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?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

See you in 2012!



It's been an eventful year for Wales, the UK, Europe and the rest of the World. 2011 has been a groundbreaking year of change for billions of people around the planet for better and for worse.

Next year promises to be just as eventful. There's the Plaid leadership election, the local elections in Wales, Scotland and parts of England (including Boris vs Ken Round 2), the build up to the London 2012 Olympics, Euro 2012 and no doubt the economy is going to dominate the headlines once again at home and abroad. There are also all the things we can't predict.

For those of you interested in my posts on independence or further devolution, in the first few months of 2012, I hope to put forward my views and ideas for Welsh broadcasting, the possible role of religion in an independent Wales, a Welsh postal service, a possible structure and role of a Welsh armed forces and reforms to local government.

For those of you bored by such posts, I apologise.

Since starting this blog in March, it's exceeded my expectations enormously and I'd like to thank each and every one of you who've visited and contributed in its brief existence. In the new year, I want to make some changes that will hopefully take things to the next level. Don't expect anything too dramatic though.

Unless something significant happens in the next fortnight or so that warrants a blog, I'm knocking off for Christmas. I think we can all do with a bit of a quiet period anyway, even if the Welsh Government are doing their best to make it an eventless 5 years (sorry, couldn't resist).

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda oddi wrth Owen!



Saturday, 17 December 2011

Top 300 and GVA figures - grounds for cautious Welsh optimism?

In The Boardroom


The Western Mail published it's list of the Top 300 companies in Wales on Wednesday. Although the same faces tend to be in the list year after year it does highlight how strong the private sector in Wales really is. It can always be better of course and the Welsh and UK governments should be working tirelessly to improve our lot.


The top ten is dominated by frozen food retailer Iceland, Wales's largest company, closely followed by Cardiff-based insurer Admiral. Iceland has been subject to takeover rumours recently with ASDA and Morrisons reportedly interested but subsequently pulling out. Whether Iceland's £2.4billion turnover will be extracted from Welsh economic figures as a result remains to be seen.




GE Aircraft Engineering is now comfortably Wales's third £1billion company, while the likes of Celsa Steel, Calsonic Kansei, Dow Corning and Redrow highlight how important manufacturing still is to the Welsh economy and how little Wales relys on high-end financial services (with the exception of Admiral) – for better and for worse.


To break into the top 50 companies, the turnover needs to be pushing £100million per year and to get on the list it needs to be just over £18million. There is clearly a very strong base for growth and "small nation stars" – how can the Welsh Government help these companies take things to the next level? Should similar companies merge to provide resilience and compete on the international markets? Do we need to create more recognisable Welsh "brands" like Admiral, Gocompare and Iceland?


In addition, I've previously blogged on Wales's recent excellent export statistics – no doubt an important driver for growth in our manufacturing sector and reason for Wales to look closer to Europe where exporter nations, especially small adaptable ones, are king.


On the national balance sheet

An environmental paradise
but an economic desert.  Does
West Wales's sparsity drag the
Welsh economy back? (Pic:Snowdon.com)
First the good news. Welsh Gross Value Added (GVA) – the value of all services and goods produced in Wales over the last year – rose by 3.5% to £45.5billion (~$71billion) or £15,145 ($23,475) per capita. This means that Wales is very close to wiping out the economic "losses" incurred in the recession, being only slightly short of the pre-recession GVA (£45.6billion).


If we want to internationalise these figures, based on 2010 IMF figures, Wales's GVA per capita would rank at around 38th in the World – top table, "first world", but clearly with room for improvement.


This rise was faster than the rest of the UK and joint fastest with the East Midlands. However because of the distorting effect a major financial centre like London has, Welsh GVA remains at 74% of the UK average and actually fell relative to the rest of the UK. More depressingly, there was a huge difference between East Wales (91.4% of the UK average) and West Wales & The Valleys (62.8%).




Instead of an east-west split it could be seen as an increasingly rural-urban split in Wales, with the Valleys falling neither in rural or urban. East Wales actually outperforms many parts of the UK outside of London/South East, yet West Wales with it's lack of major urban conglomeration still suffers a negative "rural penalty" through no real fault of it's own. It's with some inevitability that rural areas have lower GVA's than urban ones. One of the main reason's Ireland's economy is stronger than Wales, in spite of it's rural nature, is that Dublin is a major global city and focal point for high-end economic development. It's a really tough problem to solve, but one way out would be to focus development on larger settlements in this area (like Aberystwyth, Carmarthen, Haverfordwest, Bangor) and continually improve transport links with east and south Wales.


On the ground


However good rises in GVA and the turnover of companies is to the national accounts, the impact of the figures above is ultimately meaningless to ordinary people on the front line.


What stands out on the Top 300 list is how many of the bigger companies have gained employees in the current year, the likes of Iceland and Admiral taking on as many as 1,000 new workers each. Further down the list however the picture is far more mixed. The private sector recovery isn't exactly in full swing in our larger and medium sized companies by the looks of it.


Economic inactivity rates in Wales, while remaining 2.2% higher than the UK average at 25.4%, are 0.9% lower than a year earlier and has consistently fallen over several years in spite of the recession. Good news? Certainly, but how long will this last?


The unemployment figures are a different story. After yet another unwelcome rise, unemployment now stands at 9.1% in Wales. However the rate at which unemployment is rising in Wales appears to be slowing, while the rest of the UK is "catching up", in particular Scotland, rising to an average of 8.3%. One possible explanation for the rise in unemployment may be the impact of school leavers in August at GCSE level as well as A-Level school leavers failing to get a place at university (for whatever reason), putting their career and education plans in limbo.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Assembly's First Bill - Local Government Byelaws



Just before the Assembly went into recess, the Welsh Government laid the first bill since the successful March referendum in front of the Senedd. The Local Government Byelaws Bill will "simplify procedures for making and enforcing local bylaws".

Byelaws are pieces of delegated legislation passed by local authorities that can "provide an effective and flexible method of addressing a variety of local problems." But I bet you already knew that, right? A local authority is defined in the Bill as a county borough council (unitary authority), national park authority, the Countryside Council for Wales or town/community council.

In some cases legislation by the Assembly and Westminster has superseded the need for byelaws, however local authorities still have the power to make byelaws in certain areas such as:
  • Taxis
  • Parks, recreation grounds, open spaces, promenades
  • Graveyards, mortuaries, crematoria and burial grounds
  • Prevention of "nuisances"
  • Public toilets
  • Swimming and bathing pools
  • Walkways and public rights of way
  • Hairdressers, barbers, acupuncture and tattooists
  • Conduct in libraries and museums
  • Car parks

The new bill proposes several changes to the procedures through which byelaws are made:
  • It removes the requirement of Welsh Ministers (Welsh Government) or UK Secretary of State approval for byelaws in certain areas (Schedule 1 Part 1 of the Bill). This list can be amended by the Welsh Ministers by adding or subtracting areas.
  • It gives local authorities the option to issue fixed penalty notices for certain byelaws (Schedule 1 Part 2) which is "more effective and efficient" than through the Magistrate's Courts.
  • It allows local authorities to seize or retain property connected with breaches of a byelaw.
  • Welsh Ministers will retain approval powers for byelaws relating to the environment and child employment and will also be able to revoke "obsolete" byelaws.
  • Local Authorities will be legally required to go through a consultation process to see if a new byelaw is an appropriate measure and publish an intention to make a new byelaw one month before the byelaw is made.

It's estimated that for byelaws that would no longer require confirmation, it would save the Welsh Government £1250 per byelaw and by avoiding the Magistrate's Court, would save £500-1000. The cost of the consultation process in creating a new byelaw is estimated to be between £2000-3000. There are currently about 4 or 5 byelaws confirmed by the Welsh Ministers each year.

OK, like many things coming out of this current Assembly it's not grand stuff. However this could be seen as - in part - a devolution of powers away from Cardiff Bay and a small reduction in local government bureaucracy.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

What do we do with Cardiff Airport?

Hat tip to Andrew Davies AM and Click on Wales.

Cardiff Airport is in a hell of a state. Passenger numbers have plummeted over the years from a peak of around 2.1million in 2007 to threatening to fall below the 1 million number this year – the lowest passenger figures for the best part of 15 years. That's a catastrophic turn in fortunes for the airport and something that should concern Welsh politicians.

Niches, needs and propensity to fly

We need to take a look at what types of services Cardiff Airport offers compared to its main rival Bristol Airport.

Cardiff Airport's passenger figures tend to see upward trends when the economy is doing well seeing big rises from 1998-2001, 2003 and 2006-2007. This reflects the flight offer - "bucket and spade" charter flights to sunshine destinations in Europe, internal flights within the UK and the odd "hub" flight, in particular services to Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris Charles de Gaulle. It's very seasonal and dependant on consumer spending on holidays. Proper business destination flights seem to be few and far between.

At first glance, Bristol Airport offers largely the same type of flight on the whole, but there are several key differences. Bristol Airport has managed to attract key "low cost carriers" such as Easyjet and Ryanair which fuelled much of the growth in UK air travel the last few years. Many of these low cost services are to major European cities such as Berlin, Madrid and Rome in addition to major cities in eastern Europe. No doubt such links are useful for business and more affluent travellers.

Then there's the airports themselves. Despite ambitions of expansion, Cardiff Airport's terminal is dated compared to the airy and modern Bristol Airport - which is due to be further expanded in the future. Consumers now expect a certain level of service at airports and however well meaning Cardiff Airport's recent improvements are, I doubt they will ever offer the same level of service you can get at Bristol without a radical overhaul.

Then there's propensity to fly. When the last UK Government consulted on the future of air travel, its figures showed that Wales has lower propensity to fly (0.6) compared to the UK average (1.3) and a small catchment area confined to south Wales, with minimal passengers from west Wales and the south west of England. 65% of air passenger traffic "leaked" from Wales to the likes of Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham and the London airports. Only the south west of England and north of England leaked more.

The blame game

There are many targets for blame for Cardiff Airport's decline. Firstly, there's Welsh Government for "not doing enough" or not getting its priorities in order - usually targeting the subsidy for the Anglesey-Cardiff air link, or not backing an improved road link. It's easy to blame them - and in some cases justified - but I've always got the impression they're as frustrated as everyone else.

Then there's the airport's owners Abertis. They are accused of using "sky high" fees to rake passengers and airlines. Fees like landing fees, parking fees and even fees for dropping/picking people up. Cardiff Airport's one-week parking fees for example are amongst the most expensive in the UK. Somehow Cardiff Airport is still profitable, so it's unlikely Abertis will just give it up that easily to another company, cooperative or even the Welsh Government.

The overall management and airlines strategy for the airport has also been brought into question. The failure to attract a major low cost airline has been highlighted as a possible blunder, as attracting Easyjet and Ryanair led to dramatic turnaround in performance at Bristol compared to Cardiff. There was hope that a new Welsh-based low cost carrier, "flyforbeans", would be up and running by now however it looks as though that has been postponed indefinitely for perhaps multiple reasons.

In a bit of good news, Cardiff Airport has managed to attract the Catalan low-cost airline Vueling and a service between Cardiff and Barcelona three times a week. Hopefully this could lead to more destinations in the future and close a gaping hole in Cardiff's offer.

Cardiff Airport's strengths and how to play to them

Firstly Cardiff has a longer runway than Bristol and can comfortable accommodate aircraft like the Boeing 747, which regularly use the British Airways maintenance facility at the airport. If long-haul flights can be enticed to Cardiff, then it would no doubt be a big boost, enabling travellers in Wales and the west of England to fly further without having to use Heathrow. Perhaps there is a case for a "one airport, two-sites" model for a merged Cardiff-Bristol "Severnside" Airport along these lines.

Contrary to popular belief, in my opinion, road access to Cardiff Airport isn't a particular problem and only requires modest improvement. Compared to Bristol, driving to Cardiff Airport is a breeze. The rail link via Rhoose is a welcome USP - albeit not an entirely direct service. It might be useful to have better connections with trains from the west of Wales (requiring junction improvements at Bridgend or service upgrades on the Vale of Glamorgan line). An express bus from the centre of Cardiff has often been thought of as a good idea and I agree. However in Labour's recent National Transport Plan, an express bus has now been pushed back to beyond 2015 which to me is completely inexplicable.

There's also an opportunity for the Welsh Government to throw its backing behind the airport. It's often said their hands are tied by various EU regulations on state support, but that isn't an excuse to not explore alternatives and loopholes. Manchester Airport is co-owned by 10 local authorities via Manchester Airport Group. One of the major loopholes in EU rules on state-aid is that if a government has an interest in an airport, then the rules are relaxed and options for support are opened up.

That could bring Carwyn Jones' hope for an air link to China and the Welsh Conservative manifesto commitment of an air link to North America closer to reality. There is proof that this kind of service is sustainable, as Zoom's service between Cardiff and Vancouver was by all accounts a roaring success until the airline collapsed. I don't doubt that a service to New York could be just as successful.

I think there is too much emphasis on outgoing passengers than incoming passengers. Helvetic Airlines service between Cardiff and Zurich clearly has demand from the Swiss end, but hardly any from the Welsh end, meaning the flight will now stop over at Bristol for the return journey. We might have to accept that Cardiff Airport is probably more likely to be used by incoming tourists than outgoing business travellers and passengers and adapt accordingly – working with local companies and hotels to provide excursions to castles and golf courses direct from the airport for example.

The ghost of Severnside Airport


I hinted above that a "one airport, two sites" model is a possible basis for a Severnside Airport. However was the "real" Severnside ever a goer or just a pipe dream?

The plans for a multi-billion pound airport in the Bristol Channel on an artificial island near Newport were certainly ambitious and promised as many as 13,000 jobs when first mooted. It would've been one hell of an entrance to Wales and indeed the south west of England. However it was claimed that the only way this airport would come about would be with the closure of the existing Cardiff and Bristol airports.

In the current Newport City Council Local Development Plan, the land for the airport island has been put forward as a candidate site. It would be a big statement of intent for the UK Government to drop plans for a "Boris Island" airport in the Thames estuary and instead build it at Severnside together with the phased closure of both Cardiff and Bristol airports, or even retaining Cardiff airport as a freight-only/maintenance-only airport (due to the longer runway).

An airport to the west of Heathrow might relieve some of the current pressure there, and with an appropriate upgrade to the south wales mainline, be readily accessible by public transport, negating the need for an expensive project at Heathrow.

Unfortunately there are several problems that make the Severnside project nothing more than an idealistic fantasy project. Firstly the obvious environmental concerns, secondly Bristol is unlikely to be satisfied losing "their airport" and thirdly the UK government is unlikely to put a single penny towards such a large, risky project in Wales – where the likelihood of a return is less compared to "Boris Island".

That's the trouble with Wales in the UK. Always the bridesmaid....

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Perfidious Albion and where it leaves Wales

Cameron's veto was ballsy but do we really want the UK on the fringes of Europe?


Did Cameron call it right?

Being the only EU member not to sign up to a new accord makes the UK look like a socially awkward accountant, walking like "Rain Man" around Brussels looking in vain for sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Of course this will only be how the rest of Europe sees "us".

Back home the blue-rinse brigade and Colonel Blimps will welcome Cameron back with the finest chutneys, warm beer and thousands of off-key performances of Land of Hope and Glory. "We're an island again! Huzzah!"

Cameron stuck by his word – he refused to sign up to a treaty that would transfer powers to the EU from Westminster. Despite looking over his shoulder at 80+ eurosceptic backbenchers baying for blood, I don't question Cameron's sincerity. I don't think he was ever going to sign up for this. He would probably have been looking at the beginning of the end of his tenure as Prime Minister if he handed over any economic powers to the EU.

If however the UK Government think that the EU (or should that be Sarkozy and Merkel) will let Cameron get away with this unscathed without sour grapes then they'd be wrong. Cameron took the big call and might very well have saved "the city" but he could've caused a lot more problems for the rest of us in the long term.

The EU will never bow down to the wisdom of the United Kingdom, say "you were right all along", drop all pretences of political union and adopt English as a working language - perhaps even put some Old Etonians in high positions in the EU bureaucracy to "sort them out!"

There won't be tears shed when/if the UK leaves, they won't "regret it", they won't be crying over a photo of David Cameron while half way through a tub of Häagen-Dazs. It'll be "tschüs" and a door slammed quickly in the UK's face - perhaps with relief. Come to think of it, this is probably how the respective nations of the UK would react to independence – except the "British" who will be on the third tub of chocolate chip cookie dough wiping their tears with a dusty "Wills & Kate" flag.

The UK might not be leaving the EU party yet. It's nursing a cheap can of beer in the kitchen alone with Sweden, Hungary and the Czechs popping in, smiling and asking where the sausage rolls are before leaving and closing the door behind them – more a courtesy than genuinely backing the "British" view.


Rhodri Morgan summed up in the Western Mail a key issue affecting Wales and it's future relationship with Europe.
"For Wales I always used to start from What’s best for Airbus?, not What’s best for the City?"

Would a quintessentially European company like Airbus now think twice about investing in a sidelined UK?

It's unlikely that Friday's events will really have that much on an impact and (to answer my original question) at the most fundamental level David Cameron probably made the right call for the UK. However Rhodri's quote does indirectly illustrate the wider problem - Welsh interests in the EU will never be a priority and happily put at risk to protect whatever the UK Government decides is "more important".

That "more important" bit being London's financial services sector. I'm not naïve enough to think that it doesn't underwrite the rest of the UK but isn't that thinking and policy crippling Wales (and indeed parts of England)? It looked as though the Coalition Government understood that there needed to be a rebalancing of the UK economy but now it seems as though we are locked in to another cycle of dependence on shifting other people's money around.

"Don't worry if we piss off the frogs and krauts that buy your stuff, rubber stamps your farming subsidies and Objective One funding - that lovely dole money will keep pouring out of the city and down the M4. Now shut up, do as your told, and be grateful."

Cameron the British Bulldog. The bulldog might be a fine symbol of "British spirit" but bulldogs are also inbred, live short lives compared to other dogs, suffer painful hip and breathing difficulties and are pretty dumb and aggressive.

I'd rather pick a Welsh spaniel....

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Welsh Government's reprioritised National Transport Plan

Local Government and Communities Minister Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) has unveiled the Welsh Government's reprioritisation of the National Transport Plan (NTP).

Transport has been one of the areas where, in my opinion, successive Welsh Governments can point to some success. We've seen multiple road schemes delivered after long waits, rail lines and stations reopened and a clear commitment to sustainable development.


Unfortunately I think that's coming to an end now.


I realise that transport isn't a sexy portfolio for Labour in particular. The fact it's been inexplicably lumped in with Local Government portfolio - instead of the economy - shows what Labour consider transports role to be – not an economic driver or key plank in infrastructure but as something to be "tweaked" at a "community" level to provide "opportunities".


We could've done far worse than have the capable Carl Sargeant in charge of transport, but having looked at the reprioritisation I can't help but feel let down.


Far from prioritising "key" east-west transport links, it appears as though "tweaking" has won the day. The Welsh Government may point to 40% cuts in capital expenditure but just take a look at
the Scottish Government's plans for infrastructure development and weep.

Instead of "
standing up for Wales", we're increasingly going to be looking to Westminster as the key driver of infrastructure development. The ridiculous M4 Newport bypass has already been resurrected from the grave for the umpteenth time along with that other zombie the Severn Barrage. I don't think either will happen to be blunt, despite the headlines.

Before I'm accused of bias, I don't think Ieuan Wyn Jones's original NTP was "blow your socks off" stuff either
and he didn't have to deal with the capital budget cuts. In Plaid's defence, they offered an alternative model to raise money – something the Scottish Government have taken onboard. Labour have offered nothing but excuses.

It isn't all bad news though.

  • The commitment to complete A465 duelling by 2020 remains and construction of the next stage is imminent.
  • New bypasses for Newtown, Caernarfon and Builth Wells are included in the "taken forward" programme.
  • New stations at Brackla (Bridgend) and Energlyn (Caerphilly) by 2015 plus capacity improvements in the south Wales valley rail network and between Wrexham and Chester.
  • A commitment to an hourly service between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury and redoubling of track between Llanelli and Gowerton.

As you can probably see, the reason I'm so disappointed is that many of these things have already been announced. None of it is "new" and I'm not convinced that these schemes are seriously going to boost the economy. I'm more relieved  that these things have been kept in.

I was expecting Labour to want to stamp their own mark on the NTP and perhaps drop some, if not all, of the "north-south" improvements and deliver at least one of the "big bang" transport schemes Wales is crying out for. Schemes that would really boost the Welsh economy.


In my view these "big bangs" are:

  • Electrification of the Valley Lines (or a clear commitment/timetable with Westminster cooperation)
  • Upgrade the A48 around Newport to near-motorway standard (i.e some grade separation of junctions on the SDR) and remodel the existing M4 through Newport
  • The A4232 Cardiff Periphery Distributor completion (Cardiff Bay-Newport Road)
  • A494 Queensferry-Ewloe Upgrade

....none of them made the list, although there is some vague reference to provide more "resilience" to the M4 at Newport. Perhaps there's still time for Carwyn, Kirsty or Carl to pull a rabbit out of the hat with the £200-odd million coming courtesy of Gorgeous George's Autumn statement but I'm not holding my breath.

I mean why the hell are we going to have to wait until after 2015 for an express bus to Cardiff Airport for heaven's sake!?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Independence Minutiae : Legal Ages

In another look at the practical applications of independence, I'm visiting the current myriad of legal ages for different consumer rights, civil liberties and other privileges. Not exactly a hot issue I know but it poses some interesting questions. Also I have to make it clear that the ability to change some of the ages could come through further devolution or federalism, not necessarily independence.
Some of the questions and issues I hope to raise and address are:

  • At what ages should these rights and privileges come into effect?
  • Could an independent Wales change legal ages to improve social and civic opportunities for young adults?
  • Could an independent Wales use legal ages to promote healthier relationships with "vices"?
  • Could an independent Wales use legal ages to promote a new relationship between the individual and the state?


Many of my proposals for age changes stem from a personal ideal that the individual is sovereign. It's just part of setting out a vision of what sort of Wales we would want to shape post- (theoretical)independence.


(Click to enlarge)




For a more detailed look at some of my more controversial proposals, read on.




Driving Age (Car, motorcycle, moped)


Current : 17 to apply for provisional licence, no restrictions on driving on private land
Proposal: 16


I prefer some "give and take" here. Cars can be a lifeline in rural parts of Wales, not just something that socially liberates but near essential. Therefore I'd reduce the age of learning to drive one year to 16.


However to allay concerns about immaturity or road safety, some extra conditions could include:


  • "P-Plates" would be mandatory for a set period after passing the test.
  • A provisional licence wouldn't be converted to a full licence until either the driver is 18 or they successfully complete a "pass plus" scheme.
  • There would be a much stricter points tally for provisional licence holders before they have to retake their test.


Age of Criminal Responsibility


Current : 10

Proposed: 11, at the discretion of a judge/magistrate


Leaving primary school is a clear cut off point. A child should have enough education and life experience by then to know the difference between "right" and "wrong". That's the only reason I'm proposing changing it slightly. However the judiciary should have the power to decide for themselves in individual cases if juvenile incapacity is an excuse. Serious crimes (i.e. murder, rape, arson) committed before the age of 11 for example.


Age of Consent


Current : 16
Proposal : 16 unfettered, 14 with a "2 year rule"


Before I'm accused of anything, I would like to see a common sense "2 year rule", sometimes called "Romeo and Juliet clause" or "close in age rule" similar to the one applied in Canada.


If one partner is aged 14 or 15, the other partner can only be a maximum 2 years older, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Sexual activities with anyone under 14, or breaking this "2 year rule" would still be statutory rape.


This would have to be combined with a massive overhaul in sex education, starting in primary schools. I would hope that Wales can become a little less prudish and teenagers would take more responsibility for their own health knowing all the facts before they are biologically mature enough to act on them.


Laws aren't going to prevent teenagers seeking out new experiences driven by hormones, let's build a society that can set sensible boundaries instead.


Legal Drinking Age


Current: 18, 16/17 for cider or wine with a meal, no alcohol for under-5s unless medically supervised


Proposal : 18 for alcohol by itself, 14 for beer, wine, cider or lager directly accompanied with a cooked meal.


Another controversial proposal. However there's still room for some "give and take".


Under current laws 16 and 17 year olds can buy cider or wine with a meal. I would propose that 14 year olds could drink certain alcoholic drinks as long as it's purchased directly with a full cooked meal.


This wouldn't count takeaways, cold meals like sandwiches or pub snacks as a "cooked meal" and it wouldn't include alcopops, strong beers and ciders or spirits which would still be restricted to over-18's.


For example a typical Wetherspoon's "beer and curry" would be acceptable, because the meal has to be brought over by a member of staff who would be able to see for themselves that there's nothing fishy going on.


The element of control will be with the licensees, who would still be able to refuse service to anyone who looks under 21 who doesn't provide a photo ID showing their age (i.e Vali-date card, driving licence, passport). The spot checks to make sure licensees are complying with the rules would continue.


Hopefully this could lead to a much more grown up relationship with alcohol amongst teenagers - seeing alcohol as an accompaniment to something else, not the whole point of a day/evening out.


Not that this is the most important consideration but it might even give the restaurant and pub trades a much needed leg-up if teenagers are encouraged to drink in safe indoor surroundings without fear of retribution. There can no longer be any excuse for underage drinking in the open and it's a problem that Wales need to tackle, independence or not.


I'm sure such a proposal could cause outrage amongst some parents, but they should ask themselves how would they want their children introduced to alcohol – on a park bench with a flagon of illicitly bought off-licence Diamond White or in a restaurant or pub as a glass of wine to go with steak and chips?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Senedd Watch - November 2011

  • Business Minister, Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower), confirmed there will be no public money used to establish a Welsh internet domain name. Two not-for-profit companies : Nominet based in Oxford and Welsh company dotCYM are both seeking to create the new domain name.
  • Health Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), set our her five-year plan for the Welsh NHS. She also rejected accusations by Plaid Cymru that hospitals were set to be "downgraded", however, the new plan does include the centralisation of certain services. She later warned NHS managers at their conference in Cardiff to meet stricter targets without a "margin for error".
  • The First Minister - after facing criticism from Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones - has promised "substantial" new spending on capital projects, particularly in health. He did, however, admit that some projects could be "re-examined" in the face of spending cuts. Conservative leader Andrew Davies drew attention to the frustration in the small business community that not enough was being done to help win public sector contracts.
  • Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed, a lobbying organisation, met with Gwyn Price AM (Lab, Islwyn) to discuss the possibility of amending Welsh building regulations to ensure carbon monoxide detectors are installed in new homes.
  • The Welsh Government have been asked to justify spending £42million on consultants, IT and marketing in the current financial year. BBC Wales found the figures after the Welsh Government began producing figures for spending over £25,000.
  • A white paper outlining plans for an opt-out system of organ donation was published by the Welsh Governmentm and a consultation process - due to end in January 2012 - has begun. The plans could affect anyone over 18 who lives and dies in Wales, including those who move to and live in Wales for a certain length of time.
  • Environment Minister, John Griffiths (Lab, Newport East), announced a new Flood and Coastal Erosion Strategy in the aftermath of a cliff collapse near Rhoose in the Vale of Glamorgan. The new strategy will include a prioritisation of measures at areas most at risk as well as raising awareness of coastal flooding risks.
  • The First Minister was attacked by Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones for "sitting back and allowing the economic crisis to do its worse" to "blame the Tories". He also said that many of the capital schemes listed by the Welsh Government had been completed or were already underway by the previous Welsh Government. The First Minister hit back by saying that Plaid had written the "shortest suicide note in history" in the May elections and that they didn't offer a "wealth of ideas" to protect the economy.
  • Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Davies (Con, South Wales Central), accused the First Minister of being "flippant" for not listening to concerns from nurses who felt overstressed and of whom 60% considered quitting according to a Royal College of Nursing report.
  • Former transport minister Ieuan Wyn Jones (Plaid, Ynys Mon) criticised the current £170million Welsh rail franchise, held by Arriva Trains Wales, and has called for it to be radically overhauled when the franchise is up for renewal in 2018. He criticised overcrowding on certain services and the contract that meant Arriva was under no obligation to provide additional services.
  • Bethan Jenkins AM (Plaid, South Wales West) has called for broadcasting to be devolved to the National Assembly, to "take oversight of S4C from a disinterested Department of Culture, Media & Sport".
  • Welsh Labour have said they would oppose plans to change the electoral system for the National Assembly off the back of proposed electoral boundary changes for Westminster elections. The First Minister has appealed directly to UK Prime Minister David Cameron to keep the current voting system. Welsh Labour have been criticised by the Electoral Reform Society for their "preferred change" to 2 candidates elected by first past the post.
  • The chief constable of South Wales Police, Peter Vaughan, has said he does not back the UK Government's proposal to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph. He also called for the devolution of policing to the Welsh Assembly.
  • Network Rail has created a new Welsh division which will bring investment decisions closer to the Welsh Government, where railways are partially devolved. The budget however will still be within the remit of the UK Department for Transport.
  • Opposition AMs criticised the Welsh Government's policy on tuition fees, with Angela Burns AM (Con, Carmarthen West & South Pembs.) claiming that the expected £3.6billion cost of the policy put "Wales's finances at risk". Both Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats also questioned the sustainability of the policy, however Plaid Cymru said they support the proposals in principle.
  • The First Minister gave a lecture at Aberystwyth University on the future of devolution. He said that in the event of  Scottish independence or devo-max, Wales would require additional powers and a "radical reconsideration" of it's relationship with the rest of the UK. He added, however, that these powers shouldn't be for their own sake, and outlines three key conditions which - in his mind - should be key considerations when devolving powers.
  • The Welsh Government's draft budget, and a united opposition motion, both failed to pass the Assembly, resulting in a budget deadlock. A deal was agreed between Labour and the Liberal Democrats on November 25th which will include increased spending on poor pupil grants and a £40million capital investment programme on schools, skills and energy efficiency.
  • Unemployment in Wales rose by 14,000 to stand at 9.3%, matching it's peak during the recession and 1% higher than the UK average.
  • The Conservatives have accused the Welsh Government of being "wasteful" after "excessive" spending on refurbishing the Cathays Park office complex – around £4million per year. The Welsh Government responded by saying that it's future estate plans would lead to cumulative savings of £18million.
  • Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) and Byron Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) both criticised the Welsh Government and Abertis for the continuing decline in passenger numbers and fortunes at Cardiff Airport. The Welsh Government responded by saying they are looking at alternative ownership models, including a partial stake, which would enable greater state assistance to be provided.
  • Local Government and Communities Minister Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside)  said that Wales is better prepared than ever for potential severe winter weather having based Welsh Government preparations on a "worse case scenario".
  • People across Wales and the football world have reacted with shock to the sudden death of Welsh national football team manager Gary Speed in an apparent suicide at the age of 42. The First Minister said that it was "devastating news and that our thoughts are with his friends and family at this time."
  • Environment Minister, John Griffiths (Lab, Newport East),  confirmed that three environment bodies in Wales will merge in 2013, despite concerns that the move might impact the economy - particularly the timber/wood industries.
  • Millions of public sector workers across the UK took part in a one day strike on November 30th due to the failure of the UK Government and trade unions to be able to reach an agreement on public sector pension reforms.

Projects announced in November include : the reinstatement of a bus link between Rogerstone railway station and Newport, a £13.5million business park at Cross Hands in Carmarthenshire, a £1.4million investment for Wales Rally GB, a £2.5million improvement scheme to Aberystwyth rail and bus stations, a £55million expansion of the Flying Start pre-school scheme and a £90million Capital Investment Package.