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?

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Senedd Watch - June 2013

  • First Minister Carwyn Jones called for a “national conversation” on the future of the Welsh language during a visit to the Urdd Eisteddfod in Pembrokeshire, following the 2011 Census results, which showed a fall in the Welsh-speaking population.
  • The Assembly's Enterprise & Business Committee report into the European Union's Horizon 2020 scheme called for a similar approach taken by the Republic of Ireland and Scotland in pooling and attracting talent - and investment - for research and development.
  • Shadow Transport Minister, Byron Davies (Con, South Wales West), unveiled the Welsh Conservative “blueprint” for Cardiff Airport, including : marketing the airport to new carriers, lower air passenger duty (once devolved), enhanced freight facilities and an improvement to bus services. Vaughan Gething AM (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) described it as a “u-turn” and welcomed them “backing the Welsh Government's interventionist approach.”
  • A vote to approve Mick Antoniw AM's (Lab, Pontypridd) Asbestos Disease Bill was postponed, after representations from the Association of British Insurers claimed the draft law could be outside the competence of the National Assembly due to provisions relating to the insurance industry.
  • The Assembly's Public Accounts Committee criticised Welsh Government handling of the purchase of River Lodge in Llangollen, Powys. The plans were to lease the lodge for a martial arts centre, however £1.6million was “wasted” when the deal fell through, in addition to conflict of interests involving senior officials. Committee chair, Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West), described the inquiry as one of the “most illuminating and troubling ever undertaken by the committee.”
  • Wales has fewer doctors per head than Moldova and Kazakhstan according to Plaid Cymru research. Elin Jones AM (Plaid, Ceredigion) suggested financial incentives to recruit foreign doctors and encouraging bright schoolchildren into medicine. The Welsh Government said the vacancy rate was favourable compared to the rest of the UK, while the BMA described the situation as an “unacceptable state of affairs.”
  • The First Minister published the second annual Programme for Government report. He said it highlighted that his government were “standing up for Wales” during difficult economic times. Opposition parties criticised the lack of targets, describing the report as a “fig leaf” and an attempt to give the impression that “all is well”.
  • The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Peter Tyndall, told the Assembly's Health & Social Care Committee he would like to have the power to block publication of some reports to “protect the vulnerable”. Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, Kirsty Williams, said public reports are needed to learn from mistakes. Legal experts said there were “obvious dangers” from such a move.
  • Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood, repeated her calls for the UK Government to abandon plans to privatise parts of the probation service in EnglandandWales, and for probation to be devolved. She described the UK Government's plans as a “dangerous, ideology-driven path to privatise services that should not be in private hands.”
  • A Westminster committee criticised plans for a £25billion tidal barrage across the Severn Estuary, claiming information submitted to them was inadequate, and that there was an “unproven” case. They suggested alternative ways to harness tidal power be found.
  • The First Minister warned further cuts could be made to “unprotected services” in the run up to the UK Chancellor's spending review on June 26th. The spending review made a 2% cut in the Welsh Government's revenue budget, but UK Chancellor George Osbourne promised “impressive” plans for an M4 relief road, as well as a response to Part I of the Silk Commission.
  • Health Minister Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West) announced legislation would be introduced giving local health boards three years to submit accounts (instead of annually) to give them greater flexibility. He also said cancer patients should see specialists within 10 days to help meet a 62 day target for treatment, and announced a new plan to reduce “bed blocking” to increase emergency treatment capacity.
  • A second conference on media coverage of the Assembly - on hyper-local journalism - suggested AMs need to make their work relevant to the public and the Assembly should back the creation of local news outlets.
  • The Assembly's Constitutional Affairs Committee recommended the “complete disestablishment” of the Church in Wales, after “loopholes” were revealed, tying the Church in Wales to the Church of England. They also recommended that changes to burial law, with regard Church in Wales burial sites, could be included as part of a future Bill.
  • Tourism advisers told the Welsh Government that Wales should aim to become an upmarket, luxury tourist destination, with an aim of increasing tourist spend by 10% over the next seven years. Business Minister, Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower), described the target as “challenging yet realistic.” It's estimated that visitors spend £4.5billion in Wales annually.
  • Plaid Cymru freedom of information requests showed that 11,000 life-threatening emergency calls took more than twice the 8 minute target to be responded to by ambulance. Elin Jones AM described the figures as “disturbing”. The Welsh Government said only 6.8% of urgent calls were attended to later than 20 minutes.
  • Former Plaid Cymru leader and Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, resigned his Ynys Mon seat on June 18th – which he represented since 1999 - to lead the development of the new Menai Science Park. Political figures paid tribute, with Leanne Wood thanking him for his work “over the last 26 years.” His resignation triggered a by-election, due to take place on August 1st.
  • A report into Welsh education arrangements recommended the number of local education authorities be “cut by a third”, following a review requested by the Welsh Government, and in light of a quarter of local authorities having their education services in “special measures”.
  • The National Assembly passed the Local Government Democracy Bill, which makes changes to the boundary and remuneration commissions, and requires community and town councils have a web presence by 2015. An amendment also passed, setting out the role of the Independent Remuneration Panel with regard setting the pay of local authority chief executives.
  • The Assembly's Public Accounts Committee report into grant management highlighted several failures and weaknesses within the Welsh Government, in particular lack of cross-department monitoring and not reacting quickly enough to concerns about irregularities. There was also an attack on the handling of the AWEMA scandal in 2012.
  • Lindsay Whittle AM (Plaid, South Wales East) said he would table an amendment to the Social Services & Well Being Bill to outlaw “smacking”, describing it as a “golden opportunity”. Glyn Davies MP said the responsibility fell within criminal justice powers and was outside the Assembly's devolved competence, describing it as a “borderline issue”.
  • The Assembly's Health Committee reported that the Welsh Government were unlikely to meet their diabetes treatment targets unless urgent action is taken. They said the disease had reached “epidemic” levels, with 5% of the Welsh population now having diabetes, costing the Welsh NHS £500million per year.
  • A Task & Finish Group report, chaired by Baroness Grey-Thompson, recommended that PE becomes a “core subject” in schools to help combat obesity and increase children's physical activity. Teaching unions supported the idea in principle, but warned that it could end up diluting other core subjects like English and maths.
  • Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats announced they would work jointly on budget negotiations, with the Welsh Government needing to negotiate with one team representing both parties in future.
  • Leighton Andrews resigned as Education Minister on June 25th, after the First Minister refused to support his decision to oppose school changes in his Rhondda constituency - as part of his own surplus places policy – in the Senedd. The First Minister also rebuked him, and others, earlier this month for using Welsh Labour branding in a campaign against potential downgrades at Royal Glamorgan Hospital, Llantrisant.
  • Following the resignation, and subsequent reshuffle on June 26th, the First Minister took responsibility for the Welsh language, Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) was appointed Education Minister, Jeff Cuthbert (Lab, Caerphilly) Minister for Communities & Tackling Poverty, while Vaughan Gething and Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South) were appointed to deputy minister positions.
  • Two senior executives of north Wales' Besti Cadwaladr health board resigned after a damning report into the running of the board, which cited management failings, delayed operations and a lack of foresight when planning – all of which was said to have "put patients at risk”.
  • Business Minister Edwina Hart said a new consultation on an M4 bypass around Newport would be launched in September following the Comprehensive Spending Review, where the project was described as “one of the most important road projects in the UK.”
  • The first report from Prof. Dylan Jones-Evans into access to finance for small and medium sized businesses, recommended that more bank lending decisions be made in Wales, better links between business support programmes and the banking sector and changes to how lending applications are dealt with.
  • A report from the Wales Co-operative Centre suggested that more be done to increase the number of housing co-operatives in Wales, citing ten potential schemes across Wales which could be developed in this way.
Projects announced in June include : a £2billion infrastructure programme by Dwr Cymru until 2021, a consultation into a national service to help flood victims, £1.9million to boost credit union membership, plans for a £200million gas-fired power station near Hirwaun, confirmation from the UK Government of plans for a £250million prison in north Wales and a £10million free wi-fi project in Cardiff city centre.

Friday, 28 June 2013

When a butterfly flaps its wings in London....

The Welsh Secretary launched a broadside at the Welsh Government and National Assembly earlier this week, and is quoted as saying (via The Guardian) :

Jones criticised the Labour-led Welsh government for seeking further powers. The secretary of state said: "It's like a butterfly collector: here's a new one, I'll just pin it up on the board. We need powers for a purpose. Frankly, a lot of the powers they have at the moment are not being used."
Jones added: "The model we have in Wales is the correct one. It should be a dynamic form of devolution that sees powers flowing backwards and forwards as and when required in a way that best meets changing circumstances."
Well, if we're going to use the butterfly collector analogy, the reality is something like this :

Wales has the board and pins.
Butterflies, I'm presuming, represent the Assembly's powers.
The Welsh Government and Assembly are indeed butterfly collectors.


Except, instead of collecting butterflies, they're told they can only collect butterfly parts, with the likes of David Jones Cheryl Gillan, Peter Hain handing over to the Assembly a wing, body or head.

So the Welsh butterfly collection resembles something found in a serial killer's basement – bits of ripped up insect hoisted on pins - not anything equivalent to a working devolution settlement. You have to question the mindset of those who devised such an arrangement.

You know the beginning of Gladiator? Where a German holds up a decapitated head?

"Rydych chi'n bob cŵn felltithio!"

What David Jones is telling us is that, "People should know when they're conquered."

But his criticism didn't end there :
Jones also criticised the lack of excitement and apparent engagement in debates at the Welsh assembly. He said too many members appeared to be "fiddling with computer screens rather than engaging with the debate" and claimed: "That tends to lend an air of detachment to the proceedings."
Jones said: "The House of Commons is a lot more rough-and-tumble than the Assembly. Frankly the House of Lords is a lot more rough-and-tumble than the Assembly."

Considering all that's happened this week, his comments appear to be rather mistimed. Although, in fairness, he's only aping what's been said by journalists recently, why is there this obsession with bringing "rough and tumble"/"yah boo" debate to the Senedd?

It would make good TV and soundbites, but the quality of debate wouldn't improve. It's sounds an awful lot like advocating that AMs shout over each other about very little.

If the Senedd becomes a competition to see who'll be the first to bring the public gallery crashing down with their booming Churchillian oratory, it'll be a backward step. I don't think it'll do its image any good to have worried onlookers surround a smashed greenhouse, as those inside blast Mills & Boon terms through loudhailers in order to get hearts fluttering about fly-grazing, or a ban on cheese.

The closest most people get to seeing Assembly debates, I'd imagine, are edited versions for news and current affairs programmes anyway (if they bother to watch them).

The online services for keeping up to date with what's happening – like the Assembly's website and the Assembly's Research Service – are excellent too, but you can only lead a horse to water.

It's presumptious for anyone to pressure AMs to do their jobs a certain way, lest it ends up like this, or like this.

However, there's no need for AMs get riled up by anything David Jones said. It appears Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM (Plaid, Carms E & Dinefwr) and Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM (Plaid, Dwyfor Meirionnydd) took the bait on behalf of the Assembly.

Those in the inner sanctum of Welsh politics need to be careful they don't give the impression of being unable to accept any criticism of their role.
Nor should they actively go out of their way to avoid criticism. They've probably had it easy on that front, surrounded by friendly faces in Cardiff and elsewhere who value their time, input and attention and treat them as VIPs.

They shouldn't act surprised that some will never be happy with what they do, what they say or how they act - even if they produce the best evidence imaginable to support themselves. There are plenty out there who would be more than happy to see the whole lot get P45s - I know quite a few.

It's also a gift for those sniffing for stories, trying to meet insatiable public demand to "take politicians down a few pegs", and the sockpuppets on Wales Online and elsewhere.

It's fair to say that sometimes we – as in the public - get angry over the wrong things. That's because the Welsh Government and Assembly have gotten away with so many big things down the years, that as soon as there's a bit of bad news or criticism - regardless of how small - it's now used as an opportunity to attack the institution as a whole.

Instead of saying precisely why they need more powers, for example, AMs and ministers end up going on the defensive about the criticism itself,
launching rather weak party political or small-n nationalist arguments, without countering that criticism head-on.

It even manifests itself in anti-Welsh language fluff. Fortunately, that's because those who espouse a nihilistic, anti-politics, anti-devolution agenda can be ignored quite easily as - to date - they've never articulated their arguments very well.

They might be able to one day, though. If AMs keep carrying on as if everything's fine, their mandate is beyond reproach and everyone's on board, they'll be sitting ducks.

And I say that as perhaps one of the observers with more affinity for them.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Physical Literacy - Should PE become a core subject?

With obesity on the rise, is it time for PE to be at the
heart of school life in the same way as literacy and numeracy?
(Pic : The Telegraph)
On Monday, a Sports Wales Task & Finish Group - chaired by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson - reported back to the Welsh Government their proposals to increase levels of physical activity in schools.

I've covered the "obesity crisis" in Wales before, but the requirement for a review into school activity is laid out in very stark terms in the report (which you can read here) :
  • 36% of under-16s in Wales are overweight or obese (2010).
  • The percentage of 2-15 year olds who are obese rose from 16% in 2008 to 19% in 2010.
  • Just 28% of primary and 26% of secondary school pupils are said to be "regularly active".

There was a separate warning from the Assembly's Health Committee, whose latest report suggests diabetes is reaching "epidemic" proportions in Wales, and the Welsh Government are likely to miss targets for tackling the disease. Type II diabetes is linked to excess body weight.

So if nothing's done, in the long term it's going to lead to reduced healthy life expectancy and put immense strain on NHS resources. It's also likely to be the first thing in Leighton Andrews' successor's in-tray.

School PE – The current situation

PE is a compulsory part of the national curriculum for 3-16 year olds, but it's compulsory in the same way religious education, PSE and IT are – usually one or two teaching hours a week. There could be simple practical reasons why, like too few facilities for too many pupils.

The report cites research that suggests the vast majority (74%) of primary school pupils enjoy physical activity "a lot", with only 4% saying they don't enjoy it at all. That changes in secondary school, with only 50% enjoying it "a lot" and 14% not enjoying it at all. The report hints that PE lessons themselves might be putting pupils off regular exercise.

It's said that while professional athletes and big sporting events like the Olympics provide "inspiration" – and have led to "promising" increases in sports participation in Wales since – they don't provide enough of an inspiration for the "hardest to reach".

What does the report recommend?

PE lessons and teachers don't have the best of reputations.
But is their contribution to pupils' future wellbeing undervalued?
(Pic : Vest Virginia Surf Report)

There was one major headline recommendation – that PE should become a "core subject" in the national curriculum alongside English, maths and science (and Welsh first language in Welsh medium schools).

That would require a significant shift in mindset to make the subject more "valued". They want more teachers to take part in the Physical Education and School Sport (PESS) programme, which offers higher quality training, in order to develop "expert teachers".

Allied to this, there's a desire to create a framework for "physical literacy" in the curriculum – physical literacy defined roughly as, "having the motivation and confidence to become physically competent". It'll mean all teachers will have to show competence when it comes to PE in the same way they have to for literacy and numeracy.

It's estimated the cost of developing this would be around £5million.

I think that's sound. If you don't teach languages properly, you end up with illiterates. If you don't teach maths properly, you end up with innumerates. If you don't teach science properly, people get killed by plug sockets. If you don't teach PE properly, people will grow up to live unhealthy lifestyles.


What else could be done?

  • PE (in secondary schools) could be "streamed" – The more able are currently taught PE alongside those who aren't as good or confident. That's unfair to both groups. Separate the "elite", who could go down the road of more professional coaching, from those who need exercise for exercise's sake.
  • Doctor/Nurse exemptions only? - Pupils are actually going to have to participate in PE regularly in order for this to work, so exemptions from lessons could perhaps be a certificate signed by a GP or school nurse. However, certain biological cycles would make PE uncomfortable for girls and could complicate matters here. So maybe that could be treated with more tact and as a special case.
  • Change PE outfits – Schools shouldn't have a set "PE kit", and perhaps should let pupils choose what they wear when doing exercise. This could help girls and the overweight in particular for obvious reasons.
  • Better organised sport clubs & competitions out-of-school – That's a whole topic in itself, but if you want pupils to be healthy and active all year round, they'll have to be active outside of PE lessons as well. I've mentioned "umbrella clubs" before, with many different sports playing under one co-operative identity in a given area.
  • Make use of out-of-school facilities – This was hinted at in the report, and many schools already do this to a certain extent. If a school is close enough to a leisure centre, for example, but don't have the facilities on school sites, should they have time set aside to use them exclusively?
  • Be creative – PE shouldn't be all ball games, atheltics and gymnastics. The definition of PE could be expanded to include things like martial arts, outdoor activities like geocaching and cycling, mixed-sex sports like korfball, as well as dancing exercises and pool-based exercise. Schools could work in partnership with outside experts and sports bodies to develop these classes.

What are the other issues?

I think it's going to be very difficult to incorporate the Chief Medical Officer's recommendation of three hours of "vigorous physical activity" for every pupil per week into school timetables, especially in secondary schools. We're going to have to give serious consideration to extending the school day if that's the benchmark level of exercise the Welsh Government eventually want to adopt.

Does physical activity stop at the school gates?
(Pic : cycleshelters.uk.com)

Physical fitness doesn't just come down to exercise either. You could easily argue that nutrition should become a core subject for the same reasons as PE. We also have to encourage walking and cycling to school (and generally in life) and provide healthier meals in school canteens.

As well as increased physical activity, schools are going to have to offer more choice in terms of those activities, especially if they want to get to those "hard to reach" groups.

Even at my biggest I was strong for my size and had a decent throwing arm. But running for extended periods of time was painful, I'm not tall enough to be a useful rugby player, so-so at football and a poor swimmer. Maybe pupils should be pointed towards activities that take advantage of innate physical abilities and likes - with teachers trained to look for those strengths and guide pupils towards sports they might actually be good at.

So it's fair to say that I really enjoyed some sports and activities, and genuinely dreaded others, groaning whenever I saw PE on the timetable. Heavy rain during the summer so we would play handball or 5-a-side instead of doing cross country or athletics felt like a godsend. Did anyone else think like that?

PE is currently taught in a way that's a bit like going to subject called "art", having to play a musical instrument – regardless of talent - and getting ripped apart if you're not any good. That's silly, isn't it?

Do we need to be careful that the emphasis
on healthy lifestyles doesn't lead to
over-emphasis on a physical "ideal" ?
(Pic : thecurvynerd.com)

There's also the overarching issue of body image. Even if the underlying principle of more exercise is fine, you're going to have to be careful that the emphasis on "healthy bodies" doesn't lead to pupils developing a complex.
It needs to be made clear to everyone from an early age that we all come in different shapes and sizes, and that's fine, but you still need to live healthily.How would teachers be able to do that if on the one hand they're telling pupils they're fine the way they are, and on the other asking them – "Do you even lift?"

Bethan Jenkins AM (Plaid, South Wales West) has advocated self-esteem lessons in schools. I can understand why, but aren't body image issues indirectly a result of everyone else's attitudes and the media, not the self? Maybe teaching compassion would be better, if somewhat more difficult.


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Leighton Andrews resigns as Education Minister

The timing's a bit of a shock, but after what happened in the Senedd earlier today, it isn't a complete surprise.

It's hard to openly oppose two major government policies like that - including your own - in as many months and expect to carry on in cabinet. Once the First Minister failed to fully back him (and it was nigh on impossible to do so, to be fair) the writing was on the wall.

The inevitable questions are going to be asked. Is Leighton putting his constituency's needs first? Or is he that worried about a challenge in 2016 that he felt the need to go now, and do some damage limitation should - for example - the Royal Glamorgan be downgraded?

Considering he's one of Welsh Labour's "big names", you would expect his time outside cabinet to be temporary.

I'm going to review how Welsh ministers have performed by the end of next month - as I did last year - and I was going to be fairly complimentary. I don't think you can question Leighton's commitment and determination to drive through changes in the Welsh education system, even if his methods have perhaps been a bit aggressive.

Somehow, I doubt teaching unions are going to miss him. I'm also a little annoyed that Michael Gove is probably smiling right about now.

But we really needed that approach, as the whole thing had been left to stagnate for some time. At least Leighton was willing to knock heads together, instead of taking a more conciliatory approach, or being under the thumb of civil servants. He had a refreshingly positive attitude to both the Welsh language and the use of technology in the classroom too.

The question now, is who is his successor going to be? It's not an easy job to fill, as like health, education is one of those areas under constant scrutiny. It's likely to become a major issue if Welsh PISA results don't improve in the next wave, and standards overall are still trundling along.

The First Minister has a pretty important and big decision to make here. It could genuinely be make or break.

Will this be a chance for someone new, but unproven, to to move to the front bench? Or will Carwyn opt for a familiar face from a significantly weakened ministerial talent pool?

When you consider the emergency bill announced today (I'll come back to that another time), the Plaid-Lib Dem budget pact, the forthcoming Ynys Mon by-election....

Is that a "pulse" I can feel in Welsh politics?

UPDATE 26/06/2013 : The First Minister has just announced his second reshuffle of the year.

  • Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) has replaced Leighton Andrews as Education Minister.
  • Jeff Cuthbert (Lab, Caerphilly) has been promoted to Minister for Communities & Tackling Poverty
  • Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) is the new Deputy Minister for Communities & Tackling Poverty - a new role, if slightly confusing.
  • Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South) is the new Deputy Minister for Skills & Technology.
  • The First Minister himself will take responsibility for the Welsh Language.
I think moving an experienced minister to education is sensible, and Carwyn didn't have many other options to be frank. It's not much of a surprise that Vaughan Gething and Ken Skates are now in cabinet, but that also means that Welsh Labour have now lost two quite effective cheerleading loyalists from the backbenches and gained a grumpy Leighton Andrews.

These are interesting times.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Giving devolution a smack

A ban on "smacking" in Wales has reared its head once
more, but is there any chance of movement?
(Pic : topnews.ae)
BBC Wales reported last week on another (long-standing) row bubbling over the Assembly's powers, this time in relation to a ban on "smacking".

Lindsay Whittle AM (Plaid, South Wales East) described the Social Services and Well Being Bill – due to return from committee later this year – as a "golden opportunity" to enact a ban, saying he would table an amendment to that effect. However, once again the question of whether the Assembly would be able to do so has been raised.

This issue was first raised in 2011. The Assembly approved a cross-party motion calling on Deputy Minister for Social Services & Children, Gwenda Thomas (Lab, Neath), to enact legislation banning smacking, which she rejected.

I don't like repeating myself, but with the Silk Commission, reserved powers being openly discussed and the fact we all like a constitutional fudge (because it seems to be the only way to get Welsh politics into the headlines), I've decided to come back to it.

The background to the ban proposal


As for my own beliefs, I think parents alone should decide how to discipline their children, and there might be scenarios where physical restraint is appropriate (i.e. a younger child running out into a road, breaking up playground fights). There's a difference between "physical restraint" and striking a child though.


I loath dragging out
clichés, but I was smacked and it didn't do me any harm.

However, that sort of anecdotal evidence doesn't mean it'll be the same in all cases.
Using violence to routinely punish children is perhaps a sign the parent has "lost it", not the child, and it provides cover for abuse. A smacking ban has the support of various bodies, including the Royal Colleges of Paediatrics (pdf) and Psychiatrists (pdf).

I'm not opposed to a smacking ban in principle, I just think it would be difficult to enforce. It could lead to confusion as to what constitutes smacking, discourage "physical restraint" of any sort - even if it's needed - or end up bogged down in guidelines that nobody will pay any attention to.

Welsh Labour, based on their track record of wanting to uphold children's rights, probably would ban smacking if they had the opportunity.

I think this time they'd rather avoid a confrontation with Westminster on the constitution so one of their flagship Bills can pass. This particular Bill has taken its time to get this far and has been seriously troubled at several points.

Betsan Powys noted back in April that Labour's Chief Whip, Janice Gregory (Lab, Ogmore), changed the party's membership on the Children & Young People Committee, replacing vocally pro-smacking ban AMs like Christine Chapman (Lab, Cynon Valley) and Julie Morgan (Lab, Cardiff North). With amendments to legislation needing cross-party support in committee, it would've preventing that from happening.

The Bill will return to plenary with Lindsay Whittle keen to put an amendment in. That's unlikely to have much Conservative support, so any amendment would need significant Labour support, as well as Plaid and the Lib Dems on board.

So, in my opinion, the "golden opportunity" was lost in committee thanks to the musical chairs.

The power to ban smacking


Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 – which outlines what powers are devolved to Wales since the 2011 referendum - says that:
(Part 1, section 15)

Social welfare including social services. Protection and well-being of children (including adoption and fostering) and of young adults. Care of children,young adults, vulnerable persons and older persons, including care standards. Badges for display on motor vehicles used by disabled persons.

....are devolved. There are no exceptions relating to "corporal punishment" or "legal physical chastisement of children".

If smacking is counted as an assault, then that falls under the banner of "criminal justice".
The Assembly, however, does have the power to change criminal laws for matters within its remit, even if the criminal justice system as a whole isn't devolved.

If smacking falls under the banner of "protection and well-being of children" or even domestic violence – which you could interpret it as - then it probably is devolved.

Last time it was David Davies MP (Con, Monmouth) who raised the issue of this being non-devolved –  partly because he opposes a smacking ban anyway. This time it's Glyn Davies MP (Con, Montgomery), though Glyn is perhaps more correct to describe it as a "borderline issue" rather than black or white.

The question then, is whether smacking is an assault or a punishment relating to childcare? The latter probably means it falls under the Assembly's remit.

But that would also mean that David Davies - and others who oppose a smacking ban in Wales on constitutional grounds - would consider smacking a form of "assault" and a criminal offence, which....contradicts their position.

If Lindsay – or other AMs who support a ban - fail to get their amendment in this time around, I think they should concentrate on the proposed domestic violence law. That'll get the Welsh Government shifting uncomfortably in their seats. They couldn't work to end a form of violence against adults whilst neglecting children, could they?

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Life, Ethics & Independence V - Animal Rights & Animal Testing

Animal testing - are the outcomes worth it? Or should
we rethink our relationship with other animals?
(Pic : The Guardian)

The next look at medical/scientific ethics and independence visits one of the more emotive topics: the issues of animal rights and policy challenges surrounding animal testing and vivisection.

Do other animals have "rights"?


There are various stances relating to how humans should treat other animals, whether in the wild or in captivity. For example, pets are technically "in captivity", but you might react differently to an endangered species being kept captive in a zoo, or the same to both. I'll come back to zoos and circuses another time, as there's a lot to discuss there in their own right.

As for the stances themselves :
  • Animal Welfare – Concern about the treatment of animals in terms of health and well being. It could include conservationism, where humans act as benevolent guardians or treat other animals with respect, but not as an equal. Also, concern for animal welfare is beneficial to humans –  domesticated farm animals, working animals like police dogs and natural pest removers.
  • Animal Rights – Other animals have "personhood" in the same way humans do. Denying animals the same rights as humans - to varying degrees - is seen as a form of prejudice, sometimes dubbed "speciesism".
  • Animal Liberation – A more fundamentalist strand of animal rights, which views other animals as being actively oppressed by humanity and should be liberated by (usually, but not always) non-violent means.

I personally lean towards animal welfare. I don't think you can afford "rights" – as in a "power to do something" - to an entity that has no concept of "rights" or never will. There can be such a thing as children's rights because at some point they'll understand what "rights" are – plus it's in a species own interest to protect their offspring from harm if they have the power to do so.

A cow is certainly a conscious entity. But would it realise
it has "rights", and if not, can other animals in the
same position be granted "rights"?
(Pic : jigzone.com)

Having said that, it's widely accepted that other animals have consciousness and have concepts of pain, fear, loyalty and in some cases things like shame – any dog owner would tell you that!

So it's equally wrong to suggest that non-humans don't possess self-awareness. It just isn't "sapience" – a heightened level of self-interest that currently only humans verifiably possess, and leads to the creation of science, arts, and even contemplating your place in the ecosystem in the first place.

That doesn't mean humans are "above nature", in fact believing that would show a misunderstanding of how things like evolution work. We're still put in harms way other species, even tiny things like viruses.

However, armed with sapience and specialist tools, humans can effectively do whatever we want. That's a unique position on Earth, but that power comes with great responsibility and great policy and ethical challenges.

How should we relate to other animals?

This is how insulin was discovered - and led the way for
treatments for diabetes. Should the use of other animals
by humans have to have ends that justify the means?
(Pic : adpischools.org.uk)
This depends on your viewpoint. Another animal could be nothing more to you than another resource. It could be a non-human friend. It could be something that should be left well alone.

Humanity's relationship with other animals usually revolves around the concept of "utility" – how useful they are to us, or whether they pose a risk to our interests. Animal rights simply doesn't buy into that, because it treats other animals as property rather than individuals with self-ownership.

There are shades of grey that confuse things though.


Using animals for clothing in arctic/sub-arctic regions might be the only practical way to stay warm. I'm not talking about "a bit chilly", I'm talking temperatures that would kill in minutes. It's usually done sustainably too, with humans only taking what they need each time.

You can argue that there's no similar justification for a factory-farmed real fur coat being worn when it's just below freezing in Paris or Milan. Moscow, perhaps yes.

"Fashion" isn't a utility – it's not necessary, it's just a social statement. "Not freezing to death" is a utility that might necessitate the use of an animal for your very survival. Are both wrong? Or is one significantly less "wrong" than the other?

This becomes complicated in moral/ethical arguments about diet. Eating is an essential utility, but it's not necessarily a utility to eat meat when there are ready alternatives. However, humans have just mechanised natural predatory behaviour in a way only humans can. Would it be "more moral" - based on the fur argument - to go out and hunt for your own meat instead of buying pre-packaged versions?

Anything humans do is part of this natural cycle. It's just we have better tools, and we've become too efficient at it for our own good, so the planet suffers as a result. The same arguments – the ends having to justify the means – will inevitably apply to animal testing.

Animals in research

Zebrafish are becoming increasingly popular due to special
abilities that could aid cancer research.
(Pic : The Guardian)
The use of animals in research is heavily restricted in the UK. Everyone working with an animal needs a licence, the scientific project needs a licence and the institution hosting the project needs a separate licence too. So it has to be licensed by the Home Office three times. In many cases it also has to pass ethics panels.

Other animals are used as a "scientific model". That means they're used to simulate something else, like a human disease. The use of an animal as a scientific model has to be justified in license applications, and you also have to prove that you considered alternatives, or considered not using animals at all.


For example, fruit flys (Drosophila) are usually used for genetics experiments as they breed very quickly and have a very simple and easy to manipulate genetic component. Zebrafish are becoming increasingly popular for the same reasons, and they also have particular regenerative ability that's important in cancer and tissue regeneration research.

Rodents – especially mice - are used for more complicated medical experiments because they share between 90-95% of the human genome, while their genes associated with disease are identical.

It's rare that any animal larger than a rat is used, and just 0.1% of animal research involves primates - usually macaques. It's illegal to use any "great ape" (chimps, gorillas, orangutans etc.) in medical experiments in the UK and other European nations. It's not in the United States, though it's been suspended.


Animal testing for cosmetics was banned across the European Union in 2009, and a ban on the sale of cosmetic products tested on animals across the EU came into effect in March.

Again, that's probably about weighing the value of the outcome with the ethics of using an animal in the first place. When it comes to making people look good – animals are out. When it comes to developing new medical treatments – animals are in. You can decide for yourselves on things like diet and fashion, based on your own beliefs and what you buy.

Why don't we use humans instead?

One of the big arguments against animal testing is that it doesn't exactly match a human. It's suggested that only between 5-25% of human and non-human test results match, and 95% of medicines trialled on other animals are unsuccessful or scrapped when it comes to humans.


Well, there's a reason for that. Developing new drugs or treatments is an incredibly hard, laborious process that can take decades and doesn't always work. It's science. It's not about being right "first time", it's more like a jigsaw puzzle. It's not like coming up with a new crisp flavour.

All medicines are, at some point, tested or trialled on humans. It's just that another animal is used early in the process.
Usually, people involved in trials have whatever illness is being targeted. Sometimes it's done voluntarily, sometimes people get paid a small fee. It's usually done to test for side-effects in humans, while the use of other animals would've determined if they were safe treatments or if the underlying ideas are correct.

Using, for example, convicted criminals would still be morally dubious. They would likely expect to receive compensation – i.e. reduced sentences. Is that worth it for the sake of dropping soap in their eyes?

There are examples where nations have banned the use of other animals in early stage medical research, or ordered the banning of vivisection too. They used humans instead, all of whom they considered criminals, based at special facilities like this one. We generally don't consider it an option anymore.


It's usually much easier and quicker to induce a disease in a mouse, and I'm not even going to touch the ethics of inducing diseases like cancer in a human, either by force or voluntarily, criminal or non-criminal.

As for "professional" human clinical trialists, the sums of money offered to participate are paltry for a reason. The only people who would do it over and over again willingly are likely to be the poor and desperate. You don't want to create a marketplace for that sort of thing.

There's hope that we might be able to create accurate human-based scientific models for diseases by using stem cells to create organs or systems to test theories and treatments on. Very realistic dummies have also been developed for the US military to practice trauma surgery in the field (graphic image warning). Computer models alone won't be enough, as at some point you will have to test it on something living with real physiological responses. Should that be a rat or a human?

The policy challenges

The EU has instituted a ban on animal testing for cosmetics
and on the sale of animal tested cosmetics.
It's unlikely to be extended to medical research.
 (Pic : The Body Shop)
This is a very difficult area to tread through. The Assembly already has powers in some aspects of animal welfare under its rural affairs remit, so there's nothing stopping them coming up with an Animal Welfare Bill if that's what they want to do, or if a member introduces it themselves.

Vivisection (testing which involves surgery, carried out on live/anaesthetised animals) is explicitly non-devolved, and presumably the same thing goes with regard animal testing too.

I think the UK already has some pretty robust regulations regarding this, so I don't think there's any real need to change them post-independence or if the powers were devolved.
  • Regulations could be tightened on the treatment of animals in research, ensuring stronger minimum standards, better inspection regimes and stricter penalties for violations.
  • The ban on great ape research should be maintained, and possibly expanded to include other animals as long as there's consensus across the board to do so.
  • More funding could be provided to develop alternatives to using animals as scientific models, but without taking away any existing funding from medical research involving animals.
  • Tighten regulations on live experiments, including de rigueur use of anaesthesia unless it's absolutely impossible to do so.
  • Animal experimentation in the private sector could be strictly linked to research by universities (to try and avoid duplication of experiments), or be required to pass university ethics panels.

Trying to outright ban vivisection or general animal testing (for medical research) would probably end a significant chunk of medical research in Wales and damage the reputation of our universities around the world. Something like that would have to be done globally, or the work will just move to places where there are no regulations on the treatment of animals in research.

Interestingly though, we could learn something from the likes of Ecuador and Bolivia, who've included animals and nature in their new constitutions. I wouldn't object to including animals in a written Welsh constitution. By that I mean a constitutional duty to "respect" animal welfare via good stewardship of the environment and a constitutional right to biodiversity, clean water, minimised air pollution and restoration of damaged environments.

Shades of grey



Scientific research is resistant - almost immune - from outside, popular pressures. Appeals to emotion don't work, neither will anti-science activism and propaganda. That makes science very different to politics, where popular pressures do work. You cause problems when you excessively try to mix the two.

If I'm honest, I don't like the idea of animal testing, but I realise its importance in medical research – at least until there are serious alternatives for all diseases, and while everything is done to minimise the use of animals. I loath cars too, I don't like shopping or many aspects of the economic system either, but I see them as necessary for the same reasons. They work.
We simply don't know any better.

We've moved forward by banning animal-tested cosmetics in Europe. However, at some point in the future, once alternatives are found, we're probably going to be looked back upon as barbarians for using animals for reasons like this. I still think, personally, the results are worth it.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Local Democracy Bill passed by the Assembly

Things are starting to wind down at the National Assembly as the summer recess approaches. The major business left largely consists of tying up loose legislative ends. At least four Bills are/were on course to be passed before July 19th .

There've been problems with Mick Antoniw's (Lab, Pontypridd) Asbestos Disease Bill, so its final vote has been delayed. There's also Peter Black's (Lib Dem, South Wales West) Mobile Homes Bill - due for a vote on July 10th - and the controversial Human Transplantation Bill, which is up for the vote on
July 2nd .

On Tuesday, another of those four laws was passed – the Local Government Democracy Bill.

The Bill, in its latest incarnation prior to Tuesday (pdf), had the following provisions :
  • Modifications to the Local Boundary Commission for Wales – Including its name (changed to Local Democracy and Boundary Commission), membership and introducing a ten year cycle to review electoral arrangements in each local authority and community.
  • Modifications to the Independent Remuneration Panel (which sets local councillor's pay) – Amendments will be made to the Local Government Measure 2011, which will change aspects of how/when the panel submits its annual report, and give the panel the power to make local authorities publish information relating to councillors' pay and expenses.
  • Political balance on Local Authority Committees – Makes political balance of membership of council committees a legal requirement.
  • Joint Standards Committees – Gives local authorities the power to establish collaborative standards committees to deal with codes of conduct and their violations.
  • Online presence for town and community councils – Every town and community council will be required to provide contact details and records of proceedings via the internet by May 2015.
  • Council Chairs and Presiding Officers – Allows councils to seperate the role of an elected presiding officer from the ceremonical civic "chair" of the local authority (i.e Ceremonial Mayor).

OK, that's pretty dry stuff.

Amendments were tabled by AMs (pdf) and Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), which were also voted on to create a final version of the Bill (pdf), which will now go to Bet Windsor for the official stamp of approval, barring any intervention by Westminster.

Most of the amendments related to wording. The significant ones were :

  • Amendment 3 - Peter Black AM & Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) - Giving people reporting council proceedings "reasonable facilities". I'm not sure what that meant exactly. (Not Passed)
  • Amendment 5 – Ditto – Introducing Single Transferable Vote for local authority elections. (Not Passed)
  • Amendment 6 – Ditto – Provisions relating to the conduct of local authority elections, including election expenses. (Not Passed)
  • Amendment 7 – Ditto – No payments to returning officers except those in relation to carrying out their duties. So it closes the (rumoured) "pocket the savings" loophole with regard election costs. (Not Passed)
  • Amendment 54 – Lesley Griffiths AM – Brought in as part of a deal with opposition parties, it lays out the powers of the Independent Remuneration Panel with regard the pay of local authority chief executives. (Passed)

That agreement resulted Peter Black/Rhodri Glyn Thomas withdrawing their amendment (15) for setting maximum pay for "senior officers". Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) kept it in as Amendment 9 which, as hinted, covered all senior officers, not just chief executives. (Not Passed)

"Local Democracy Bill" sounds like it would be meaty enough to send the proverbial equivalent of several columns of tanks over the Loughor, in order to liberate the Democratic People's Republic of Carmarthenshire. Nyet, comrades.

Echoing what Caebrwyn said yesterday, the reality is that it's quite a limp law, that deals mostly with administrative matters, was beefed up by opposition amendments (all of which failed to pass) and will likely mean nowt to the general public. The title makes it sound grander than it actually is, a bit like the Active Travel Bill.

It's understandable why the opposition and Welsh Government agreed to deal with local authority executive pay, following some rather embarrassing revelations over the last few months.

I'm not complaining, and it's without a doubt the headline part of the Bill. Executives shouldn't be paid so many more times their lowest paid worker's salaries. If we expect principles like those to eventually apply to private companies, we should expect them to apply to the public sector too.

What's not understandable, is why they've decided – in a law called "Local Democracy Bill" – to take powers away from local authorities. A sentiment echoed by others.

There's clearly frustration in Cathays Park and the Senedd about how services are being run at a local level. Although there's currently a review of local services taking place, Welsh Government and opposition alike are giving the the impression of being scared away from making root and branch reforms, and are instead trying to reorganise it via the back door – like the recent report recommending collaborative education authorities. I made my thoughts on local government clear(ish) earlier this year.

A lot has also been said recently about the media and public paying little or no attention to the Assembly, AMs and what the institution does. Here's a case in point. Try convincing the public at large that laws like these are important and a good use of AMs' time. Even I'm struggling.

Of course, it'll be very different on July 2nd .

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Schools, Soccer & Scams


Parc Derwen school contract out to tender
The contract to build Coety Primary's replacement has
been put out to tender by Bridgend Council.
(Pic : © John Grayson via Geograph. Licenced for reuse
under Creative Commons Licence)
As I mentioned last year, a new school will be constructed to replace Coety Primary and serve Parc Derwen "village" to the north east of Bridgend.

The school itself will be constructed in the northern half of Parc Derwen – near land set aside for community playing fields - and will have a capacity for around 480 pupils (including a 60-place nursery).

At the end of last month, Bridgend Council put a contract to construct the school out to tender (doc). They're using a type of contract which would incentivise "value for money" by sharing any savings made during construction between the council and the chosen contractor.

The new school is being funded by contributions from Parc Derwen housing developers and the Welsh Government – both funding streams are said to have been "approved in principle". It's unclear precisely how much the school will cost, as no formal design or planning application has been submitted yet. Additional costs will be met by the council themselves.

As I understand it, the new school has a target opening date of September 2015. I've got to say that's looking a little optimistic at the moment considering it still needs to be designed, and it'll probably be Sept. 2016. It's also unclear what will happen to the present Coety Primary site afterwards.

Penybont FC ready to kick off

Firstly, apologies for using the "soccer" abomination, but it was required for alliteration purposes.

I mentioned Bridgend Town and Bryntirion Athletic's proposed merger a few months ago, and it was hoped it would be done in time for next season. A merger deal was needed quickly because a deadline for Bridgend Town to use the £1million the council had held in escrow (for the sale of Coychurch Road ground to help the ASDA development) was drawing near.

As the Glamorgan Gazette reported a few weeks ago, Bridgend Council approved the release of the funds, and the merger has gone through.

The name of the new club is reported to be "Penybont FC", and the £1million will be used to help bring facilities at the club's new home – Bryntirion Park on Llangewydd Road - up to the standards required for the Welsh Premier League, including a 3G pitch. A second 3G pitch will be provided at Bridgend College in Pencoed. I'm not sure what for, but I'm presuming for training purposes or for youth teams.

It's also been confirmed that Penybont FC will compete in the MacWhirter League Division One next season.

I'm not a fan of the name, as I think there's a Penybont FC elsewhere in Wales. I would've plumped for "Bridgend Athletic" or even a branded, non-location specific name like the "Ospreys". However, if the new set up is to a high standard – on and off the pitch - they have the potential to become one of the biggest clubs in the Welsh pyramid. Now it's a question of getting the public on board.

There are also stark warnings from Llanelli and Barry about what can happen in a big town if its football club isn't being run properly. The FAW haven't exactly covered themselves in glory there either....again.

Auditors give Bridgend Council clean(ish) bill of health

The Wales Audit Office recently released its annual improvement report into Bridgend Council. I'm not going to go into too much detail, but on the whole it makes good reading for Angel Street. It's said the council is making "good progress" towards meeting its improvement objectives in many areas, including : support for the disabled in applying for benefits, safeguarding vulnerable adults and promoting physical activity through leisure services.

There was one major area of concern though – children's services. They've been under the spotlight recently, firstly after it was revealed that a teenage girl in Bridgend was left in the care of a convicted paedophile for five years, despite Bridgend Council knowing they had a record. That's a similar, but not identical, set of circumstances as the more infamous "Baby P" case in Haringay.

Secondly, the death of a 16-y.o girl, from Maesteg, in care from a drugs overdose, after years of being sexually abused. In both cases the council have been absolutely ripped to shreds in reports for their handling of both, and have been implored by Bridgend's MP, Madeleine Moon, to enact the recommendations.

Madeleine Moon was a former employee of Mid Glamorgan, Swansea and Bridgend Council social services, but succeeded Win Griffiths before any of this happened.

The auditor says "operational weaknesses" within children's services still need to be addressed, despite some improvements, as well as other weaknesses in education attainment and how information is managed.

BCBC targeting scammers
                            
                                              (CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE)

Bridgend Council recently launched a survey asking for residents in the county to inform them of scams they've been targeted by. "Scams" hasn't been defined, but I think they mean over the telephone in particular. This isn't the first time the council have raised concerns about them either.

I remember being entertained (some of you might've been too) by someone from India calling from "Microsoft", suggesting there was a fake computer problem, directing me to a "fix" they were offering, which probably contained a virus/way to obtain personal details/way to rip people off. It's fine for me because I realised it was a scam, others won't be so lucky though.

They're utter scum who prey on the most vulnerable – especially pensioners – in addition to being a pain in the arse for the rest of us.

The council survey is open until 1st July, so if there are any Bridgend people reading this who can help Trading Standards identify the scammers and their patterns, I urge you to fill out the questionnaire while there's still time. (It's not a scam, by the way).

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Census 2011 : The Home & Relationships



This is my penultimate look at the 2011 census. Considering that I originally only wanted to look at the Welsh language statistics, you can see how it's snowballed. The final post will look at Bridgend county and how it's changed since 2001 - once I'm satisfied all the relevant ward-level data has been released.

Today, I'm clumping together the "other" key data : home and car ownership, as well as living arrangements and relationship status.

Tenure

First up, it's home ownership and tenure. The number of households in Wales increased by around 94,000 between 2011 and 2001, and Cardiff alone by 19,000.

In terms of home ownership, 67.4% of Welsh households lived in a home that was either owned outright or owned via a mortgage in 2011 - a higher rate than England (63.4%). There's no real set pattern across Wales, with most local authorities having home ownership rates ranging from the mid 60s to low 70s. However, the percentage of homeowners in Cardiff is noticeably and significantly lower than the rest of Wales (59.1%).

% of homes owned outright or via mortgage
in 2011
(Click to enlarge)
Change in % of householes where homes
are owned 2001-2011
(Click to enlarge)


Meanwhile, places like Flintshire (72.8%), Bridgend (72.4%), Vale of Glamorgan (72.2%) and Rhondda Cynon Taf (71%) have relatively high levels of home ownership.

The interesting figures here are in terms of how this changed. I'm not sure if the recession made an impact, but overall, the percentage of homeowners across Wales fell by 3.1% compared to 2001. Most of this isn't a fall in people owning homes outright – which rose slightly by 1% - it's households owning homes with mortgages (-4.1% nationally). Have they defaulted? Have they switched to renting?

Only Anglesey saw a rise in the percentage of homeowners (+0.8%). The rest of Wales – especially the south – has seen significant falls. Cardiff saw the sharpest fall at -10.1%. Only Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Powys saw falls of less than 1% on 2001.

Change in % of households renting from
private landlords 2001-2011
(Click to enlarge)
Change in % of households renting from
local authorities and social landlords 2001-2011
(Click to enlarge)


As to where they've gone, the sector that's seen the biggest increase are private rentals. Cardiff saw a 10.2% rise in the number of households rented privately, while almost all South Walian local authorities saw rises above 5%. The slowest rise was 2.2% in Powys.

This could be because of the expansion of "buy to let" mortgages, as well as the impact of students and young adults, who don't have the funds to get onto the property ladder and choose to rent instead.

All this has had another impact – a fall in households renting from social landlords and local authorities. Many local authorities have handed over the running of social housing to housing authorities, but that doesn't appear to have made up for the shortfall in supply, with the exception of Cardiff – the only local authority to see a rise (+0.2%).

In Blaenau Gwent, the number of social rented households has fallen by 4.9%, in Wrexham it's fallen by 3.7%. These falls imply that a large chunk of social housing will have transferred to private landlords (not housing associations). If this trend continues, it'll have a massive impact on the supply of social housing and all that entails. None of this has been helped by things like the "bedroom tax".

Car Ownership & Access

In 2011, an extra 93,600 Welsh households had access to a car compared to 2001. It's best to deal with households with no car access first.

% of households with
no access to a car
(Click to enlarge)
Change in % of households with no
access to a car 2001-2011
(Click to enlarge)




The general pattern is rural areas having greater car access than urban areas. Most of the authorities with high percentages of households without car access are in the urban south – Merthyr (35.2%), Blaenau Gwent (35.1%), RCT (31.5%).

Cardiff also has a surprisingly high percentage – 30.5%. People might criticise it, but when you factor in the number of local train stations, Cardiff Bus and the frequency of those services, Cardiff probably has the best public transport network in Wales. So there's perhaps little reason for a car in the first place.

In the valleys though, it could come down to not being able to afford to run a car, fewer numbers of people being able to drive, or needing to drive – think about it. In rural areas, higher levels of car ownership and access would reflect it as a necessity due to poor public transport.

In terms of how it's changed since 2001 though, every local authority saw a fall in the percentage of households with no access to a car. Like other statistics, the biggest falls have been in the more deprived areas.

Change in % of households with access
to two cars or more 2001-2011
(Click to enlarge)
Blaenau Gwent saw a 6.1% fall, and Merthyr a 5.5% fall. Only Cardiff saw a negligible fall – 0.7% - probably because of good public transport as mentioned earlier.

It's hard to tell if this next point counts as "good news". Households with access to just one car also fell, but maybe not for the reason you're thinking. Households with access to two cars or more have increased substantially across Wales – 5.6% nationally – but with no real set pattern.

As to why this happened, there are several possible explanations : cars are cheaper (but certainly not cheaper to run), more adult children living at home, more employers demanding it due to flexible working hours, and an expansion of home-based businesses with small fleets of vehicles required (building contractors etc).

Relationship Status & Living Arrangements

In 2011 there were just over 2.5million people aged 16 or over in Wales. 46.6% said they were married, 33.5% single, 7.9% widowed and 11.9% either divorced or separated. These figures weren't that different from EnglandandWales as a whole, though Wales has slightly fewer single people and slightly more divorced and widowed people.

% of over 16s who were
married in 2011
(Click to enlarge)
Change in % of resident over 16s
who are married 2001-2011
(Click to enlarge)

Things have changed quite substantially. In 2001, in all but two local authorities – Cardiff & Ceredigion - the majority (50%+) of people aged 16 or over were married. In 2011, that was the case in just four local authorities – Flintshire (50.3%), Powys (51.1%), Pembrokeshire (50.4%) and Monmouthshire (54.1%).

Between 2001 and 2011, the married population in Wales fell by 6.9%, with the highest falls of 8%+ in the M4 corridor and Blaenau Gwent. The divorcee population increased by 3.3% nationally over the same time, and separated (still legally married) by 0.6%, with no real pattern anywhere in Wales.

So the falls in married people don't simply come down to a rise in divorces – though divorces  would've made an impact. I think the reason happened is because of falls in the number of people getting married in the first place.

Change in % of over 16s who are
single/not married 2001-2011
(Click to enlarge)


There's a pronounced trend for increased singleness in urban parts of south Wales, as well as Gwynedd and Ceredigion. The change in the number of singles varies wildly though, with rural parts of Wales and north east Wales not experiencing anywhere near the same shift as somewhere like Cardiff, where there's been an increase of 6.1% in the single population.



In places like Cardiff and Ceredigion too, which have larger young adult populations – presumably students – this is probably the effect of an influx of young singles dragging the married rate downwards.
 
A word of caution though. "Single" - as defined in the census - probably doesn't explicitly mean "not in a relationship", it means not married or in a civil partnership.

Sexual Orientation & Same Sex Couples

The LGBT community in Wales appears to be rather small,
and same sex civil partnerships relatively few.
(Pic : ITV Wales)
I can't remember whether sexual orientation questions were included, and that's reflected by a lack of census data. The ONS does produce what it calls "experimental" figures on sexual orientation. In 2011-12 :
  • 94.8% of the Welsh population aged 16 or over described themselves as heterosexual
  • 1% as homosexual (~25,000 people)
  • 0.4% bisexual (~10,000 people)
  • 0.3% "other" (~7,500 people). I'm not sure what "other" is, but I presume asexuals, pansexuals and the bi-curious.
  • 3.6% refused to answer or gave no response.
Looking at the overall figures – which haven't changed much on the previous year - I'd say Wales has a slightly below-average LGBT community compared to the UK, or placed somewhere "in the middle". There's no way to tell how spread out those communities are, but I'd guess most LGBTs - like any minority in Wales - live in and around the bigger settlements.

Same sex civil partnerships were recorded in the census. Civil partnerships developed between the two censuses, so there's no comparison with 2001.

Nationally, just 0.2% of the population over 16 were in same sex civil partnerships in 2011 – that works out at around 5,000 individuals. There wasn't much variation between local authorities, most recorded 0.1% or 0.2%. It appears Newport is the civil partnership capital of Wales, with 0.4% of the population in one, followed by Torfaen (0.3%).

What can we take from this?

Wales is becoming a nation of renters – The slump in mortgage-owned homes could, as I said, be the result of the recession and defaults. However, it could also be that people are increasingly priced out of the housing market and turning to renting instead.

Did private landlords disproportionately benefit from the Blair-Brown "housing boom"? – Related to the above, the figures suggest private landlords have been the fastest growing group of home-owners in Wales since 2011.

Has easy access to "buy to let" mortgages led to the explosion
of private rental properties since the turn of the millennium?
(Pic : The Guardian)
That could be down to an expansion of "buy to let" mortgages, with cheaper homes in Wales being easy pickings for those looking to start off in the letting business. Also, some parts of Wales have a captive rental market due to the expansion of universities.

The trouble is, we still place quite a lot on home ownership as a step towards financial security. A large chunk of Wales are being denied that if long-term rentals don't provide the same sort of security, or if people aren't able to get on the property ladder in the first place. The Welsh Government recently announced a white paper on reforms to renting.

We have greater access to cars and own more of them – This is neither really a good thing or a bad thing. Sure, more deprived parts of Wales are arguably more mobile than in 2001, which should improve job prospects. But that means nothing if the jobs they're going to are low-paid.

The number of cars in households also has a big environmental and (possible) health impact. It emphasises the task ahead trying to get people onto public transport, as private transport might be seen as a necessity in some parts of Wales. The Assembly undertook an inquiry into integrated public transport recently.

Perhaps for the first time, a majority of Welsh adults are unmarried – One of the more dramatic shifts compared to 2001 is the drop in the number of local authorities where more than half their residents are married.

Again, this doesn't mean that adults aren't "settling down" - as it hints at people not getting married even if they're in a committed relationship. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, really. It's a noticeable trend in other parts of the developed world.

It would be interesting to see an age breakdown of these figures. Relationships and marriages aren't "expected" by a certain age as they once were, and people – especially my age - have more complicated expectations with regard potential partners than 30-40 years ago.

When you factor in divorce and separation rates, people are perhaps more cynical about long-term relationships too and genuinely prefer to remain single or in more casual relationships.

Though yes, on the extremes you have men wearing fedora hats and neckbeards going on about being a "nice guy", whilst at the same time being misogynistic/racist/homophobic (delete as required). And women for whom a walking orgasm, that doesn't talk and only listens, and could grant them anything they desire wouldn't be good enough - even if they don't offer much themselves.

There aren't many gays in the village – Unless a large chunk of that 3.8% who didn't answer the ONS survey are in the closet, the Welsh LGBT community is very small indeed. There's a stereotype that Wales has a disproportionate number of gay men in particular. However, I think it's that Wales has a disproportionate number of "high profile" LGBTs that skewers people's perceptions somewhat. The numbers also highlight the need to protect minority groups like LGBTs so they don't get "squashed". However, sexual orientation shouldn't matter anymore. It's a shame it still matters to some.