Independence Index

Your in-depth guide to Welsh independence.


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


The major local political stories and developments from Bridgend county.


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

Committee Inquiries

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

Vice Nation: Sex

How could an independent Wales deal with issues surrounding sex?

Friday, 28 February 2014

Senedd Watch - February 2014

  • Proposals to change the school banding system for primary and secondary schools were revealed, replaced by a colour-coded system reflecting schools causing concern and those exceeding expectations.
  • Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) called for an apology from the First Minister for the Welsh Government's “shabby treatment of farmers”, after the transfer of CAP funds from farm support to rural development was poorly communicated, describing it as “provocative and badly thought through.”
  • AMs agreed to extend a ban on the sale of “e-cigarettes” to under-18s in England to Wales following concerns about possible health dangers. Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), said they were “re-normalising smoking", while AMs also approved extending a ban on smoking in cars when children are present.
  • Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) called for the suspension of chief executives in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire – joined later to varying degrees by Keith Davies AM (Lab, Llanelli), Rebecca Evans AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) and Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W & S. Pembs.) - following critical Wales Audit Office reports which said pension payments and libel indemnity funding were “unlawful”. Local Government Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), said she couldn't comment due to police enquiries, but called on the two authorities to enact the auditor's recommendations.
    • On February 14th, Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire Council, Mark James, stood aside after Dyfed-Powys Police referred the investigation into the payments to Gloucestershire Police. Two former chief executives of Caerphilly Council were also formally charged with misconduct in public office on February 18th. On February 27th, a no confidence motion in the the leaders of Carmarthenshire Council failed.
  • The Welsh Conservatives pledged to raise the threshold of paying stamp duty to £250,000 if they win the 2016 Welsh General Election, saying it would cost up to £25million. Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Davies (Con, South Wales Central), said by “sounding the horn of low tax” it would “stem the brain drain” from Wales to London. Welsh Labour challenged the UK Government to cut stamp duty across the UK, questioning how the policy would be funded.
  • Wales & West Housing Association said the UK Government's “Bedroom Tax” could leave the Welsh public sector out of pocket because disabled tenants forced to move would leave new home adaptations wasted. Housing & Regeneration Minister, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), called for the disabled, foster carers and service personnel to be exempted, pledging £1.3million towards mitigating the effects.
  • Llyr Gruffydd AM called for the devolution of energy powers to Wales, saying renewable energy was potentially worth up to £2.3billion to the Welsh economy. He said Plaid's policy - should the powers be devolved - would ensure community benefits for renewable energy projects, and create a not-for-dividend energy company.
  • UCAS revealed the number of Welsh students studying at English universities rose by 20% since 2010, with a 9.5% fall in those studying in Wales. Aled Roberts AM (Lib Dem, North Wales) questioned whether current tuition fee policies meant English universities benefited to Wales' detriment.
  • Natural Resources and Food Minister, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) said it wasn't Welsh Government policy to allow a managed abandonment of coastal communities, after BBC Wales found many local authorities were doing so due to rising sea levels. A 2010 report said £135million was needed to be spent annually to cope.
  • AMs voted to approve the Social Services and Wellbeing Bill at Stage 3 on February 11th, which will move to a Report Stage. An amendment to outlaw “smacking” was rejected, though Deputy Minister for Social Services, Gwenda Thomas (Lab, Neath), said AMs would be given an opportunity to vote on smacking legislation before the end of the Fourth Assembly.
    • However, the First Minister appeared to renege, later saying the Welsh Government wouldn't introduce an amendment/legislation before the 2016 election, instead saying parties should include it as a manifesto commitment.
  • Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Davies, sacked four members of the Shadow Cabinet after they failed to vote on an Assembly motion condemning the “lockstep” provisions on income tax in the draft Wales Bill. One of them, Antoinette Sandbach AM (Con, North Wales), expressed disappointment at the “divide in the party” while another, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth), described it as a “coup”. Andrew Davies later admitted divisions within his party, however he maintained the group would be stronger as a result.
  • The Welsh Government announced a deal to bring part of Pinewood Studios to Cardiff, potentially supporting 2,000 jobs and boosting the economy by £90million. The First Minister described it as a “major coup for Wales”, while Business Minister Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower) said it was a “priceless opportunity to promote Wales as a world class location for film.”
  • Welsh Government figures suggest UK welfare reforms could cost the Welsh economy £930million per year, with Neath Port Talbot, Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil hard hit. Communities and Tackling Poverty Minister, Jeff Cuthbert (Lab, Caerphilly), said the Welsh Government was funding debt advice charities in response. The Welsh Conservatives described it as “political posturing”.
  • The First Minister admitted an Easter 2014 deadline to agree local authority mergers, as outlined in the Williams Commission, will be difficult to meet, instead setting a new deadline for the summer. He also admitted the chance of passing legislation on reforms before the 2016 Welsh General Election would be “very small”.
  • Unemployment in Wales fell by 12,000 in the three months to December 2013 to stand at 7.1% - below the UK average (7.2%) for the first time since June 2009.
  • Calls for an inquiry into excess deaths at Welsh hospitals were rejected by the Welsh Government, after an email sent from the head of a similar inquiry in England, Sir Bruce Keogh, told his Welsh counterpart that mortality statistics were “worrying”. The Health Minister described an inquiry as a “nonsensical trap” that would “drag the Welsh NHS through the mud.”
  • The Assembly Commission unveiled a new partnership with Microsoft to provide automated translation between English and Welsh, which will enable Assembly staff to use the language of their choice and save time and money. Assembly Commissioner for the Welsh Language, Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) said it was “a great step forward in bilingual working”.
  • The British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society said Welsh patients were being denied obesity surgery because they weren't heavy enough. The Welsh Government said the best way to lose weight was dietary changes and exercise, and that bariatric surgery was only part of the solution.
  • Cardiac surgery patients have been routinely transferred to private hospitals in England by the Welsh NHS to deal with waiting lists according to correspondence between the Royal College of Surgeons and Health Inspectorate Wales. Shadow Health Minister, Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West), accused the Welsh Government of hypocrisy, as they previously only considered private treatment as a “last option”.
  • Plaid Cymru unveiled plans to integrate health and social care, producing two policy options that would either see adult social care provided by the seven local health boards, or community and primary healthcare provided by local authorities - should the Williams Commission recommendations be enacted in full.
  • The annual BBC Wales St David's Day poll from ICM showed 37% of people supported further powers for the National Assembly and only 5% independence. 23% supported scrapping the National Assembly - rising 10% since 2010. Prof. Roger Scully said there may be a “polarisation in attitudes” towards the Assembly. Also, a majority – 54% - would prefer the UK to remain part of the European Union.

Projects announced in February include : The launch of a Welsh Government-backed campaign to raise awareness of people trafficking, a £20million Schools Challenge Cymru fund targeting the 40 poorest performing schools, an extra £55million in health spending as part of the supplementary budget, a three-year £189million agreement on free bus travel, the launch of a £4million tourism campaign to attract visitors from the rest of the UK and Ireland and £5million towards improved flood defences in Colwyn Bay.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Health and social care sitting in a tree....

(Pic :

Plaid's Shadow Minister for Health & Well-being, Elin Jones AM (Plaid, Ceredigion), launched a second policy consultation on Tuesday (first - Dr Plaid's NHS Treatment Plan – another several hours of voluntary work), outlining proposals to integrate the two services.

The paper is available here (pdf) and the consultation is open until May 30th.

Why integrate health and social care?

Integrating health and social care will hopefully lead
to fewer scenes like this in Welsh hospitals.
(Pic : The Telegraph)
Firstly, it worth distinguishing between "health care" and "social care".

Health care includes diagnostic and treatment facilities provided by hospitals, GPs, allied professionals like physios, pharmacists, dentists and opticians and the ambulance service. These are provided by the NHS or on the NHS's behalf (in the case of dentists etc.)

Social care helps people with physical difficulties to "live their lives comfortably". That includes things like cooking, cleaning, home adaptions and more personal things like managing finances. This can be done in someone's home, or in a full-time residential complex.
These services are provided both by local authorities and private companies.

The paper outlines several problems resulting from keeping the two services separate from each other :

  • "Bureaucratic battles" over which service is responsible for the care, and for whom specifically.
  • Unnecessary hospital admissions and delayed transfers of care ("bed blocking").
  • Lack of sufficient community care through "chronic under-investment".
  • Budgets for health services have generally been protected by the Welsh Government, but there are threats to social care services due to local government cuts.

Older patients in particular are often passed between different organisations – a concern raised by the Older People's Commissioner. It also means some patients with chronic illnesses go to hospital when it's better for them to be treated at home and given support so they can live independently again.

Merging the two services has long been an aspiration in Wales, with a continued focus on partnerships, collaboration and pooled budgets.

During the recent Social Services and Well-being Bill debate, service integration was raised several times and amendments were proposed – including from Elin Jones herself – which would've paved the way towards limited integration.

The issue is even more urgent as a result of the Williams Commission. Echoing what Leanne Wood said during the debate on that, the Commission's proposals go beyond a simple reorganisation of local authorities. Plaid describe the omission of local health board and social care reform from the Commission's remit as a "flaw".

However, in one example – Powys – the Commission recommended Powys Local Health Board (LHB) merge with Powys County Council. That's because no acute services are provided in Powys (they're reliant on Shrewsbury, South Wales and Aberystwyth) making the process easier. The Commission also recommended the new local authorities don't straddle the 7 LHB boundaries.

So although it was outside of the Williams Commission's remit, they "future proofed" things to enable a smooth integration between health and social care in future.

Plaid argue a single Health and Social Care Service, with a single budget, means some services that would otherwise face cuts can be protected, with all staff involved in care working to the same end. This will improve services for those needing care and put less pressure on hospitals.

Learning from Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has long had a system of integrated health and social care services.
(Pic : South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust)
Northern Ireland, in practice, merged health and social care system in 1973, though a direct merger was delayed until 2009 due to political problems. The driver of change there was also – coincidentally - local government reorganisation, though the advantages of integrated services weren't realised at the time.

In terms of how it works, GPs are at the head of a team of professionals that includes social workers and nurses, services aren't duplicated, people aren't passed between different organisations and care is co-ordinated between the health side and the social care side.

Scotland's currently pursuing integration of services through the Public Bodies (Joint Working) Bill, which, if passed, will offer two options to Scottish local authorities and health boards – joint boards with joint budgets, or functions and budgets being transferred between boards in order to set their respective roles in stone.

England's also experimented with integrated services, with Torbay given as an example, seeing "impressive" falls in bed occupancy rates, emergency bed occupation rates and bed blocking.

Plaid's Challenges

Plaid describe this as a "once in a generation opportunity for Wales to lead the way by fully integrating health and social care". However, they outline the significant challenges standing in the way.

The first is that health services are universally free at the point of use, but social care is means tested by local authorities - with only the poorest receiving free care. There are complications caused by what are described as "bureaucratic battles", where free care is only available depending on which organisation undertook the needs assessment. Governments are therefore reluctant to scrap means testing as it would increase expenditure.

Plaid would prefer to make all social care free at point of use – in line with health services. However, as the budget isn't there do that, they intend to put services into three bands :
  • Free at the point of use – this includes GP appointments, NHS hospital treatment, prescriptions and health information etc.
  • Capped charges with free services or reduced charges for the less well off – dental treatment, opticians, non-residential social care.
  • Charges imposed with means testing available – residential social care and home adaptions.
This is, essentially, how services are provided now. If more money comes in, Plaid say they'll try to make more services free at the point of use.

Plaid also flagged up:
  • Social care affordability – The Dilnot Commission recommended a cap on what a person pays for care, subsequently set by Westminster at £70,000. The Welsh Government hasn't decided whether to bring in a cap or not because of the potential impact on the Barnett Formula.
  • Mental Health Services – A 2008 paper for the Welsh Government recommended the creation of a single body for mental health services in Wales which would "stretch across health and social care". These proposals were rejected by the Welsh Government because there were no links between mental and physical illness, a stand alone body might be subject to cuts they otherwise wouldn't be and there were objections to including learning disabilities within that structure. Plaid propose "revisiting" the idea, and ring-fencing the budget for mental health for the foreseeable future.
  • Third Sector involvement – It's said the third sector has provided both innovation and a voice for service users. An integrated service would allow a review of how contracts are awarded to make it less bureaucratic.

Plaid's Integration Options

Handing control of adult social care to local health boards could result in fewer
hospital admissions and "bed blocking", as services would fall under a single umbrella.
(Pic : BBC Wales)
Option One : Adult Social Care becomes the responsibility of Local Health Boards

The Welsh Government "would retain control over strategic decisions" but the responsibility for commissioning social care and mental health services would be with LHBs, not local authorities. It's possible LHB boundaries could be reviewed too.

For democratic accountability, Plaid propose either nominating local councillors to sit on boards, or direct elections for board seats at the same time as local council elections.

They're not proposing the same for children's social care, because users of adult social care often have health problems, while children's social care is often related to things like child protection - a role for social workers, not the NHS.

One risk here – as experienced in Northern Ireland – is that health could dominate the integrated system, furthering under-investment in social care. Under this choice, the Welsh Government would, therefore, "play a stronger role in budget allocations", possibly ring-fencing social care funding.

Option Two : Local authorities are given control over primary (GP) and community health

This is described as "the radical option", where local authorities (presumably post-reorganisation) would control GP services, community hospitals, patient transport and community medicine (including community mental health). Current local health boards would be scrapped, and it's a similar, but not identical, set-up to Denmark.

Hospital services and things like ambulance services would be run either :
  • directly by the Welsh Government.
  • by a single National Hospital Board.
  • three health boards based on fire and rescue service areas.

It would end problems caused by patients transferring for treatment between LHBs, and allows greater national planning.

Plaid say option two would also ensure "a greater emphasis on preventing ill health and looking after people in the community" with bed blocking reducing over time - as long as there's investment in community hospitals.

A risk is that continuing to have two seperate bodies responsible for health and care could continue arguments over who does what, and see no end to "postcode lotteries". There's also a risk current financial pressures on local authorities will transfer into the health service.

For both options, Plaid say it would take an Assembly term (5 years) to integrate services.


Option two sounds attractive, but after the experience of the old 22 local health boards, foisting responsibilities for primary care onto councils after they go through a very rough reorganisation would be a bad idea.

The first option seems sensible - and has been backed by the Royal College of Nursing. It's best to use existing structures for service delivery, while integrating health and social care makes sense for reasons clearly set out in the paper and in the Senedd chamber.

A similar set up has been argued for ambulance services too, and as regular readers will know, I would prefer services like these (and others) to be provided by a regional tier of government - but that boat's sailed.

What's also pleasing is the constructive response of Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), who's quoted as saying he would read the paper "with interest" and that "ministers will look carefully at what the party is saying". That's much better than the nonsense we got last time from Labour.

It's fair to say Plaid are heading in the right direction (again). Shame about "other things".

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Translation for the Nation

A neoteric metaphrasical collaboration with Microsoft will facilitate a
sustainable vocabulary-centred approach to talk-mining between key stakeholders.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

Last week, the Assembly Commission announced a partnership with Microsoft which will enable quick and easy translation between the three official languages of the National Assembly : English, Welsh and Assemblese.

The launch - on the Assembly Estate's primary
person-centred interaction and circumscription zone near the bipedal impact inter-storey active travel support structure - was witnessed by autonomous organic confabulation and democratic engagement units who were invited to cross the indoor-outdoor transfer threshold.

Addressing the
autonomous organic confabulation and democratic engagement units, an Assembly Commissioner said :
"We offer our felicitations to Microsoft for facilitating an implementation matrix for a new vocabulary-centred ways and means to enable Commission staff and Assembly Members to volitionally exercise the lexicon they have a predilection towards, in order to impart efficient talk-mining between other persons and personages of the same occupational sphere.

"This initiative is fundamental to our holistic approach towards document management, and a controlled paradigm shift in compatible next generation speech and text processing. That's irrespective of whether it's an electronic text communique via the sustainable paperless communications framework network, a dynamic manual compression inscription device or a blogging input-output manifold.

"We appreciate the pragmatic reciprocity of Microsoft's pooling of brainspace with our centre of excellence. As with other disruptive innovations, the inherent interactive asset mobility will capacitate cost avoidance - in both multi-lingual translation and elucidation - via a 21st century, third-generation resource that provides a measure of sustainably sustainable sustainability.

"Through assembling new communication protocols, our aspiration is to share best practice methodology with key stakeholders - subject to due diligence - as this ambient digital hardware transmogrifies Assembly translation services, enabling all of us to become conversant when interacting with it."

An exposition of the new technology involved the adhibition of the translator to fabricate a real-time text-centered transliteration (in the English linguistic communication) of the most recent plenary
Assembly Commission Questions.
Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) Q1(a). What evaluation has been made of the performance of the ground source heat pump which serves the Senedd building?

Peter Black AM (Lib Dem, South Wales West) : Thank you for that question.The three ground source heat pumps are part of the sustainable design of the Senedd, providing low-grade underfloor heating and cooling. The controls that activate the ground source heat pumps have been integrated into the building management control system so that they support the other heating and cooling systems efficiently. The pumps have limited provision for performance evaluation, but we have been working on this with the Carbon Trust and are investigating the feasibility of installing monitoring tools so that we can be sure that the system is contributing as effectively as possible to the Senedd’s sustainability performance.

Jenny Rathbone AM : Q1(b) As this technology is still in development, it is vital that we are able to understand how well these systems are working, so that we can improve them. So, I am disappointed that it would appear that, to date, we have not actually done any evaluation of the system, because there are lots of experts out there who would be very keen to understand exactly how well this system is functioning, so that we can then use that information to improve the systems of the future. When exactly is this evaluation going to start?

Peter Black AM : As I indicated, we are working with the Carbon Trust on this at the moment. The ground source heat pump is part of the sustainable design of the Senedd that works in tandem with the biomass boiler for heating in the winter and with the chillers for cooling in the summer. So, accordingly, the system is operational as designed. However, we will be commissioning further control modifications to ensure its efficient performance. Performance monitoring capability was not installed as part of the ground source heat system. We have recognised this emission (sic) and we will address it in due course.

Jenny Rathbone AM Q1(a). How efficient is the Senedd building's geothermal heat pump?

Peter Black AM : Thank you for that question. Although the system provides some underfloor heating and cooling from the ground under the building, and is a key part of managing the Senedd's temperature, we don't know for sure. We're currently working with the Carbon Trust, and one idea is to install monitors so we can analyse the system's performance.

Jenny Rathbone AM : Q1(b). Although the technology's new, as we often say the Senedd building is environmentally-friendly, I'm disappointed we haven't studied whether those claims are true in order to improve the system, or allow others to follow our example in the future. When will we know how efficient the system is?

Peter Black AM : I don't know, but I can assure everyone that the heat pump is working properly. We're always considering ways to make it work more efficiently - as we are with the Carbon Trust. I hope the monitors will be installed in the future, but they should've been there from the start.
Then the demonstration moved to an intimated intra-workspace e-dispatch, to be transposed into Welsh.
"As the Member has recognised my emission in the chamber, I will be engaging in an ad interim cessation of work-centred activities to expedite a clamant personal conference to facilitate sustainable procurement and extemporaneous application of a biomass extraction interface."

"Dwi'n mynd i wedi cachu."

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Independence Minutiae : Wales in Space

Wales has been into space before....via Canada.
There was also a chance of having a Welshman on the Moon.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

This is a rewrite of a blog originally posted on 17th October 2011.

I was interviewed for a tongue-in-cheek Radio 4 documentary on Welsh independence which broadcast yesterday, but I didn't make the final edit. Some things I mentioned included an anology comparing devolution and independence to swimming, net neutrality (which could form part of a 21st century Welsh constitution), the future of the monarchy and space policy.

Admittedly, this is – excuse the pun – "out there". It's not the first thing on people's minds when they think of Welsh independence, or even the present economy. The powers and freedom independence bring shouldn't be stuck in a box of being exclusively about the economy, culture or social justice.

"Regulation of outer space activities" is one of the miscellaneous reserved matters in the Scotland Act 1998. Although matters are explicitly devolved to Wales, rather than matters reserved to Westminster, it's yet one more "minor" area Wales would take responsibility for upon independence

There are opportunities here - independence or not - and events the other side of the Atlantic are making it possible.

The Welsh in Space

Before going into specifics, it's worth reflecting on the role the Welsh people have played in space science and space exploration down the years. It's safe to say we've done well compared to our relative size, and it's one area we should make more of a song and dance about.

In terms of producing astronomers and cosmologists, Wales has always punched above its weight.The Welsh Government's former Chief Scientific Adviser, Prof. John Harries, was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2011 "for improving knowledge of Earth's atmosphere and climate system".

Former Plaid Cymru chair and AM for South Wales East - sadly no longer with us - Prof. Phil Williams was a leading solar physicist. Prof. Geraint Lewis, from Crynant, is one of the world's leading cosmologists. Perhaps the most famous Welsh scientist currently is Swansea University alumnus, Aberdare's Dr Lyn Evans - project leader at CERN's Large Hadron Collidor.

In terms of astronauts – or cymronauts - Dr. Dafydd Williams, a second-generation Canadian whose father was from Bargoed, Caerphilly, became the first person of Welsh decent into space in 1998 aboard the (subsequently ill-fated) Space Shuttle Colombia. His second mission, in 2007, resulted in a 12 day stay on the International Space Station where he performed a "spacewalk".

Another Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield, has Welsh links in his extended family, famously taking this photo.

Long before that, Cardiff-born and educated Dr. John Llewellyn underwent astronaut training with NASA, but dropped out in the late-1960s. Had he completed training, there could've been an outside chance he would've participated in the Apollo Moon landing missions in some way, or at the very least the early Space Shuttle Missions. He died in July 2013 aged 80.

Cardiff University's School of Physics and Astronomy is one of the UK's leading research centres for studying galaxy and star formation, as well as the design of astronomical instrumentation, including a large teaching telescope and observatory.

The Spaceguard Centre - based in Powys - monitors threatening near-earth objects such as asteroids. This could become an important part of any global monitoring system in the future.

The Privatisation of Space

Although space science will still be state-funded, space travel is
increasingly becoming the domain of the private sector.
(Pic :
Public funding for NASA has always been controversial. President Obama unveiled a new National Space Programme in 2010 which not only saw the retirement of the Space Shuttle, but a shift towards the use of privately-designed and funded launch vehicles.

With US astronauts reliant on the Russian Soyuz system to reach the International Space Station for the time being - an embarrassment if ever there was one for the US - there's unlikely to be a large gap between the Shuttle's retirement and a replacement.

Although deep space and manned exploration will still be state-funded and science-led; near-Earth ventures, telecommunications and things like space tourism will be led increasingly by private industry.

Private involvement is space flight isn't new. Arianespace have developed rockets for the European Space Agency since the 1990s, while big aerospace companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing have developed rockets to deliver US military satellites into orbit.

It's human spaceflight that's the next frontier here. Virgin Galactic are due to launch the first commercial space tourism flights later in 2014 from their base in New Mexico. However, this follows a series of delays and technological issues which underline the challenges involved in this experimental field.

There are also several dozen smaller companies developing their own private spacecraft, whether to compete for the $10million X Prize for sub-orbital flight (won in 2004), or the current $30million X Prize to land a rover on the Moon, which currently has around 30 entries from around the world.

Opportunities for the Welsh Economy

Sub-orbital flight is likely to become a major area of aeronautics research
over the coming decades, and could revolutionise air travel and tourism.
(Pic :
Cost and weight are two key factors to consider when getting things into space. The cost of transporting a payload into orbit is currently around $20,000 per kilogram.

If this can be reduced to something more reasonable, it could revolutionise space travel, even at some point in the distant future making sub-orbital flight affordable for everyone.

One of Wales' industrial and manufacturing strengths is the aerospace industry, and two of our most important growing high-tech areas of expertise are optronics (lighting electronics) - of which there are several companies scattered around north East Wales - and
advanced materials research at the likes of Glyndwr University.

Both are likely to be important considerations in the construction of new private spacecraft, especially if they can be lightweight, tough and have a need for high-tech on-board systems (requiring specialist lighting).

Sub-orbital aircraft – This is one of the most important research areas in aerospace at the moment. Sub-orbital passenger aircraft will be able to fly significantly higher and faster than current commercial airliners. A trip from Europe to Australia could be reduced from 20+ hours to under 3 hours. Although only Virgin are actively considering it at present, it's certain major aerospace companies will explore the possibility more seriously – and they'll need somewhere to manufacture and research. Where better than a country with growing expertise in aerospace and advanced materials science?

Private spacecraft – At the moment this is nothing more than a cottage industry in global terms, but it's likely to rapidly expand over the coming decades. It's not only relevant for space tourism, but practical applications such as telecommunications, geological research (commercial and scientific), logistics (which could – in the long term – replace shipping) and, indeed, the military. It's likely many state-backed scientific projects will be reliant on private spacecraft in the long-term too. Could Wales set up a hub to develop these spacecraft? Do we need regulatory powers over space activities to do so? Independence is our answer.

Space Tourism – At the moment this is very exclusive. A ticket for Virgin Galactic will cost $250,000 (£149,500). The price is likely to come down as the technology improves (and, more importantly, it's proven to work) – much as it did with the earliest commercial aircraft. Reports in November 2013 suggested Wales could be shortlisted for a "spaceport", and if we established ourselves as home to "Europe's Cape Canaveral", then other spin-offs listed above might follow.

Recycling "Space Junk" – A growing problem, it's estimated there are around 300,000 pieces orbiting Earth. Some will have broken off equipment. Others could be as large as defunct/stray satellites or space stations. These all pose a risk to operating equipment like telecommunications satellites, scientific equipment and manned spacecraft. Some of the options to deal with this are pretty cheap, ranging from land-based lasers to orbiting collection pods to collect the junk. If they could be captured and brought to re-entry though, then parts could be recycled, and could become a lucrative industry.

From thousands of feet underground to millions of miles above it -
could the Welsh take our mining heritage into space?
(Pic :

Space Mining – Now, this is one for the long haul. Could the Welsh – long associated with mining – take it to the stars? Asteroids contain rare elements that are absolutely essential to modern industry, but are running short on Earth. At the moment, the costs of mining an asteroid are likely to run into hundreds of billions of dollars and are incredibly high risk ventures. So the technology will need to be developed for prospecting, mining itself, processing the material and delivering it back to the surface.

At the moment, Planetary Resources are the only company taking this seriously, but they're starting to develop said technology and are backed by billionaire investors like Google's Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and K. Ram Shiram and others like James Cameron, Richard Branson and Ross Perot.

So although, for now, things like asteroid mining are impractical, it won't be for much longer.

If Wales – or Wales in partnership with other countries – could take a lead in those sorts of things, well....put it this way....a single mined asteroid, full of elements like gold, platinum, tungsten and palladium, would probably generate enough income to fund Welsh public spending at current levels for 500 years – not taking into consideration the deflationary effect asteroid mining would have on prices of rare elements and what that would do to the global economy and even the capitalist system itself.

"Closer" to home, helium-3 – an important element in fusion power – is relatively abundant on the Moon, and worth about $3billion a tonne. Although fusion power is in its earliest stages of development, it's said 100 tonnes of helium-3 could provide clean energy to Earth for a year, and the Moon has enough helium-3 to power Earth for 10,000 years.

That's before mentioning how valuable such technologies and expertise would be in defending Earth from an asteroid strike.

Aiming Higher


If – at some point in the future – Wales does develop a space policy, we're going to need more scientists and engineers coming through schools. You can do that through the curriculum, or you can also do it via extra-curricular activities like competition for amateur rockets, astronomy or space engineering solutions in schools and colleges - like this recent example.

I've since covered the make up of any Welsh Defence Forces, though I'm unlikely to return to it. Although the European Space Agency doesn't currently have its own manned spaceflight programme, it does have an astronaut corps, and runs joint projects with NASA.

I don't think it would be too outragous that "the best of the best" from Welsh military or academia – who have the potential (physically and mentally) – be put forward as candidates for astronaut training. It'll only be one or two people a decade, but why not?

As I've hopefully demonstrated, the opportunities independence could bring aren't confined to material concerns. The sky isn't the limit.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Bridgend Council Budget 2014-15

Bridgend Council have resolved to make £11.3million in cuts
and savings over the next financial year.
(Pic : BBC)

Yesterday, Bridgend Council (BCBC) met to approve the authority's budget for the coming financial year and next four years - or "Medium Term Financial Strategy" as they put it.

All of the budget documents are available here.

Tough Times

Local government was hammered in the last Welsh budget. This came after years of cuts which weren't as deep as English councils. The average council budget cut across Wales was 3.5%, though Bridgend got off lightly with a reported 2.7% cut. BCBC argue that the cuts are deeper due to how things like local government borrowing are recorded.

As of December 2013, BCBC reported a slight under-spend of £433,000. This compares to a projected overspend of £1million a year earlier. Despite this achievement, BCBC say this "masks overspends" in areas like looked-after children and adult social care – the latter likely to be outsourced soon.

The public consultation findings suggest people preferred cuts to the number of councillors, employees and employee benefits. Other suggestions included introducing new charges for council services, making sure big spend projects work first time (like Bridgend's regeneration) and encouraging volunteering.

From the outset, Bridgend Council had to find £11.3million in savings for 2014-15, and a total of £35.8million in savings by 2017-18 – possibly as high as £44.3million.

BCBC have identified just over £30million in savings for that period, still leaving a potential £5.8million gap.

The effect on council staff

68% of BCBC's revenue budget goes on staff, so naturally that's going to come under pressure, indicated in the budget via "staffing reviews". It's unclear how many job losses there could be, but I understand it's a cabinet priority to avoid compulsory redundancies wherever possible.

The three main unions representing BCBC workers – Unison, GMB and Unite – have been in negotiations since last November on a possible pay freeze. Only GMB and Unite members were balloted. The majority result of the ballots supported the status quo – that's an incremental pay rise – though a sizable minority were willing to accept a pay freeze.

BCBC have put forward a compromise whereby the lowest paid staff will still receive a 1% increase in pay, but a pay freeze will be imposed on all other grades, including councillors. The Glamorgan Gazette reported today that it would affect around 4,500 BCBC employees.

Swinging the Axe

Adult social care, children's services and the council
backroom functions have taken the brunt of the cuts.
(Pic : Click on Wales)
On to the budget proposals themselves, starting with the cuts. I'll list the standout ones.

Children and Schools (-£3.05million)
  • £410,000 savings from a staff restructure in additional learning needs.
  • £116,000 savings from falling school rolls.
  • All funding for Bridgend Youth Orchestra will be cut, they'll need to be self-financing (-£27,000).
  • Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme ends (-£10,000).
  • £450,000 in savings from re-tendering school bus contracts and rationalising special needs transport. This isn't related to the proposed changes to home-school transport - which has been postponed, subject to further consultation.
  • Cuts to school meals services (-£100,000).
  • Staff restructuring in the youth service and children & schools department (-£1.58million).

Adult Social Care (-£3.1million)
  • £1.7million in savings over the next three years from outsourcing home help.
  • £320,000 raised from a review of fair charging.
  • £80,000 savings from consolidation of adult day care services (could eventually see the closure of Minerva Day Centre, Bridgend and Vernon Hart Centre, Maesteg).
  • £184,000 savings from management, admin and training.
  • 7.5% cut in service delivery budget (-£500,000)

Healthy Living (-£516,000)
  • £728,000 saved over the next three years from transfer of leisure services to Halo Leisure.
  • £100,000 savings from library review.
  • Cuts to staff (£-15,000).

Communities (-£1.73million)
  • £780,000 savings this year as a result of less waste being sent to Neath Port Talbot incinerator.
  • £100,000 savings as a result of procurement of an anaerobic digestion facility.
  • Extension of part-time switch off of rural streetlights (-£70,000).
  • Review of supported Sunday bus services (-£50,000).
  • £163,000 savings as a result of a staffing review.
  • £180,000 extra income as a result of new charges for collecting bulky waste.

Corporate Resources/Council Wide (-£2.9million)
  • £968,000 in savings from general staffing restructures and not filling senior vacancies.
  • £125,000 savings from reducing internal printing costs.
  • £122,000 savings as a result of rationalisation of software and licensing costs.
  • £75,000 savings from review of CCTV, IT and customer services.
  • Reducing "County Bulletin" from 3 editions a year to 2 (-£21,000), switching to electronic only from 2016-17.
  • Reduce voluntary sector funding (-£150,000 [-£450,000 over next three years])
  • £200,000 savings from review of capital finance budgets.
  • Reduced provision of non pay inflation and auto enrolment (-£600,000).

Council Tax

Band D Council Tax is set to rise by almost 5% in Bridgend.
(Pic : Click on Wales)

  • The Band D Council Tax rate will rise from £1,135.36 to £1,191.87 (+£56.51) -  a rise of 4.98%.
  • The South Wales Police precept will increase by 5% to £190.34.
  • The five largest Community and Town Council precepts are:
    • Maesteg Town (£52.00)
    • Llangynwyd Lower (£42.20)
    • Pencoed Town (£40.59)
    • Bridgend Town (£38.71)
    • Cefn Cribbwr (£36.12)
  • The five smallest Community and Town Council precepts are:
    • Laleston (£21.43)
    • St. Brides Minor (£20.05)
    • Coychurch Lower (£18.38)
    • Coity Higher (£18.06)
    • Merthyr Mawr (£13.71)
Getting a boost

There are £3.6million of "inescapable budget pressures" - including £1million towards council tax reduction schemes and £625,000 to deal with ageing populations and the subsequent demand that places on services. In all cases, BCBC say they'll be able to meet their statutory duties.

Most capital funding is a continuation of the Modernising Schools Programme, which has around £12.5million committed towards it in the coming financial year and a total of £68million until 2018/19. This includes :
  • £8.1million towards the new Coety Primary School (between now until 2016/17).
  • £4.9million towards a Mynydd Cynffig Primary extension (between now and 2018/19)
  • Around £3.5million towards Additional Learning Needs – presumably a result of Ysgol Bryn Castell and the Pupil Referral Unit moving to the old Ogmore Comprehensive School.
  • £10million towards the replacements for Betws Primary, Tynyrheol Primary and Ysgol Cwm Garw (between now and 2017/18)
  • Money has also been set aside for a future replacement for Pencoed Primary.

There's £1.7million earmarked towards a relocation of BCBC's depots, which I understand will be shared with South Wales Police. There's also around £2.4million earmarked for housing renewals this year.

£5.1million is earmarked for Porthcawl's regeneration, and that doesn't include an extra £169,000 towards improved coastal flood defences. £500,000 has been put forward to update Bridgend Market, which will include a new roof.

Around £2.3million will be borrowed under the Local Government Borrowing Initiative for road infrastructure, and £153,000 earmarked for residents-only parking schemes in Bridgend town centre.

BCBC also received a boost with the recent announcement of £6million in Welsh Government Vibrant and Viable Places funding towards further regeneration in Bridgend town centre. The original bid was for £15million, and it's not quite understood what BCBC will do with the money.

There've been rumours either the current police station (which is moving to Bridgend Industrial Estate), or part of the Rhiw Car Park, could be redeveloped into flats to encourage more people to live in the town centre. I'll return to this when BCBC have firm plans one way or another.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Stench of the Cleddau

An otherwise productive meeting of Pembrokeshire Council on the damaging
Wales Audit Office reports descended into an unedifying farce.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

As much of the focus regarding the recent Wales Audit Office reports into unlawful payments has been on Carmarthenshire – due to culminate next week - it's only fair I turn my attentions to their equally-ripe neighbour, Pembrokeshire Council (PCC), which held an extraordinary council meeting to discuss unlawful pension payments to their chief executive and one other senior officer last Friday.

Extensive coverage of the goings on there has been provided by Cllr. Jacob Williams (Non-affiliated Ind, East Williamston) and Cllr. Mike Stoddart (Non-affiliated Ind, Milford Hakin).

Auditor Anthony Barrett's findings (pdf) were very similar to those in Carmarthenshire – which is unsurprising as it was effectively a joint-arrangement. The main difference is the numbers involved and some of the titles of the relevant committees. Pembrokeshire also didn't have any libel indemnity issues.
  • The agreement to pay cash sums instead of pension payments to senior staff who opted-out of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) - to mitigate effects of changes to tax relief on pensions - was ultra vires (beyond their power).
  • The Senior Staff Committee failed to take into account all relevant considerations. They also failed to provide evidence that supported their claims that not approving the cash payments would prevent the recruitment of high-calibre senior staff. The Committee made a decision based off a one page report, which was exempt from publication.
  • They also failed to take equalities duties into account, and the decision "constituted indirect discrimination" on age and sex grounds because senior staff – mostly older men – would benefit disproportionately from the cash payments compared younger staff and women. As nobody complained within the legal timescale, it was "indirect" discrimination rather than outright (same as Carmarthenshire).
  • The report itself was drafted and presented by two senior officers who had disqualifying personal interests as they could've benefited from the cash payments – rendering it an unlawful decision just by their mere presence.
  • Despite claims to the contrary, the payments would have constituted an additional cost to the council based on future actuarial/risk assessments and changes to national insurance contributions. The auditor says the figures were also different to those the Senior Staff Committee decided upon.
  • PCC's Chief Executive, Bryn Parry-Jones, had received £51,011 in payments across 2012-13 and 2013-14. I understand the report implies £28,742 was also paid to an unnamed senior member of staff.

I was home at the time so I caught most of the second half of the meeting. OK, it wasn't the most riveting thing to watch, but it was conducted impressively. Councillors were given the freedom to speak as long as they wanted – often making great contributions – and the chair didn't dominate proceedings.

Hopefully, Bridgend Council will be joining them later this year. It underlines the importance of broadcasting these meetings – as will become more apparent later on.

PCC accepted all four of the Wales Audit Office recommendations, meaning the council will :
  • Stop the payments in lieu of pension contributions.
  • Address procedural weaknesses to avoid a repeat.
  • Ensure that any similar future payments (if possible) are in line with the decision taken by the Senior Staff Committee.
  • Disclose the payments in their 2012-13 financial statement, and the committee responsible should re-approve the accounts.

Then things took a bizarre, sinister turn.

The leader of the opposition in the council, Cllr. Paul Miller (Lab, Neyland West), had tabled a motion calling for PCC to suspend Bryn Parry-Jones on full pay due to the Gloucestershire Police investigation. This is a very different tact to the Labour leader a few miles east.

As you probably know, since then, Carmarthenshire's chief executive Mark James has temporarily stood down while the police investigation continues. Although it's unclear what "stepping down" means as opposed to a formal suspension, he really should've done so days after the original reports were published – for his own sake, really.

Better late than never. The delay deserves criticism, but he's innocent until proven otherwise.

PCC's ruling "Independent" Group, however, were going to defend their man to the end, and boy does he know it.

In a display of pompous bluster, one of the "Independents" stood up, said he had a prejudicial interest as he had called for the chief executive to remain in post in the Western Telegraph, and withdrew from the meeting hoping to take a large chunk of the opposition with him as some sort of matter of honour.

He later snuck back in and withdrew again, each time accompanied by a dramatic closing of his file.

Tim Kerr QC – a name which should be familiar – revealed that a brown white envelope containing newspaper cuttings was left for him in the chauffeur-driven car that picked him up at Port Talbot station. Those local newspaper cuttings contained quotes from councillors who called for Bryn Parry-Jones's suspension.

After pressing from councillors to name names, he began "readink names from ze list". Lo and behold, almost all of them were councillors who had called for the chief executive to be suspended or resign, whether Labour, Plaid or non-affiliated Independents.

Councillors are supposed to vote with an open mind. So proceedings hinged on whether councillors were predispositioned (leaning towards a decision) or predetermined (100% made their mind up) in their voting intentions.

If they were predetermined, and voted that way on the motion, it was implied they would breach the Code of Conduct and be subject to an Ombudsman investigation.

Cllr. Miller said he received legal advice from Welsh Labour's retained lawyers that his group's statements were predispositions and so his group would remain.

However, Tim Kerr believed many of the newspaper quotes constituted predetermination.
It's also worth pointing out that the envelope was left by Pembrokeshire's Monitoring Officer (a senior legal officer and paid member of staff).

Not willing to be subject to their own misconduct investigations, most – but not all – of the opposition councillors withdrew part in protest, part because they had no choice. As a result, the motion calling for the suspension of the chief executive was withdrawn.

However, as Caebrwyn pointed out yesterday, the official guidance within the Localism Act 2011 on predetermination (which applies to Wales as well as England) doesn't prohibit councillors from voting even if they've made public statements supporting a particular position.

So it looks like what happened in Pembrokeshire was a dirty trick and attempt to intimidate.

And, most importantly of all, it happened all on camera.

What should cause bums to squeak across the south west of Wales however, is the news that's broken in the last few hours that Caerphilly Council's former chief executive, Anthony O'Sullivan, and his deputy, Nigel Barnett, have been formally charged with misconduct in public office....having been brought to that point by similar, but not identical, circumstances to those in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Marching out of lockstep

On Tuesday, the National Assembly debated the draft Wales Bill - I outline what the Bill itself proposes here.

Although many parts of the draft Wales Bill should proceed without a hitch, senior figures in Welsh politics have been critical of aspects surrounding the potential partial devolution of income tax, which has - subsequently - had knock-on political consequences.

What the Assembly Said

The Assembly debate was dry, but became interesting for events
outside the Siambr.
(Pic :
It's grey stuff, but if you want to follow it you can here.

The First Minister started by saying the Silk I recommendations should've been enacted in full, expressing regret at the absence of powers over air passenger duty. He also criticised the "lockstep" on income tax powers tax rises/falls have to be set in all income tax bands at the same time. He described it as a "significant restraint" that "ties the hands of the Welsh Government".

He ended by saying the Leader of the Opposition Andrew Davies's (Con, South Wales Central) view - who's spoken out against the lockstep - was closer to his own than that of the Welsh Secretary, David Jones (who supports the lockstep and who introduced the draft Bill).

Leanne Wood (Plaid, South Wales Central) argued that the lockstep prevents Wales from becoming competitive with the rest of the UK. She said the Silk Commission members, Welsh Government and all opposition parties opposed the "lockstep", but the UK Government are pursuing it anyway.

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) broadly supported the draft Bill's provisions, but called for the Assembly to decide its own electoral arrangements and for a name change to Welsh Parliament. He also called for the Assembly to have powers to amend its budgetary procedures, which be believes will be essential should there be fiscal devolution.

Lib Dem Leader, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), welcomed the non-fiscal measures in the draft Bill, supporting a shared income tax arrangement between the Welsh and UK Governments....though saying the lockstep was unnecessary.

As you can tell, there's a running theme developing here.

Shadow Finance Minister, Paul Davies (Con, Preseli Pembrokeshire), said he was "proud" of the UK Government's record on devolution, citing the 2011 referendum, saying these proposed powers would "provide more financial accountability" to the Welsh Government. He said although he supports a referendum on income tax powers he - surprise,surprise - opposes the "lockstep".

Then things started to get "interesting".

Antoinette Sandbach AM (Con, North Wales) argued with Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) that the Treasury said there could be no devolved income tax powers without the lockstep. Mick continued by saying the income tax powers (as they are currently) were "worthless", and also outlined his opposition to the removal of a ban on dual candidacy.

Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) then described the lockstep argument as "one rather minor aspect". Antoinette Sandbach asked if Nick agreed it were better there were some fiscal devolution – even with the lockstep – than none at all? Nick said yes, saying he "had no issue with the lockstep". Uh oh.

Carwyn Jones was presented with an open goal - considering his own party has been split on the issue -  finishing by saying he "did not think Nick Ramsay would so publicly disagree with his own leader", cheekily suggesting that what Nick said was a leadership speech. Andrew Davies tried to drag Owen Smith's own embarrassing contributions into it, but it was too late.

Although both the debate motion, and Plaid Cymru amendment criticising the "lockstep", were passed with no votes against or abstentions, four Conservative AMs refused to join their party colleagues in voting on the amendment at all.

Bull Lets Whip

After being undermined publicly on party policy, Andrew Davies was
left with no option but to sack four of his Shadow Cabinet.
(Pic : Click on Wales)

The party you would expect to benefit most from fiscal devolution would be the Welsh Conservatives. When the powers were first announced, it was clear their (Welsh) policy would be to cut the top rate of income tax to encourage wealthy people from the rest of the UK to move here.

The lockstep (UK Government policy) prevents them from doing that because cuts to the top rate have to be matched by cuts to the basic rate – making tax cuts (or, indeed, tax rises) more expensive. This has led to a very public spat between Andrew Davies and David Jones over who speaks for the Welsh party and membership, and who decides policy in Wales.

So, as a sort of distraction, the Welsh Conservatives have since switched their public attentions from income tax to cuts to stamp duty – the latter of which would come regardless of a referendum and without any conditions attached.

Following the events of the debate and vote, news broke Wednesday night that four Shadow Cabinet members – the four who refused to vote on the lockstep amendment - had been sacked.

It's a big public slap-down, though I've always questioned why every single opposition AM needs a portfolio responsibility in the first place (Lib Dems aside for obvious reasons).

The South Wales Argus reported Nick Ramsay will also lose his role as chair of the Business and Enterprise Committee as a result. That's a shame because, as regular readers will know, I believe he's done an outstanding job there. Nick described the move as an "old fashioned coup", but last time I checked coups happened against leaders.

Andrew Davies hasn't set the world alight as Leader of the Opposition, but - in my opinion - he was left with no choice after such an open rebellion and challenge to his authority.

It's been said elsewhere that there was, slightly bizarrely, a three-line whip on this vote, which is very unusual for such a technical matter, and shows Andrew wanted his party to back both himself in his tussle with David Jones and his opposition to the lockstep. So I doubt any of the four can have grounds for complaint other than the method by which they were sacked, which seemed hamfisted.

Serves them right.

Andrew's shown decisive leadership, but this will have hurt. These things rarely have happy endings, and the early signs were matters could take a turn for the worse. Since then, it appears he's been given the equivalent of a "vote of confidence". Politics isn't football, but....


The "lockstep" is a political and fiscal hazard, and another depressing
indication of Westminster's patronising views towards Welsh devolution.
(Pic : via wordpress)
When it comes to Labour party policy in Wales, the party's devolution policy or the Welsh Government's stance, only Carwyn Jones is worth listening to. When it comes to UK Government policy, only David Cameron is worth listening to.

We also have three other party leaders in Wales to flag up Welsh issues. We don't need MPs yapping like chihuahuas over them to give themselves work. At least some MPs know their place.

There are two main reasons why the income tax powers are useless. Firstly, the "lockstep".

The reason Welsh devolution doesn't work properly, and why we have all these tiresome constitutional arguments, is because powers have been incrementally transferred on a piecemeal basis. If we're going to have devolved powers, those powers should be devolved in their entirety – as happens to a great extent in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

That's one of the main reasons I've come round to supporting independence, as promising to give us "tools to do the job", then instead giving us parts of tools, is an insult.

In terms of income tax, that should include the powers :
  • To set the rates in their entirety – not just 10p in the pound.
  • To create, merge or scrap tax bands.
  • To set income tax rates in each tax band independently of each other.

The block grant would be then adjusted accordingly. Wales gets a "grown-up responsible government", parties in Wales would have the freedom to come up with income tax policies in their entirety, and the Welsh Government would be responsible for raising a fair chunk (about a quarter) of its current income.

We're not getting any of that. Instead we could be, effectively, getting income tax powers in name only as no party would want to hike or lower taxes across the board at the same time.

Secondly, there's the referendum.

A referendum on a general principle that the National Assembly should have tax-varying powers would be a referendum worth getting out of bed and voting in. Any tax powers could then be granted after negotiation between the two governments – with or without a fair funding formula in place.

It would also make it easier to devolve other taxes (like corporation tax and air passenger duty) in future, because a referendum yes vote would've given the two governments a mandate to transfer any tax powers at their convenience.

However, a referendum on whether the National Assembly should have the specific power to vary income tax by 10p in the pound in each tax band at the same ti....

I challenge anyone to explain to me how they would campaign in favour of the income tax powers as they are on the table, and how they would explain it to the man or woman in the street?

Why stop there? Why not have a referendum on landfill tax powers? Or business rates? Should we have a referendum on every single legislative consent motion proposed by Westminster in devolved areas?

The First Minister and others are right to say the lockstep renders the powers useless. Welsh Labour have confused things by saying they don't want income tax powers at present, even though they support the implementation of Silk I in full....which would bring income tax powers, subject to a referendum.

Wanting to tax gravel and rubbish, but not incomes (in principle), and using relative underfunding that amounts to around 2% of the block grant as an excuse not to pursue income tax varying powers, verges on the ridiculous.

Whether they like it or not, it underlines an inherent lack of ambition – not necessarily anti-devolutionism - on Welsh Labour's part. You wonder if they're really up to the rigours of running a country, and if instead they should retreat to their comfort zone of local government and move aside for the big boys and girls.

Roger Scully and Richard Wyn Jones warned of this back in November 2012 as Silk Commission Part 1 was reporting back. Richard has since been kind enough to provide a link to the Wales Governance Centre's detailed submission on the draft Wales Bill, and argument against a referendum, here (pdf).

I warned of it too, saying the whole exercise was "pissing into the wind", but what do I know?

If even people like me could see these problems coming 14 months ago, and nobody else foresaw this outcome, then we should all be worried. Some senior personalities in Welsh politics clearly have an excessively idealistic view of how Welsh devolution works. This isn't a union of equals, everyone. Get it into your heads. It never will be.

Bring on the jam. Income tax powers are toast.