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?

Friday, 29 April 2011

Senedd Watch - April 2011

Just because there's an election on, it doesn't mean the wheels of government stopped:



  • The "morning after pill" will now be available in Wales free of charge without a prescription. More controversially, it will also be available to under-16s where there is a clinical need and informed consent.
  • The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has called for policing and youth justice to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly. It's believed this stems from opposition to reforms in police authorities by the UK Government - parts of which have been blocked by the Assembly. Labour and the Conservatives have said they have no plans to change the current arrangements, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru both support devolving the powers.
  • The Obundsman for Wales has called for the powers to independently investigate hospices. This is due to several complaints from families about hospice services, and how these complaints were dealt with by Health Inspectorate Wales.
  • Higher Education statistics show that Wales has a higher rate of participation by those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and state schools, as well as lower drop-out rates, than the UK average. Also Careers Wales statistics show that 90% of 16-year olds and 80% of 18-19 year olds continued in some form of education or training upon leaving school.
  • The Traffic Commissioner for Wales has withdrawn an operating licence from Heart of Wales and St Davids Travel in the south Wales valleys due to poor service, ordering them to pay nearly £10,000 to the Welsh Assembly.
  • New Welsh regulations regarding sunbeds came into force. Under-18s will now be banned from using sunbeds, and in October, unsupervised tanning salons will also be banned. This comes weeks after the death of 21-year old Cerys Harding from Cardiff, which raised the issue of an increase in melanomas amongst young people.
  • The only major project announced was a £200million+ improvement to rail services in and around Cardiff which includes signal upgrades, platform extensions and station upgrades.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Election 2011 : The ITV Leaders Debate

Firstly I'd like to praise ITV Wales's coverage of this election. It's been good overall, and it's pleasing that a commercial operation has put effort into it. I also think Jonathan Hill did a fine job as host last night, and was quick to point out if something was devolved or not as well as asking one or two awkward rebound questions.

Please don't take this as an endorsement of the Welsh media as a whole, they try their best but we should still look quite jealously at Scotland in this regard.

First and foremost, it was a very impressive performance by Ieuan Wyn Jones. He showed an aggression and passion that he isn't exactly known for. Someone's been at the Relentless!  However, this isn't a "Clegg Moment" in the election campaign overall, for obvious reasons. Despite an annoying tendency to waffle off-topic, and almost being caught out once or twice, it was a very assured performance and one both he and Plaid can be pleased with. I just hope he realises he may have shown his cards too soon for next week's BBC debate. 8/10

A typically eye-catching Kirsty Williams did a good job for the Lib Dems. Is she trying a bit too hard to be on the audience's side though? It seemed a little contrived and cheesy. That doesn't mean she wasn't effective. She can dish out as good as she gets, and caused an awkward moment or two for both IWJ and Carwyn Jones. If she can ditch the prim and proper school girl manners; like raising her hand before speaking, pulling faces as though she's going to "scweem and scweem until I can scweem no more" and went on the offensive more often, she would give off an aura of gravitas and leadership. At the moment it's far too obvious she's in opposition. 7/10

Carwyn Jones was ever affable. However, I think he trod a lot of the same ground as IWJ in his answers - at times both gave near enough exactly the same answer! Sadly for Carwyn, IWJ was more effective. It's the same stuff from Labour about Tory-cuts, and once again I don't think we heard enough Labour policy. He defended Labour's record well, and gave decent enough answers, but what he lacks in these debates is a bit of passion. He's far too laid back. Labour may well walk the election, but their leader at least should appear as though there's something to fight for. 6.5/10

Poor Nick Bourne had the short straw. I don't think he (or Carwyn Jones) expected IWJ to be so aggressive - and it showed - at least initially, in Nick's body language. He seemed very apologetic for his UK colleagues, and spent far too long defending them than promoting the Welsh Conservatives' cause. He did come back into it towards the end and stood up to IWJ's more robust approach. Once again the Conservatives go on the "talk Wales down" road, I wish they would be positive about their own policies and Wales just once. I don't think they are (the much trotted out phrase) "anti-Welsh" but their dour commentary borders on self-loathing. 6/10

Monday, 25 April 2011

Exiles no more?

Time to take a break from the excitement of the election campaign to talk about the beautiful game in Wales - and a surprising development in the last week.

Last week, it was revealed that the FAW has decided to invite the "exiled" clubs (for the uninitiated that means the six football clubs who play in the English pyramid) to compete in the Welsh Cup next season, one of the World's oldest cup competitions. Whether this is a one-off to celebrate its 125th anniversary, or something a little more permanent remains to be seen.

The FAW doesn't have the best reputation amongst Welsh football fans to tell the truth. I'm not sure if this move will be welcomed or scoffed at, opinion seems divided. What isn't surprising as this plan doesn't seem to have been thought through in detail.

Firstly there's the question of European places. The winner of the Welsh Cup qualifies for the Europa League. For the last 16 years that place has gone to one of the clubs "loyal" to the Welsh pyramid. Bangor City are the current holders, and they look like a good bet to retain it for a 4th consecutive time in May. It's lucrative too, with qualifying worth around €90,000 to the winner - not a small amount of money for Welsh Premier sides.

Secondly, there's the issue of the existing cups. It's highly unlikely that any of the "exiles" will want to give up competing in the Carling Cup or English FA Cup for the Welsh Cup. The prize money in the Welsh Cup may seem small beans to the likes of Cardiff and Swansea, but for a club like Port Talbot or Aberystwyth it's a big deal. Going out in an early round to one of the "exiles" would mean taking a financial hit.

There's no guarantee that crowds would turn out in force for a visit of one of the big boys either. It's likely ties would end up being played mid-week, and the likes of Cardiff and Swansea would field teams of reserves and youths - except when playing each other.


Getting the Welsh Premier and wider Welsh Pyramid sides on board may be a lot more difficult that it seems, and they will rightly wonder why they should stay loyal to an organisation that (excuse the pun) moves the goalposts to suit its own agenda.

There are many other reasons to be sceptical too, but I think overall it's a positive move, and the Welsh Premier sides who would miss out on one of the main avenues to Europe need to think long term.

UEFA grants competition places based on coefficients, if the coefficient for Wales were improved by allowing our strongest sides (Cardiff City, Swansea City, Wrexham & Newport County) to compete in the Europa League, within a few years, seeding for sides qualifying via the Welsh Premier would be better - and it's likely that an extra place could become available. Cardiff and Swansea - on paper - should be able to reach the group stages, and even Wrexham and Newport could get through a few rounds. The heroics of Bangor and TNS this season aside, the performance of Welsh clubs in Europe have been an embarrassment.

To get the exiles on board would need a guaranteed European place for the winner, likely meaning the exiles would need to bar themselves from Europa League qualification via English cup competitions to satisfy UEFA. It's a no-brainer to say that it would be easier to get into Europe (for the exiles) via the Welsh Cup than any of the English competitions, however old habits are hard to shake.

This one could run all summer.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Election 2011 : Week Three

Conservatives:
  • Say they would cut the education budget by 12%, but would ensure more funding would go directly to schools and criticised the education record of Labour saying Wales had gone "backwards". They also confirmed they would pursue a tuition fee policy similar to England's.
  • Outlined their "blue belt" policy, which would prevent building on flood plains.
  • Chancellor George Osbourne visited North Wales and said it was time for a change of government in Wales, saying he was "optimistic" that the Welsh Conservatives would do well.

Labour:
  • Leighton Andrews complained there is "systemic failure" in the Welsh education system, but pledged to keep education spending 1% above the Treasury grant and keep the EMA.
  • Attacked Plaid Cymru's pledge to seek to devolve criminal justice as it would leave a "£600million hole" in the Assembly's budget.
  • Ed Miliband visited Wales and said Labour offered the only alternative to Westminster cuts.

Liberal Democrats:
  • Outlined their policies on tourism, including marketing Wales better overseas.
  • Outlines their policies on rural affairs, promising to help ease farmers paperwork burden.
  • Candidate for Pontypridd, Mike Powell has been questioned by police over alleged "harassment" of aides to the local Labour MP Owen Smith.

Plaid Cymru:
  • Continued to attack Labour's education record, Elin Jones said that Plaid were "not scaremongering" but had fundamental differences with Labour on health , education, transport and broadcasting. North Wales candidate Heledd Fychan also criticised Leighton Andrews' threat to close failing schools.
  • Outlined their plans for rural mobile phone signals, Ieuan Wyn Jones said that the private sector had "failed to tackle the issue" and that there needed to be a "national programme" to build new masts on publicly owned land.

Minor Parties:

The Communist Party launched their manifesto in Cardiff last weekend, calling for full employment, the nationalisation of key industries and tax rises for the rich and businesses.

The English Democrats launched their Monmouthshire campaign, pledging to hold a referendum on whether Monmouthshire should remain in Wales or become part of England. Former EDP campaign manager Steve Uncles is standing in Monmouthshire.

UKIP MEP John Bufton has defended the decision by North Wales's chief counting officer to delay the counting of regional ballots, saying it was "sensible" and what the four main parties were doing amounted to "bullying".

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Election 2011 : The Manifestos - Minor Parties

If you want one last reminder of what I'm grading the policies on, you can find out here.

Colonel Blimps, Skinheads and Randroids

Click to enlarge

Firstly, I'd like to apologise to Llais Gwynedd for including them with such....illustrious....company. In short, Llais Gwynedd are the only right-leaning party who have anything approaching achieveable aims in their manifesto - even if said manifesto originates from 2008. Keeping local schools open is laudable, as are aims to protect the Welsh language and support renewable energy. That's standard fare, and not dissimilar to what the main parties have pledged. What Llais Gwynedd need is a health dose of realism. Tiny, isolated villages can no longer support the level of services we would all like to see. It makes sense to centralise (within reason), as does focusing major economic development around the Bangor area. It's unfortunate but a hard reality. Quality over quantity.

UKIP no longer oppose the Assembly, which will no doubt disappoint a chunk of their support in Wales. Closing the school funding gap with England is something we've heard from the Lib Dems, likewise elected local officials for police, health boards and education boards is Tory policy. I don't think it would actually make any difference to those services. Replacing AMs with MPs would need a new Act of Parliament, so is unachievable, as is resignation from the EU. This is a Welsh Assembly election guys.

The BNP oppose foreign recruitment to the NHS. I'm counting it as ambitious, but of course would likely lead to the complete collapse of the Welsh NHS. All 5 consultant cardiac surgeons in south west Wales are Asian or of Asian decent. Smart move. ID Cards have nothing to do with the Assembly. They don't seem to have any sort of positive motive towards the Welsh language, making somewhat snide comments about it, hinting at "wasted resources" in maintaining it. Their only "sensible" headline policy, is to oppose green belt building, and however good that sounds, it's not grounded in economic sense. Don't take that as any sort of encouragement, I find the BNP repugnant.

The Christian Party manifesto is obviously from the Gospel of Ron Paul, and is certainly different from the happy-clappy Anglican church we all know and ignore. Privatising hospitals is radical, but would likely lead to rioting in Wales. A new north-south road would be unaffordable, and education vouchers are school selection via the back door. In addition to these, all laws on equality and relating to abortion and stem cells are reserved matters. "And the Lord sayeth that it be a Welsh Assembly election...."

The English Democrats aim to waste a deposit once again. I'm sure if they wanted a Monmouthshire referendum, they probably could do it. They would "lose" badly of course. Statistically, in terms of economic inactivity and GVA per capita, losing the old county of Monmouthshire would be a good thing for Wales. Whether the people of Ebbw Vale and Caerphilly see themselves as English is another matter, but I'm sure the answer is predictable. Will they ever take the hint? Developing a hydrogen based infrastructure is something I can support though. Perhaps they are not that silly after all.

Hippies, The Awkward Squad and Trust-Fund Trots

Click to enlarge

The Greens are the only minor party with a (realistic) chance of getting an AM (if the polls are to be believed). They have some very ambitious goals, such as 50,000 "green" jobs, the phased abolition of tuition fees and free care for the elderly. You can't fault their ambition, but you can fault their ability to face the cuts head on. No matter what they promise, the money won't be there to do it. The only grounded headline policy seems to be electrification of the railways, which each of the main parties share. They're good people, and mean well, but until they can address several key points they're a wasted vote. Firstly the anomaly of an "England and Wales" Green Party, and secondly that they don't even call for the devolution of energy in their manifesto - which renders their great renewable energy goals redundant in an instant.

The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition focus mainly on local government cuts. I'm not even sure if they have any Wales-specific policies. Nonetheless, however much the cuts hurt, they are with us and there is nothing anyone can do about it. None of their policies would really do the Welsh public at large, or the public finances, any real good. Nor does the Assembly really have the ability to address it properly, it can only tinker. I personally believe that public services should remain public, and that's something I share with the TUSC. However, being awkward for the sake of it - without coming to terms with the financial black hole left to us by the City of London and Labour - isn't going to win them any friends, or any real backing.

Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party have been a perennial candidate since the Assembly was founded. Again you can't fault their ambition or idealism. I'd certainly like a 4 day week and retirement at 55 - nothing the Assembly can do about it though. Reopening coal mines would be a backward step as we move towards other forms of energy. Nationalisation of key services is never likely to happen again, no matter how much sense it makes in some cases, for example the railways. Interestingly though, the SLP are the only ones who mention an independence referendum!

The Welsh Communist Party cover very similar ground to both the TUSC and the SLP, as you might expect. This is part of the reason why no hard-left candidates ever get elected - too many sects. The Communists fail to realise the Assembly has no power to tax the rich, and however great full employment sounds on paper it's unlikely to be achieved in a free market. Reorganising post-secondary education and broadcasting sounds interesting, but no real details are given.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Election 2011 : The Manifestos Part Four - Our Communities

If you want another reminder of what I'm grading the policies on, you can find out here.


Culture, Heritage & The Welsh Language

Click to enlarge

Natural Plaid territory once more, you would think. However, the manifestos threw up a few surprises this time, perhaps from a unlikely quarter.

The Conservative manifesto pledges in this section are excellent. The cynic in me believes that they are desperately trying to prove they are really, really Welsh, perhaps with good reason. The pledges are not only ambitious, but specific. They want to target specific events to Wales - including the Champions League final - commit themselves to a St. David’s Day national holiday and the creation of a "national archive". Rebranding Wales as a "World-class tourist destination" is one of those pie-in-the-sky, feel-good, promises once again. The creation of a Welsh language "charter mark" is a good idea, though something similar has bee tried before in "Iaith Gwaith". One of the most ambitious pledges, perhaps in any of the manifestos, I've left off. The Conservatives want 1 million Welsh speakers by 2031 and 1.5million by 2051. I think that's completely impossible. The ambition and vision though would get an A+ from me.

In fairness this was never going to be one of Labour's strong hands, but they hold their own. Committing to free swimming lessons is fine as we try to combat obesity, but it's not really eye catching. Likewise there are glib pledges to "maintain Welsh as a living language" and "build on the importance of creative industries". We all want that. Tell us how you'll do it! Promoting Wales for sporting events is welcome. Labour have mentioned a bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games, which is as good as it gets in terms of attracting a "big event", so that gets a thumbs up, though I do foresee difficulties in delivering it. Their most interesting pledge is to "ensure UK broadcasters make a fair share of their programmes in Wales". I like the sentiment. However, I think it's right to assume that without broadcasting devolution, Labour could never deliver it.

The Lib Dems continue their "empowerment" theme with ensuring a "rights based" approach to Welsh. That's all well and good, and welcome of course, but some of the more militant Welsh language activists could take that to mean something more than it is. The rest of their pledges however, are a little bland. More "pledges of support" for grassroots sport, the Arts Council and for UNESCO bids but it's all a little bit "meh". I'm not sure how they can ensure editorial independence for S4C without the political powers to back it up.

Plaid join the Conservatives in wanting Wales to be a "World-class tourist destination". Again it's pretty vacant, albeit welcome. When Plaid want a living Welsh language, you know they mean it. An innovation fund and "increasing the provision of Welsh language services" would help things, even if it is going to get the militant monoglots foaming at the mouth about "spending £10trillion of taxpayers money on Cymraegification". If it gave such people a stroke or two, it wouldn't bother me that much. A "Festival of Wales" is mooted modelled on Scotland's recent "homecoming", but we effectively have that annually with the Eisteddfod. Their meatiest pledge is to devolve broadcasting. I think they might be able to go someway towards that, especially if it happens in Scotland. I don't think devolving it is going to solve the problem of a weak Welsh media though.

Overall, the Conservatives have a vision and have spelled it out as clearly as possible. This is also natural territory for Plaid and I think both probably have the best interests and best pledges regarding Welsh culture this time around.

Social Justice

Click to enlarge

"Social Justice" is an area that's as reliant on success all the other policy areas as it is on specific attention paid to itself. Of course, the big player in social justice – welfare- is a reserved matter for Westminster. That doesn't mean the Assembly can't have an impact.

Three of the parties; Conservatives, Labour and Plaid commit themselves to eliminating child poverty by 2020. Laudable, ambitious, but foolish. It ain't gonna happen guys. Set targets by all means, but keep them realistic or it'll bite you on the bum. Some of the poverty issues in parts of Wales are entrenched, and won't be solved by the Assembly alone under it's current remit.

The Conservatives "Big Society" comes into play a bit more here, but it's not convincing. Protecting free bus passes and prescriptions for older people is playing to the gallery really. Nobody can really argue against some sort of concession scheme for the Armed Forces either considering how badly led down they have been by New Labour in Westminster, despite expecting to fight on several fronts. Establishing a "right to respite" for carer's is interesting and would certainly be welcomed with open arms. Carers do a fantastic job and are unsung heroes.

Labour have some interesting ideas. Gender quotas for public appointments for example. Didn't they get their fingers burned the last time they tried that? Don't they ever learn? I don't have an issue with their commitment towards children's rights, proposing a new "Children's Act". Huw Lewis's work in this area has been good, despite the issues with Huw Lewis himself. Providing more "advice and support" is laudable, but it's never really that effective is it? You see help centres set up everywhere but things never really improve, other than the unemployment figures and the profits for leaflet printer companies. Funding an extra 500 PCSO's? Ah, "bobbies on the beat". 500.....so that's about an extra 20-odd per local authority. 500 full police officers might make a difference, but as is becoming depressingly familiar, Welsh Labour don't like responsibility. No mention of devolving policing. It's effectively a subsidy to Westminster from Cardiff Bay.

The Lib Dems have a relatively strong set of pledges. They've avoided the mistake of including the 2020 poverty pledge. Domestic abuse training would make a difference, but is more administrative than pledge worthy. Ensuring children get financial literacy lessons is good and overdue, likewise extending the duty of care to age 21 and increasing the Children's Commissioner powers. Creating a "National Substance Abuse taskforce" though is, like Labour's well-intentioned "providing more support" pledges, better news for printer cartridge companies than those who care about social justice.

Plaid have focussed a lot on children this election and have fallen into the 2020 trap. Like Labour, they want to protect "Flying Start" and improve childcare overall. Childcare is something that needs to be tackled to address inactivity in the Valleys for instance. Wanting a new law on substance misuse treatment access is very topical, as we hear how drug addicts in disability benefit trial areas of England are being transferred to the dole - without any improved access to treatment. Only Plaid and the Lib Dems make any mention of devolving criminal justice, to their credit.

On balance, this should be natural Labour territory, but their lack of imagination leads me to conclude that in their manifesto overall, they are trying to under-promise and over-deliver. They have an OK record in this area - why so shy? The Lib Dems have taken this from them, perhaps for the simple reason of wanting some devolution of criminal justice (which is inevitable down the line despite what Labour may appear to want). Being in a position in Westminster to deliver that is also an advantage.

Local Government, Regeneration & Planning

Click to enlarge

Local Government is one of those unglamorous areas, along with regeneration and planning, that never really get the attention it requires, but can make a huge impact on peoples lives. None of the parties seem to have really got down to the dirty business of reducing the number of local authorities in Wales, although they want varying levels of reforms in how they do business.

The Conservatives wheel out the "big society" once again. They're going for the NIMBY vote, with pledges to improve community involvement in how their area is run, strengthening the role of community councils in planning decisions and a "Community Involvement Bill". Sometimes, unpopular planning decisions have to be passed for the greater good - no matter how much is hurts. Some of the Conservative measures would be a backward step in my view. I like the idea of directly elected mayors, though I don't think it should be confined to 4 local authorities. It isn't really a Welsh thing to have clear executive responsibility, we prefer to do things in committees, which is part of the problem.

Labour focus on regeneration. Wanting to promote mixed use development is fine, but that....um already happens. It's no surprise that Labour don't want to fiddle too much in local government, and the rather dull "review of scrutiny" pledge is the height of their ambitions there. Cancelling a council tax re-evaluation is easy enough, but it's not radical enough. "Tidy Towns" is a good enough scheme, and it can and does make a difference, but again it's "meh". Labour's best pledge is £1.2billion towards improving housing standards across Wales. Ambitious, but deliverable? I'm not sure. It might be too little too late.

Lib Dem's campaign to cut red tape continues, but I don't see what cutting local government regulations will achieve really, there are more fundamental problems. Like the Tories they want to "empower communities" but it's a double-edged sword, especially if these "empowered communities" decide to use their power to block Lib Dem community energy generation. Their other pledges are better, STV for local elections and allowing councils to raise finance against future tax revenue are bright, new policies. The Lib Dems also have a commitment to dealing with houses of multiple occupation (HMO's), which, to be honest, blight some of our seaside towns - especially in north Wales.

I'm not sure if Plaid's pledge regarding "greater collaboration" between local authorities does in fact read "reconfiguration of local authorities", if so, it's a better pledge than it first appears to be. Reforming Communities First is needed of course, but there have been rumblings of such for a while and nobody seems to have the will to do it. Overhauling the planning system to favour community energy generation makes far more sense than "NIMBY charters". The 200% Council Tax on second homes would be welcomed in Y Fro I'm sure. "Rent now buy later" for first time buyers is certainly novel and innovative, but similar schemes - like shared ownership - have tried and failed largely.

The Lib Dems have the edge over Plaid , by pledging quite clearly to do something about how councillors are elected by bringing in STV. I think they got the balance right between empowering communities and keeping a sense of scale. The only thing that I regret is missing is a much needed local government reconfiguration.

The final part tomorrow looks at five key pledges from each of the minor parties standing in May's election.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Election 2011 : The Manifestos Part Three - Green Wales

If you want another reminder of what I'm grading the policies on, you can find out here.

Energy & The Environment

Click to enlarge

While control over large scale energy projects remains a reserved matter for Westminster, Wales cannot truly take advantage of its resources to the same extent Scotland has. Each of the parties has some sort of support for devolving big energy projects. Labour and the Conservatives state up to 100MW, while Plaid want to devolve all natural resources.

The Conservatives have a very good, practical, pledge to create "blue belts" to prevent building on flood plains. This is long overdue. Aiming for 100% renewables by 2025 is laudable, but not
achievable under the current devolution settlement. If Wales doesn't have enough of a say in how energy is generated, what's to stop more non-renewable energy schemes being "forced" on us? Insulating every home in Wales is another excellent, but definitely achievable, pledge. Increasing penalties for environmental crimes is pointless without the legal jurisdiction to back it up. The Conservatives definitely show their green credentials this time.

Labour have a good track record on the environment in Welsh government. Their aim for a "one planet" Wales is ambitious, but perhaps a little pie in the sky. Marine conservation zones are not really exciting, but could make a big difference in places like Cardigan Bay. Merging the relevant environmental agencies is a rational pledge, and it would serve Wales better to have a single environment agency with sharper teeth. "Supporting action against climate change" is hollow, if welcome. All in all Labour have a decent set of proposals.

The Lib Dems have some novel policies, such as publishing a "carbon budget", which would make it a lot easier to see if the Welsh Government are practicing what they preach. Doubling money to fight fuel poverty is a little boring, but essential, and likely
achievable. Generating energy closer to where it's needed seems to be a core aim, and to a large extent I think it's a good idea. Whether some communities, for example, those seeing a "quiet life", would appreciate community power generation is another matter. Not bad at all.

Plaid aim to reduce carbon
emissions by 40% in devolved areas. A realistic target, and past Welsh governments have certainly worked towards it. Carbon budgeting in the public sector is a related pledge and would likely help achieve it, if not better it. Plaid also have a pledge on micro generation and home insulation, covering ground already trodden by the Conservative. Another practical pledge. "Expanding carbon zones" is a bit more of that policy wonk speech creeping in, I'm not sure if it could really make a difference other than prove they are "doing something". Their stand out pledge is the devolution of all natural resources and energy. If we want parity with Scotland it's essential, but I don't see Westminster agreeing seeing how much of Wales' energy is exported to England. What lets them down, are the obvious contradictions
on nuclear power "policy", explored in more detail on Syniadau.

This is perhaps the first section where all of the parties have made impressive pitches in their manifestos in an attempt to "out-Green" each other. I think though, in balance,
Labour have both the track record and best policies to deliver. If they can combine their ambition with Plaid's pledge to devolve natural resources and energy then they're on to a winner.


Rural Affairs


Click to enlarge

The Conservatives run with the theme of "giving power back to communities". They want to ensure that rural areas receive adequate access to public services and give communities the opportunity to run their facilities. Not bad, but the whole "Big Society" thing is becoming a damp squib. Protecting access to woodland isn't exciting, but it's welcome that the Welsh Conservatives don't want to go down the same road the UK Government tried to follow. "River user
licensing" makes sense but it's fairly bland, as is maintaining CAP payments. No real reforms then?

Rural affairs isn't Labour's strong point as you might expect. Many of their pledges are vacant promises with no real way to know if they are being delivered or not. For example "improving access to rural services", "continuing to support less favourable areas", and "supporting Welsh food producers". All fine enough, but with no indication of how they'd deliver them. Another commitment to better broadband in rural areas is made, but we've heard that before.

The Lib Dems do, on the surface of it, seem to "get" rural areas. Wanting to reform Glastir and focusing on diversification of farms and rural businesses is good, if uninspiring. However well-intentioned a "Community Bill of Rights" to arrest rural decline is, if people don't want to live there, people will move. No bit of paper is going to make that all better. Reviewing the cost of service delivery in rural areas is needed, and perhaps overdue, but it could well produce an answer the Lib Dems don't want. Considering their "war on waste" theme, the Lib Dems seem very keen to unleash the bureaucrats on bean counting exercises and audits. How much would that cost?

This is fairly natural Plaid territory. Elin Jones's stance on Bovine TB eradication may well ruffle a few feathers, but probably not farmers, likewise maintaining direct payments. It's all practical stuff, not revolutionary. Increasing the number of young people in farming is vital if the rural economy is to thrive, I'd still like to hear more on how that would come about. Overhauling the planning system to encourage sustainable rural communities is a good idea, and beats making vacant promises or "Bills of Rights". Their best pledge is the catchy, if glib "square meal, square mile" pledge. They don't want to go as far as the Greens in localising the food chain, but public sector backing of locally produced food could help spur local producers to better things.

It's no surprise that Plaid appear to be on top here, though I don't think any of the parties have been radical enough when it comes to rural affairs. Things like high fuel prices and farming subsidies are more UK and EU matters than Welsh Assembly, no matter what the Welsh parties may promise.

Part Four looks at "Our Communities"; the parties policies on social justice, heritage & culture and local government, regeneration and planning.



Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Election 2011 : The Manifestos Part Two - Working Wales



If you want another reminder of what I'm grading the policies on, you can find out here.


The Economy

Click to enlarge


It's common knowledge that the Welsh economy has some significant issues. Some of those problems are hangovers from previous recessions, or in some cases, the Great Depression. Others are how the Welsh Government and private companies relate to one another. There's an awful lot of cynicism and mistrust between both. Although I don't subscribe to the knee-jerk view that Wales is somehow a "Third World" economy, there are problems that need addressing.

All of the parties propose some sort of continuation of business rate relief or some kind of business rate reform. Being the only real (partial) tax power the Assembly has, this is unsurprising.

The Conservatives are pushing hard for private sector growth. A completely sensible course of action. Their pledge to scrap and taper business rates would no doubt be popular, however, UK taxes like VAT, will have a far wider impact on the day-to-day running of business that business rates. A manufacturing strategy is long overdue, but not ground-breaking stuff. Likewise, a business-government partnership. Private sector led skills academies are another good idea in principle, however the previous One Wales government have invested in skills academies before - like the construction academy in Pencoed. Contracting out business support is lazy, if it's public money being used, it has to be in some way public sector led. There's too much of a rose-tinted view of the old WDA. All in all though, not bad at all.

Labour's best pledges relate to rolling out high-speed broadband and improving links between universities and the private sector. Good stuff. However, things begin to break down with their other pledges, a "Jobs Fund" seems a short-term solution to a long-term problem. "Fostering a new relationship between business and social partners" as well as "creating an entrepreneurial society" reeks of policy wonk. I would've expected better, clearly spelled out pledges from Labour this time around.

The Lib Dems leading economic pledge are £2000 grants for companies to train unemployed youngsters. Like Labour's Jobs Fund, it's short term, and isn't very different from what's been tried before. Their really excellent stand-out pledge - and one of the best of the whole lot - is to establish a Welsh Stock Exchange. That isn't a nationalist speaking, it's a sensible way of attracting more private finance into Welsh business. Whether they can get 50 companies or so to sign up to it is another matter. Being a scientist, I especially like their pledge to create a pooled research budget. Aside from their "headline" pledge - which is a bit crap - alongside a token nod to "cutting red tape", the rest of it is actually pretty good.

Plaid probably have the most eye catching pledge regarding the economy in "Build4Wales". I can foresee difficulties in setting up such a company, but it's an imaginative, bordering on radical, solution to raising finance for infrastructure. I'm surprised they beat the Tories to it. A lot of their other pledges are fairly run-of-the-mill, but well thought out, such as creating more apprenticeships and their long-term pledge to improve broadband, mobile phone coverage and wi-fi coverage. That seems to be something of a pet project of Ieuan Wyn Jones, but it is good. All in all it's a very good set of proposals but "Build4Wales" stands head and shoulders above the rest.

To conclude, the Conservatives and Plaid both seem to have the right mix of proposals to really improve the Welsh economy, though the Lib Dems proposal for a Welsh Stock Exchange should be taken seriously as well. Labour haven't really stepped up to the plate this time.


Transport

Click to enlarge


It's gratifying that all of the parties are united in wanting to electrify the Welsh rail network, to varying degrees. Labour only commit themselves to "arguing for" London-Swansea, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Plaid also want the Valley Lines electrified, with Plaid also wanting to investigate electrifying the North Wales Mainline.

The Lib Dems, Labour and Plaid also want some sort of reform to how the railways are run. The Lib Dems preferring to renegotiate the Arriva contract. Plaid, and in a damascene conversion, Labour, prefer a new limited-by-guarantee company to run the railways.

The Conservative transport ideas lack imagination. Their pledge for a North American air link is welcome, as is a link between North Wales and Liverpool. However, issues regarding state aid to non public service air routes, and the layout of track in North East Wales, make these pledges hard to deliver. "Working to improve spending efficiency" in transport projects is simple stuff, however cost-overruns are a fact of life with big transport projects, especially if the terrain is difficult. Freezing the Severn Bridge tolls is low-hanging-fruit however eye-catching it appears. Don't freeze....scrap.

Labour disappoint once more. They focus on glib phrases like "improving integrated transport", but what does that actually mean? Integrated transport has improved greatly under the Assembly, but not far enough. They don't seem to want to commit themselves to anything when it comes to transport other than following the National Transport Plan. The Wales Coastal Path is a great asset, but a transport policy it is not, likewise improving cycling routes - as good as that is.

The Lib Dems are unique in putting a timescale for electrifying the Valley Lines - 2014. Good. Re-regulating bus services is dry-stuff, but would no doubt help rural communities and those communities along "unprofitable" routes. Another good, if dull policy, just as rationalising the transport bodies is. Their silliest pledge is to scrap the North-South air link. It was going so well until then. I know it's deeply unpopular amongst the Lib Dems in their "war on waste", but it's fantastic value for money. It puts Wales' most distant part within an hour of Cardiff for around £1-2million a year. That sort of money wouldn't make any difference to North-South rail service, and would build about 1/2 a mile of new road - which might cut a few milliseconds of the car journey.

Plaid know that devolving Network Rail functions is crucial to getting any real improvement to the railways, this is something the other parties seem to have missed, or buried somewhere in their manifestos. Despite being a "Plaid" brief for the last 4 years, their transport plans - other than those for the railways, which are great - are a little staid. Maintaining concessionary bus fares for example, and "improving the road network in line with the National Transport Plan". Improving infrastructure for electric vehicles is laudable, but the fact the technology isn't there yet for mass use, means it could be a wasted pledge however ambitious it might sound.

Plaid probably have the transport section sewn up. Other than the universal desire to see the railways electrified to varying degrees, none of the parties have come up with anything that stands out - other than the yawn-inducing pledges of freezing bridge tolls and scrapping air links.

Finance

Click to enlarge


There's an awful lot of overlapping between the four main parties when it comes to Assembly finance. All the main parties want reforms to how Wales is funded. Obviously, being in government in Westminster would make the Conservatives and Lib Dems the best placed to actually deliver that. Only Labour are opposed to fiscal powers for the Assembly.

The Conservatives focus on enterprise and generating wealth. No surprise there. An "Enterprise Bill" is an interesting concept, but I'm not sure how it would work in practice. Can you really legislate to create wealth? Their audacious pledge to boost Wales' economy to 100% of the UK average per capita stands out, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. I don't expect they will ever, in a thousand years be able to deliver it. It's unrealistic. It would require growth well above and beyond that of the UK as a whole to close the gap significantly. I admire the ambition, but sometimes it's best to set attainable goals, say 85% by 2030. "Armchair auditors". Yawn.

Labour want to run away from any responsibility. Their flat refusal to seek some sort of fiscal power is child-like and lazy. The rest of their fiscal proposals aren't too bad though. A new capital expenditure fund is novel, but not ground breaking, as are increased collaboration in public service delivery and flexible models of investment. They can all work, and be delivered, but will it be enough to make a difference? I'm not convinced.

The Lib Dems "war on waste" continues. It's just done to death that's all. We all dislike government excess and waste, opposing it is a flat, meaningless statement not a policy in itself. Using EU funds more strategically is essential, and I'm pleased the Lib Dems bring it up, but it's not groundbreaking. Publishing details of expenditure over £25,000 would please anoraks who want to know how much the Assembly is spending on printer toner, but again it's flat and pointless. Their best pledge is for tax varying powers in line with Scotland. Finally! The Lib Dems frustrate in the swing from crap policies to ambitious, even great ones.

Plaid, unsurprisingly want Barnett Reform. And the birds go tweet. Wanting a lower corporation tax rate is doable, and would surely be welcomed, but I'm not sure Westminster would agree with that. Pledging to "protect spending" sounds good, but could turn out to be poor in practice. Plaid also seem to be the only party to prominently mention securing a new round of Objective One funding. I don't like our reliance on these funds, hence the "E" grade for innovation. However, given the state of the Welsh economy, it would be welcome help. Community finance is something they share with Labour, however the scale of such schemes might not be enough to take the economy to new heights.

I don't think any party really stands out. I probably have to go for the Conservatives, as they would have the sway in Westminster to see, at least some of their pledges met. I can't help but admire their ambition for where they want the Welsh economy to go in terms of GVA, even if it is a largely pointless exercise.

Tomorrow I look at "Green Wales" - the parties' policies on energy & the environment and rural affairs.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Election 2011: The Manifestos Part One - Public Services



If you want to know what I'm grading the policies on, you can find out here.



Health and Social Services


Click to enlarge


Normally, health is the key concern in Wales. At this election however, it appears to have taken a back seat to education. All of the parties want some sort of flexibility in the way health services are delivered, and all of them want improvements to cancer services. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have specifically mentioned organ donation opt-outs, but I'm sure all parties back that policy.


The Conservatives are keen to point out that they would ring fence NHS funding, this would leave them open to attack over probable cuts elsewhere. There's nothing pledged that we haven't heard before from the Conservatives, for example reintroducing prescription fees. It's fairly weak stuff all in all.


Labour have played it safe. They've included many easy to deliver, practical but unambitious pledges such as zero tolerance to hospital infections. They also want to introduce stricter ambulance targets. Easier said than done. Poor ambulance response times are as much about geography and topography than any sort of systematic problem. That pledge could come back to bite them.


The Lib Dems seem to be focussing heavily on "waste". Every party wants to cut down on "waste" and although the Lib Dems have put it at the heart of their manifesto, they have no real ideas how they are going to do it, especially as they want to establish an "Office of Health Spending". More bean counters? Their Air Ambulance pledge is a good, if unambitious one, it makes sense that a country as sparsely populated as Wales has a solid air ambulance service. The personal care fund is something new, and I'm sure it could make a difference to many peoples lives, but they are playing with fire with that pledge. "Privatisation via the back door", I can hear the unions chant now. A bit like school vouchers.


Plaid Cymru have a smorgasbord of overlapping pledges with the other parties. Their stand out pledge is that for a "personal health plan" to aid in disease prevention. It's a good idea, but they might need to convince GPs of that. Though they might be able to do this with their pledge to renegotiate NHS contracts. Scrapping the Welsh Ambulance Trust makes sense as well, but I'm not convinced it would improve matters that much. Similarly, it's unclear if Westminster would supersede Plaid's pledge over minimum alcohol pricing. Ring-fencing mental health service funding is laudable, but possibly the wrong strategy.


In conclusion, all of the parties have deliverable policies but none of them are a "clear winner" here. Its steady as she goes stuff.


Education


Click to enlarge


As alluded to before, education is the key issue at this election. The poor PISA results have inspired each of the parties to come up with some solid pledges. With the controversy over tuition fees in England, higher education is playing a bigger role than it otherwise would have, which throws up a few interesting policy dilemmas for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in particular.


All of the parties want some sort of school funding reform, with the Lib Dems preferring a targeted approach.


The Conservatives have made the mistake of comparing pencils with England. There's nothing wrong with wanting to close the attainment gap, but there are far more fundamental issues at stake here. Building more schools isn't an answer, it's what Labour and Labour-Plaid have been doing the last decade. The Conservative stand out pledge is the "Middle Phase". It's at this crucial 8-13 year old stage where the academic, the vocational and the disruptive start to appear. A Middle Phase would be a good policy and could help turn things around, but it's a slow burner. Funding schools directly also makes a lot of sense. However, their policy on tuition fees is unlikely to make them any friends. I think the previous One Wales government got the balance right on that one.


Two Labour pledges stand out for me : making teaching a "Masters Level" profession and grading schools. I agree with both, and think they could go some way to turning things around. I don't think it's a bad thing to give schools a better idea of where they are compared to others, it's when it gets to English-style levels of obsession about "choice" and catchment areas that things begin to break down. "More funding for schools" is a hollow promise. I don't think any party can honestly say they can ring-fence anything in the current climate. Sticking by their "freebie" school breakfasts is eye-rolling stuff. The other education pledges alongside it shows they can come up with better than that.


The Lib Dems have made a big deal of the "funding gap between Wales and England", sometimes to their own detriment (as highlighted in more detail here and here). A pupil premium is a decent idea, but isn't it just "throwing money at the problem"? Interestingly they're not following the tuition fees policy of their UK colleagues, but seem to agree with the One Wales approach. If they can make this clearer, it could spare them the wrath of the student voters. Ensuring people can study their first A-Level for free? Wow. Thanks. The juiciest pledge is that to reform the national curriculum. I honestly believe that this is the area that lets Wales down the most, and reforms to it would be a good thing.


One of Plaid Cymru's most ambitious targets is to eliminate illiteracy by 2020. If it would be as cheap as they claim it is (£9 per child, per year), then it's an excellent pledge, and one of the best put forward. I question whether it could be done though. Backing the One Wales approach to tuition fees and increasing attainment in STEM subjects in bread-and-butter stuff - nothing to get too excited about. Zero-tolerance approach to poor teaching is good, and long overdue, but I don't think it beats Labour's Master's Level profession approach. It would certainly drive up standards, I would hope.


All in all, the main parties haven't ripped up the rule book when it comes to education, which is a real shame as it needs doing desperately. There are some good noises from each of the parties, but Plaid's pledge to eliminate illiteracy and shake up teaching standards gives them the edge over Labour in this area.


Tomorrow it's "Working Wales", where I look at the manifesto pledges relating to the economy, transport and Assembly finance.

Election 2011 : The BBC Machynlleth Debate

Well, that was better than last week.

That had more of the feel of an election debate, although I'm becoming annoyed that UK issues are still being dragged in, both by the candidates and the audience. Betsan Powys should well know if something is devolved or not and the questions at least should try and stay within the confines of the election at hand. What's the point of asking a fuel-price question for example?

What the Chuckle Brothers are up to in Westminster has no bearing on this election. I want to hear the parties take on our own issues here.

Elin Jones showed some of the experience she's gained from holding a cabinet position. She gave assured and straight-to-the-point answers, albeit monotone, to the questions. She only slipped up on the issue surrounding the NHS in Mid Wales, when she failed to mention cross-border services in her answer. Other than that, she did a very good job. 7.5/10

I listed Vaughan Gething as a "one to watch" in my Assembly Awards a few weeks ago and he showed why I'd done so. He's going to be a great asset to the Labour party if elected, as they lose one in the form of Jane Davidson. He was clearly the most polished public speaker but was prone to wandering off-topic or using hyperbole. For example he said Plaid Cymru's "scaremongering" about the centralisation of health services was "disgraceful". Well, centralisation of health services was a Labour policy until 2007. He defended Labour's record well and it was an impressive introduction to the Welsh public. 7.5/10

Peter Black is one of the better opposition AM's and he gave a good account of himself last night, just as his colleague Aled Roberts did in Wrexham last Monday. He did try and get too much into his answers, and at times, it was hard to keep up with him. We hear a lot about the Lib Dem's grants to business policy, but if that is the height of the Lib Dem's economic ambition then that's a worry. It's not as if grants haven't been tried before. Another good Lib Dem performance but spoiled by a depressing "talk Wales down" closing statement. 7/10

Last week, it was Sandy Mewies who toed the party line, and dragged UK-issues into the debate. This time it was Lisa Francis, who did so within a minute of the debate starting. Poor show. Other than getting a cheer for the done-to-death policy of "giving power back to teachers", I was left unimpressed. All I remember is that she seemed rather negative throughout and didn't say a lot,  but in fairness she didn't have the chance to. 5/10

Last week UKIP's Nathan Gill spoke as the "token" minor party representative, but said nothing of any real consequence. This week though a special mention goes to the Green Party's Jake Griffiths. He criticised the Welsh Government's environmental record as essentially "all talk no action". The environment is one of the areas the WAG can point to great success in, especially with regard recycling, water quality and conservation. If he means energy policy, then he must realise, and the Welsh Green Party must realise, that large energy projects, whether renewable or non-renewable ARE NOT DEVOLVED. 4/10

Monday, 18 April 2011

Election 2011 : The Manifestos Examined

Over the next week, I'll be posting my thoughts on the manifestos in detail.

I've been making a note of the five key, standout pledges in 10 policy areas, and grading them on 4 factors listed below. For each of the unrepresented parties, I've just picked 5 general standout policies.

Ambition (Amb)

Policies that "aim high", empower Wales - or the Welsh people - in a positive way, will be graded highly. Those policies that are low-brow, clich├ęd or don't take full advantage of the Assembly's new powers will be graded lowly.

Innovation (Inn)

Policies that are new and radical compared to previous Assembly policy will be graded highly. Policies that are a continuation of existing policy, minor administrative changes or "hot air" will grade lowly.

Deliverability (Del)

Policies that can, in my opinion, be easily delivered within the powers, budget and timescale of the coming Assembly term will be graded highly. Be careful. If combined with low grades for Ambition and Innovation it means that the policy is still crap. For example, pledging to buy new cutlery for Ty Hywel's canteen can easily be delivered, but it lacks any sort of ambition or innovation.

Likewise, overly ambitious, even visionary, policies or targets can score low grades for deliverability but high grades elsewhere.

Effectiveness (Eff)

This factor is based on how quickly, and how fundamentally the policy will change Wales for the better. Quick and noticeable, or very effective policies will grade highly. Those policies that will only be noticeable to political anoraks, bean counters and the "Bay Bubble" - for example, changes to how the Assembly organises itself - will grade lowly. Policies that will take an awful long time to come to fruition will also grade lowly. For example, targets for delivery in the 2020's or 2030's.

Grading

Each policy will be graded in each factor. Each grade has a different colour. If there are lots of greens (A & B), I think it's a good policy. If there are lots of yellows (C), it's average. Oranges (D) should be kept to a minimum and reds (E) avoided. An F grade (black mark) means the policy is probably completely outside of the Assembly's remit or utterly ludicrous and is worthless in the manifesto.

A – Excellent
B – Good/Effective
C – Satisfactory
D -  Poor
E – Undesirable
F – Failure


The Manifestos Examined Schedule


Part One: Key Public Services

Health & Social Services, Education

Part Two: Working Wales

The Economy, Transport, Finance

Part Three: Green Wales

Environment & Energy, Rural Affairs

Part Four: Our Communities

Culture, Heritage & Welsh Language, Social Justice, Local Government, Regeneration & Planning

Part Five: The Minor Parties Review

The five standout policies from the following parties standing in the election; UKIP, Green Party, BNP, Christian Voice, Trade Union & Socialist Coalition, Socialist Labour, Llais Gwynedd, Communist Party, English Democrats.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Election 2011 : Weak Too

Another exciting week of electioneering in the Welsh election campaign. At least things are finally starting to heat up a little bit. The manifestos have been launched, but undue attention seems to be paid to the spelling and grammar in them rather than the meatier contents. No wonder education is such a key issue.

Over the next week I'll be looking in detail at what each of the four main parties have put forward, as well as the key pledges from the minor and (currently) unrepresented parties. I'll be explaining how I'll be doing this in more detail tomorrow.

Anyway, here's a quick summary of this weeks election events:

Conservatives:
  • Attacked Labour-Plaid's economic record, particularly their failure to attract more inward investment compared to Scotland. Nick Bourne said "more imaginative policies pursued in other parts of the UK have been more successful in in raising prosperity levels and creating new employment opportunities."
  • Pledges to keep small schools open. On a visit to Ysgol Gynradd Llwyngwril in Gwynedd, Nick Bourne said that the uncertainty felt by pupils and parents was "unacceptable".
  • Unveiled a campaign poster, saying that "Labour brought us to the brink of bankruptcy".
  • Launched their manifesto, pledging a "new voice" for Wales and concentrating on the economy. They say they believe Wales could equal UK GVA per capita by 2030 and unveiled several pledges relating to business rates, higher education and transport, including a direct Cardiff-North America air link.


Labour:
  • Launched their manifesto in Barry, promising "fresh hope" to Wales, more apprenticeships, flexible primary healthcare, more funding for schools and extra PCSO's........but were left red faced when Llafur was misspelled in the Welsh version of their manifesto.



Liberal Democrats:
  • Launched their manifesto in Aberaeron, "Wales can do better", promising a "radical and positive programme" and to cut government waste......but were left red-faced when spelling and grammar errors in both English and Welsh were published.
  • Have accused Carwyn Jones of "misleading the public" over a £2000 champagne reception and fundraiser held in London.
  • Have attacked David Cameron's immigration comments, with Kirsty Williams describing it as "dog whistle politics".

Plaid Cymru:
  • Launched their manifesto in Cardiff, entitled "Ambition is Critical".............but were left red-faced when the title was quoted as attributable to Dylan Thomas (an urban legend), when in fact came from a Swansea civil servant.
  • Have pledged to cut AM's pay by 10% and freeze it for the Assembly term.
  • Helen Mary Jones outlined some of their health and social services policies in the Western Mail, focusing on : community services, abolishing the all-Wales Ambulance Trust, protecting budgets for mental health, reviewing NHS contracts and an annual health check for early disease intervention.


Minor Parties:

BNP candidate for South Wales West, Sion Owens, was arrested after being filmed burning a Qur'an. He didn't face any charges. They also launched their manifesto in Wrexham to a large assembled crowd.

The Green Party launched their manifesto, pledging to phase out nuclear energy and provide more jobs in a low-carbon economy. They also posted an online video targeting Labour 2nd votes on the regional list.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Western Mail and Unemployment Hysteria

The Western Mail leads with a typical feel-good story of the "dismay" that Wales is the only nation of the UK that has seen an increase in unemployment up to February this year. It's "surged" upwards by a massive 3,000 to stand as a colossus over our brutalised and crippled third-world economy at 126,000 unemployed, or 8.6%.

Game over. Our economy is destroyed. We might as well give up.

You would think by the hysterical reaction that this was the case. Although it's true that Wales is the only UK nation to have seen unemployment rise, this "news" is a bit of a statistics fiddle.

Unemployment figures Western Mail style (Click to enlarge)


Unemployment data in the UK isn't collected by the ONS on a national basis, but on a nation and region basis. There are, of course, 12 of these in the UK, as compared to the 4 nations. As Wales is both a nation and a UK region it's counted in both instances. England is the only nation of the UK that can "benefit" from this, as bigger falls in one region cancel out large rises in another.

At the moment, unemployment is higher than Wales in 4 regions of the UK . The North East, West Midlands, London and Yorkshire & Humber. Three of these regions saw a rise in unemployment over the same period, with the largest rise in the whole UK being in the North East - up 11,000. Kind of puts Wales's 3,000 rise into perspective, non? Unemployment rose in 6 nations and regions, and Wales' rise was the third smallest, only London and Yorks. & Humber saw smaller rises.

How unemployment statistics are normally presented (Click to enlarge)

Two regions of England also saw large falls. The East and South East of England saw falls of 15,000 and 10,000 over the period respectively, thus cancelling out the rises elsewhere.

Wales should either be referred to in these lists as the ONS produces the data, on a nation and regions basis, or it should be referred to as a nation in its own right (alongside England, Scotland and Northern Ireland), which means including it in lists of the whole European Union if you want a proper, statistically valid assessment of where Wales stands.

How is Wales doing in this international comparison?

The answer is - pretty good.

Wales's unemployment figures in an international context (Click to enlarge)


Not only is unemployment in Wales, at 8.6%, lower than both the EU and Eurozone averages, but it's also lower than the United States (8.9%). Wales is practically slap bang in the middle of the list, with Scotland not too far behind. Not great, but definitely not a cataclysm either when you look at some of the names above us.

The whole of England, with a global megalopolis, a majority of the major population areas, ports, airports and business centres only saw an unemployment fall of 9,000 compared to a fall of 7,000 in Scotland.

Why isn't that news?