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?

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Senedd Watch - August 2013

  • Plaid Cymru comfortably held Ynys Môn following the August 1st Assembly by-election, with Rhun ap Iorwerth taking 58% of the vote off a 42% turn out. Labour finished second with 16%, and UKIP third with 14%.
  • Former Education Minister, Leighton Andrews AM (Lab, Rhondda), defended his intervention in English language GCSE marking in August 2012, after a former WJEC acting chair described it as “authoritarian and incompetent”. Leighton Andrews said criticism was “ludicrous”, and that the WJEC board were “hung up on....points of process” without considering “fairness for Welsh pupils”.
  • Natural Resources and Food Minister, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent), confirmed Cardiff's Prosiect Gwyrdd incinerator will receive £100million of Welsh Government funding over 25 years (£4.3million per annum). Anti-incinerator campaigners were said to be “astonished” at the figures, having mounted a legal challenge against the project. It was revealed on August 30th that Welsh local authorities were on course to meet recycling targets, with 52% of waste recycled in the year to March 2013.
  • Welsh language commissioner, Meri Huws, published her first annual report. There were 468 complaints, the vast majority relating to public or crown bodies and a quarter relating to private companies. The commissioner also responded to the 2011 census figures, suggesting “strategic and radical” policies to ensure the Welsh language's future.
  • Shadow Education Minister, Angela Burns (Con, Carms W. & S. Pembs.), proposed separate vocational and academic streams based on ability from age 14, as part of wider Welsh Conservative proposals to restore elements of the grammar school system. Education Minister Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) was said to be “bemused”, saying he was “committed to excellent schools for all”.
  • The Children & Young People Committee report into Attendance and Behaviour recommended the Welsh Government's proposed truancy fines be dropped, and that more work be done to tackle bullying – cited as a main cause of poor attendance.
  • A joint Welsh Government, S4C and BBC study - released at the National Eisteddfod in Denbighshire - reported just 31% of young Welsh speakers used the language in their everyday lives compared to 61% of over-60s. The First Minister said it underlined the need for more Welsh-medium activities for young people.
  • A report from the UK Changing Union group revealed young voters (18-35 year olds) were more indifferent towards devolution, and unclear about the National Assembly's responsibilities, compared to older voters.
  • A separate poll for the Silk Commission found a majority supported further powers for the Assembly over criminal justice, policing, energy and broadcasting, with a slim majority in favour of devolving welfare. The National Assembly also had a higher approval rating (5.6/10) than Westminster (4.3/10).
  • A Vale of Glamorgan Council cabinet member called for a Welsh Government review into how the Football Association of Wales (FAW) runs the sport, after Barry Town United were reinstated to the Welsh League following a High Court ruling that their temporary expulsion was unlawful.
  • A second Assembly Bill was referred to the Supreme Court. The Agricultural Sector Bill – passed as emergency legislation in July – was deemed outside of the Assembly's competence by UK Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC. A hearing has been set for 5th December 2013.
  • The Assembly's Environment and Sustainability report into water services rejected UK Government proposals to increase competition between water companies through extending parts of the Water Bill to cover Wales. The committee said the success of the not-for-dividend business model of Dwr Cymru proved that commercial competition wasn't appropriate.
  • The number of top-grade (A* & A) passes at A-Level in Wales fell from 23.6% to 22.9% compared to 2012, and also fell compared to the England, Wales & Northern Ireland average of 26.3%. Welsh Baccalaureate passes, however, rose by 4% on 2012, while girls continue to out-perform boys - except at the highest A* grade.
  • The Assembly's Health Committee report into the 2012-13 measles epidemic warned against complacency, with 30,000 children remaining unvaccinated against measles across the country. Concerns were also raised about information sharing between health authorities.
  • Local health boards released figures to The Western Mail revealing 13,000 cancelled operations over the last three years, mainly due to bed and staff shortages. Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar (Con, Clwyd West) blamed the Welsh Government for wasting funds. The Welsh Government said operations were routinely cancelled for clinical reasons, but they were "working to reduce the number”.
  • The first results from national literacy and numeracy tests for 6-14 year olds highlighted a drop in reading ability between primary and secondary schools. Numeracy performances remained relatively stable across all age groups. NUT Cymru questioned the value of the tests, while Angela Burns AM called for a new range of middle schools for 8-14 year olds.
  • The gap in top grade (A* & A) GCSE passes between Wales and England & Northern Ireland narrowed. A*- C pass rates were 65.7% compared to a Wales, England and Northern Ireland average of 68.1%. However, there were sharp falls in A*- C pass rates in science and maths, broadly mirroring similar falls in England and Northern Ireland.
  • The Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister called for Welsh Government action following hold-ups to the doubling of the Wrexham-Chester railway. Aled Roberts AM (Lib Dem, North Wales) said it was “clear north Wales doesn't receive its fair share of expenditure for capital projects.”
  • A row broke out between English Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles MP, and the Welsh Government over local authorities blocking recording of council meetings. The Welsh Government described it as “obsessive” and a “cheap political attack” against Labour. Despite this, Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) later encouraged Welsh local authorities to allow the use of social media and filming at council meetings, describing them as "excellent tools".
  • Rare Cancers Foundation research found Welsh patients are four times less likely to receive approval for new cancer treatments than patients in England. The Welsh Government rejected calls for a cancer drugs fund, saying it was neither supported by the medical profession or the public, and that it would “disadvantage patients with serious conditions other than cancer.”

Projects announced in August include : A £15million package for seven medical technology projects, a 20-year strategy for rail development in south east Wales, a £5million 16-bed ward at Tywyn Hospital and a merger between Trinity St David's University and Coleg Sir Gar to create a “radical new institution” serving 25,000 students.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Cymraeg : Don't die of ignorance

"It's just scare stories....Internet disease?
Pah!  It won't happen to me...."
For years they've defended their lifestyle from ridicule. They've been ostracised for their "perverted desires" , whether that's ramming Welsh down the throat or being involved in a passionate tryst with a digraph.

Now, with the internet breaking barriers down further, abusing the Welsh language for sexual pleasure has become more accepted than ever before thanks to the sterling efforts of brave campaigners.

It's the hipster Guardian columnist using "boyo" ironically. It's the right-on, metropolitan intelligentsia writing for The New Statesman - a champion of minorities with a blind spot to one. It's the pioneers : the witty "ap" pseudonyms on Twitter and Wales Online, the ex-special forces commandos and the letter writers, oh the letter writers. Heroes every one.

Terry Nappies, from Aberavon, bravely came out on Twitter a few months ago. "My parents were shocked," he explained."'What about your English O-Level?' they asked. 'Your command of the global lingua franca will lead to wealth beyond description, like the people of South Sudan and Liberia.'"

With that, he gave me an insight into the sado-cymrosexual underground. "At my age, you need to make sure everything's working", Terry said. "So I spit into my palm, and scroll through the filthiest Cymraeg I can find.

"It's good to know I can go online and participate without being judged, so we can talk about....you know....freely. It's the usual places – comments sections, social media, forums etc."

"'You know'?" I asked.

"VSO – verb-subject-object. A bit kinky, but fun if you're open-minded.

"Next, there's 'The Roger' – hurling verbal excrement at Welsh-speakers, like a monkey. The 'Serbian Prostate Tickler' – roll up a copy of the Daily Mail, insert it into the back passage, and march bow-legged down country lanes to the local Welsh school. Really wakes you up in the morning.

"For the more adventurous there's the 'Dic Jones' – you don't want to know.


"Once, I even stumbled across some hardcore Iolo Goch. I ranted about Cymraegification to justify it to the missus, but she'll never realise why the mouse sticks. I spend hours going bareback. I don't care about the dangers. It's about instant pleasure."

That danger is a disease that for the moment is confined to small groups, but it's spreading – Internet Acquired Intestinal Disappearance Syndrome. I asked expert on stuff Prof. Yogi Plopp about it.

"Sado-cymrosexuals want to screw a 1,500 year old language," he said. "To those with an affinity for Welsh, every time sado-cymrosexuals attack the language, it's a bit like they're describing doing things to a treasured great-grandmother that only Misfits would sing about.

"So, it's not about the language - it's the reaction. What we call 'freedom to spout shit', one of the most treasured rights on social media. It's about other people caring too much that sado-cymrosexuals want to fist their language, pull out, and bud an Anglocentric rose.

"For someone with the illness, their shit needs to be spouted at a target. The worst thing possible is for nobody else to care, as it impairs the sado-cymrosexual's freedom to spout shit. Their body's natural response is to go looking for it the only place it can – their own rectum.

"It's impossible to remove the head once in there."


Terry rejects the notion. "It's just scare stories," he shrugs his shoulders. "They've told us to shove it up our arse for years, but nothing happens. They're just trying to put us off."

His eyes light up. An article from someone with a Welsh-sounding name has just appeared on Click on Wales. "S4C? Duw! Gonna be classic hand to gland combat tonight! Where's my Ffleshlight?"

"These are the days of our lives," Terry reflects on his freedom to be whatever he wants to be. "I am what I am - sado-cymrosexual and proud. I love Welsh so much, I'm willing to go down for crimes against it. Internet disease? Pah! It won't happen to me...e....e....e...."

Less than three weeks later, after being banned from commenting on the site and while his wife was on holiday with the girls from the bingo, neighbours complained to Neath Port Talbot's environmental health department about a strange smell emanating from Terry's house.

After being denied a chance to rant against Welsh, Terry had crawled up his own arse and died, becoming the fifth victim in as many weeks.

Terry required a hurriedly-assembled cube-shaped custom coffin - with "This Side Up" and "Caution : Wild Animal" stamped on the side. It was brought in to the theme tune from his favourite show, ITV's It'll Be Alright on the Night.

The pallbearers dropped it, smashing it open. 
A public health crisis was declared after everyone within a three mile radius was hospitalised with laughter, putting strain on Morriston Hospital's Comedy department. Even Terry's elderly mother wet herself.

Although there's compassion, the response to the spread of the disease hasn't been entirely sympathetic. Pwllheli-based death metal band Ghost Maggot drew criticism for their controversial 30-second epic "Sphincter Suffocation" :
Everyone has an arsehole, everyone has an opinion.
There's no Welsh spoken in your rectal tomb.
If we never should find you it'll be too soon.
Climb! Into! Your a-nus! Live there! Die there!

Word reached me that one of Wales' most beloved authors and plagiarists hadn't been seen outside his home for weeks. We asked regulars from the local Carmarthenshire pub what they thought.

"Yeah, he was alright," said one. "Bit strange. He seemed obsessed with both the Taffia and bowel functions. I suppose he was hinting at his illness, but we thought it was because he confused James Joyce's interpretation of Bakhtin's grotesque body with Brazilian fart porn."

Another body was soon discovered on Anglesey, sending shock waves through the sado-cymrosexual community. A police officer was quoted as saying, "The smell of rotting flesh and KY hit us as soon as we broke down the door. He'd spent so much time internalising his hatred of Welsh that even the flies had Gog accents.

"The head was so far in there, whoever pulled it out would've become King of England."


Since sado-cymrosexuality was recategorised from illness to sexual orientation, WEFO funding for the Wind Street Technique ended. We were given a lead by Prof. Plopp, and caught up with one of his former patients, who's hit hard times.

Cledwyn denied himself the basics to feed his habit, cutting a skeletal figure. He sits in his Swansea bedsit surrounded by crusty tissues, abused copies of Barn and angry draft letters to The Western Mail.

"Can't stop myself, mun!" he says, hands shaking. "You see a cheeky bit of circumflex, I see frilly knickers. People still wonder why there's a load of old blokes tugging off furiously at a road sign whilst shouting at it. Sposed to be allowed to do it now, aren't we?"

He had his own brush with the disease, describing the latter stages."Each time I ranted about Welsh, I contorted like a Romanian gymnast with brittle bone disease, my head moving slowly towards my own arse. If even a single consonant mutated seductively in front of me, that would've been it. Whoom! Right up the jacksie!"

Fortunately, Cledwyn received help just in time. However, he tells us of his "butty", who we agreed we wouldn't name.

"He'd just finished Brut y Tywysogion - the poor sod. Afer he'd cleaned himself up, he went straight to the computer to make witty puns about aftershaves and to mock dead languages. They didn't want to know, mun! Bloody cruel, that is! After a few days, he was on his hands and knees begging anyone who'd listen to ram an -io onto the end of his verb!

"His backside had more backed up traffic than the Brynglas Tunnels. In the end, he was so full of his own shite, only the council's highways department could give him an enema. Too late, see."


Tears glisten in his eyes, "Instead arguing about how other people communicate, I should be thinking about grandchildren, life insurance adverts and cruise ships."

Cledwyn wipes his face with a tissue, "There are times I think I should just shove my head up my arse and be done with it!"

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in today's blog....

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Bridgend LDP Inspector's Report

Bridgend Council's masterplan for land use in
the county for the next 8 years is nearing completion.
(Pic : Barrett Homes)
Over the last few months, a series of hearings were held by the planning inspector appointed by the Welsh Government in order to finalise Bridgend's Local Development Plan, which will outline land use in the county until 2021.

Late last month, the planning inspector's report was released by Bridgend Council, and is available here (pdf).

Most of the changes relate to wording within the report, as well as some modest changes to the proposals map as a result of the recommendations. The vast bulk of the changes aren't worth covering in detail, but there were also more substantial changes outlined by the inspector.

Recommended changes from the Deposit LDP

Housing
  • An alternative site at Llangewydd Road, Cefn Glas has been included for housing development. (228 dwellings)
  • Reduced housing allocation at Porthcawl Waterfront from 1,350 to 1,050.
  • Increased housing allocations at (not a conclusive list):
    • Parc Derwen (+15)
    • Waterton Lane, Bridgend (+48)
    • North East Brackla/Brackla Industrial Estate (+200)
    • Parc Afon Ewenni (+100)
    • Maesteg Road, Tondu (+102)
    • Coronation Works, Evanstown (+11)
    • Y Parc, Maesteg (+31)

Employment & Economic Development
  • The total amount of vacant employment land has been reduced to 120 hectares, but it's said even this would result in a "generous surplus".
  • Land for employment use at Waterton has been reduced by more than half.
  • Land at Ty Draw Farm for employment use has been reduced by two thirds.
  • Development of Island Farm is said to be "uncertain", with a lack of evidence that the scheme is "deliverable". However, no changes are outlined, while proposals to adopt a "more flexible (development) policy" there have been dismissed.
  • It's said there were "deficiencies" in the CACI retail needs report, and Bridgend town centre's retail needs might have been under-stated. However, the inspector believes there's little need for an additional supermarket in Bridgend itself (mooted for the Police HQ), especially with the plans in Porthcawl.

Transport
  • It's made clear that there are no plans for a park and ride site on Cefn Hirgoed Common near J36 of the M4, instead there'll be "park and share" lay-bys, with a similar scheme mooted for J35 in Pencoed too.
  • It appears as if the Garw Valley railway corridor has been protected from development, and there are proposals for a heritage railway there.

Environment & Minerals
  • There were disputes between the council and industry over aggregates reserves in the county, in part to cover a projected shortfall in the Vale of Glamorgan. The inspector recommends that the passages in question be changed to be "more general" so it doesn't pre-judge the VoG's own LDP.
  • The policy relating to gas extraction should be modified to include all forms of gas, not just coal bed methane. There's currently a "fracking" test-drill site proposed on the outskirts of Merthyr Mawr, as well as one in the Maesteg area.
  • Policies relating to coal mining – BCBC's general presumption that coal extraction is "unacceptable" – and in relation to the (controversial) MTAN 2, were said to be "vague or ill-defined".
  • The inspector proposed amendments to precisely where wind-farm developments can be located, after the submitted proposals were dubbed "incoherent" as the wording both allowed and prevented developments outside a "Specific Search Area".

Overview

Island Farm is beginning to worry me. I still support the principle of the "sports village", but seeing as there's no likely tenant for the main stadium, Bridgend Ravens seem quite happy at the Brewery Field and Penybont FC have set up a permanent-looking home in Bryntirion, the chances of this development coming to be are receding.

Although the inspector implies the Island Farm plans should remain as they are, I think the proposals will have to change to make it viable – probably dropping the main stadium or reducing the overall size of the development. But if it changes to include housing, a lot of goodwill HD Ltd received when they put the proposals forward will evaporate.

On housing in general, like elsewhere in Wales, Bridgend has increased its housing allocations. I think it was sensible to reduce the numbers of houses planned in the Porthcawl regeneration area, as those levels of development (in the current economic climate) are optimistic. I still think the figure's too high, to be honest. I don't see where all these extra residents are coming from, I don't see how they're going to get built in the timescales put forward, and I don't see the likes of Parc Afon Ewenni getting developed any time soon. Parc Derwen's taking long enough.

In the end it looks as though there haven't been any major issues with Bridgend's LDP, and it's likely to be adopted by Bridgend Council later this year – thus coming into legal effect.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The importance of intellectual property

The UK's Intellectual Property Office is on our doorstep in Newport.
Have Welsh universities and businesses been making enough of their own
intellectual property? Is it holding back the Welsh economy?
(Pic : South Wales Argus)
When I first started surfing the Welsh political blogopshere, I noticed this topic popping up a disproportionate number of times in comments sections.

I noticed it cropping up again elsewhere, so I've decided to address it myself, underlining that it perhaps isn't an eccentric obsession it appears to be, but worthy of close attention by politicians if they're interested in the long-term future of the Welsh economy.

What is intellectual property (IP)?

Broadly speaking, it's a legal claim of ownership over rights relating to an item of work that's been created. IP takes several forms :
  • Patents – Legally protects an invention, its design and functions. Patent owners can take legal steps to prevent anyone else copying what's outlined in the patent itself. It applies mainly to things with industrial uses.
  • Trade marks – A legally-protected "sign/brand" for a company or product, assuring consumers that the product is what it says it is and from who it says it's from. Uses the symbols :™ and ®
  • Registered designs – IP protection for how a product "looks".
  • Copyright – Legal ownership over "original creative works" (books, plays, TV programmes, music etc.). It means they cannot be reproduced without permission from the copyright owner(s), depending on the terms and conditions by which it was produced/published (i.e. The Creative Commons License). Copyright doesn't have to be registered as it's automatic, simply by using the © symbol and a date.

IP in the UK – How it works

Apart from copyrights and trade marks, it's a lengthy, costly (£280 up front, up to £600 for patent renewals) and mind-numbing process. The reason being that it has to be legally watertight.

Patent law is a highly-specialised legal branch, and it's normal to get legal advice before pursuing a patent claim.

Trying to obtain a patent can be a time-consuming
and lengthy process that takes up to 4 years.
(Pic : Coventry University)
For patents and designs, you register with the local patent office. In a twist of irony, the UK's Intellectual Property Office (IPO) - an executive agency of the UK Department of Trade & Industry - has been based in Newport since 1991.

The patent application is very thorough, including : drawings, detailed technical specifications, an abstract (brief summary) of what the new innovation does and any specific rights/claims being made. The job of the patent office is to explore records – national and international – and determine if the innovation is "unique enough" to be patent protected.

Patents only apply in the territory they were protected in – so patents registered with the IPO are only protected within the UK. Separate applications have to be submitted with foreign patent offices to enable worldwide/international protection.

30 European countries signed the European Patent Convention, meaning a single application would cover all signatory nations at the same time. That's handled by the European Patent Office. If the Intellectual Property Bill is passed by Westminster, then a Unified Patent Court for Europe will be based in London, and it'll also mean granted UK patents will apply across the EU.

Patent protection can take up to four years. The legal term "patent pending" applies where an application has been submitted, but the patent is yet to be granted. It warns anyone thinking of copying it that they can be retrospectively sued once a patent is granted.

Why is IP economically important?

I'm focusing mainly on the patent side of things, but IP is equally important to artists for obvious reasons.

If you innovate - create something new or improved – you'll want a reward for your efforts. Protecting IP ensures the creator (i.e. university, company) benefits from their creation, whilst offloading production/sales work to someone else, simply because the creator doesn't have the means to do all that.

Those benefits include:
  • Protection from fraud and counterfeit versions.
  • Controlling where/how a new product is manufactured, including the creation of dedicated spin-out companies.
  • Generating income from licensing new products to other companies.
  • Generating more inward investment as a university/country becomes associated with greater innovation via lots of IP-protection activity.
  • Creating the motivation for further R&D off the back of successful IP protection and licensing.


Why is IP important to Wales?

It's good for a nation's (or university's) image to generate high numbers of patents and copyrights. It sends out the message, "These are smart people. Look at all the new ideas/products their developing. I want to invest there because they're doing good work."

It boosts global university rankings, attracting higher calibre international and domestic students. It also generates more opportunities to pursue higher qualifications like Masters and PhDs, especially if any patented innovation is successful enough to warrant further R&D.

At the moment, levels of IP-protection amongst Welsh universities make grim reading.

Patents published with the European Patent Office from
Welsh universities between August 2008-August 2013
(Click to enlarge)
There are only 87 patents from Welsh universities (or spin-out companies) published on the European patent register between August 2008 and August 2013. Nearly half of them are from Cardiff University and many are quite old.

For want of a comparison, the benchmark Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has 326 published patents for the same period. Trinity College Dublin has 77, as does Edinburgh University.

Cardiff University isn't doing too badly, remaining competitive with other Russell Group universities like Bristol. Cardiff's going to produce proportionally more IP as they attract the lion's share of research funding through being a research-focused university. They've also successfully commercialised their IP through the Fusion IP company.

Swansea University has joined Fusion IP, and once the Swansea innovation campus is built, we might see Swansea catch up on the engineering side of things.

Having briefly scanned through industrial patents, it look like Welsh companies are doing OK. For example, Bridgend companies had more published patents (45) than Cardiff University (38) over the same period – mostly bioengineering products. You would expect our universities to be doing better though.

What's IP worth to Wales currently?


The latest HEFCW press release (pdf) on the economic contribution of the Welsh university sector shows that Wales punches at its weight overall (at least 4.9% of all UK university activity).

In 2011-12, Welsh universities generated:
  • 7.5% of all UK income from collaborative research.
  • 18.9% of all UK income from regeneration and development programmes.
  • 5.2% of all software licence income (a fall from 10.6% in 2010-11)
  • 6.4% of all active spin-out companies that survived at least 3 years.
  • 21.7% of all non-university owned spin-outs that survived at least 3 years.
That makes pretty good reading, you'll agree. But there were pretty significant and important weaknesses.

Over the same period, Welsh universities attracted/generated just :
  • 2.3% of the UK's cumulative active patents (despite an 89% increase in patent applications on 2010-11).
  • 2.6% of income from intellectual property (despite a 12.7% increase in income on 2010-11).
  • 2.3% of income from contract research.
  • 1.0% of income from facilities and equipment.
Cardiff, and in future, Swansea universities aren't doing
too badly. However, it'll be a long time before Welsh
universities are doing MIT type work - shown above.
(Pic : dvdhardware.net)

Based on the Higher Education Statistics Agency figures, if Wales punched "at its weight", Welsh universities would generate approximately an extra:
  • £1.6million in intellectual property income.
  • £28.9million in contract research.
  • £5.25million in facilities and equipment income.
Scottish and Northern Irish universities do significantly better than Wales on all counts.

The income from IP itself isn't that great, bordering on insignificant. That's not the point though, as IP usually attracts other things like contract and consultancy research, which generate greater incomes and allow universities to remain globally competitive.

On the whole, there's clearly been a failure by Welsh universities and companies to take advantage of IP-protection, possibly meaning :


  • Welsh innovations might be generating benefits somewhere else that should be benefiting us.
  • Wales isn't innovating enough, leaving the Welsh economy stuck in the mud.
  • There's a distinct lack of IP expertise within Welsh business development agencies.
  • Welsh companies and universities don't have the confidence to pursue IP protection, leaving it for larger universities and companies to pursue.
  • Welsh companies and universities are only patent protecting in a single territory (UK/EU) without thinking about global IP-protection.
I'm not exaggerating by suggesting it's a hidden weakness in the Welsh economy, and one clue in a long trail of clues as to why Offa's Gap is so large.

The Political Response

Back in 2008-2009, the Third Assembly's Enterprise & Learning Committee held an inquiry into the Economic Contribution of Higher Education. It generally accepted that there needed to be more specialist IP support, including holding seminars relating to IP at innovation conferences.

More recently, the Welsh Government launched a new Science for Wales strategy, along with the creation of a public-private life sciences fund and Sêr Cymru. However, the Science for Wales strategy only covers IP protection and exploitation briefly (p28), hinting at a forthcoming innovation strategy.

That innovation strategy - Innovation Wales - was launched last month by Business Minister Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower), though again IP is only mentioned in passing. Some outlined measures include : increased patent mentoring, IP being at the heart of things like the Cardiff life sciences hub, and parts of the public sector – like the NHS – taking ownership of their own IP and "maximising the economic and social impacts of their investments".

Clearly some of that's working as patent applications and income from IP have increased, but nowhere near fast enough to punch at our weight.



Problems with IP

To be frank, whatever's being protected could be a load of crap. You could patent a heating unit for milk chocolate teapots, it doesn't mean it's of any use. Patent lawyers will just smile and nod through the process – they're getting paid regardless.

People can get very passionate about their inventions, to the point of losing their senses of reason. Some could even hold a grudge against the Welsh Government, perhaps devolution itself, for not backing them properly. They watch them spend money on "other things", while their invention sits in a drawer, overtaken by others with more investor backing elsewhere in the world.

So, you have have all the cast-iron patents you want and it won't guarantee a commercial success, only a technological one. Sometimes not even that.

Any solutions?

It's people, connections and skills that are required really.

To get new technologies off the ground requires vasts amounts of capital. We need more networking with venture capitalists/investment funds and greater access IP expertise. Most of this could be done through the existing Finance Wales model, or even through more specialised investment funds like S
êr Cymru.

The universities and companies can be left to their own devices – hopefully coming up with new innovations we can take to the rest of the world – whilst being sensible enough to protect what they come up with, ensuring they - and the Welsh economy - benefit.

In the context of independence, there's likely to be little change to the current arrangements. As patent law is being harmonised across the EU, there's little scope for major legislative differences between EU member states, including Wales in the future.

There would be question marks over the future of the IPO in Newport as a major employer in the area, but I see little reason to close it, and it's more cost-effective for it to remain a pan-Great Britain & NI patent office. Even if it did go, there would be a need for a Welsh Patent Office - the Republic of Ireland has its own.

The creation of a centralised, single European Patent Office based somewhere on mainland Europe is probably more of a long-term threat to the IPO than Welsh independence. In fact, there would likely be a solid case for the IPO to evolve to become that pan-European institution.

Friday, 16 August 2013

"Devo-wuh?" Young attitudes towards Welsh devolution

Last week, Changing Union published a short but sweet report authored by Prof. Roger Scully entitled "Attitudes of Young People towards devolution". You can read it in English here (pdf) and Welsh here (pdf).

There's a Click on Wales piece from one of Changing Union's co-ordinators, Lleu Williams, and a post on Cardiff University's Elections in Wales blog from Prof. Scully himself, challenging some of the headlines resulting from this. It's perhaps been overshadowed by the Silk Commission poll - more on that from Syniadau.

The Findings

The report compares data relating to two age groups across a few different surveys : 18-35 year olds ("young voters") and over-35s.
  • Both age groups broadly support more powers for the Assembly or the status quo, with the young more likely to support the status quo and older voters further powers.
  • Support for both abolishing devolution and independence fell sharply in both age groups since 1997. More over-35s prefer scrapping devolution (~17%) compared to 18-35s (12%).
  • A majority of older voters think the Assembly has the most influence over decisions in Wales (55%) compared to the young (41-42%). 20% of young voters "Don't Know", compared to less than 10% of over-35s.
  • A majority across both age groups believe the Assembly ought to have the most influence over health, education, policing and criminal justice, with stronger support amongst older voters.
  • Similar percentages across both age groups support tax powers for the Assembly (~37%).
  • There's greater support for more powers - and significantly greater support for independence - amongst both age groups in Scotland compared to Wales. The percentage of "Don't Knows" with regard constitutional choices is similar in both countries across both age groups.
The Conclusions

The report's obvious one is that there's "lower levels of engagement amongst the young", reflected in "lower rates of voter turnout" and "less certainty" in their views on devolution. We knew that anyway, it's a long-standing problem.

There are other conclusions too. Based on policy influence preferences - and backed by the Silk Commission poll this week - there's strong support for further Assembly powers across the board, falling short of independence, with little appetite to turn back the clock. That hints that the Assembly has "established itself" as an institution.

On the lack of enthusiasm for devolution amongst many young people, The Western Mail's reaction was slightly hysterical. Support for independence is softer amongst the young than you might expect, but clearly there in abundance in the case of further powers.

It makes sobering reading for both devo-abolitionists, and nationalists who support independence like myself. Both groups are significantly out of step with public opinion - but I guess we knew that anyway. Unlike devo-abolitionists though, I think those of us in the latter category can live with a more powerful Assembly. If nationalists play the long game, we'll win.

A lot's been said about "what" and "how" on youth apathy, so I think it's worth turning to the "why". For once, I speak with a little authority as I fall within that "young voter" category.

Getting to know "Generation Y"


To understand why "we" (18-35 year olds) aren't bothering with politics, it's worth understanding what Generation Y - roughly those born between 1980-1999 - are like as a whole.

Vain – We're often dubbed "narcissists" and "entitled". I don't think that's necessarily true, but we are image conscious and individualistic. We think we need to be seen to live a certain lifestyle. We like to brag, and feel smug about making surface-deep "right choices" in clothes, lifestyles, technology etc. In politics, this translates into backing popular and charismatic individuals over parties.

Insecure - Unless you're settled with a decent job or family, the vanity hides an insecurity. We've taken the biggest hits from the recession. We're not going to get the same levels of retirement support as our parents and grandparents. Also, as a whole, we're trying to find a sense of generational purpose, with many living an extended adolescence. We might feel let down by politicians/politics, considering we've been guinea pigs for many of their reforms to schools, universities, housing and the economy - especially from the Thatcher and Blair years.

Mobile – We lack real job security so tend to change employer often. We travel more, and are generally (but not always) more willing to live in rented accommodation for long periods. We still have "roots" as that's a Welsh characteristic, but we don't live by it. We like flexible working, doing things on the move, and we don't sit down to watch the news or read newspapers. Everything is instant, and we're – on the whole - uncertain decision-makers because we're constantly bombarded with information in our jobs and free time.

Tech-savvy"Nerd" and "geek" are more positive labels than they've been in the past. We live a lot of our lives through the internet, gadgets and mobile phones. It makes us think we're all connected and "social", but it hides a loneliness too. This doesn't mean we're good at science and engineering either, it just means most modern technology is user-friendly. Modern politics isn't.

Time rich, cash poor – One of the reasons I'm doing this blog is because it's free. People my age are rather boring, unlikely to produce any great counter-culture, adopt "retro" trends because we lack originality, all whilst focusing on someone else's idea of style over our own creativity. Politics is seen as highly-focused and intensive, and not something worth bothering with unless you have ambitions of actually becoming a politician. There are plenty of other things we can do with our time.

Politics without ideology – Perhaps by being the first post-Cold War generation we see politics as a series of "issues" and "causes" that need fixing rather than a clash between left and right. People still fighting the Cold War at this age – as I once did – stick out like a sore thumb. We're mainly socially liberal, so don't tolerate "bans" and "restrictions", but more ambiguous on economic policy - perhaps even slightly conservative. If we vote in larger numbers as we get older, we're going to be a politician's nightmare as we'll be impossible to please.

Why might some young voters blank devolution?

You can picture the youth of Wales getting as excited about a referendum
for the National Assembly to vary income taxes by 10p, can't you?
(Pic : salon.com)
We've been let down too – Younger people are as likely to be dissatisfied with how Welsh devolution turned out as older people. Bungs like tuition fee changes, EMAs and apprenticeships will only go so far. We're concerned with bigger issues like health, education (if we want to have children of our own) as well as things like transport and the economy.  We just won't admit it, as we know we won't be listened to - which can be very embarrassing seeing as we're adults.

We didn't vote or campaign for devolution, it's just "there" – Today's 35 year old would've been 19 at the time of the 1997 referendum. Today's 18-24 year olds will barely remember the time before devolution. I'd only just turned 13, and I don't recall if I had an opinion on it. Today's Wales was born from 60s and 70s activism, so younger people won't share a similar "spiritual/emotional connection" to devolution as those who campaigned for or against it. To us, it's a national institution that we grew up with in the background. It's nothing special, sacred or unique. Nor is it an abomination that undermines traditions.

We don't understand it
This shows up in the report as a high percentage of "Don't Knows" on the question of the Assembly's levels of influence and constitutional preferences.

That might be because young people are - like some older folks - unclear on what the Assembly does and what its powers are. Those things are hard to explain to audiences who lack any pre-existing political interest or knowledge. It's still - despite the 2011 referendum - quite technical. The Assembly might not be considered powerful enough to get too interested or involved with, whilst there's also the problem of the Assembly not being "seen" full stop.

It's boring, and any coverage we do get is cynical - Politics is supposed to be boring as that's how mistakes get ironed out. With many distractions, it's hard to get passionate about law-making, committee reports and public service performances.

For example, the Assembly's integrated transport inquiry was excellent and I think I did an OK job of whittling 60-odd pages to under 2,000 words. I received ten times the focus for a non-story about hotels a few weeks later.

Consider yourselves "lucky" I still cover things like laws, policies and committee reports. If I were dependant on maintaining regular high levels of interest, I would've dropped them and concentrated on character assassinations, conspiracy theories and gossip. That's clearly where interest lies, except the problem is that none of that stuff is "politics" nor actually relevant to anything.

We're disenchanted with politics - It's more correct to say young people are "disenchanted" (disappointed with what it is) rather than "disengaged". We do get excited about "single-issue causes" and "grand issues",  just not traditional party and institutional politics. That's probably for the same reasons as older people, or we grew up with such a cloud of cynicism hanging over politics that we just absorbed it as we got older.

The only "grand issue" in Wales is never-ending constitutional masturbation surrounding the Assembly's powers. I've said it several times, but even I don't get excited about that. I consider it tedious, bordering on an insult to our intelligence. We will be back here again and again and again until we have parity with Scotland at least.

We didn't get that in 1997. We didn't get it from the Richard Commission. We didn't get that in 2006 or 2011. You can see that I don't have high hopes for Silk.

It could all be done in 3 years, but we'll be waiting 30.

That's one reason why I would describe myself as "disenchanted". Ask others my age, and you'll probably get hundreds of different reasons.


We're under-represented – This is our own fault for not voting in large numbers, not registering to vote and not standing in elections. However, that's mainly because of disenchantment, lack of interest and seeing it as something for aspiring "career politicians", not ordinary people. I hardly know anybody my age – internet aside - who's a member of a party, movement or an active member of a trade union. Based on Welsh demographics, the Assembly should have at least 9 AMs aged 35 or under. There's one.

What can be done?


 Generation Y's politicians will think of it as a career - not a public service - and will
be thin on the ground. We may as well accept it, as it's better than nothing.
(Pic : British Youth Council)
Not much if I'm completely honest. But there's hope.

It's unscientific, but my Facebook page reach (those who see the posts) hints that the majority (66%) of this blog's readers are – bucking the trend – aged between 18 and 44 (those aged 25-34 the biggest subgroup) with a roughly 55-45 split in favour of men. Page "likes" are similar in terms of demographics, but with an one-sided 80-20 split in favour of men.

I'm not surprised that it's mainly "the boys" who will openly admit to reading/liking this blog, and I suspect 90%+ of the people who leave comments are male too. However, I'm glad women do see/read it as I hope it's seen as relevant to everyone.

I suspect many are political anoraks, activists or party workers in some shape or form. So there is interest amongst young voters, the problem's that they're likely in the "political bubble" anyway.

We have our youth parliamentary organisation – Funky Dragon – and many local councils have youth councils and mayors. That's fine, but I don't think going out and "nagging" young people to be interested in politics and devolution "for their own good" is going to work.

The single biggest fix is more young candidates in "proper government", not farmed off into "yoof parliaments" and student councils. Bridgend, for example, elected at least three councillors aged 35 or under in 2012 : Luke Ellis (Lab, Pyle), Ross Thomas (Lab, Maesteg West) - who's since become Mayor of Maesteg - and Hailey Townsend (Lab, Brackla). So it can be done organically without any positive discrimination.

Of course, those of us interested/involved in politics are going to say it's the most important thing in the world. If politicians and outreach workers are struggling to make it sound relevant and interesting, then the simplest answer is that Welsh politics just isn't relevant and interesting full stop.

Welsh politics is, quite often, painful to follow for its grinding processes and limp outcomes - not the performance of politicians themselves, who I don't have a issue with and who have a tough enough job as it is. They can only work with what they've got and can't perform miracles.

One day, those currently aged 18-35 are going to inherit the country. You better be damned sure we're interested enough to care, or there'll be a vacuum and I dread to think what will fill it.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Whipperines & Class Clowns

I'm on a "break" of sorts, mainly because there's not much to write about. I still have big posts to come before Assembly returns from recess though.

I'm working on a "little something" for September. I think most reading this will be interested, you'll just have to be patient and hope I don't suffer a mental breakdown in the next few weeks. "Stay tuned" for that - hint, hint.

There's a bit of Assembly-related news from last week, with the Children & Young People's Committee publishing a report into their attendance and behaviour inquiry (pdf).

I would've normally glossed over that, but because of the "lull", I decided to take a closer look and it threw up some interesting evidence and conclusions.

There were 12 recommendations, summarised as :
  • The Welsh Government should develop new frameworks and strategies relating to attendance and behaviour, and should investigate bullying's links to poor attendance.
  • Improvements to teacher training, with "evidence-based" behaviour management training as part of their ongoing professional development.
  • Explore the possibility of delivering services relating to educational welfare and behavioural support at a regional level.
  • A rejection of fines for parents of persistent truants, based on evidence presented against that measure which the committee received.
Whipperines : School Attendance
Although the stereotype is of feral youths who don't want to learn,
cited causes of truancy include bullying, home problems and
difficulties with lessons.
(Pic : Daily Post)
If pupils don't go to school regularly, they don't attend lessons, they don't get homework and so they don't learn anything, setting them up for failure.

Absenteeism in schools is described as "stable", with unauthorised absences running at roughly 0.6-1% since 2002-03. Absence rates are used to determine school bandings (My Local School), so rates have improved since banding was introduced.

During the inquiry's focus group, the main reason for unauthorised absence given by pupils themselves were bullying or a general "lack of desire to attend school". Boredom during lessons and difficulties with schoolwork were also cited, along with home life problems like caring for relatives and drugs. They called for more understanding about their individual needs instead of a "one size fits all" policy.

Specific problems with attendance were highlighted during the period between primary and secondary schools (ages 8-14) and it's said that this period is where pupil attainment "follows a downward trajectory".

One thing cited by Estyn as a successful way of reducing absenteeism amongst "difficult-to-reach families" are so-called "first day response" procedures, where schools contact a parent directly on the first day of any absence. The committee decided they want more evidence on the effectiveness of this approach.

There was evidence of a shortage of Education Welfare Officers (aka. whipperines) in Wales, or at the very least a "considerable variation in service between local authorities", hence the suggestion of a regional approach to use EWOs better.

The evidence presented against fixed-penalty notices for truancy introduced by Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda) was brusque.

A school governors representative described the truancy fines proposal as "disastrous", for undermining the "good relationship between staff, parents and pupils." None of the witnesses are said to have supported it, and evidence presented to the committee pointed towards "reward systems" for good attendance rather than punishments.

The fines are set to be introduced from September 1st and could be between £60-120.


Class Clowns : School Behaviour
Although permanent exclusions are becoming less common,
extreme behaviour is said to be becoming more common amongst
primary-age pupils and those with special needs.
(Pic : educationviews.org)
Good pupil behaviour is essential to ensure a decent learning environment for pupils, and enable teachers to get on with their jobs without having to deal with "distractions".

Pupils themselves agreed that : bullying, being disruptive in class, being disrespectful to staff, smoking and vandalism counted as "bad behaviour". They also agreed that bad behaviour from other pupils prevents them from learning. Suggestions to reduce bad behaviour included more outdoor and "fun" lessons, and more one-on-one time with teachers.

Fortunately, permanent exclusions are said to be decreasing, and currently run at a rate of around 0.7 pupils per 1000. The main reasons for exclusions are said to be assaults against staff or persistent "defiance of rules".

Less fortunately, "extreme behaviour" is said to be increasing in primary schools, with greater prevalence amongst boys and those with special needs (who made up to half of all exclusions in 2010-11).

With regard exclusions procedures themselves, there was worrying evidence that schools were "illegally excluding" pupils by simply telling them to stay away, without officially notifying parents/guardians of the exclusion (or presumably recording it). A 2007 report from the Children's Commissioner said that the practice was "widespread".

There was contradictory evidence regarding ongoing illegal exclusions, with the National Association of Headteachers saying they would be "surprised" if the practice was still happening in 2013. Meanwhile, SNAP Cymru – a children's charity - claimed they had worked on 92 cases of illegal exclusion, including one highlighted case where a pupil with Asperger's Syndrome was asked to take an "early holiday"  during an inspection period.

AMs themselves have come across similar cases through their constituency work, but there was little official evidence of the practice. That's perhaps for obvious reasons - schools want it hushed up, and it's off the official record.

For those who are excluded, or moved to out-of-school Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), Estyn said specialist teaching staff at these institutions were "well trained and confident" about working with troubled pupils. However, there were issues regarding the management of individual pupil's needs. Teaching unions called for a "properly resourced national network" of PRUs.

PRUs based within school sites are said to be too old in terms of facilities. Also, some pupils ending up in on-site PRUs for long periods instead of returning to normal classes.

In terms of the wider issue of education for excluded pupils, education is still compulsory for them, and they're entitled to 25 hours per week, starting within 15 days of exclusion. SNAP Cymru say this simply doesn't happen, and excluded pupils are "lucky to get 5 hours a week"- if that. It's usually then left to parents.

The introduction of trained school counsellors is said to be important, with a "positive impact on attainment, attendance and behaviour" amongst children who've received help.

One other big issue raised was that of parental attitudes towards punishments. There are varying levels of engagement and support, with some parents outright refusing to support any measures taken against their children, or unwilling to accept any wrong-doing. This usually results in lengthy compromises instead.

Conclusions

It's a basic duty of every parent to make sure their child behaves themselves at school and attends regularly. It's disappointing to read that some parents don't accept their little angels might not be the cherubs they think they are, but it's not a surprise unfortunately.

As you can tell by the tone of the language used in the report, this was unusually critical of some aspects of the Welsh Government's approach and policies here.

The headline-grabber was the rejection of truancy fines. It was clearly part of Leighton Andrews' more aggressive approach to driving up standards, but it remains to be seen if that's going to be Huw Lewis' style. With only a few weeks until the fines are set to be introduced and regulations drawn up, time's running out for the Education Minister to pull the plug if he's convinced by this report.

The warning is that several perfectly good things Leighton did during his tenure could end up being overturned if a u-turn here encourages teaching unions to press for more policy reversals.

I believe fines are appropriate with regard persistent truants, but only when all other options have been completely exhausted. I don't like reward schemes, as pupils shouldn't be "bribed" to go to school, as it could teach them that they should expect prizes for doing something they should be doing anyway.

On school behaviour, the "illegal exclusion" issue borders on scandalous. That could be in part because schools have become so wound up about inspections and bandings that they might feel the need to shunt misbehaving or difficult pupils out of sight. It could also be that headteachers and local authorities are just too damned lazy to sort out the core problems themselves. It's one area where the "Third Sector" should perhaps become more involved in if individual schools can't cope.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Formula One, Motorsports & Wales

Last summer, I focused on Welsh baseball and a Commonwealth Games bid in the 2020s. Earlier this year, I mentioned a Welsh national cricket team - apparantly there's going to be a vote on that when the Assembly returns from recess.

With discussions rumbling on about the future of motorsports in Wales - due to the proposal in Blaenau Gwent - I thought I'd take a look at the current situation, what we could focus on in terms of attracting new events and whether Wales could/should aspire to host major international track-based events like Formula One.

Don't get the impression that I'm a motorsports fan - I'm not. The following's just example of (hopefully satisfactory) research.

Motorsports – An overview


Formula Three is a similar "open wheel" competition
to the more famous and glamorous Formula One.
(Pic : The Guardian)

There are many different types of motorsport competitions, most falling under the umbrella of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) governing body, based in Paris.


The first major category are open wheel/single-seater races. The biggest competition is, obviously, Formula One. GP2 and GP3 competitions act as "feeder comptitions" to Formula One itself - for aspiring drivers - and are held as "support races" to the main event. However, there are also multiple Formula Three and Formula-E championships which have a different set of manufacturing rules, in addition to karting.

Touring cars are ordinary production cars that have been modified, and have their own World Championship. Endurance racing (like Le Mans) is similar, but usually involves modified high-performance cars,  with races lasting 24 hours. Truck racing is self-explanatory.

The other big one – where Wales plays a major role at present – is rallying. Rallying involved modified production cars, but races take place off-road on mixed-surface tracks. It isn't a "race" as such, more a timed sprint for each car.
The top competition is the FIA World Rally Championship.

In rallying's heyday, there was also the Group B category - a manly competition for real men (and women too), who basically drove their own hearses around unfenced mountain roads at 100mph.

MotoGP is the highest regarded motorcycle racing competition.
(Pic : euronews.com)

There are plenty major motorsports events outside of the FIA umbrella.

The biggest (in Europe anyway) are motorcycle racing events, the governing body being the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), headquartered in Switzerland. There are too many competitions and formats to go into, but the highest-profile competitions are the MotoGP series and Superbike World Championships. The highest-profile endurance motorcycle race is arguably the Isle of Man TT.

In the United States, you have NASCAR (similar to touring cars), where drivers gonna drive real fast for a while, den gonna turn left for a while. Also, the IndyCar Series is similar to Formula Three and is probably the most popular "open wheel" competition in North America.

For other non-car motorsports, you can point to aquatic racing (i.e. powerboats), air racing involving modified single engine planes and the "unconventional" – lawnmower racing, hill-climbs etc.

So there's lots of choice and lots of events.


Wales and motorsports : The past & present

Trac Mon has hosted many events down the years
for both cars and motorcycles.
(Pic : bangor-people.co.uk)
Due to the landscape, numerous foresty roads and climate, Wales is home to several rally schools. Wales has produced several high-profile drivers and co-drivers, such as : Gwyndaf Evans, David Llewellin , Phil Mills and Nicky Grist. Tom Cave and Elfyn Evans are two current Welsh participants in the World Rally Championship.

Wales hosts the British leg of the World Rally Championship (Wales Rally GB), which will be based in Llandudno from this winter. It's estimated to be currently worth around £10million to the Welsh economy each year, and at least £40million since it started.

Hosting a major rally leg is great. However, I doubt it brings as much attention as track-based competitions, as it's usually just a couple of nutters fans standing at track side up in the forests. It's events around the main race that tend to attract people – like special stages.

Track-based events usually attract thousands of spectators, especially for the bigger championships. Wales doesn't host events at that scale (yet), but we do have three notable circuits :
  • Trac Môn, Aberffraw, Anglesey – Arguably Wales' top track venue at present, hosting a wide range of events for both motorbikes and cars, in addition to testing.
  • Pembrey Circuit, Carmarthenshire – Previously hosted Formula Three, Superbike Championships and Touring Car Championships. Currently used primarily for testing and smaller competitions.
  • Llandow Circuit, Vale of Glamorgan – Mainly used for private track events and track days to paying members of the public.

Four Welsh drivers have competed at the highest level in Formula One, but the only regular established Welsh F1 driver was Denbighshire's Tom Pryce, who was killed in an accident at the South African Grand Prix in 1977.

Wales has produced several drivers in other categories of racing - most notably karting, touring cars and Formula Three - with some competing at present. If the south produces more rugby players and footballers, it's definitely the north of Wales which produces more professional racing drivers per head.

Wales and motorsports : The future


Three main question marks surround : the future of Wales Rally GB, the future of existing track circuits and the proposed Circuit of Wales development in Blaenau Gwent.


As mentioned, Wales Rally GB has moved from the south to the north, being based out of Llandudno and Flintshire from this year. It currently receives funding from the Welsh Government – in 2012, £1.4million. That's generally offset by the short-term economic boost from tourism.

The long-term future of the event could be in doubt, and has been for some time, usually only being saved at the last minute. The FIA have considered dropping it from the WRC calendar on-off, but it was included for 2013. It's unclear if that'll continue from 2014. There's also the prospect that the event could move from Wales to another part of Britain & Ireland at some point in the future.

The big threat facing existing circuits is they they could – perhaps Trac Môn aside – be eyed up for development, as they tend to be large, flat brownfield sites. There are on-off plans for a new village at Llandow, while the owner of Pembrey Airport is keen to see it expand, and that might affect the circuit in the long-term.

Last but not least is the Circuit of Wales development in Blaenau Gwent. Jac o the North has his own take on that, as does Click on Wales.

The £280million proposal – led by Heads fo the Valleys Development Company - near Rassau Industrial Estate on the outskirts of Ebbw Vale, includes:
  • A 5.4km main circuit with temporary and permanent grandstands (70,000 capacity) – currently aimed at motorcycle racing, but could be used for other track races.
  • Pit buildings, medical centre etc. for teams.
  • Motorcross circuit to "world championship standards".
  • 1.2km karting circuit.
  • A driver training centre.
  • 180-bed 4 star hotel, 150-bed 3 star hotel, 27 "lodges" and a campsite.
  • A 14-unit business park, 17-unit industrial/storage park and 19 showrooms and "brand centres" for manufacturers.
  • A solar energy park.
Access will be improved via the duelling of the A465, the latest stage(s) of which are currently under construction. The proposed Ebbw Vale railway station would be around 4km away.


The proposed Circuit of Wales development
in Rassau, Blaenau Gwent.
(Pic : visordown.com)

The estimates are for up to 4,000 construction jobs and between 4,000 and 6,000 operational jobs. It's also estimated the development could attract 750,000 visitors per year.

The project as a whole seems very similar to the Circuit de Catalunya, located in a valley on the outskirts of Barcelona.

It's incredibly ambitious, and you have to wonder whether it really can be delivered instead of being another wild, undeliverable promise like Valleywood.

Parts of the development – like the business park – might be eligible for Objective One funding, and it's claimed the developers have the £150million finance needed for the track itself (rather than the add-ons). However, I think it's worth having a healthy scepticism about this one - we've heard it all before.

Some of the figures on jobs, for example, seem random and change each time they're mentioned. There's also the question of how events will be attracted to this new circuit in the face of competition from established circuits - and how much that might cost.
It would almost certainly require some sort of capital funding from the Welsh Government at some point.

Blaenau Gwent Council approved the outline plans last month. Due to the potential environmental impact (it borders the Brecon Beacons National Park), Natural Resources Wales and other environmental groups raised concerns.

The Welsh Government have subsequently put the project "on hold" – subject to a detailed inspection/due diligence - and are deciding whether or not to call the planning application in, which could put the project in jeapody.


What events could Wales realistically host?

Economic catalyst? Or white elephant?
(Pic : South Wales Argus)
Firstly, there are all the events that Wales already hosts - like track days at the existing circuits, and the Wales Rally GB. Wales should try to retain the Wales Rally GB, as it's the highest-profile motorsports event in the country at present. It wouldn't send out the best message to lose it.

If the Circuit of Wales comes into being though, then Wales would have a genuinely world-class venue and could probably bid to host the likes of:
  • Formula Three & Formula E Championships
  • Moto GP
  • (British & World) Superbikes Championships
  • (British & World) Touring Car Championships
  • (British & World) Motorcross Championships
The cost of bidding to host these events will need to be offset by the potential economic boost from visitors etc. That probably puts MotoGP, Superbikes and Formula Three towards the top of the list because of their relative popularity..

Interestingly, the design and access statement for the Circuit of Wales (pdf page 7) suggests that because Wales is a self-governing state – citing examples like Catalonia, Monaco etc. - Wales would be entitled to separate World Championship race under our own name - a "Welsh Grand Prix" - not the "British" umbrella.

Could Wales host Formula One?

Hosting a Welsh Grand Prix - Don't get your hopes up.
Hosting a team/testing base - that's something to aim for.
(Pic : The Guardian)
It's wishful thinking, to be frank.

I don't think the Circuit of Wales has been mentioned in the same vein as F1 other than a throwaway headline in the Daily Mail.

There are several reasons why not, namely the crowded F1 calendar and the fact the British Grand Prix is firmly established at Silverstone. You've also got to factor in things like access, hospitality, hotels etc. the requirements of which are huge even for a single weekend. F1 races usually attract upwards of 120,000 spectators, almost double Moto GP's 60-80,000.

The FIA are unlikely to want an extra European leg (i.e. a "Welsh Grand Prix") when they're actively targeting a global market for expansion - in particular to the United States and Asia. So to host F1, the Circuit of Wales would have to replace Silverstone and that's unlikely to say the least.

However, if Wales is going to play a role in F1, I think the best way would be to host a team rather than a race.

All the design, engineering work and production work has to happen somewhere. With the prospect of a business park being attached to the Circuit of Wales site - as well as Ebbw Vale being declared an automotive enterprise zone by the Welsh Government - it could be marketed to motorsports teams as a potential base or test site.

Link that in with local universities and college courses - as hoped - and you would have the foundations for some very highly-skilled engineering jobs in the heads of the valleys, that could potentially have spin-offs running into the tens of millions, if not more.