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.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Most Influential Post-Devolution Politicians 20-11



Following yet another low point in the public image of the National Assembly - but buoyed by Prof. Laura McAllister's coincidental rallying cry for a new generation of leaders (read The Great Welsh Confidence Trick here) - it's time to be a bit more positive, even celebratory.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Moves to Tackle "Debilitating" Wanker Shortage

From selling homes and people to selling Bills.
Are high-powered wankers set to dominate Welsh politics?

The National Assembly's Remuneration Board have taken action to address Wales' crippling shortage of wankers.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Independence Minutiae : The Crown Estate

The monarchy nominally owns a large chunk of the UK's onshore and offshore assets, with
profits pumped into the Treasury. How would independence impact this arrangement?
(Pic : rolton.com)

What is the Crown Estate?

Created in 1961, the Crown Estate is a property portfolio run on behalf of the monarchy. The total value of the Crown Estate's assets in 2014 was £9.9billion, and it raised around £267million in profits which go directly to the UK Treasury.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Pirate Party : Hoisting the Jolly Roger above Wales

Bridgend's voters were faced with a unique choice on May 7th.
Maybe, in future, other Welsh voters will have the option too.
(Pic : via Facebook)

I doubt many people reading this will have heard of The Pirate Party.

"Pirate politics" – the umbrella term used for such parties – is often hard to place on the traditional political spectrum.
While the left-wing is mainly focused on inequalities and the right-wing on tradition, pirate politics is based around information : how freely you can access it, who it belongs to and how and why it should be used.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Bridge Over Troubled Water

While the Welsh Government and CBI have said the Newport M4 "Hart Bypass" will boost the economy,
does the Port of Newport - which supports 3,000 jobs - stand to be one of the economic losers?
(Pic : South Wales Argus)

After Friends of the Earth Cymru's recent unsuccessful bid to stall the Newport M4 bypass, you would've thought that would be that. However, projects of this scale will always generate their fair share of problems, and I suspect the hurdles this particular project has to clear (political and physical) are beginning to become more obvious.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Hard Graphed

We're all familiar with the staple Lib Dem electoral tactic of using distorted
graphs, but are some of our public bodies now starting to join in?
(Pic : via Wikipedia)


Yesterday, BBC Wales highlighted the findings of the latest Child Measurement Programme conducted by Public Health Wales (pdf). The programme weighs 4 and 5 year olds – around 31,000 – to determine levels of excess weight and obesity (see also : Fat of the Land : More work needed on childhood obesity).

The headline figures show that Anglesey now has the highest proportion of overweight or obese children (32.4%), closely followed by Merthyr Tydfil (32%) and Pembrokeshire (31%). Vale of Glamorgan (21%), Cardiff (22.6%) and Monmouthshire (23.3%) have the lowest percentages. On average, around 11.8% Welsh 4 and 5 year olds are obese, and there's a correlation between higher levels of obesity and deprivation. It also found there was little difference between rural and urban areas.

Putting these findings aside, BBC Wales have started to use infographics for Welsh political stories on their website to get key points across to readers - whether that's Assembly inquiry reports and reports like this. A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words.

One particular example is the graph on page 42 of the report (pdf), re-produced by the BBC, which compares obesity levels in the regions of England to both the Welsh and English average.
(Pic : Public Health Wales via BBC Wales)

Hmm.

Statistics can be presented in a deliberately misleading way to prove a point or to get the public's attention.
There's no contention that obesity rates are higher in Wales, but this is a dodgy graph the Lib Dems would be proud of.


As you can tell - even taking into account the fact the bars could be based on a decimal figure, not a whole number (which would explain it, but still means it's misleading) - the bars for Wales, London and North East England have been exaggerated to such an extent it appears obesity and excess weight levels are more deviant from the norm than they are. It's the only graph in the whole report that's been distorted like this.

Similarly, it implies the gap between Wales and England is bigger than it really is. The bar for Wales is actually, based on a scale fixed on the English average and South East England figures, positioned at 29-30%, not 26% (the real figure).

This is what a properly scaled graph should look like based on the whole number figures provided :


Suddenly, Wales isn't doing quite as poorly compared to England and its regions.

Childhood obesity is a major public health concern, and arguably as big a problem as smoking and antibiotic resistance. I don't blame health authorities, or the media, for putting a report under the nose of ministers, other politicians or the general public that spells that out in as stark terms as possible and, perhaps, stir people into action. Appealing to, and reinforcing, the Welsh inferiority complex is one way to do it.

I still would've expected better from Wales' leading centre for epidemiology though.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Pencoed Primary "Call-In" & Mr Urdd yn ddod i Benybont

The decision to close an "empty" moderate learning disability class at
Pencoed Primary school has been "called-in" by a Bridgend Council committee.
(Pic : Wales Online)

Committee "Calls In" Pencoed Special Needs Decision


Bridgend Council's (BCBC) cabinet recently proposed changes to special needs provision at Pencoed Primary School. A replacement school is due to be built in the next few years following a merger with Heol-y-Cyw Primary, but that's a separate development - more details from me when plans are submitted.

Pencoed Primary currently provides two classes for pupils with moderate learning disabilities with enough capacity for 30 pupils (15 pupils per class), taught by two teachers. BCBC propose to close one of the classes and reduce provision for just 15 pupils, taught by one teacher.

At the moment, Pencoed Primary only has 15 pupils eligible for the classes (taught by two teachers), so all the proposal essentially does is cut surplus spaces – BCBC have, in effect, been funding an "empty class". A 1:15 staff:pupil ratio is also the norm at other units in other schools in the county. It's estimated this would save £45,000 per year and would be implemented from September 2015.

Following concerns raised during the scrutiny process, the required three members of the Children & Young People Committee – Cllr. Cheryl Green (Lib Dem, Bryntirion Laleston & Merthyr Mawr), Cllr. Pamela Davies (Lab, Bryntiron Laleston & Merthyr Mawr) and Committee Chair, Cllr. Peter Foley (Ind, Morfa) – signed a notice (pdf) for the decision to be "called-in".

The reasons the councillors gave include :
  • Insufficient evidence on the effect on standards and no evidence provided on the effect it would have on children's needs.
  • No evaluation of the impact a class closure would have on affected pupils, or other schools.
  • An inadequate response to consultee questions - in particular the school inspectorate, Estyn.
BCBC's cabinet now have five working days to reconsider the decision.

Preparations Begin for Urdd Eisteddfod 2017
It's been confirmed that Bridgend County will host the 2017 Urdd Eisteddfod.
(Pic : Daily Post)
Eisteddfod Genedlaethol yr Urdd – an eisteddfod for 7-24 year olds organised by Urdd Gobaith Cymru – is to hosted by Bridgend county in May 2017 (pdf). As far as I can tell it'll be the first time it's been hosted in the area since the 1979 competition came to Maesteg.

As reported in the Glamorgan Gazette, the Pencoed campus of Bridgend College is currently the preferred venue, having previously hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1998. Realistically, it's one of the few places in the county that could host it as it serves as the county showgrounds and is close to main road and rail links.

The event is expected to host 15,000 competitors and attract up to 100,000 visitors over six days, potentially boosting the local economy by up to £6million.

In terms of the costs, around £300,000 of funding is needed and most of this will be raised through voluntary donations and presumably things like sponsorship. The report says that while there's no expectation that BCBC will have to pay anything towards the direct costs, there will be indirect public costs such as those relating to event planning, road closures/traffic planning, the Proclamation Ceremony and promotional material – the total cost of which is estimated to be around £25,000.

It's also expected that the Urdd Eisteddfod will provide and opportunity for local Welsh-medium pupils (about 10% of pupils in Bridgend) to showcase their skills, as well as generally promote Welsh-medium education in the county – meeting the aims of the Welsh-medium education plan (Bridgend : Babies, Buses, Bro Ogwr & Bikes).

Permit application for Merthyr Mawr fracking borehole
(Pic : Coastal Oil & Gas Ltd)
Natural Resources Wales are currently consulting on an application by Coastal Oil & Gas Ltd, based in Bridgend, for a permit to drill an exploratory "fracking" borehole on the outskirts of Merthyr Mawr – about 500 metres from Broadlands and just over a kilometre from the Merthyr Mawr sand dunes. The consultation closes on 27th May (details here).

Planning permission for the borehole was granted by BCBC in July 2013, and if it gets the nod, it's expected to employ 15 people for the duration of works.

Coastal Oil & Gas are a subsidiary of one of the main players in the south Wales fracking industry, and were recently granted permission for an exploratory borehole near Pontrhydyfen in Neath Port Talbot - though they've been denied permission for a similar borehole near Llandow in the Vale of Glamorgan. Coastal only own a 50% share of fracking licenses in south Wales, the rest of the shares are reportedly held by Australian company Eden Energy.

The non-technical summary (pdf) says the borehole will be 1,300 metres deep and will take 8-16 weeks to reach the required depth. After that, a 36 week period of gas testing will follow to determine if the site is suitable for fracking. An underground tank will be constructed to deal with any run-off and there'll be no emissions. According to the environmental risk assessment (pdf), the main hazards are noise and the accidental spillage of oil and other fluids.

Needless to say, although this isn't "in Merthyr Mawr village" as the Western Mail reported, nor will any actual fracking will take place (it'll require a separate licence), it's pretty damned close to the village itself, the southern side of Broadlands and the sand dunes – easily close enough to hear construction noises. It's expected the drill would operate 24 hours a day, though the noise assessment that came with the original planning application (pdf) suggests noise limits would be "acceptable" at between 30-40 decibels.

All of this is before questioning the need for fracking in the first place, of course.


Saturday, 16 May 2015

Devolution : Last Stand of the Human Rights Act?

(Pic : via Flickr)

One Conservative manifesto commitment prior to their election victory was the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 and its replacement with a "British Bill of Rights" - possibly including a subsequent full withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if certain demands aren't met. The task has been passed to new Justice Secretary, the shy and retiring Michael Gove.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Environment Bill introduced

Carrier bags, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity are amongst the areas
targeted by a wide-ranging Environment Bill, which was introduced this week.
Now that the election excitement is dying down, it's time to turn to more mundane matters.

Hot on the heels of the Heritage Bill, Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) introduced the latest Welsh law. Bill here (pdf), explanatory memorandum here (pdf).

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Westminster 2015 : The Post-Mortem

Why are we looking at five more Tory years when we could've had this?
(Pic : Wales Online)

In one final visit to the 2015 House of Commons election, it's worth looking in more detail at last Thursday's results in Wales - considering why it happened and what can be learned from it.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

An Online Audit of Bridgend's Community Councils

How are Bridgend's town and community councils complying with
new guidance on maintaining an online presence?
(Pic : BBC Wales)

On May 1st, new regulations and statutory guidance (pdf) came into force as a result of the Local Democracy Act 2013. It means town and community councils are obligated to publish things such as members' interests, meeting minutes and other assorted information on a "regularly updated" website.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Westminster 2015 : The Results

(Pic : Reuters via The Guardian)

First thing's first - I can rip my crap predictions up. Predicting is a mug's game as the polling companies are finding out to their cost. As has been said elsewhere, it's the most surprising result in a UK election since 1992, even 1945.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Westminster 2015 : Predictions

Um....

Tonight's the night, so it's time for the real fun to begin....

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

New law to protect Welsh heritage sites


(Pic : castlewales.com)

It seems like a while since the last one, but it's worth turning to the latest Bill which has been introduced to the National Assembly by Deputy Minister for Culture & Sport, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South).

Monday, 4 May 2015

Westminster 2015 : Ogmore In Focus

(Pic : maestegtowncentre.com)

Following yesterday's look at the Bridgend constituency, it's time to look at the second seat in Bridgend county - Ogmore.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Westminster 2015 : Bridgend In Focus

(Pic : bridgendtowncentre.com)

With the 2015 House of Commons election campaign drawing to a close (at last!), it's time to take a closer look at the two constituencies covering Bridgend county.

Friday, 1 May 2015

WAG/Election Watch - April 2015


  • Non-domestic rates (aka. business rates) were devolved to Wales on April 1st. Finance Minister, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan), said it providesthe opportunity to develop taxes that....reflect the needs, circumstances and priorities of the people of Wales."
  • The National Assembly's Health & Social Care Committee sent a letter to Deputy Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), recommending improvements in 8 areas of the ambulance service, including handover delays at A&E departments, community treatment and staff rosters. It follows a short inquiry into the performance of the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust.
    • On April 29th, interim chief executive of the Wales Ambulance Trust, Tracey Myhill, said the service had "turned a corner" after sustained improvements in ambulance response times since January 2015, following a project to keep local ambulances as close to their home bases as possible to prevent being deployed out of area.
  • Communities & Tackling Poverty Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), launched a new child poverty strategy, retaining the commitment to eradicating child poverty in Wales by 2020. Proposals include reducing the number of workless households, improving educational outcomes for children in poverty and reducing the cost of living.
  • A ban on tobacco displays in stores came into force in Wales on April 6th. Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), said the "ban on displaying cigarettes and tobacco is the next step to help us limit the attraction of cigarettes....and further raise awareness about the dangers of smoking.”
  • A report commissioned by the Welsh Government suggests the Wylfa B nuclear power plant could be worth up to £5.7billion to the Welsh economy over 20 years if Welsh companies take advantage of the supply chain. Business & Economy Minister, Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower), described it as a “once in a generation opportunity”.
  • The Jobs Growth Wales scheme – which helped unemployed 16-24 year olds find work placements – closed suddenly. The Welsh Government hailed the scheme as a “fantastic success” and announced they were working on a replacement. Shadow Economy Minister, William Graham AM (Con, South Wales East), criticised the lack of transparency, saying “it's clear Labour were winding the scheme up” following secretive in-year cuts.
  • A record number of teenagers were admitted to hospital with eating disorders in 2013-14, increasing by 36% over a decade. Charities repeated calls for a specialist eating disorder unit to be established in Wales, while the Welsh Government said an extra £250,000 has been provided since 2013.
  • The value of Welsh exports fell by 11% (-£1.6billion) in 2014 compared to 2013 according to the latest statistics. Across the UK, export values fell by 4.8% over the same period. Eluned Parrott AM (Lib Dem, South Wales Central) said, “Labour needs to stop making excuses....They have the tools to boost growth but don't”.
  • A review of NHS staff training recommended the creation of a single national “super authority” to oversee workforce planning. NHS Wales currently spends £350million a year on training, but up to a third of Welsh medical graduates don't work in Wales when they qualify.
  • A Cardiff University study found that primary school age pupils were more likely to try e-cigarettes (6% of under-11s) than traditional cigarettes (2%) but e-cigs are unlikely to contribute to young people's nicotine addiction. Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ruth Hussey, said she was concerned that e-cigs are acting as a “gateway” to tobacco. A proposed Public Health Bill aims to restrict the use of e-cigs in public.
  • A series of deliberate grass fires in the South Wales Valleys prompted neighbourhoods to launch their own patrol schemes, while South Wales Fire Service said the cost could run to more than £800,000. Public Services Minister, Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda), praised the efforts of firefighters and condemned the fires as “criminal acts”.
  • The National Assembly voted for a moratorium on opencast mining to allow a review of current policy and how effectively it protects local communities. Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), ruled out a moratorium but would host a summit on opencast mining, while the Welsh Government would support local authorities taking legal action on failed mine restorations.
Projects announced in April include : £1million to recruit trained primary care staff to diagnose dementia, with a goal of detecting 50% of dementia cases by 2016; an £11million Welsh Government-EU project to improve gender equality in the workplace and a £114million Welsh Government-EU project which will create 52,000 apprenticeships over the next four years in West Wales & The Valleys.
  • Around 100 company bosses signed a letter supporting the Conservatives, and backing a cut in corporation tax to 20%. They said the Coalition has supported investment and job creation, and a “change in course will threaten jobs and deter investment”.
  • Ed Miliband pledged that Labour would pass legislation to force employers to offer full-time contracts to employees if they've been on a zero hour contract for 3 months. He said, "There is no greater symbol of an economy that doesn't work than zero-hours contracts.”
  • The Liberal Democrats pledged to double the annual borrowing limit for Wales – as set out in the Wales Act 2014 – from £500million to £1billion. Candidate for Brecon & Radnorshire, Roger Williams, said, “Increased borrowing powers means that Wales would have greater scope to stimulate the economy with....significant capital expenditure projects.”
  • Former Conservative Welsh Secretary and Foreign Secretary, William Hague, told voters on a visit to the marginal Cardiff North constituency that a Labour UK Government would be a risk to jobs and living standards. He also defended his draft plans for “English votes for English laws”, saying Welsh MPs would retain an input on EnglandandWales matters like criminal justice.
  • Labour pledged to scrap the “bedroom tax” if they form the next UK Government. The Conservatives claimed the measure had “restored fairness” to the housing system, while Plaid Cymru said Labour abstained on votes to repeal the measure at Westminster.
  • Plaid Cymru would introduce a 5p per litre cut in the price of fuel as part of an EU fuel rebate scheme which is already used in parts of Scotland and England. The Liberal Democrats said Plaid Cymru would not have enough influence at Westminster to carry the proposal through.
  • The Conservatives committed to a like-for-like four submarine replacement of the Trident nuclear missile system, claiming Labour was willing to use the missiles as a “bargaining chip” to ensure Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister. Labour are considering reducing the number of submarines, while Plaid Cymru, the SNP and Greens completely oppose a replacement.
  • The Liberal Democrats announced a “Help to Rent” scheme where prospective tenants aged 18-30 would receive a repayable government loan to cover the cost of rent deposits. The Conservatives called for increased housebuilding, Labour and Plaid Cymru support rent controls, while UKIP would prioritise social housing for those with locally-born parents.
  • Labour would protect policing numbers and aim to save £800million by scrapping police and crime commissioners. Police forces in EnglandandWales saw their budgets cut by £300million in 2014-15, while Conservatives claimed Labour have over-estimated the amount of money they would save.
  • Plaid Cymru called for Aberystwyth to be named UK Capital of Culture in 2018, and a reformatting of the City of Culture award to include towns. Candidate for Ceredigion, Mike Parker, said, “Businesses....across Ceredigion would have an unprecedented opportunity to not only showcase their produce and services but also receive a much-needed boost.”
  • In a series of tax announcements, the Conservatives said they would remove homes worth up to £1million from inheritance tax, Labour would fine tax avoiders and close loopholes which would raise an estimated £7.5billion a year, while the Greens would introduce a 60% income tax rate for those earning £150,000+ per year, raising an estimated £2billion.
  • UKIP's leader in Wales, Nathan Gill MEP, was criticised for claiming climate change was not influenced by humanity and was instead used as an excuse to raise taxes. Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant, said the claim was “bonkers”, while Plaid Cymru said 95% of climate scientists agreed that humanity was impacting climate change.
  • Leader of the Green Party in Wales, Pippa Bartolotti, said voters should join a “peaceful revolution” as she launched her party's Welsh manifesto on April 14th. The Greens are standing a record 35 candidates in Wales.
  • A Labour UK government would ensure an extra £375million per year for Wales according to its Welsh manifesto. They would also provide a minimum guaranteed funding level for Wales (aka. Barnett floor) - though no figures were provided.
  • The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) launched their Welsh campaign on April 16th, promising to end austerity, raise the minimum wage to £10 per hour, scrap zero-hour contracts and nationalise railways, utilities and banks.
  • The Welsh Conservatives would support a Welsh bid to host the Commonwealth Games. Wales last hosted the games in 1958, and the Welsh Government together with Cardiff Council have explored the possibility of a bid for the 2026 games.
  • Labour and the Conservatives were caught in a row over the potential role of the SNP in a hung parliament. Former Prime Minister, John Major, said nationalists could “blackmail” a Labour government, while Ed Miliband said David Cameron was “demeaning his office” by “talking up nationalists”.
  • The Socialist Labour Party launched their campaign in Port Talbot on April 21st, demanding an “end to capitalism” through a 90% income tax rate on incomes above £300,000 per year, withdrawal from the EU and nationalisation of all transport services.
  • UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, called for the licence fee to be cut by two thirds to £48.50 a year, and for the BBC to be “a purely public service broadcaster”. The Green Party have pledged to abolish the licence fee and fund the BBC via direct taxation.
  • Nick Clegg warned that Conservative plans for regional pay would have cost Wales £1.4billion had the Liberal Democrats not blocked the proposals. The Lib Dems pledged to issue guidance to public sector bodies to ensure pay increases in line with inflation.
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reported that the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dem and SNP manifestos failed to provide enough detail on proposed cuts or tax rises to the general public. Labour's plans would create £90billion of extra debt, while the Conservatives would need to “find substantial spending cuts”.
  • Plaid Cymru called for the creation of a Northern Powerhouse for Wales, supported via the electrification of the north Wales mainline, the creation of bespoke specialist capitals (a la France) and an enshrinement of a fair share of spending across Wales in law.
  • The Welsh Liberal Democrats warned that a “BLUKIP” Conservative-UKIP coalition in a hung parliament would present a danger. Leader Kirsty Williams AM (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor) said the Lib Dems ,”Would provide a heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one.”
  • The Conservatives pledged to curb tax rises in legislation introduced in the first 100 days of a new government which will mean income tax, national insurance and VAT cannot be raised before 2020. Labour said it was a “gimmick” and that Tory plans to reduce welfare threatened tax credits, with the Lib Dems later revealing "secret" Conservative plans for an £8billion welfare cut - claims described by George Osborne as "desperate stuff".

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Surfers, Homeschooling & Do Parking Fees Harm Shops?

Porthcawl could be set for a £9.5million boost to its tourism industry as part
of Visit Wales plans to create "attractor destinations" in south east Wales.
(Pic : Phil Holden via lowpressure.co.uk)
Here's another round-up of some of the goings-on in Bridgend, cabinet reports of note and also a Welsh Government report on car parking charges.