Independence Index

Your in-depth guide to Welsh independence.

Assembly

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

Bridgend

The major local political stories and developments from Bridgend county.

Laws

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

Committee Inquiries

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

Vice Nation: Sex

How could an independent Wales deal with issues surrounding sex?

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Senedd Watch - February 2013

  • The Assembly rejected a Legislative Consent Motion from the UK Parliament to close the Agricultural Wages Board – which sets wages for agricultural workers in EnglandandWales. Deputy Minister for Rural Affairs, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) will ask for Wales to be excluded from the respective legislation.
  • The First Minister warned NHS reorganisations were essential to prevent the Welsh NHS from “collapsing”. He repeated that the Welsh Government wanted to create a “safe and sustainable health service”, but said that he doesn't expect Welsh Labour to suffer electorally because of the reforms. A poll for BBC Wales later in the month showed 74% of the public were opposed to the changes.
  • Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM (Plaid, Dwyfor Meirionnydd) called for a reduction in the number of local authorities to as few as 7 or 5, a reduction in the number of MPs and an increase in the number of AMs. He said the internal governance of Wales needed to be “slimlined”.
  • Opposition parties called a Welsh Government proposal to introduce online health checks for the over-50s a “monumental climbdown” on a Welsh Labour 2011 election pledge to provide a GP-led health check.
  • The House of Commons voted to approve the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill on February 5th, which will legalise/recognise same sex marriages in EnglandandWales. However, 140 Conservative MPs voted against the plans, meaning the legislation was reliant on Labour, Liberal Democrat and nationalist support.
  • Health Minister Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) said the Welsh NHS will “learn lessons” from a report into an English heath trust, which criticised standards and quality of care. She said there were “robust systems in place to ensure quality and safety are at the heart of NHS care.” Partly in response, Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams warned Welsh NHS staff faced being “overwhelmed” and that a similar scandal could occur in Wales.
  • Conservative and Lib Dem leaders accused the Welsh Government of “setting a dangerous precedent” by stepping in to fund a Welsh language festival in Cardiff following Cardiff Council budget cuts. Andrew Davies (Con, South Wales Central) said the Welsh Government were “cherry picking good causes to save.”
  • A public consultation into M4 improvements around Newport has been deemed “inadequate” by the Welsh Government's own lawyers according to Friends of the Earth Cymru. It could result in a second consultation being required. Shadow Transport Minister Byron Davies (Con, South Wales West) said that would be a “damning indictment of this Labour government's incompetence.”
  • Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood called for the “fast-tracking” of powers to Wales should Scotland vote for independence in 2014, saying Wales would find itself in a “Tory-governed state.” However, both she and Adam Price said independence for Wales isn't a practical possibility until the economy improves, which “could take 10-15 years.”
  • Deputy Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) suspended eight Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (RIFW) projects, pending a double internal investigation into handling of land sales in March 2012, which are currently also being investigated by the Wales Audit Office.
  • First Minister Carwyn Jones described cuts to the EU budget as “deeply unfair” to the poorest parts of the EU. It could result in a £400million cut in EU funding for Wales between 2014-2020. Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards demanded Welsh Labour MPs “apologise” after backing the cuts in December 2012, despite opposition from the Assembly.
  • Food critic Simon Wright called for improved cooking lessons in schools to help combat childhood obesity rates. Obesity experts warned Wales faces an “obesity epidemic” unless action was taken. The Assembly debated the Change4Life campaign, and the Welsh Government said it would look at how teaching cooking could be improved in schools.
  • The First Minister travelled to San Francisco to discuss trade and meet business leaders in hi-tech industries for four days. He announced the creation of 100 jobs at a water purification company in Carmarthenshire. The Welsh Conservatives called for the trade missions to “deliver real investment for Wales.”
  • The Assembly's Public Accounts Committee warned that maternity staff numbers were falling below recommended levels. The Welsh Government said more midwives were being trained. The committee also called for time scales for phasing out Caesarean section births.
  • Eluned Parrott AM (Lib Dem, South Wales Central) accused Welsh Labour of hypocrisy, after UK shadow cabinet members criticised cuts to bus services, while the Welsh Government will make deeper cuts – 25% - to Welsh bus services from April 1st.
  • Chair of the Assembly's cross-party group on eating disorders, Bethan Jenkins AM (Plaid, South Wales West), called for a specialist residential centre for eating disorders to be established in Wales. The Welsh Government said they spent up to £1million on specialist services since 2010, and that those with highly-specific requirements were provided with services elsewhere in the UK.
  • A row broke out over the Human Transplantation Bill, with an organ donation expert claiming the Welsh Government's evidence that legislation – based on a Spanish example – would increase organ donation was “misleading.” However, Kidney Wales Foundation say that an opt-out system would help save minority ethnicity lives as they need more transplants.
  • An EU-backed job creation scheme – Genesis Cymru Wales 2 – may be wound up a year early, after it was revealed fewer than 800 people were found jobs, despite aims of creating 20,000 jobs or qualified individuals.
  • The Welsh Government's submission to the second part of the Silk Commission called for the devolution of policing, with the devolution of the criminal justice system “in the long term”. The submission also called for the devolution of large energy projects – except nuclear energy. The First Minister said policing was “the only emergency service not devolved.”
  • Local Government & Communities Minister Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) introduced the Active Travel Bill. The Bill will place an obligation on local authorities to link together “key sites” with cycling and pedestrian facilities and map integrated networks.
  • Two local authorities – Merthyr Tydfil and Monmouthshire – should have their education services placed in “special measures” by the Welsh Government based on recommendations from schools inspectorate, Estyn. On February 25th, Merthyr's education services were placed in special measures by the Education Minister, drawing condemnation from NASWUT for “heavy handedness”.
  • Unemployment in Wales rose by 6,000 in the three months to December 2012 to stand at 8.6%. Unemployment across the UK as a whole fell by 14,000 to 7.8%. Business Minister Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower) said economic conditions “remained difficult.”
  • A Wales Audit Office report warned the public sector may not be getting value for money with its £133million bill for external consultants fees. They suggested £40million could be saved by following “best practice”. Local government spent the most on consultants, while the Welsh Government saw a reduction in consultants fees.
  • Education Minister Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda) announced Wales will set its own grading system for English Language GCSEs to avoid a repeat of the grade inflation row in summer 2012. The Welsh Conservatives warned this threatened to “devalue” GCSEs in Wales, while Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) said the minister was doing it “without an independent regulator deciding the merits of the case.”
  • Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood called for non-specific legislative measures to create a gender balance in the National Assembly. It follows concerns raised by Llywydd Rosemary Butler (Lab, Newport West) about a fall in the number of women AMs in 2011.
  • The Welsh Conservatives proposed cutting taxes for high earners if tax-varying powers - outlined by the first part of the Silk Commission - were implemented. They hope it would generate a “spirit of greater enterprise.”
  • Plaid Cymru called for the immediate devolution of several areas including broadcasting, food safety, coastguard services and criminal justice “without delay” in their submission to the second part of the Silk Commission.
  • The Welsh Government rejected new Welsh language service standards drawn up by Welsh Language Commissioner Meri Huws for being “too complicated” and “unreasonable.” Welsh language campaigners questioned the Welsh Government's rejection of the commissioner's advice.
  • NHS reorganisations in north Wales could be referred to the Welsh Government after widespread protests, and a cross-party campaign, against moving specialist neo-natal services to Arrowe Park Hospital in the Wirral.
  • The First Minister announced that a “St Davids Awards” will be launched in 2014 to honour “ordinary people who do extraordinary things” in Wales, during a Welsh Conservative Senedd debate on a Welsh Honours system.
  • The Wales Audit Office reported that “a vast majority” of hospital consultants in Wales were working more than 48 hours a week, with one in six working at least 46 hours a week. An improved contract was supposed to have set a 38 hour working week for consultants.

Projects announced in February include : a £16.3million investment in specialist rehabilitation services for elderly neurological/spinal condition sufferers, the second phase of a £30million Economic Growth Fund and the launch of a “NewBuy” scheme to help first-time buyers onto the property ladder.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Bridgend Council budget 2013-14

Bridgend County's budget is being approved today, as local authorities
across Wales try to make the most of dwindling financial settlements.
(Pic : BBC Wales)
In the last week or two, Bridgend Council's cabinet finalised and approved its budget (Item 14) for 2013-14 as well as provisional spending plans for the next four years. The full council met earlier today to discuss the plans and - barring any last minute hitches - approved them.

The total budget is worth ~£255m per year, but the 4-year budget forecasts indicate that it's going to stay at that level until 2016-17.

Although nowhere near as dramatic as the cuts being enacted in Cardiff, there's still a £24million funding gap over the next four years that needed to be closed. Partially as a result, council tax rates in Bridgend will rise by 3.5% in April, after being frozen just before last year's local council elections - which were comprehensively won by Labour.

Bridgend Council leader, Mel Nott (Lab, Sarn), is quoted as saying:
“Reluctantly we feel we must increase council tax this year, but in doing so we have sought to balance the need to protect essential services with households’ ability to manage in these difficult economic times. We will continue to make a determined effort to keep any council tax increases to a reasonable level throughout our administration, despite rising demands for local services and reducing income."

Throw in the various precepts for South Wales Police and Community Councils and the average Band D council tax bill will rise by £50.67.

Yes, he took the obligatory swipe at the UK Coalition too, and he'd have a point as local authorities have come under strain in areas like housing and welfare (not helped by the dilly-dallying over council tax benefit by the Welsh Government the end of 2012). However, local government settlements are ultimately decided and set by the Welsh Government.

I'll be taking an in-depth look at local government very soon, but it's fair to say that scrutiny of budgets is one area where local councils trump the National Assembly. The Welsh Government and civil service seem coy when it comes to giving AMs the same chance to take in-depth looks at spending in areas like the NHS in particular.

It's worth looking at the budget proposals in a bit more detail, including areas which are subject to cuts, as well as protected areas.

Revenue spending

Bridgend County's genuinely excellent recycling rates have led to
possible financial savings. But things don't look good to areas
such as adult social services and highways maintenance.
(Pic : Bridgend County Borough Council)
This covers ongoing funding for council services. There are total "identified budget reductions"/cuts of just over £3.7million for this year. Many of the savings appear to be "administrative" (things like reducing management travel) and are spread over a wide area – saving £10-20,000 here and there.

The biggest losers appear to be the Wellbeing (Leisure & Social Services) and Communities (Planning, Environment & Highways) directorates, each seeing cuts of £1m+ each.

There's a £150,000 cut to learning disability day services – including transport to and from them. This is said to possibly "increase pressure on carers". There are further £35,000 and £20,000 cuts to elderly and physically disabled day services. A "less generous" fair charging policy could also save £185,000 by raising prices .There's a £125,000 cut to management training here too (which could affect service performance) as well as a £110,000 cut to supported living services social activities. A total of £685,000 of cuts have been made to adult social care overall.


There are various cuts to youth, children's and family services – as well as cost savings by merging schools - totalling at least £150,000. This includes cuts to things like education psychology services.There are discussions with the Vale of Glamorgan towards providing joint youth services in the future.

In Communities, it's aimed to save £200,000 by reviewing management and administration. At least a further £130,000 could be saved by negotiating with Neath Port Talbot to reduce the amount of waste sent to the incinerator in Baglan Bay, as overall waste disposal in Bridgend decreases due to increased recycling.

Structural maintenance of highways will be cut by £250,000, offset by prudential borrowing (mentioned later).


£125,000 has been saved in the transfer of leisure services to Halo. Closing the Berwyn Centre is said to save £65,000 in funding for community arts venues. There could be cuts to the running of Bridgend Market too – subject to a review.

It looks as though subsidised bus services in Bridgend have been protected this year, mainly because underused rail link buses were cut in previous years, saving enough money to protect services now – which are due big cuts in grant funding from the Welsh Government.

There are also several identified "budget pressures" – totalling £5.9million. These are areas that could put strain on council finances in the short term. For example : demographic changes and increased demand putting pressure on social services, BCBC losing £83,000 in rent income as Valleys to Coast are moving from their Bryncethin depot, as well as £120,000 costs in keeping the Ogmore Comprehensive site open to the public until Ysgol Bryn Castell and the Pupil Referral Unit move there.

Capital spending

Capital spending is used to provide "completely new" things. Overall capital spending is being cut back over the next few years. Not including external funds available to the council from the likes of the Welsh Government and EU, it's due to fall from £17.5million per year in 2014-15 to £7.8million in 2016-17.

Of the £180million or so capital funding available until 2022-23, the vast chunk of this (~£84million) is to be spent as part of the Schools Modernisation Programme. That includes new schools for Pen-y-fai (currently under construction), Parc Derwen (replacement for Coety Primary), Mynydd Cynffig Primary merger and Pencoed Primary (expanding to accommodate the closing Heol-y-Cyw Primary).



There's £777,000 set aside for Bettws Primary, which I presume is to repair/replace the school, which was gutted by a serious fire last year.



Other projects are likely to be added in forthcoming years, in particular primary school provision in the "Gateway to the Valleys" area (Aberkenfig, Bryncethin, Sarn etc.) and the Garw Valley – a combined total of ~£19million.

~£2.45million is projected to be spent annually on housing renewal projects until 2022-23.

There's another £2.28million in borrowing for highways infrastructure as part of a Welsh Government scheme. It's also worth pointing out the ~£4.7million that'll be borrowed to fund infrastructure to allow Porthcawl's stalling regeneration project to get moving – once a willing development partner is found.

£200k has been put towards what I presume is a replacement for the Berwyn Centre. It's due to be demolished sometime in the next few weeks barring a successful last minute legal challenge.

Fees and charges

Will BCBC be pressed on a £7.20 per hour "living wage" for employees
like other councils? What impact will that have on budgets -
and industrial relations - following the job evaluation debacle?
(Pic : BBC Wales)

  • School meal prices are rising by 10p from September 2013. It doesn't affect free school meals. It should raise £100,000 for the council.
  • Fees for those not eligible for free school transport will rise from £137 per year to at least £200 per year (the document says it would rise by 50% [to ~£205], but they actually give £270, which is a rise of 97%. I think they mean £207.). This affects around 100 pupils.
  • Adult social care fees are subject to the Social Care Charges Measure 2010 - which caps charges - as well as some aspects of the Social Services Bill currently going through the Assembly. A review is likely by BCBC at some point in the future once services are remodelled.
  • Fees for use of Bryngarw House and committee rooms are open for review, but remain (provisionally) unchanged.
  • Partly related to this, I've mentioned the introduction of civilian parking enforcement officers/traffic wardens before.

I've got to say, on paper it looks as if there's a fair spread of the "pain". Welsh local authorities - in general - have come out better in terms of settlements the last few years than English counterparts. However, cuts to things like adult social services and youth services are always going to be controversial – especially in the times we live in. A sum like £10,000 might not look very much compared to revenue cuts of £3.7million, but for small organisations on the ground that would have an impact. Yes, even cutting back on "wasteful spending" like stationary will be noticeable by BCBC staff I presume.


I think, however, the people of Bridgend aren't going to get off as lightly next year. If council tax wasn't rising as sharply as it will this April, I think there would've been harder choices to be made - though it's unclear how much income will be generated. One of the scrutiny committees suggested that BCBC produce "income generating reports" as part of the budget.

Although it appears there's finally been an agreement with trade unions on the contentious job evaluation for BCBC employees, when calls for a "living wage" start to come harder and faster – as they have done in other Labour-run local authorities - there's going to be some big, big problems ahead.

So here's a heads up - the longer term financial projections don't look good at all.

Monday, 25 February 2013

How do you get more women into politics?

It's one of those age old bugbears – the question of women's representation in politics - also covered today by National Left. (Edit 26/02/13 : Another take on on this from Miserable Old Fart, much more detailed look at possible legislative and electoral reforms from Syniadau and an interesting post on gender balance at local government level from last year by Penarth a'r Byd.)

A few weeks ago, Llywydd Rosemary Butler (Lab, Newport West) noted her disappointment in the fall in the number of women AMs from the Third Assembly. Yesterday, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood added to the debate, calling for possible legislative measures to ensure gender balance in the Assembly.

In a triple whammy, The Guardian reported that the numbers of women in positions of power was being "squeezed" in the UK. Just 23% of Westminster MPs are women, which is one of the weakest records in Europe.

Is there that much of a problem in Wales?


As uninspiring as this might sound, a legislature with 44% women is pretty good going compared internationally. The National Assembly is towards the top of the table despite the drop in 2011. We're similar to Sweden and Finland; and ahead of Denmark, Norway and Iceland.

I find it slightly odd that people are worried about this at Assembly level. Two parties in the Assembly are led by women (and the Welsh branch of the Green Party), Plaid are top-heavy with women at senior level, the Llywydd is a woman, many significant government portfolios except First Minister (Health, Social Services & Children, Finance, Economy) are held by women, or have historically been held by women....


It's probably local government and Westminster where the problems lie.


Legislatures should ideally be representative of the electorate - the Assembly already is in terms of ethnic make up. However, in practical terms, will a truly representative Senedd ever be possible? In some cases, is it even desirable?

In terms of actual job performance – which should be a primary concern - I doubt a gender balanced legislature would be any better or worse than one with a minority of either sex. I don't believe women or men have inherent traits that make them good or bad at politics, and it's probably more damaging thinking that either sex do, or that having more women (or men) in the Senedd would "make politics better"

It's hackneyed, but I consider power itself or - as exemplified more recently in certain legal cases - a lack of oversight and scrutiny the most corrupting influence on politicians. Along with things like arrogance and ambition trumping duty, they're general human failings.
As Glyn Beddau also points out, it's no good having more women in politics if they're just going to be a female counterpart to overprivileged, funny handshake, PPE Oxbridge men. I'd be quite happy for some intelligent slime on a distant moon becoming a minister if they could do a decent job of it.

Why are there few(er) women in politics?

I can't speak for women, so I don't know the answer to this, I can only make guesses.

It could be the old chestnut of "leadership" being seen as a "male trait" as a result of traditional gender stereotyping. Older people might be more likely to hold that view, and older people are more likely to vote – hence you might stand more chance of getting selected or elected if you're a man.

That attitude has been conclusively scotched, and will quite literally die out over the next 20-30 years. There must be deeper reasons.

There's the fact that being a full-time politician is probably one of the least family-friendly jobs there is - something I touched on last month. That might put off women, in particular single parents or those with/a desire to start a family, from going into politics. There's little point in coming up with various family-friendly schemes if it's still a 57 hour a week job for an AM - probably more for an MP.

I think one reason that it's a 57 hour a week job is because of presenteeism. That's usually defined as people turning up to work when ill, but it could increasingly include a culture of putting in more hours than necessary for the sake of it. Ministers and senior party officials are exempted from this though as it comes with the territory.

Politicians are more closely scrutinised on "how hard they work" than other professions. There's more pressure on them to be "seen" to give the public "value for money", even if all they do is snooze at a desk or shuffle papers. That drags average working hours up, which might make the job seem harder than it actually is, putting people of both sexes off standing for office. It's not really a male trait, but men are perhaps more likely to do it, especially if family responsibilities are delegated to someone else. You see it in all walks of life.

Women are also caught in an unfair bind. Because there's fewer of them in politics, women are put under greater scrutiny when they reach the top – in any sort of public role - than a man would simply because they "stand out". That means tiny slip ups are pounced on disproportionately, while they have to perhaps work much harder than male counterparts to be respected or get noticed.

There's a flip-side too. As parties want to be seen to be more "progressive" and "inclusive", you might end up with women put in higher positions for their face, not for what they would bring to the table in terms of skills and experience. If they screw up it becomes very hard to remove them because it would be seen, indirectly, as an indictment of women politicians in general, damaging the overall perception. You can kick men out of frontline politics without drawing any attention – barring a scandal.

So, you can see how sometimes affirmative action might damage women's ability to rise to the top. I see it as women not being properly judged in politics by what they can do/have done, more for who they are, especially if they're highly visible.

Related to the above argument, maybe politics is just too nasty. I'm sure many women have gone into it with a sense of wide-eyed idealism only to be ground down by the prevailing political culture of backstabbing, chest-thumping, smears and cynicism. I'd hardly call Assembly politics "macho", but you even see it there from time to time. Maybe women (and men) realise this and don't want to fall victim to it.

It's perhaps why it's increasingly becoming a struggle for parties to find candidates to stand for election. So you end up with more bland, robotic career politicians - who actually want to do it - and unsuitable "paper candidates"  (of both sexes) being elected.

Or, in the case of the 2011 Assembly election, it might simply come down to parties failing to find enough women candidates in the right seats, or a greater turnover of women AMs.

What could be done?


I'm not, personally, in favour of quotas as it goes against the spirit of equality of opportunity. Evidence from nations that have enacted quotas (page 146) points to them not really working either. I think this is probably going to have to be a cultural and attitude change more than anything. That'll take time, but I'm confident it could happen.

Any move to encouraging more women into politics should probably begin in lower tiers of government - getting people used to voting for women freely rather than forced to vote for them. So start with having more women selected to run for council seats, with party mentoring programmes overseen by more experienced female politicians/politicos.

Hopefully, if they get used to it, they would be encouraged to run for higher office, all whilst gaining political experience, creating a "conveyor belt" of sorts. That's how many AMs got where they are regardless of gender.

Being a backbench AM will probably have to become a standard professional 38-40 hour a week job. That would have benefits for all AMs. If you managed to reduce relative workloads to those levels, it could justify paying AMs less too.

It would probably be difficult, but not impossible. The Liberal Democrats are mooting "job sharing" for MPs. However, I think that would be too awkward - especially if two "partnered" MPs ended up disagreeing with one another on policy.

If you increased the number of AMs it might take even more workload pressures off, and parties would have more opportunity to put more women onto ballots - especially if there was a wholescale shift to a proportional voting system.

There are two equally important broad "themes" to AM's work - the advocacy side of it, and the legislative side of it.

I think most AMs enjoy/prefer the advocacy side, where you help people directly and highlight issues of local or national importance whether via campaigning or in the Senedd.

The legislative side is the day to day grind of Assembly paperwork and bureaucracy and looks incredibly tedious. Sometimes it may even be a complete waste of time. I think it's this aspect that needs to be worked on.

Individual AMs have support staff working on this sort of thing. Parties in the Assembly could also delegate the minutiae of legislative stuff to specialist backroom teams (things like scrutinising legislation, budgets, regulations, committee evidence) freeing up AMs to spend more time working with constituents, guiding and shaping policy or on general portfolio matters.

Committee work could be done collectively by party groups (or groups of AMs within party groups) instead of individual AMs, with more flexible delegation of tasks and attendances when appropriate - spreading the workloads between more AMs and staff.


You would still expect AMs to pay close attention to details, but they might spend less time doing so - knocking some working hours off and reducing travel. There should be enough technology around now to enable AMs to work, perhaps even vote or contribute to debates, distantly (in some cases) as well.

I think the overall issue of more women political candidates will have to remain the domain of individual parties. I don't think the solution to this lies in legislation, because once you open the door to gender balance by statute you'll have to – morally - do it for a whole host of other things. I think socio-economic background is still the biggest barrier to people getting actively involved in politics full stop.


If you want a Senedd that truly represents Wales :

  • The average AM's salary should fall by 50% from £53,900 to £27,000, with women AMs being paid £25,160.
  • 15-16 AMs should hold no qualifications.
  • Only 14-15 AMs should hold degree-level qualifications.
  • Only 11 or 12 AMs should be Welsh-speakers.
  • 13-14 AMs should have children living in relative poverty.
  • 15-16 AMs should have some sort of limiting disability.
  • And there should be significantly more AMs below the age of 30 and older than 65 – with at least one or two of those being women aged 80+.
Gender balance in the Assembly is important, because gender is the primary distinguishing feature between people. It's the first point people start to splinter into "groups", and gender balance is most fundamental way to ensure you can represent everyone fairly.

However, it's worth pointing out that AMs have got a lot of other things to sort out - look at that list above - if they really want to to be representative.
Ever.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Life, Ethics & Independence II - Euthanasia


In my second visit to contentious policy issues, I'm going to look at euthanasia (aka assisted suicide). Like the first post on abortion (linked above), I'm not going to include any graphic images, but the content could be distressing etc.

Defining euthanasia

Euthanasia is specifically assisting someone to commit suicide to end suffering or pain. It's almost always associated with people who are enduring terminal physical illnesses, or want to end their life prematurely to avoid (inevitable) suffering as the result of such an illness.

There are several types of euthanasia:
  • Active euthanasia – A person deliberately intervening to end someone's life. For example, administering a lethal injection.
  • Passive euthanasia – Indirectly ending someone's life by withdrawing treatment. For example, switching off a life support machine and allowing someone to die naturally.
  • Voluntary euthanasia – A person making a conscious decision to end their own life and asking for help to do this.
  • Non-voluntary euthanasia – A person who cannot give consent to euthanasia for whatever reason, and someone else – i.e next of kin – makes a decision on their behalf.
  • Involuntary euthanasia – A person euthanised against their wishes by someone else, perhaps out of desperation, "utility" (i.e Nazi extermination of the disabled) or not wishing to see a loved one suffer unnecessarily. This is usually counted as murder.

The difference between suicide and euthanasia

Suicide, as we more commonly associate the term, is usually an act of individual desperation or a spur of the moment decision brought on by extreme circumstances (i.e. self-immolation as a form of protest).


Euthanasia is planned beforehand with the consent/knowledge of somebody else - usually a doctor or close relatives - and has their support one way or another. That means the authorities know that someone is planning to die, and there would be no suspicious circumstances.


Suicides are usually counted as "unexplained/suspicious" by the police, and are investigated as such.

Suicide methods are usually mechanical, euthanasia is medically induced. Suicides are usually carried out by physically healthy (but more often than not mentally ill) people – mainly men - while euthanasia is for the physically ill.

Also, euthanasia is "assisted" by someone else one way or another. Suicides are generally carried out alone, with any other participant having no say in the matter or no prior knowledge. For example, a train driver or someone committing "suicide by cop".

Is suicide "wrong"?



The whole subject of suicide is worthy of a post of its own. It's something I'll have to come back to another time but, to be honest, I don't really want to.

Suicide is a massive taboo in western culture, less so in cultures like Japan where it might be seen as "honourable" in certain circumstances. You'll probably all have your own opinions on suicide itself. However, if you hold beliefs relating to the sanctity of life, you'll probably consider it wrong in any and all circumstances.

Now put yourself in the position of someone whose personal circumstances or physical or mental pain is so bad, that they're willing to confront death "before their time" to end that pain once and for all. In some circumstances that could be considered "brave".

However - unlike euthanasia - that single moment of individual bravery just transfers their pain to other people (metaphorically speaking) - friends, family and even people the person has never even met like emergency service workers. Then it become a "selfish act", anti-social and a medical emergency that needs to be treated as urgently as any other.

But the problem is so hard to tackle directly compared to other medical emergencies, I think it's impossible to prevent it.

The difference between suicide and euthanasia, as noted earlier, is that all those "other people" will have some prior warning and may see euthanasia as "respecting wishes" in a peaceful, planned way, rather than an immediate act like suicide.

The problem is that psychological pain can be just as bad as physical pain. You probably all know that.

However, if you treat both the same, then that line of thinking could morally justify suicide for psychological or personal reasons – which are entirely treatable/preventable - on a par with euthanasia, which is usually for untreatable/terminal/chronic physical pain.

Why would someone want to euthanise themselves or a loved one?


Terry Pratchett has been an outspoken proponent of euthanasia.
Would allowing someone to end suffering before a decline
breach medical ethics?
(Pic : The Guardian)
I hate to repeat myself, but it usually comes down to straight up extreme physical pain, loss of basic functions or wanting to avoid a slow degeneration towards those things. Many people might want to "go out on a high" and prevent loved ones seeing them in that situation. Others might have been in that condition for years and no longer want to endure a perceivably poor quality of life anymore.

In the example of extremely premature births, academics suggested in 2006 that a debate begins on withdrawal of treatment from the "sickest of sick babies". Presumably that means babies born with very severe disabilities that would result in death within days, weeks or months. That could reduce suffering on the parents as much as the baby.

The wider issue is, should patients have the choice?

It binds medical professionals in a catch-22. All doctors take an oath – the Hippocratic Oath – to "do no harm". Nurses take a similar oath.

Their dilemma is whether it's doing greater harm to keep a patient alive, rather than ease their suffering or pain through a medically-induced death. The problem is that "killing a patient" probably counts as right up there in terms of "causing harm", and go against everything medical professionals will have been taught about preserving life - even if it would be welcomed by the patient.

So there are two clashing principles - right of a patient to direct their treatment, and the right of medical professionals to uphold their guiding professional beliefs.

Pros and Cons

If euthanasia were legalised at some point in the future,
what affect would it have on existing palliative care services?
(Pic : ITV Wales)
End suffering with consent of the patient – This is the big, obvious one. Having some sort of legal mechanism for formal consent from a patient may alleviate concerns that helping a patient euthanise themselves would contravene the Hippocratic Oath.

Financial considerations – I didn't want to include this. I'm not that cold hearted! But in debates like this you have to be truthful and up front. Keeping seriously ill patients alive is sometimes a costly business. Keeping them alive against their will, one way or another, may well place financial burdens on the health service unnecessarily. Euthanasia may be a way out, but it must – in all cases – be an informed choice of the patient somehow. There is a danger that, yes, you could open the door to some patients being "pressured" one way or another to euthanise themselves to save money.


Making people feel they're a burden – This could include the elderly who are not terminally ill, or the moderately disabled, who are in discomfort but require some sort of part-time or full-time care. Elderly people are traditionally very stoic and self-sacrificing, and may see euthanasia as preventing being a financial or time burden on family or the state. But wouldn't that count as straight-up suicide?
"Helping people" via euthanasia has been used
to justify some of humanity's most monstrous crimes.
(Pic : disabilityhistory.org)
Impacts on palliative care and hospices – If a majority of near-death patients decided to undertake euthanasia, or if euthanasia even became "expected" for certain conditions, where would that leave existing palliative care services? Would there be funding cutbacks? Would people be less inclined to offer them charity? However, you could consider euthanasia the best palliative care option available in many cases. In the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, palliative care services fall short of those that exist here. You could end up giving people fewer options over how they deal with a terminal disease, and place an expectation on them euthanising themselves.


Slippery slopes – Euthanasia could be seen as half-way towards legitimising suicide, or even legalising some forms of murder and eugenics. But history tells us that, as long as reforms as well-considered, worst case scenarios like this rarely come about.

Government involvement in life-or-death decisions – The pro to this is that they could create a fair system to allow euthanasia for all within agreed guidelines. The con is that it could be seen as a government placing utility and costs ahead of something as fundamental as people living or dying.

Current and future legal status

The closest any part of the UK has come to a euthanasia
law is Margo MacDonald MSP's Member's Bill, which
was defeated in the Scottish Parliament in 2010.
(Pic : The Herald)
Euthanasia, of all sorts, is currently illegal right across the UK. It's currently illegal in EnglandandWales to assist anyone to commit suicide by any means, and it counts as murder. Passive euthanasia is, however, sometimes used by doctors when "death is imminent".

Euthanasia is a devolved matter for the Scottish Parliament as they have a separate legal system. It currently remains illegal there too, but a euthanasia bill was introduced by Margo MacDonald MSP (Ind, Lothian) – who has Parkinson's disease. The End of Life Assistance Bill was subsequently rejected by the Scottish Parliament at the first reading.


There are campaigns for euthanasia to be legalised in the UK, perhaps the most vocal/famous campaigner is author Terry Pratchett, who has Alzheimer's disease. There's a significant stumbling block in that the British Medical Association are firmly opposed to euthanasia. There have also been attempts to introduce legislation in Westminster to allow euthanasia, but they've all been rejected.



British peoples wanting to euthanise themselves usually have to travel abroad to do so. The Dignitas clinic in Switzerland is, perhaps, synonymous with this. Some of these cases end up in the courts as next of kin who assist in euthanasia are liable to prosecution. However to date, as far as I can tell, there haven't been any charges brought against anyone doing this.

Active euthanasia is legal in some European countries – Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands. While passive forms of euthanasia are legal in parts of the US, Germany and Switzerland.

Euthanasia and devolution/independence

Euthanasia can be automated, possible circumventing
concerns about the Hippocratic Oath.
(Pic : via Wikipedia)
Until December 2014 (here), euthanasia had never been brought up as a topic of debate in the Assembly. I don't think that's "wrong" as it isn't a devolved matter. However, in light of the possible creation of a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction at some point in the future – possibly this side of the sun going supernova - it's fair that the Assembly start considering issues like this in the medium term, and the parties start to formulate a stance.

It's likely though that this issue – like same sex marriage - may well be decided in Westminster before we reach that point. But if you think issues around the Human Transplantation Bill are proving controversial, this one would be a whole different kettle of fish.


As to some ideas as what I think could happen:
  • Active and passive euthanasia should be legalised in Wales for patients registered with a Welsh GP for a certain period of time. This would require a Euthanasia Act once there's a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction or independence.
  • There has to be some sort of physical justification – extreme chronic pain, terminal disease, permanent loss of basic bodily functions etc.
  • Active euthanasia should be an "informed decision". That means the patient will have to give some sort of legal consent (i.e. a living will) to having medical treatment withdrawn or to be euthanised. I don't think verbal consent alone would be good enough. The patient will also need to be deemed to have the mental capacity or maturity to make that decision.
  • In cases where written consent can't be given, it should probably be the matter for the courts.
  • Counselling should be made available for anyone considering euthanasia, and euthanasia should be expected to be discussed with a GP beforehand, as well as the option of palliative care (as currently).
  • Passive euthanasia could be authorised by the next of kin (i.e. a person in a coma who's close to death.).
  • Euthanasia should be humane (i.e. lethal injection of sedatives) but needn't be administered by a doctor/nurse. It could be "set up" by a doctor or nurse, but the patient or next of kin would be able to administer it themselves.

Part III will look at circumcision – yes, you read that correctly, circumcision (you'll see why, I haven't gone nuts) - and will be posted in March.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Census 2011 : National Identity & Ethnicity

Is Wales significantly less "British" than commonly believed?
It looks like it.
(Pic : Clive Morgan via theimagefile.co.uk)

How "Welsh" is Wales?

This has been covered before by both Syniadau and Welsh not British. All the data I've used to compile this is available here. I couldn't link to them directly.

2011 was the first census year you were able to officially record yourself as Welsh, English, Scottish etc. so there are no previous figures from 2001 to judge any changes.

% of population giving some form of Welsh
identity in the 2011 census
(Click to enlarge)

So, how "Welsh" is Wales? For this exercise I'm counting "Welsh only", "Welsh and British" and "Welsh and another identity" as "describing themselves as Welsh".

Only two local authorities – Flintshire and Conwy – had less than 50% of the population giving no Welsh identity. Flintshire probably due to close interconnections and cross-border commuting to/from the Wirral, Merseyside and Cheshire. Conwy probably because of retirees and, yes, people moving from the large conurbations of NW England to live by the sea. Denbighshire also came close to having 50% or less. Powys, Ceredigion and Monmouthshire also have what could be considered "weak" Welsh identity.



The strongest Welsh identity is in the south, in particular the former coalfields. RCT and Merthyr have joint highest levels of Welsh identity at 82.2%, with all valleys local authorities (including Swansea and Carmarthenshire) having Welsh identifying populations of 70%+.

Cardiff - as you might expect - falls just short of a 60% Welsh identifying population. I imagine all national capitals are more "international" than their respective nations with the exception of Pyongyang. Newport and Vale of Glamorgan have similar figures, presumable as they are "overspill".

% of the population giving NO British identity
(Click to enlarge)

Nationally, 65.8% of the resident Welsh population gave some sort of Welsh identity, and the clear majority of them (87.3%) considered themselves exclusively Welsh.


But what about "British" identity? It's probably best to highlight how many people gave NO British national identity in the census – that would include people describing themselves as English, Scottish etc. It's actually quite startling.




A clear majority in every single Welsh local authority didn't consider themselves "British" at all. Again this sentiment is stronger in the south Wales valleys, but even in supposedly Anglicised areas it's the same trend, just less pronounced.

It ranges from 81.4% in Merthyr Tydfil to 65.9% in Monmouthshire – and Monmouthshire is the lowest. You're looking at an average 26% of people per local authority considering themselves British or (Something) and British. That's outstripped by Welsh identity and, in come cases, English identity.

The English in Wales

Although the numbers of Scots, Northern Irish and Irish are recorded, they don't make up any significant percentage of the Welsh population. What's clear, and what you probably already knew, is that the English are the largest "minority" in Wales.

% of the resident population giving some form
of English identity
(Click to enlarge)

"Minority" is key. Nationally, just 13.8% of the resident Welsh population identified themselves as wholly or partially English.



English identity ranges from 31.7% in Flintshire, to just 4.5% in Merthyr Tydfil. There's no English majority in any local authority, and doesn't appear to be on the cusp of happening any time soon. The average percentage of people identifying themselves as English (one way or another) per local authority is a paltry 14.9%.

If anyone still thinks Monmouthshire's "a part of England" – 21.8% of the population considered themselves wholly or partially English. Judging by the numbers in the Gwent Valleys – also part of the former county of Monmouthshire – it's probably best the English Democrats stay away from canvassing there. They would be better off trying Connah's Quay and Mold instead. However, I suspect Flintshire isn't "nice" enough to be annexed.


In terms of people born in England, the pattern's varied. 20.8% of the resident Welsh population were born in England in 2011. However, it's heavily skewed towards Powys and Flintshire, with large English-born populations in Ceredigion, Conwy and Denbighshire.

% of the resident population born in England
(Click to enlarge)

Elsewhere in Wales, especially the south, the numbers of English-born are low, barely rising above 10% in Valleys areas. Only 14.1% of Swansea's population were born in England and just 12.2% in Bridgend. Even Cardiff doesn't break the 20% barrier. It's only Monnmouthshire in the south that stands out.

The numbers of Welsh-born living in England amounts to 1% (or 561,000 people, perhaps more) of the English population. The number of English-born in Wales (20.8%) amounts to 637,200 people. So there's clearly been net "English" in migration, but it's a difference of just 76,000 people compared to those leaving. And not all of them will be "English".

Place of birth

In 2001, there was a local authority average of 26.9% of the population born outside Wales. In 2011, that's risen to 29.2% - which is slightly higher than the Welsh national figure (27.4%). This is because the actual figures across Wales vary wildly on a county-to-county level.

% of resident population
not born in Wales
(click to enlarge)


Only two local authorities – Conwy and Denbighshire – saw a fall in the numbers born outside Wales.

However, in Powys and Flintshire, half of the resident population were born outside Wales, with the likes of Conwy (45.5%) and Ceredigion (44.5%) close behind. In fact, the numbers born outside Wales are heavily skewed towards rural parts of the country with the exception of Carmarthenshire.

Now, most of the people reading this are going to immediately point to English in migration. But....


The numbers of people in Wales born in England – outlined further up - have remained relatively stable. There's no evidence of a "mass influx", and in the south the numbers born in England have flatlined or even fallen slightly. Nationally, the English-born population of Wales has only risen by 0.5% compared to 2001, and the bulk of that can be accounted to Powys, Carmarthenshire and Neath Port Talbot. Even Cardiff has only seen a 0.6% rise.

Change in the % of residents born in England
2001-2011
(click to enlarge)

The evidence points to the increase in people being born outside Wales being driven by migrants from the European Union (post 2004 enlargement) or elsewhere, perhaps mainly international students. This was a point I made in the Welsh language post.

Wrexham (+2.6%), Ceredigion (+1.4%), Cardiff (+1.8) and Carmarthenshire (+1.3%) have all seen a rise in EU-born residents that completely outstrips English-born once non-EU born are added to that. It's a similar pattern in every local authority.

At local authority level, there's an average 2.2% increase in the numbers born outside Wales. Up to 1.95% (88%) of that is down to EU and "other" immigrants. It's almost identical to the average fall in the number of Welsh-born residents.


So if you're determined to want a migratory reason as to why the percentage of Welsh-speakers have fallen, you'll have to look much, much further east than Offa's Dyke.

Change in the % of residents not born in Wales
2001-2011
(Click to enlarge)

It's also fair to point out that being "born in England" doesn't mean you're not Welsh, or vice versa.Quite a fair number of Welsh babies in border counties like Powys will have been born in English hospitals I'd imagine – the Royal Shrewsbury is closer than Bronglais. 20.8% of the Welsh population may have been born in England, but only 13.8% of the population consider themselves wholly or partially "English."

Oh, and under those definitions I'm not Welsh either. I count in the census as someone "not born in Wales." If you're going to judge nationality by birthplace alone, I guess I'm going to have to "bugger off home" with a Cantonese dictionary tucked under my arm and leave Wales for the "proper Welsh."


Race in Wales

Outside the cities and university towns, it's safe to say that
Wales remains (relatively) mono-ethnic.
(Pic : BBC Asian Network)

There's little point analysing Caucasians. The average "white" ethnic population per local authority was 96.6%. Bears in woods. Compare that to the 86% total for EnglandandWales.

That means in terms of people from mixed, black, Asian or other (i.e Arab) backgrounds, the all-Wales average is just 3.4% - and that's been dragged upwards by a handful of local authorities.

The only local authorities that can point to having anything close to a multi-ethnic population are Cardiff and Newport. In Cardiff, 15.3% of people are from a mixed or minority ethnic backgrounds, while it's 10% in Newport. Swansea comes in fairly close behind them, but even there 94% of the population are from white ethnic groups.


The largest minority ethnic group across Wales are Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Asians. This broadly corroborates my last census post on religion, where Islam and Hinduism are the two largest faiths outside Christianity.

% of the resident population from a mixed,
black, Asian or other minority ethnic background in 2011
(Click to enlarge)

The largest Chinese communities are in Cardiff (1.2%), Swansea (0.9%) and Gwynedd (0.7%).

The Black-Welsh population though, barely registers outside Cardiff (2.4%) and Newport (1.7%). There's an average black population of 0.38% per local authority. In Merthyr Tydfil there were, in 2011, no black residents (or so few they barely reached .1 of a percent). Several local authorities - in particular across north Wales, the Gwent Valleys and Pembrokeshire - recorded just 0.1%.

Outside Cardiff (2%), Swansea (1%) and Newport (1%); Ceredigion (0.5%) and Gwynedd (0.7%) recorded the largest populations of "other" resident ethnic groups.

What could this mean?

British identity in Wales is soft – It's unclear what impact last summer's successful London Olympics will have had, but it's worth pointing out that the census was taken around the same time as last year's other "Big British Bash" Billy Whizcopter and Kaff getting married. It doesn't appear to have made any impact. I'm not sure what this means for nationalism. It could be a good thing - for obvious reasons. Or, it could equally mean the Welsh are comfortable with multiple nationalities to spend too much time thinking about it. But when they do think about it, they'll perhaps be more likely to lean towards "Welsh" (or English) than "British." Everything points to there being polarisation between a majority Welsh identity and a large minority English identity.

Reinforcing the common bonds of "British identity"? Or excuse for a piss up?
You got to say - based on the evidence - excuse for a piss up.
(Pic : BBC)


The English are not "swamping" Wales (as a whole) – Aside from Flintshire, Powys and the Costa Geriatrica, there's no real sign of any mass influx. Judging by the figures, quite a few English people in Wales may now consider themselves Welsh. Good. Why shouldn't they? What matters is how old they are, and I'll be looking at demography another time.

Wales is becoming more "European" – With 88% of the change in people born outside Wales driven by non-British immigration – especially EU enlargement nations - Wales has become ever so slightly more cosmopolitan. It's unclear if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Hopefully it could lead, in the long-term, to more trade opportunities or university co-operation.

Link between universities and minority ethnic residents – It's fairly probable that having a university in your local authority boosts the numbers of people from minority ethnic backgrounds by attracting international students. That would explain why Ceredigion, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Gwynedd have proportionally larger minority ethnic populations than somewhere like Bridgend or Blaenau Gwent.

Are a large chunk of minority ethnic residents
in Wales international students?
(Pic : The Guardian)
Question marks over Third Sector economies of scale – When AWEMA wound up, there were three or four other race-related charities ready to step in and take over. You have to question - given the small populations of minority groups in Wales – why there's so many of these bodies? Surely it would be better to have a single body/charity with clout, instead of six or seven competing for their own slice of pie? A similar point was raised in the recent arts participation report from the Assembly. By proliferating into ever smaller organisations, competing for ever smaller pots of money, are Third Sector bodies doing minority groups a disservice?


The Assembly accurately reflects Wales' ethnic make up
– There's one AM for approximately 1.7% of the population. Having two AMs from minority backgrounds – Mohammad Ashgar (Con, South Wales East) and Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff South & Penarth) – is pretty much representative, so well done us. So that's a far cry from the hand-wringing that the devolved administrations aren't doing enough here. Maybe positive discrimination here should concentrate instead on gender balance and, in Wales' case, disabilities – my next stop.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Active Travel Bill introduced to the Assembly



 
After a wait of 5 years, an unpassed LCO, and a referendum
a "law governing cycle lanes" has finally made it in front of the National Assembly.
(Pic : Richard & Gill Long via Flickr)

One of the main arguments against the Legislative Competence Order (LCO) system, prior to the yes vote in the 2011 referendum, was that it meant the National Assembly had to ask for permission "to make laws on cycle lanes".

It took THREE YEARS for an LCO relating to cycle lanes - amounting to 3 sheets of A4 - to negotiate Westminster and the Assembly – and it didn't even pass before the referendum date! The frustration and delay led to cycling charity Sustrans ultimately coming out to back a yes vote, with the director of Sustrans Cymru, Lee Waters, being one of the more prominent yes-campaigners.

Since the yes vote, the Assembly now has the power to make a "cycling lane law" unimpeded. Yesterday, Local Government & Communities Minister Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) formally laid the Active Travel Bill in front of the Assembly.

"
Introducing a Bill" sounds like they throw some sort of debutante ball with light
canapés every time a new piece of legislation is drafted, but "laid in front of the Assembly" sounds....voyeuristic.

The Bill itself is very short – in fact it's only 8 pages long. The explanatory memorandum is more extensive. If anyone reading this is interested in how laws are drafted in Wales, but don't want to sift through loads of pages, this might be a good one to follow.

What does the Active Travel Bill aim to do?

Firstly, the aim is to place a duty on local authorities to create maps of "integrated active travel routes" (pedestrian/cycle lanes) within three years of any Act being passed – submitted to the Welsh Government for approval. The local authority will be able to decide themselves what counts or doesn't count as such a route.

Welsh Ministers will have the power to order local authorities to "revise" these maps if they're not up to scratch. Local authorities will be able to change any approved map, but they have to submit a new map (as I understand it) every three years. These maps will also, seemingly, be available to anyone who wants one.


It'll place a duty on local authorities to outline potential future routes, and improve the "range and quality" of such routes. For example, linking "key destinations" (i.e schools, hospitals, public transport hubs, employment areas) via good cycling and pedestrian facilities.


It's similar to something I tried myself last year for Bridgend (Getting Wales on its bike).

Local authorities will have to plan "related facilities" – that includes cycle parking, toilets, showers and pedestrian/cycling crossings.

It'll also mean having "regard to the desirability of.... provision made for walkers and cyclists" when new highways are constructed. There's also provisions to allow Welsh Ministers to issue guidance to local authorities on things like mobility scooters and electric cycles using cycle lanes.

Benefits and Costs

With beefed up monitoring of cycling/pedestrian facilities,
any newlaw may help take traffic off the roads and improve
public health -  possibly safety too.
(Pic : BBC Wales)
Ultimately, this Bill wants to encourage more of us to walk and cycle by placing statutory duties on local authorities to monitor/upgrade cycling and pedestrian facilities to make them more attractive to use.

The explanatory memorandum says that walking and cycling may be seen more as a "leisure activity" than a mode of transport. It's hoped these maps will make it easier for local authorities – especially urban areas – to publicise safer cycling and walking routes.

That would have obvious health and environmental benefits by encouraging exercise and reducing traffic on the roads.

Sustrans estimated, based on scenarios from academic studies, that getting people to walk or cycle regularly could save the Welsh NHS £517million over 20 years (~£26million per year). A "conservative estimate" put the figure at £125million (£6.25million per year).


If local authorities addressed facilities "deficiencies" it may also help reduce road casualties. Although Wales generally has safe roads, the number of pedestrian and cycling casualties in Wales increased slightly between 2010 and 2011. Each road fatality was estimated to cost £1.65million in 2010.


There are economic benefits too. Each additional cyclist is estimated to "add value" to the tune of between £538 and £641 per year – the vast chunk of that through health gains. For every £5million invested in cycling infrastructure, you need to generate an extra 969 cyclists each year for 15 years for that investment to "break even" .

It's estimated the cost of local authority mapping exercises will be around £500,000 over 15 years.

Obviously, the cost of any extra cycling facilities will be significantly greater than that, but it's unclear what would be needed until the local councils carry out the surveys.

To get a rough idea, there's a list of illustrative costs of cycling/walking improvements from Cardiff Council on page 27 of the explanatory memorandum. Here's some highlights:

  • A square metre of footpath - £150
  • 20mph zone signs - £1,000
  • Dropped kerbs & studs - £2,000
  • Pedestrian refuge - £2,500
  • Covered/secured cycle stands - £4,000
  • A new "controlled crossing" - £25,000

Conclusions



My initial reaction to the Bill was – "Is that it!?" It's the first legislation of its kind - so it is a "trailblazer" of sorts - but I'd hardly describe it as "groundbreaking."

However, when you delve deeper into the explanatory memorandum, you realise that there's been quite a bit of thought behind it. Maybe, due to the grand-sounding title, I was expecting something with a little more "oomph".


I suppose, in a way, I'm pleased. It seems as if a bit of what I outlined in "Getting Wales on its bike" has ultimately appeared in the Bill (minus stuff on traffic regulations etc. for obvious reasons). Technically speaking, the point I made about "grading" cycle/pedestrian facilities has made it in as local authorities will be obliged to monitor facilities every few years.


I would be concerned if some local authorities went into over-kill mode and started putting in facilities for the sake of it. The map I made last time, for example, should be considered a wish list rather than "do everything scenario". Obviously, due to budget constraints I doubt any local authority in Wales will do that.

I don't think local authorities will have a hard time mapping, because they already need to produce/keep a "Definitive Map" for rights of way anyway. There are also existing cycling improvement/promotion schemes like "Safe Routes to Schools." If you were unkind, you could sum this Bill up as a cycling/footpath ordnance survey.

Or, you could describe it as a start towards bringing cycling and walking into the mainstream as transport options by treating them with a bit more (official) respect.