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?

Sunday, 13 December 2015

2015 Ends, Election Countdown Begins

(Pic : Wales Online)
Time for my usual end of year break. Having blogged for what feels like non-stop for 12 months it's come at the right time.

Friday, 11 December 2015


If there's something strange, in your neighbourhood....
Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!
If there's a ginger man, and his diamond don't look good....
Who ya gonna call....

A half-dozen studious and marginalised political researchers, masquarading as politicians in Cardiff Bay, are undertaking an experiment. The lead academic holds up a card to the test subject – a first year student.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Welsh Budget 2016-17

It's the most wonderful time of the year : numbers, graphs and spin galore.

(Pic : Welsh Government)
The budget process for 2016-17 has been delayed by a few months due to George Osborne's personal definition of "autumn", but a draft Welsh budget – the last of the Fourth Assembly – was tabled yesterday by Finance Minister, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan).

Monday, 7 December 2015

Carwyn's Six Point Plan for Bridgend Town Centre

Amidst the debate on de-pedestrianisation proposals, Carwyn Jones
recently added his own set of issues and ideas.
(Pic : Mirror)
Following the launch of a Conservative-backed petition on de-pedestrianising part of Bridgend town centre, the debate over the town centre's future continues unabated in the letters section of the Glamorgan Gazette.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Independence Minutiae : Weights & Measures

Are you metric or imperial?
(Pic : via Wikipedia)

In another look at minor issues relating to Welsh independence, it's time to consider something that's long lurked in the background as a conflict between traditionalists and reformers : weights and measures.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Assembly Calls for Steel Industry Support

(Pic : South Wales Argus)
The latest topical Members' Debate in the Senedd takes place amidst growing concerns about a slow down in the global steel market and the influx of cheap, low-grade steel from China.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

AMs Criticise Rugby Rail Scrum

A short inquiry was held into serious problems getting away from recent
Rugby World Cup matches in Cardiff - with some queues lasting four hours.
(Pic : ITV Wales)

Earlier today, the National Assembly's Enterprise & Business Committee published a report into their short, one-day inquiry on serious crowd congestion problems and delays at Cardiff Central station during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The report itself (pdf) is so succinct I'm able to post something the same day it was published – it almost feels like a day off! If you're interested in this for professional reasons or whatever then you can watch the entire evidence session here.

The Committee made 9 recommendations, in summary :
  • There should be a review of travel plans for major events in Cardiff, which should include a single command structure, better queue management and an assessment on what's an acceptable time for passengers to wait.
  • Greater efforts need to be made to ensure fans are aware of all the options available for travel.
  • Coach travel should play a bigger role in transport while capacity constraints remain at Cardiff Central, and developers of Central Square should ensure the impact of construction on major events is limited.
  • The Welsh Government and Network Rail need to ensure capacity problems at the station are dealt with by 2024, and that re-signalling (which will allow the new platform 8 to come into use) is completed as quickly as possible.
  • Rail operators and event planning authorities need to discuss whether rail freight operations should be rescheduled during major events in Cardiff.
Background & Facts

Cardiff's Millennium Stadium hosted eight games during the tournament, but the first three games resulted in numerous complaints from fans about delays getting home, particularly those travelling by rail. Queues outside Cardiff Central lasted for up to four hours.

The committee took evidence from World Cup organisers, Cardiff Bus, Network Rail, South Wales Police and the two main train operating companies – Arriva Trains Wales and Great Western.

The stadium attracted 565,000 supporters during the tournament, while a fan zone at the Cardiff Arms Park accommodated 160,000 supporters.

Although the attendance patterns were said to be similar to the Six Nations or Autumn Internationals, just 25% of tickets to games in Cardiff involving Wales were sold to people living in Wales, while just 5% of tickets were sold in Wales for the other six games.

This meant most people were travelling eastwards after the games, while the close proximity of Central Station to the stadium meant there was little opportunity for crowds to disperse afterwards.

Key Conclusions

The situation was resolved for the final five games, but AMs remain concerned
over Cardiff Central's ability to cope with major events due to poor infrastructure
(Pic : BBC Wales)
Despite the queue problems, there were very few incidents of public disorder and everyone was eventually able to travel home. Also, the overwhelming majority of supporters in Cardiff were said to have had a positive experience.

New procedures were put in place for the third game, with extra coaches being made available, but this was said to have had a limited impact due to the fact spectators found it difficult to find the coaches.

This led to further changes for subsequent games, which saw an overhaul of the queueing system, faster/smarter train loading and full use of coaches.

The Committee believe there was a sense of complacency amongst those responsible for planning major events, but this was quickly turned around for the final five games. They were concerned, however, that Cardiff Council believed their event plan "had worked". They also heard evidence that communication of travel options needed to be improved, particularly when it came to queueing arrangements and train times.

One of the biggest concerns was the ageing infrastructure at the station. The Committee believe Cardiff Central "does not meet the needs and expectations of travellers" as a major gateway into Wales and is unable to cope with the demands placed upon it.

There are long-term proposals to redevelop the station at a cost of £200-300million, but competition for rail infrastructure investments is said to be "fierce" and political support will be needed to ensure the station is redeveloped.

The Committee questioned whether a principle that non-event related services should avoid being changed due to major events - like freight services and other passenger services - was due for a review. As long as such changes were communicated properly and in good time, the Committee believe the impact would be minimal.

A Timely Lesson Ahead of 2017

You might as well throw a dart at a board to determine when Cardiff Central will be redeveloped.
(Pic : Wales Online)

Having a major international stadium slap bang in the middle of a city is a blessing and a curse; I'd say it's mainly a blessing though greater disruption than would otherwise be experienced at an out-of-town site is inevitable.

In May 2017, the Principality Stadium – as it'll be known then – will host the UEFA Champions League Final, which will arguably be the biggest single event hosted in Cardiff since the stadium was built.

It'll be a major test for event planners and transport companies, and the first three RWC games showed that – as the Committee said themselves – there was a sense of complacency. Wales rugby internationals attract local crowds who will mainly travel north and west; this was completely different, particularly as many Irish ex-pats and visitors travelled from London and Bristol.

Seeing as there'll be no Welsh involvement in the Champions League Final, it's highly likely that – charter services to and from Cardiff Airport aside - the crowds will follow the same pattern, flying in to Heathrow and Bristol in the main (barring English The Arsenal)

The good news is that organisers learned their lesson quickly and the situation improved. The bad news is that I find it highly unlikely that Cardiff Central will be redeveloped any time soon due to the rising cost of present rail infrastructure projects (Network Rail - Taking the Welsh Government for a ride?) and the financial black hole that is High Speed 2.

Cardiff Central serves local needs well enough, but it's in no way a station fit for a capital city – some of London's suburbs and dormitory cities, like Reading, have better ones.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Senedd Watch - November 2015

  • Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws, backed calls by the Assembly's Communities & Local Government Committee to protect historical place names in the Historic Environment Bill, following several high-profile name changes to listed buildings from Welsh to English. Deputy Minister for Culture, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), said he “wouldn't shut the door” on statutory regulation, but it would “probably not be workable, or enforceable either”.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Porthcawl Medical Centre Plans Submitted

(Pic : West Hart Partnership via Bridgend Council)
Following a public exhibition a few weeks ago, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg Local Health Board (ABMU) and its partners have now submitted full plans to Bridgend Council for a new primary care centre in Porthcawl.

A new primary care centre has been discussed for several years in the town and was expected to form part of supermarket-led regeneration plans at Salt Lake. However, with several operators pulling out the plans slipped back – not unsurprising in Porthcawl.

A piece of land became available as a result of a new housing development next to Pwll-y-waun on the outskirts of Newton, and ABMU decided to take a punt as the land was (surprisingly) earmarked for business uses with little interest in it.

The new medical centre is intended to replace the Portway and Victoria Road surgeries located in Porthcawl town centre, though both surgeries will remain independent of each other.

The new primary care centre will include :
  • A pharmacy on the ground floor.
  • Undercroft parking with 48 spaces.
  • 27 consulting rooms on the first and second floors.
  • 6 multi-purpose treatment rooms.
  • A physiotherapy room.
  • A phlebotomy (blood test) room.
  • Minor operations facilities.

These "one-stop shop" primary care centres are the future of primary care in Wales, with ABMU having constructed, are constructing, or proposing similar facilities in Swansea, Glynneath, Briton Ferry, Port Talbot, Pencoed and something similar at Maesteg Community Hospital.

Having as many services under one roof supported by modern facilities might make general practice more attractive to doctors who want to continue things such as research. It would allow some services to be provided outside hospitals (improving things like waiting times) and would allow better co-ordination between different primary care and outpatient services.

It's presently unclear what services would be provided at the new centre other than GPs and clinics, but if you use the Port Talbot Primary Care Centre as an example, it could include podiatry, community dental services, screening, occupational health and physiotherapy. It could presumably be a base for medical and dental training too.

It's inevitable that in the longer term something similar to this would need to be built in Bridgend in order to replace the three main GP surgeries that serve the town (Riverdale, Ashfield and Newcastle – Brackla/Oak Tree could probably stand alone) as well as the clinics (Quarella Road).

I don't think there are any major issues here and the centre is almost certainly going to be welcomed, but you would've expected it to have been built at a more central location, and perhaps ABMU should've waited until a developer came forward for Salt Lake.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Returning Your Deposits

(Pic :

Yesterday, the Conservatives held a debate on something that blights all communities, and likely to be a perennial issue on the doorstep : littering, fly-tipping, graffiti and dog shit.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Webcasts Update, City Deal & New Housing Strategy

Could webcasting Bridgend Council meetings finally be around the corner....again?
(Pic : Wales Online)

This week sees another round of Bridgend Council (BCBC) cabinet and full council meetings, so it's time to look at some of the key issues to be discussed.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

If you go down to the woods today....

You won't find teddy bears here.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

Strange goings on have been reported in woodland to the north of Brackla.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Parc Slip Restoration Proposals Revealed

Click to enlarge

It looks like the Parc Slip opencast saga could finally be inching towards a resolution.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Groundhog Day : Auditing the Welsh Media

(Pic : BBC Wales)
Last week, the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) published a thorough review of the state of the media in Wales....and it makes typically grim reading.

The IWA's online organ, Click on Wales, released drafts of the report's sections throughout October, but the full and final report is now available at around 150 pages long (pdf). It's an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

The state, and decline, of the Welsh media has been discussed on and off for the best part of a decade – such discussions being even more important this year in the context of negotiations on the BBC's Charter renewal. This site's no exception :

As you would expect me to do, I'm going to summarise what the audit found. Overall, it's an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

Television & Public Service Broadcasting (PSB)

  • Digital terrestrial television reach in Wales (97.8%) is marginally below the UK average (98.5%). Virgin Media's cable services only reach 23% of Wales and hasn't changed since 2004, this is well below the UK average of 44%.
  • Wales has the highest proportion of HD-ready televisions and take-up of HD services of the Home Nations (Wales = 76%; UK average = 73%).
  • Made in Cardiff – currently Wales' only local TV station – has a weekly reach of 196,000 viewers.
  • Overall viewing minutes have fallen consistently across the UK – particularly amongst children and the under-35s - but Welsh viewers spend longer watching PSB than any other part of the UK.
  • Over a third of viewers in Wales used "catch-up" services in 2014. BBC iPlayer, Sky, ITV Player and 4OD are the most popular services. Netflix has grown significantly in popularity since 2012. A majority of catch-up services are viewed on television, but increasingly on tablet computers too, while there's a decline in PC/desktop views.
  • BBC Wales, ITV Wales and S4C spent a combined £215.35million on PSB services in 2014-15, a decline of £19.25million (8.2%) on 2008.
  • Since 2008, there've been 545 fewer TV hours produced (all BBC and ITV; S4C saw an increase) and 1,187 fewer hours of radio programming since 2008.
  • BBC and ITV produced 17.5 hours of English language output per week in 2015, compared to 24.5 hours in 1990 – a 48% reduction. ITV Wales now only produces 5.5 hours, compared to 15.5 in 1990.
  • 63% of BBC's English language output was current affairs, news or politics. Just 2.8% was comedy, drama and the arts.
  • S4C's funding fell from £104.4million a year in 2010 to £85.7million in 2014-15 – a reduction of 18.4%. They spend, on average, about £31,000 per hour, though drama productions can cost up to £140,000 per hour.
  • In 2014, 3.2% of PSB network production spend was in Wales, compared to a population share of 4.9%. 65.4% was spent in London and Southern England.
  • BBC Wales and independent producers provided £60.3million worth of UK network shows in 2014-15, primarily dramas.


  • Average listening hours per week in Wales fell from 24.4 hours in 2007 to 22.4 hours in 2014 – however weekly listening hours are the highest of the Home Nations. Radio also had a bigger reach at 94.5% of the adult population, compared to 89.4% across the UK.
  • Wales has the highest share of BBC Network listeners in the Home Nations at 49% of listeners.
  • Reach figures for BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru have shown steady declines, from 435k and 155k respectively in 2008-09 to 418k and 119k respectively in 2014-15.
  • Ownership of digital radios (DAB) is also highest in Wales amongst the Home Nations at 47% (UK = 43%). This brings Wales very close to the 50% threshold set by the UK Government whereby they would consider a digital radio switchover.
  • BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru spent a combined £20.6million on programming in 2014/15 and cost per hour was near enough the same for each (£1.5k-1.6k).
  • Commercial radio has the lowest listening share in Wales amongst the Home Nations at 39%, compared to the UK average of 43%. Wales also generated the lowest commercial radio revenues of the Home Nations at £14.9million.
  • Only three companies control commercial stations in Wales – Global Radio, UTV and Town & Country Broadcasting. Digital switchover may mean commercial stations are "released entirely" from their local obligations.

Internet & Broadband

  • 78% of premises in Wales have taken up broadband services, compared to 42% in 2006.
  • 79% of Welsh households have access to super fast broadband – more than Scotland (73%) and Northern Ireland (77%).
  • 3G mobile broadband outdoor services reach 97.9% of Welsh households. However, outdoor 4G services currently only reach 62.8%, compared to the UK average of 89.5%.

Press & Online Media

  • Welsh newspapers have seen massive declines in daily circulations since 2008, ranging from falls of more than 50% for the Western Mail, South Wales Argus and South Wales Echo to just a 6.3% fall for the south Wales version of Metro.
  • These numbers are, generally, in line with declines in newspaper sales elsewhere, with some UK papers suffering even steeper declines.
  • Online there's said to be a "more level playing field" between Trinity Mirror and BBC, with Wales Online and Daily Post websites being competitive with BBC Wales Online services in terms of unique browsers. Use of Wales Online has grown by 586% since 2006.
  • 59% of adults access BBC online services, and online services are significantly more popular amongst those aged 16-24.
  • 27% of people said Facebook was now their main source of local news.
  • BBC Wales spent a total of £2.541million on their online services (£399,000 was spent on Welsh language services/BBC Cymru Fyw).
  • S4C Clic viewing sessions had increased by 232% since 2013-14, with an additional 500,000 downloads of S4C mobile apps.
  • With Trinity Mirror agreeing a takeover of Local World, most of the major national, regional and local newspapers in Wales are owned by just two companies - Trinity Mirror and Newsquest.
  • The number of journalists in south Wales has fallen from over 700 in 1999 to 108 in 2013.
  • There are said to be 46 "hyperlocal" websites active in Wales, and research has suggested around half of hyperlocal site owners in the UK have had some form of journalistic training – though most were self-funded and only 13% generated more than £500 a month income.
  • £1.85million in grants were made available to Welsh language publications in 2013-14, compared to £748,000 for English language publications. 50 papurau bro receive grants of up to £1,900 a year from the Welsh Government.
  • S4C launched a £1million digital fund in 2012 to create interactive media and other apps.

Key Recommendations

  • The Welsh Government should establish an independent media panel to monitor media trends and commission studies, working with relevant academic departments.
  • Investment in BBC Wales' English language services should increase by £30million a year, ideally via an increase in the licence fee. This must include programming other than news and current affairs.
  • S4C's funding and editorial independence must be maintained to avoid slipping into a "cycle of decline". Collaboration between BBC and S4C should be maintained, however.
  • BBC 2 Wales and S4C should be broadcast in high-definition.
  • The effectiveness of DAB coverage should be assessed before any decision is taken on a digital radio switchover.
  • Radio regulation should be devolved to the Welsh Ofcom advisory commission.
  • The abandonment of local radio obligations should be reconsidered.
  • BBC Radio 1 and 2 should provide an opt-out news service for Wales.
  • The UK Government should support BBC establishing an interactive online service for Wales.
  • Responsibility for broadcasting should be shared between the UK Government and devolved administrations.
  • BBC Audience Councils should be replaced with National Broadcasting Trusts, which would help shape the delivery of a national service licence.
  • All PSB broadcasters should lay their annual reports in front of the National Assembly.
  • The Welsh Government and Ofcom should commission a joint study into the future of local media in Wales, embracing community radio, papurau bro, hyper-local news websites and local newspapers.
  • The Welsh Government should create a "challenge fund" administered by the Arts Council for Wales and Wales Books Council to help develop new local news services.

What the audit missed

Magazines - Including (ironically), the IWA's own Agenda, Planet as well as others like Cambria, Barn, Golwg and New Welsh Review. It does mention "publications", particularly with regard papurau bro, but there was little evidence provided on the impact of grant funding cuts on English language magazines or their long-term prospects.

Films & Music - The Welsh film production industry only gets passing mentions, along with music. You would've expected music to have been in there considering recent rows between Radio Cymru and Welsh language musicians. Although this certainly crosses into "the arts", it seems the definition of "media" has been set rather narrowly.

"Citizen Journalism"/The Blogosphere – It's admittedly a grey area, reportedly written off by Culture Minister Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South) as "opinion-driven" during the suit-and-sandwich conference because, as we all know, there's little political bias in the mainstream media.

There was a throwaway line about the number of blogs increasing but being "about lifestyle rather than news" - thanks a bunch. I can only speak for myself, and I might get 2% of the South Wales Evening Post's unique browsers on a good day; but I don't know whether being left out is an insult or compliment (sites like Carmarthenshire Planning certainly do count as hyperlocals).

It doesn't really matter because in the absence of public funding, political backing, advertising or publicity it's clear the blogosphere is (relatively) successful and performs a unique function. The Welsh blogosphere's still languishing in the shadows of Scotland's fifth estate; it would take me 20-30 years to match what Wings Over Scotland gets in site metrics in a single year. There's also a high turnover; Green Dragon being the latest political blog to leave the stage. I'm probably not going to be too far behind.

Gaming – The Welsh games industry has grown over the last few years from being practically non-existent to including some breakout companies. It's also one of the most popular mediums around, and as big as, if not bigger, than the film and television industries at present. I'm surprised the IWA and politicians haven't cottoned on to that yet. What do they think people, particularly those under the age of 35, are doing if they're not watching television, listening to the radio or reading newspapers? (See also : More than just a game).

A Warning on Funding

Time for some mathematical gymnastics to serve as a warning on how to interpret the funding figures in the report and how that fits from a "value for money" perspective. The easiest way to do that is to compare the ratio of amount of money spent versus the audience.

Based on the figures provided for BBC's English language web services, for every £1 they spend, they get 85.5 unique browsers. BBC Cymru Fyw gets 11.5 unique browsers for every £1 spent.

For every £1 I spend directly on Oggy Bloggy Ogwr - without a publicly-funded newsroom, television and radio network to back me up and whilst only posting a few times a week - I get 5,272 unique browsers.

Oggy Bloggy Ogwr is, therefore, 62 times greater value for money than BBC Wales Online and 458 times greater value for money than BBC Cymru Fyw. *Jazz hands*

Not bad for opinion-driven non-media. 

Technically speaking, if I put more money into this site its "value for money" would mathematically decrease because the audience is naturally limited and no amount of extra money would change that. Hence that's why complicated political and investigative stories tend to cost a lot of money and get poor returns for broadcasters and publishers, which leads to a downward spiral in coverage.

It also, theoretically, means the "true value" of non-current affairs, non-mainstream television (i.e children's), radio programmes as well as blogs and hyperlocals is likely to be significant in terms of what they bring to the table - perhaps more so than was reflected in the report and in general discussions on the Welsh media.

It's therefore not entirely a funding issue because it doesn't buy you viewers or readers. It's an audience issue and comes down to the quality of the product and how efficiently it's produced.

When you compare what Wales gets from our broadcasters and publishers compared to what the Republic of Ireland gets – utilising similar sums of money and with a similar set up - we're clearly doing something wrong here.


It's an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

Individual AMs have made their own concerns known down the years, but it'll take the closure of one of the major Welsh newspapers – probably The Western Mail – or the subsuming of S4C into BBC Wales to actually force the Welsh Government into action. Calls for challenge funds and independent panels (yet another bloody committee) will fall on deaf ears as ministers can, justifiably, say it's not their problem as broadcasting is a non-devolved issue.

We can never, realistically, expect the UK Government to do anything constructive either; as long as UK-wide network shows continue to be watched or made in Wales, as far as they'll be concerned that's job done. A market failure – and that's essentially what this report implies very strongly – is just something that happens.

So it's worth saying again that it's an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

Television and newspapers will remain important for the time being. However, the only rays of hope for the future, it seems, are online – even though Wales Online is close to becoming a parody of itself, and doesn't generate anything close to the same revenues as Media Wales' print productions – and community radio, which is holding up particularly well and isn't getting the attention it deserves in this debate.

I'm concerned there's too much hand-wringing over Wales being seen at the UK level in network shows when major broadcasters and newspaper publishers can't even harness a captive audience at a Welsh level. The success of Y Gwyll/Hinterland has happened by accident because melodramas about troubled detectives with names like Smegm
ä Smegmässon are in vogue at the moment (to saturation point). That won't last forever, neither will network shows like Casualty and Doctor Who.

Nobody has really explained what they want either. Do they really expect a Welsh political story affecting less than 5% of the UK's population to be given equal treatment to an English one affecting 85% on network news? News bulletins would end up three or four hours long.

There are only two reasons you'll see Wales on the front pages or in the main news bulletins: human tragedy and sport. The murders of April Jones and Tracey Woodford, as well as the Welsh national rugby and football teams, have probably got more coverage and column inches in the UK media than the Welsh Government and Assembly have in 10 years. A BBC network radio news opt-out - recommended in the report - or "Welsh Six" on TV might go some way towards addressing that.

As cynical as it sounds, maybe we just have to come to terms with the fact very little of interest happens in Wales. That's reflected in our politics, our economy and the small-c conservatism that forms the fabric of Welsh society. That's very well represented in our media – including this blog.

So to conclude, the report is an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Independence Minutiae : Public Holidays

(Pic :

Another minor area of public policy which could be determined in Wales post-independence are public holidays.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Ogmore Vale By-Election Result

(Pic : © Copyright John Finch and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence)

Residents in the Ogmore Vale ward went to the polls to elect a new Bridgend county councillor yesterday following the resignation of Independent Della Hughes back in September (Firefighters Sacked, By-Election Update & Pedestrianisation).

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Seeing through the Senedd

You can see through it, but how much can you see on the other side?
(Pic :

The ongoing discussion and debate over of transparency and openness within both the Welsh Government and National Assembly shows no signs of abating.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Major shake-up in store for Bridgend's schools?

As one new school opens, the prospect of a significant general shake-up
of Bridgend's schools looms on the horizon.
(Pic : Bridgend County Borough Council via Facebook)

Back in August 2014, Bridgend Council (BCBC) set up a special task group to look at the long-term future of how schools are managed and run in the county. This includes a reform of post-16 education (sixth forms) as well as how schools are organised – which could result in the closure or amalgamation of several schools and sixth forms.

An update on what the task group are working on formed a key part of a recent meeting of BCBC's Children & Young People's Scrutiny Committee - where councillors were presented with the snazzily-tiled report Strategic Review into the Development and Rationalisation of the Curriculum and Estate Provision of Primary, Secondary and Post-16 Education (pdf).

The Issues
  • Falling pupil rolls – It's a problem schools across Wales are having to deal with. Some schools are seriously under-capacity, putting their long-term future at risk. Others – particularly some Welsh-medium schools and schools on new family-friendly estates, like Maes-yr-Haul Primary in Broadlands – are overcrowded due to increased demand for a limited number of spaces.
  • Staffing Issues – An unspecified number of headteachers are nearing retirement age.
  • Finance – Another issue all schools are having to deal with as local authorities deal with budget cuts. See also : Seven Bridgend Schools in the Red.
  • 21st Century Schools Programme – A Wales-wide initiative to replace school buildings, which also provides an opportunity to rethink where and how schools are arranged. The most recent example in the county is the newly-opened Coety Primary at Parc Derwen.

The Welsh Goverment are pressing schools to consider alternative management arrangements, and have set out guidance on how to "federate" schools, as well as passing a law – the School Standards and Organisation Act 2013 – to deal with the often controversial issue of closing or merging smaller schools.

The Provisional Ideas

It's worth emphasising from the start that these are only working proposals and there's absolutely nothing final, but it does give you a good idea of what might be coming down the line as the task group continue their work.

School Organisation
  • School closures and mergers – BCBC are already considering this, notably the merger between Betws and Tynyheol Primaries in the Garw Valley.
  • All-through schools - Where 3-16/3-19 year olds are taught in the same campus.
  • Federated schools – Where schools share headteachers/leadership arrangements.

Post-16 Education

This is potentially the most explosive issue as the prospect of sixth form closures in Bridgend is raised for the first time. This has been proposed in other local authorities in Wales, and sometimes heavily resisted. It's said that, following consultation with schools and other providers, the current model can't remain due to funding cuts.

Welsh-Medium (WM) Education

There are two outline suggestions :

  • A starter class in an under-capacity English-medium school to deal with overcrowding at Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Bro Ogwr, which serves Bridgend town.
  • Collaboration with WM schools in Rhondda Cynon Taf and Bridgend College to deliver post-16 WM courses.
Feasibility work is already being undertaken on the latter.

Catchment Area Changes

The catchment areas should match the capacity of the nearest school. This could mean much bigger catchment areas, or even splits in current catchment areas – like at Maes-yr-Haul, where pupils who live in certain parts of Broadlands now have to attend Trelales Primary in Laleston even if Maes-y-Haul is geographically closer. It was also suggested that homes should be assigned a catchment area based on proximity to a safe walking/cycling route to school.

21st Century Schools Programme

The task group have come up with a formula to determine which schools are in the most need of upgrades or replacements. However, this work will need to be tied to the future management of schools (federated schools, all-through schools etc.).

As a result of all this, the report recommends that a strategic partner be found to review the plans and make a series of formal recommendations to BCBC's cabinet in the future, with Bridgend College part-funding the estimated £20,000 cost of the review.

What Next?

Could Bridgend be about to follow Neath Port Talbot's example on further education?
(Pic : Baily Partnership)
There's a potential storm brewing here - especially if sixth forms are threatened or parents object to sending their children to an "all-through school". I don't think the ideas should be dismissed out of hand and once a final review is produced, any proposals deserve to be considered on their own merits.

Some of these principles – like those relating to catchment areas – make sense when you're looking at it from a top-down view, but on the ground you could end up with next door neighbours attending different schools if any new catchment areas aren't flexible enough, as happens in Broadlands now.

My personal opinion is that, in the long-term, all post-16/pre-university education should be provided through FE colleges (or some sort of collaborative arrangement for WM-schools). This happens in Neath Port Talbot which, for a relatively deprived local authority, consistently produces good academic results and provides learners which many more choices with regard what they can study. NPT College offers at least 40 subjects at A-Level or equivalent; I'd be surprised if any of Bridgend's sixth forms offer more than 25.

However, Bridgend College simply isn't big enough to provide A-Level courses alongside vocational ones, and it would require a serious investment – possibly a completely new campus or even a merger - to see it through; plus all the additional costs like transport and hiring qualified staff.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Serious Business Party Announce Assembly Line-Up

The Serious Business Party have announced their candidates for the 2016 National Assembly election.

Like other parties seeking a foothold in Cardiff Bay, they're focusing on the regional lists, and won't stand any candidates in first past the post constituencies.

UK leader, Armitage Shanks, unveiled their hopefuls at their Autumn Piss-Up, alongside their party election broadcast (above), which they say makes a strong offer to the people of Wales.

In an impassioned alcohol-aggravated speech, he rallied party members and journalists, telling them, "We'll be out there pounding pavements, pounding doors and pounding faces.

"We're going to reinvigorate the lost skill of political rim-raiding. We're going to smash the Senedd's back doors in and keep going until the Cardiff Bay Establishment are crying in a corner...."

A flunky whispers in his ear, "....Sorry, I meant ram-raiding."

"People are sick and tired of politicians who have 'ideas' and 'long-term plans' to solve complicated problems. We're not interested in ideas. We're not really interested in power either. All we're interested in is punishing politicians by becoming politicians ourselves. So to the people of Wales, I say this :

"You think your local hospital's fine. You think your schools are turning out pupils ready for modern wage slavery, crippling living costs and disappointing life choices.

"You're secure in your mediocrity because you don't think about things too much and are willing to let others think for you. You believe tweaking a crap machine or hitting it every now and again will keep it going another twenty years instead of completely replacing it.

"Then when you do decide to replace it, you hire cowboys to do the work. Yeeeee ha!

"The next day, you're desperate for a crap," he points to a candidate, "but Mr Blobby here turns up on your doorstep wearing nothing but a Serious Business Party rosette and a scowl. He has no tools, he's had no training, and he's more than ready to twat you with a metal pipe for your idiocy.

"Keep punishing yourselves, you stupid, stupid people."

The audience applauds rapturously.

"This isn't a game," Armitage tells them straight-faced. "Every time you say you're going to vote for us, give yourself a punch in the face from me."

Asked whether he was considering standing in a Welsh seat, Armitage's face broke into his familiar baby-grin. "No, but between you and me," he retorted, "Taffs are good in the trenches and at playing rugger, but aren't officer material if you get what I mean."

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Election 2016 : Six Months To Go

The most exciting thing to happen at the Senedd since....
(Pic : Wales Online)
The thoughts of sitting and prospective AMs will start turning towards the 2016 National Assembly election with only six months remaining until polling day - as indicted by the countdown clock I've added to the top right.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Senedd debates draft Wales Bill

Following the stronger words said on the draft Wales Bill over the last
fortnight it was rightly time for more measured discussion on the issues it raises.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

Yesterday, following the suspension of standing orders, the National Assembly held an extraordinary debate on the controversial draft Wales Bill.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Pedestrianisation Petition & Heritage Hub Plans

Could regular traffic be about to return to Bridgend town centre?
(Pic : iComply)

As you might remember, a few days ago I mentioned a petition organised by Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) and 2016 Assembly Conservative candidate for Bridgend, George Jabbour, on pedestrianisation in Bridgend town centre.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Senedd Watch - October 2015

  • A ban on smoking in cars whilst in the presence of under-18s came into force on October 1st in Wales. Those who break the law will be liable to a £50 fine. Pro-smoking campaigners said the ban is unenforceable, though police forces said they would take an “educational and non-confrontational approach”.
  • A new colour-coded system for 999 medical emergencies was introduced on October 1st . Ambulance response time targets for all but the most life-threatening (Red) 999 calls will be replaced with outcome-based targets. Opposition parties accused the Welsh Government of manipulating targets to mask poor response times, but the Wales Ambulance Trust argued the changes make it “one of the most progressive in the world”.
  • Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb MP, said the chances of an agreement on further powers for the National Assembly were “very, very low”. It follows the publication of an academic report which suggests the proposed reserved powers model was “convoluted” and could result in law-making powers being withdrawn from the Assembly.
    • The UK Government unveiled the draft Wales Bill on October 20th, which includes new powers over Assembly electoral arrangements, energy, speed limits and sewerage services, as well as a reserved powers model. A row between the UK and Welsh Governments ensued over possible “veto” powers by English Ministers over Welsh laws.
  • An official who regulates bus and heavy goods traffic in Wales, Nick Jones, attacked UK Government policy on traffic commissioners, suggesting Wales was being treated “as a district of the English Midlands” and was subsidising English services. Traffic commissioner functions are non-devolved, though partial devolution has been sought since 2002.
  • A TUC report called for money to be directed towards job creation in the south Wales valleys following new EU rules which will allow public funding to be reserved for disadvantaged groups such as the long-term unemployed. Finance Minister, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) said, “We've got new powers and influence who....gets contracts for the public sector and get people into those jobs" promising to set up a task force to look into the proposal further.
  • The Stage 4 debate on the Local Government Bill – which outlines the process for voluntary local authority mergers – was postponed on October 6th, due to a likelihood the Assembly would vote against it. Peter Black AM (Lib Dem, South Wales West) accused the Welsh Government of arrogance for not seeking a consensus beforehand.
    • Following a deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru - which will prevent mergers happening before the 2016 Assembly election - the Bill passed by 26 votes to 17 with 9 abstentions on October 20th. Shadow Local Government Minister, Janet Finch-Saunders (Con, Aberconwy) accused Plaid of hypocrisy for criticising Labour (at the SNP annual conference) then doing a deal with them, while the Lib Dems said the agreement achieved nothing.
  • An Oxfam Cymru report stated Wales should accommodate 724 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016 to meet its obligations. It comes as Community & Tackling Poverty Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), updated the National Assembly on actions taken in Wales, in which she called for more information and clarity from the UK Government, adding that all 22 local authorities were willing to accept refugees.
  • Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Davies (Con, South Wales Central) told the Conservative party conference in Manchester that he led an “anti-establishment party” and that next May's election was a choice between himself and Carwyn Jones for First Minister. He described the election as a “referendum on the Welsh NHS”.
    • The Welsh Conservatives would scrap tuition fee subsidies if they won the 2016 Assembly election, claiming it would save £3.6billion over the course of the Fifth Assembly. Currently, tuition fees for Welsh students are capped wherever the study, but the Leader of the Opposition said the money should be redirected to the NHS and further education colleges.
  • Plaid Cymru health spokesperson, Elin Jones AM (Plaid, Ceredigion), announced her party would scrap local health boards, replacing them with a single national body to run hospital services – as well as abolish social care charges for the elderly and dementia patients - if they win the 2016 election. They also proposed fully integrating health and social care. Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), accused Plaid of wanting to “break up the NHS”.
  • A review of Welsh law-making by the Assembly's Constitutional & Legislative Affairs Committee recommended introducing a compulsory Report Stage, greater support for Members Bills, consolidation of Welsh law and more comprehensive public engagement. Committee Chair, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) said, “Clear, consolidated laws based on sound, well-thought-out policy are essential."
  • Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) criticised the Welsh Government for spending £19.8million on preparatory work for the M4 Newport bypass, calling for Labour to review the plans in their 2016 manifesto. Business & Economy Minister, Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower), defended the spending saying, “Roads will always be controversial, but 20 years after you've built them.... they're the norm.”
    • On 13th October it was revealed Jenny Rathbone had been sacked as chair of an EU funding committee for her comments. She criticised an “unhealthy culture” within the Welsh Government and Assembly which doesn't allow independent thought.
    • Welsh Labour accused Jenny Rathbone of not following the proper channels for raising policy issues, while the First Minister defended his decision in the Senedd chamber, saying the committee chair “should act in the spirit of collective responsibility” as it was a government appointment.
    • The Leader of the Opposition questioned Public Account Committee decisions – of which Jenny Rathbone is a member - as members of the Welsh Government are barred from being members of Assembly committees. He wrote to Llywydd, Rosemary Butler (Lab, Newport West), saying, “The comments made by the First Minister in the chamber ….are deeply damaging and bring into question the legitimacy and democratic nature of the Assembly committees.”
  • A Welsh Health Survey study revealed only 1% of e-cigarette users were previous non-smokers. The Welsh Liberal Democrats believed the findings undermine the Welsh Government's case for a ban on using e-cigs in public, as set out in the Public Health Bill.
  • Eluned Parrott AM (Lib Dem, South Wales Central) warned that key Valley Lines rail routes could miss out on electrification after being left out of the Welsh Government's National Transport Finance Plan. She said, “Whilst the National Transport Plan covers the next five years, these schemes don't even appear in the column identified for '2020 and beyond'”.
  • The Assembly approved a cross-party motion condemning the UK Government's Trade Union Bill as an “unnecessary attack on the rights of working people”. Public Services Minister, Leighton Andrews, said the Bill extended its scope into devolved areas and the Welsh Government will consider not laying a legislative consent motion (LCM) in front of the Assembly – effectively attempting to block the law from applying in Wales.
  • The National Assembly unanimously agreed regulations to introduce compulsory micro-chipping for newborn puppies. Deputy Minister for Farming & Food, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Mid & West Wales) said, “The ability to trace all dogs back to their owners should encourage more responsible ownership, breeding and help in the control of dangerous and nuisance dogs by creating a link between a dog and its owner.” The regulations will come into force on April 6th 2016.
  • LinksAir, operators of the subsidised Anglesey-Cardiff air link, had their safety licence revoked by the Civil Aviation Authority. The Welsh Government announced Danish operator North Flying will take over the contract. Shadow Business Minister, William Graham AM (Con, South Wales East) said, “communities will rightly ask questions and Labour ministers must provide swift assurances.”
  • Deputy Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), confirmed that the troubled Betsi Cadwaladr Local Health Board will remain in special measures for two years. The board was placed into special measures for 100 days following the Tawel Fan scandal, but the Deputy Minister said an extension was needed, “in order to tackle more fundamental challenges, particularly to improve mental health services in north Wales”.
  • At Plaid Cymru's annual conference in Aberystwyth, Leanne Wood asked Labour voters to “take a second look” at her party, saying Plaid will lead on “those issues that matter most”. She said Labour had taken people for granted and “rewarded long-term loyalty with inaction, incompetence and indifference.”
  • Andrew Davies AM called for Cardiff's taxi drivers to embrace controversial mobile taxi app, Uber, which was considering starting services in the city. He said, “As Conservatives we have a duty to level the playing field and to encourage competition between suppliers – not thwart it.” Unions representing taxi drivers have expressed concerns over safety and fare parity.
  • An independent review of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty said these areas needed to do more to foster vibrant communities and provide jobs. Studies estimate they're worth £500million to the Welsh economy and employ 30,000 people. Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM (Plaid, Dwyfor Meirionnydd) was appointed chair of a task force to explore the issues further.

Projects announced in October include : A £24million replacement for the flood-prone A487 Dyfi Bridge in Machynlleth; an £11million scheme to fund childcare to enable parents to return to work; £3.8million for workplace IT, construction and accounting skills; a consultation on indicators for a national well-being index; a Chinese-backed investment worth £2billion in two biomass power and food production plants in Holyhead and Port Talbot and the final go ahead for the Newtown bypass.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Vice Nation : Smoking IV - Smoking & Independence

(Pic : BBC Wales)

In the final part of this mini series on nicotine products, I look at the policy options that might be available to Wales in the event of further devolution or independence.

There are very few, if any, nations that don't have at least partial curbs on smoking. There are, of course, variations in how anti-smoking laws and regulations are enforced – China is notorious for its lax enforcement, and they're paying the price with an estimated 2 million people expected to die each year from smoking-related illnesses by 2030.

In Germany and the United States, smoking laws are decided at a state level and are patchy – 28 US states have public smoking bans, 10 don't have any state-wide bans of any kind (or at most require designated smoking and non-smoking areas).

It's also true to say that anti-smoking laws in Wales, and the rest of the UK and Europe, are particularly strict compared to most of the world.

Public Attitudes to Smoking

There's clear public support - even from some smokers - for public smoking bans.
(Pic : Newport City Council)
Before considering what policy options might be available, it's worth looking at attitudes towards current restrictions.

A YouGov poll from March 2015 on behalf of Ash Cymru found (pdf) :
  • 81% support the current smoking ban in enclosed public spaces (including 50% of smokers).
  • 60% support banning smoking in cars, while 54% support banning smoking in communal recreational spaces (i.e. playgrounds).
  • 70% support putting tobacco products out of sight in shops, while 83% support introducing licences for tobacco retailers.
  • 78% supported a "help to quit" scheme aimed at 11-25 year olds (none currently exists).
  • 38% of e-cig users said they used them to help them quit smoking, while 20% said they used them to cut down on the amount of cigarettes they smoke. Only 2% believe they're more harmful than cigarettes.
  • A majority (51%) support controlling the advertising and sale of e-cigs in the same way as tobacco.

Smoking Laws in Wales : A Recap
  • Health warnings started to appear on UK tobacco packets in 1971; by 2009 it was mandated that at least one full side of a packet should consist of a health warning.
  • Tobacco advertising was banned in stages between 1989 and 2005.
  • The age to buy tobacco products was raised from 16 to 18 in 2007.
  • Smoking was banned in all enclosed public spaces in Wales in 2007, though other smoking bans (on public transport etc.) have existed for longer.
  • Tobacco vending machines were banned in Wales in 2012.
  • Tobacco displays in supermarkets have had to be kept behind screens since December 2012; this was extended to smaller stores in April 2015.
  • Since October 1st 2015 it's illegal to smoke in a private vehicle whilst in the presence of someone under the age of 18 in Wales.
  • Plain cigarette packaging will be introduced in the UK in May 2016.
  • The Public Health Bill (Wales-only) proposes introducing a ban on smoking and using e-cigs in workplaces, a register of tobacco retailers, extending the age to buy e-cigs to 18 and – as mentioned in Part III – introducing a ban on using e-cigs in enclosed public spaces or designated vehicles.
What could an independent Wales do?
Flavoured tobacco and numerous additives were banned in Brazil in 2012.
(Pic : CBC)
All things considered tobacco is, without a doubt, the most heavily-restricted legal drug.

That means there's very little room to manoeuvre in terms of new smoking policies. If policy-makers are going to continue their clamp down on smoking post-independence, they'll have to be clever and innovative about it.

As I see it there are three broad categories where a final few policies can be squeezed out before we move towards total bans on smoking.

1. Tighter regulation of tobacco and tobacco ingredients
  • Brazil banned all flavoured tobacco in 2012, and only allows 8 additives to be used in tobacco (compared to the usual several hundred). They gave tobacco companies 18 months to withdraw all non-complying tobacco from sale.
  • Work at a global/international level to encourage tobacco farmers to shift from tobacco production to food, perhaps through an EU-ban on tobacco imports from countries that subsidise tobacco production.

2. Make smoking more expensive
  • Smoking employees could pay a tithe as compensation to employers for lost production due to unofficial cigarette breaks. British Heart Foundation research has found full-time smoking employees cost employers up to £1,815 a year, with a figure of £447 for part-time workers.
  • Further hikes in tobacco duties. The current price of a pack of 20 cigarettes ranges from £8-£10, which is a bit more expensive than the equivalent for e-cigarettes. It's been recommended by a cross-party UK Parliament group that the price of a pack of cigarettes should rise to £20, though long-term inflation is likely to take the price that high anyway.
  • Minimum price per cigarette (or equivalent) – if it's being considered for alcohol, then surely the same principle should apply to tobacco?
  • Deliberately introduce lower excise duties for e-cigs than tobacco products.

3. Make smoking more inconvenient
  • Ban supermarkets and convenience stores over a certain size from selling tobacco products, so they can only be bought from smaller specially-licenced retailers or pharmacies.
  • Make cigarettes and cigars smaller in length and thinner so they contain less tobacco and, subsequently, less nicotine. This would be trolling on a national level, but might help shift smokers to e-cigs as part of a harm reduction policy. It would probably have to be led at EU-level though.
  • Limit the amount of tobacco a person can buy at any one time – in the same way sales of things like paracetamol are limited to two packs at a time.
  • Ban smoking tobacco in all public indoor and outdoor spaces - effectively confining smoking to the home, private outdoor business property and private gardens.
  • As has been considered with foetal alcohol syndrome, consider making smoking during pregnancy a criminal offence.
Of course, an independent government could also go against the grain and relax some of the existing rules and restrictions by, for example, reintroducing indoor public smoking through the use of designated smoking rooms, or rejecting things like plain packaging. That's unlikely to happen though.

The Nuclear Option : Can smoking be banned completely?

New Zealand is one of several nations seeking to phase-out smoking over the coming decades.
(Pic : New Zealand Government)
There's a fairly good chance that within a generation or two smoking anywhere other than the home will be illegal. It probably wouldn't take much more effort after that to ban smoking completely.

Medical professionals support an outright ban on smoking, and I'm sure many politicians and public health officials would too. In 2014, the British Medical Association voted in favour of a complete smoking ban, phased in by banning anyone born after 2000 from purchasing or using tobacco.

The situation with regard e-cigs will be a bit more complicated, but once 80%+ of current smokers have switched - which on current trends could happen in the next 20-30 years – there'll probably be a strong enough case to bring the curtain down on cigarettes, cigars and pipes in the same way leaded petrol was replaced by unleaded petrol.

Nobody will really miss it as long as they have an alternative. So there's a decent chance smoking will die out even without a ban.

Only one nation currently has an outright ban on the cultivation, sale and consumption of tobacco products – the devout Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan, which passed a law in 2010. However, other countries are set on their way towards phasing out tobacco :
  • Iceland – A former Icelandic health minister introduced a Members' Bill which would have banned tobacco sales and made it a prescription-only drug.
  • New Zealand – In 2011, the New Zealand adopted a goal to make the country smoke-free by 2025.
  • Finland – In 2010, the Finnish Government set out to completely ban smoking by 2040 and already has some of the strictest anti-smoking laws in the world.
  • France – The French Government have long-term goals to abolish smoking over the next 40 years.

Smoking, in a twisted way, has its advantages to the state. It keeps the population down (meaning savings in welfare and pension payments) and it also helps keep income-based taxes down too; after all, you're taxing something people are addicted to so the money's going to roll in.

Like alcohol, if smoking didn't raise more in taxes than was spent on smoking-related illnesses, tobacco/nicotine would probably be an illegal Class A drug.

Imperial Tobacco's headquarters in Bristol.
Before considering whether a total smoking ban is a good idea, check your pension pot.
(Pic : TClarke)

Nevertheless, banning smoking is always going to come with a lengthy list of unintended consequences which would probably put the brakes on it :
  • Criminalisation - Unless they've already diversified, you'll be criminalising tobacco producers, manufacturers and executives overnight, turning them from monkeys in suits into Pablo Escobar. It could well shift tobacco underground and many of the current problems we see with narcotics (Wales on Drugs) - like legal highs, heroin and cocaine - will start to make their way into the tobacco trade. There are already huge problems with counterfeit cigarettes.
  • Legal action – A total smoking ban would almost certainly lead to hefty and damaging lawsuits from tobacco companies – the poor dabs – due to restriction of trade.There's a pretty good chance they would win against a single country, but if it were led a global level, their chances would be slimmer.
  • The economic impact – Criminalising tobacco would destroy the livelihoods of some of the poorest farmers in the world. Some countries actually subsidise tobacco production anyway, and there would well be positives if these farmers are encouraged to switch to food production.
  • The impact on pension schemes and investments – I suspect there's tens of billions of pounds in private money, including many pension schemes, tied up in tobacco companies. Local authorities are said to have up to £2billion of pension investments in tobacco companies alone.
  • Tax – As covered in Part I, smoking generated some £9.6billion in duties for the UK and £421million in Wales alone in 2014-15. Although there would be savings made in the longer-term resulting from a reduction in smoking-related diseases, all those who already have those diseases still require treatment, and there would be a funding gap that would have to be closed – probably by raising taxes elsewhere.

I don't think I could ever support a complete ban – a public use ban certainly, but I suspect that would be the absolute limit the population at large would accept.

Prohibition doesn't work and has never worked, and you imagine what damage it would do if tobacco ended up in an underground economy run by criminals in the same way as other drugs.

If people are going to want to use nicotine, and public health campaigns can't stub it out, then based on the evidence we have, we should be using policy to actively push smokers away from tobacco and towards safer alternatives for nicotine delivery – a policy of harm reduction.