could mean teaching redundancies, bigger class sizes and more pressure to do more with less when it comes to the curriculum.

Regional Working & Pursuit of Reforms – One moment it looked like we would see the number of local authorities cut, but in a typical Welsh Government fudge, that's been replaced with a new policy of closer regional working. It's already done with schools (Regional Educational Consortia) and some aspects of health, but it could also be coming in for other areas. Will this cause confusion? Is it just delaying the inevitable (mergers)? Will some councils – like Conwy and Denbighshire – press ahead with mergers by themselves?

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Porthcawl Regeneration Takes Great Leap Forward



Ending the best part of a decade of uncertainty, a long-derelict site in Porthcawl is to host a spectacular centrepiece of Bridgend Council's regeneration plans for the town.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Senedd Watch - March 2017


  • A leaked document revealed that unless Ford's Bridgend engine plant attracted future work, as many as 1,100 jobs could be lost by 2021. Unions described it as a “kick in the teeth”, while the Welsh Government said they would do “anything they could” to bring new work to the plant.
  • The UK House of Commons Public Accounts Committee criticised progress on rail electrification, including London-Cardiff. There were concerns there wouldn't be enough funding for valley lines electrification due to “serious management failings” on current projects. The Welsh Government pressed for rail infrastructure to be devolved.
  • In her speech to her party's spring conference in Newport, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) outlined aims to re-balance the Welsh economy for communities outside Cardiff, and prioritised access to the EU single market. The party also proposed raising income tax by 1p to pay for public services.
    • On March 3rd, the Adjudication Panel for Wales upheld a complaint against Neil McEvoy AM (Plaid, South Wales Central) that he “bullied” an officer in his capacity as a Cardiff city councillor whilst representing a tenant facing eviction. He was subsequently suspended as a councillor for one month for breaching the councillor's code of conduct.
    • On March 7th, Neil McEvoy was temporarily suspended from the Plaid Cymru Assembly group and had his portfolio responsibilities of sport and tourism withdrawn. He later apologised to the officer involved and was re-admitted to the group on March 21st.
  • Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), announced that GPs will receive an extra £27million in the coming financial year as part of a new contract. In exchange, GPs will be expected to provide additional services in residential care, diabetes and for patients using blood-thinning medicines.
  • Alice Hooker-Stroud resigned as leader of the Green Party in Wales on March 6th. She said due to a lack of funding the voluntary role had become “untenable”. She called for political party funding reforms to aid smaller parties. Grenville Ham assumed the role at the end of March.
  • The UK Chancellor's budget on March 8th included an extra £200million for Wales over four years following a boost to spending on English social care. It was also said “good progress” was being made on a £1.3billion Swansea city deal, while national insurance for the self-employed would have increased by 2% over the next two years.
    • On March 15th, the UK Chancellor announced a “u-turn” on increasing self-employed national insurance contributions – ruling it out for the remainder of the UK Parliament term - following pressure from Conservative backbenchers and the public.
    • The Prime Minister and First Minister signed off the £1.3billion “city deal” for the Swansea Bay area on March 20th. It's estimated the programme could create 9,000 jobs through hubs for the data industry, health diagnostics and steel research.
    • Finance & Local Government Secretary, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), said the budget meant “austerity wasn't over” with no clarity provided on proposed £3.5billion cuts from the Welsh budget.
  • Opposition parties raised questions over £340,000 grants to Newsquest – publisher of the South Wales Argus – after the company announced it would close its Newport base in April 2017 and move production to Dorset. The National Union of Journalists said the company, owes an apology to the Welsh Government and to Welsh taxpayers."
  • Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), told her party's spring conference they were "achieving more than other parties put together" and have a "new found confidence" ahead of the local elections in May. She also said raising teaching standards was a "national mission".
  • First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, announced she would seek a second referendum on Scottish independence between autumn 2018 and spring 2019. She described it as, “A choice of whether to follow the UK to a hard Brexit, or to....secure....our own relationship with Europe." The UK Prime Minister said “now is not the time” for a referendum. The Scottish Parliament gave approval for a referendum on March 28th.
  • The Welsh Government introduced a Bill to suspend “Right to Buy” for social housing tenants across Wales. Tenants would have one year after any Act is passed to take up their right. The Welsh Conservatives opposed the move, saying Labour's failure to build more social housing has caused shortages.
  • An internal report leaked to BBC Wales revealed Sport Wales risked damaging its reputation by showing favouritism in its award of contracts, with some bidders said to be given an “undue advantage” in tendering processes. Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery) said the revelations harmed the organisation and the Welsh Government needed to consider the quango's future “very carefully”.
    • The chair and vice-chair of Sports Wales - Dr Paul Thomas and Adele Baumgardt - were sacked by the Welsh Government on March 29th. The Welsh Government have also refused to release a review which led to the internal problems.
  • UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, told the Welsh Conservative's spring forum in Cardiff that the UK should look forward “with optimism and hope”. Conservative leader in Wales, Andrew Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), warned that a vote for Plaid Cymru in May's local elections would “be a vote for....independence”.
  • Park home owners demanded the Welsh Government scrap the 10% commission charged by site owners for new park home purchases. The Mobile Homes Act 2013 retained the commissions over fears that scrapping them would lead to pitch fees rising to compensate.
  • Five people were killed - including a police officer and the assailant - and at least 50 injured in an Islamist terror attack near the Palace of Westminster on March 22nd. The Prime Minister condemned the attack as “sick and depraved”. Plenary sessions at the Scottish Parliament and Senedd were suspended the same afternoon as a mark of respect.
  • At his party's spring conference in Llandudno, the First Minister told delegates he wanted Wales to become a “fair work nation” where people can access better jobs closer to home. He also admitted it would be “tough” for Labour to avoid losses in the forthcoming local elections.
  • The Senedd's Environment Committee report on the future of Welsh agriculture called for full post-Brexit access to the EU single market for Welsh agricultural produce and the creation of a single payment scheme for farmers. Committee Chair, Mark Reckless AM (UKIP, South Wales East), said “In the longer term there is an opportunity to develop innovative, ambitious policies, made in Wales to make the sector more outcome-focused.”
  • The Welsh Government will refuse to bail out four health boards, who are due to report a combined £151million budget deficit for 2017-18. The Welsh Government called for a “significant improvement” in financial performance and that the NHS overall will run a balanced budget for 2016-17.
  • On March 29th, the Prime Minister notified the EU Commission of the UK's intention to leave the European Union under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The move triggers a two year negotiation process. The First Minister warned that, “If we believe our priorities are not being championed we will....not remain silent”.

Projects announced in March include: a partnership agreement between the Welsh Government and Heathrow Airport which includes landing slots for flights from Cardiff Airport and a rail spur; a £14million upgrade to Junction 28 of the M4 in Newport; the shortlisting of Port Talbot for a Category C “super prison”; £30million towards local transport projects and a £21million programme to help food and drink producers.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Locals 2017: What does your local council do?

(Pic : Action 4 Equality Scotland)

Owen: This is my 1,000th blog 🎈. I won't make a big song and dance of it as (for the moment) I'm unlikely to go beyond 1,020 blogs, but nonetheless it's a big milestone that I'm pleased to have hit. Thanks for your support blah, blah, blah.