Independence Index

Your in-depth guide to Welsh independence.

Assembly

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

Bridgend

The major local political stories and developments from Bridgend county.

Laws

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

Committee Inquiries

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

Vice Nation: Sex

How could an independent Wales deal with issues surrounding sex?

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Senedd Watch - June 2015

  • Welsh Lib Dem leader, Kirsty Williams AM (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), called for Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) to be scrapped following a damning report into poor treatment of dementia patients on the (now closed) Tawel Fan mental health ward at Glan Clwyd Hospital. She said HIW failed as the “final backdrop and assurance mechanism” to ensure care was of a good standard.
    • During an urgent Assembly debate on June 3rd, Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), apologised to patients and families involved. £8million was pledged for adult mental health services, with £4.5million earmarked for dementia patients.
    • On June 8th, the Welsh Government announced that Betsi Cadwaladr health board would be placed into “special measures”, while the board's Chief Executive, Prof. Trevor Purt, was suspended. The interim chief, Simon Bird, was tasked with a 100-day turnaround at the health board.
    • Older People's Commissioner, Sarah Rochira, said it should be easier to prosecute staff who abuse elderly patients, saying the Tawel Fan scandal is, "one of many many examples where care has been truly unacceptable yet isn't considered criminal", later adding that the legal system “fails” older people.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Strapped 4 Cash?

With negotiations over the next BBC Charter set to begin soon,
the National Assembly demand assurances on S4C's future.
(Pic : theident.gallery)
Until 2013, Welsh language broadcaster S4C was funded by a direct grant from the UK Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) as well as some commercial revenues. Since 2013, S4C has been mainly funded via the licence fee with the UK Government grant scaled back to a near token amount.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Fried Cymru : The Barby of Wales

The night is dark and full of terrors.
(Pic : ITV Wales)
For several weeks it seemed as though the south Wales valleys were permanently ablaze. It dominated headlines over Easter, but has since drifted from the front pages.The number of grass/forest fires in 2015 are reportedly up 195% on 2014. Trees were destroyed, wildlife killed and homes evacuated as there was very real possibility that the fires would endanger whole villages.

Yesterday, the Public Services Minister, Smokey Bear Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhonnda) issued a statement in the National Assembly updating AMs on current actions taken to prevent similar fires in the future, perhaps with the forthcoming school summer holidays in mind.


The Minister issued a written statement during the height of the crisis on April 21st (clip). Subsequently, as a result of these "criminal acts of a small number of individuals", more people have been detained during this latest round of fires that were detained in the previous five years. He condemned those who started the fires, and praised the emergency services and tough stance of the police.

There were 933 fires in south Wales alone, and it's believed 902 (97%) were started deliberately. All fires were extinguished without having to call in extra support from neighbouring authorities, but resources used to tackle them could've been more productively spent elsewhere. A summit was held on April 29th with the First Minister, Natural Resources Minister and Education Minister in attendance. They agreed co-ordinated actions in the short, medium and long-term based around education, land management and deterrence.

The fire service already has a strong record on education, visiting every secondary school in affected areas, while the Phoenix Project has a re-offending rate of under 5%. The fire service are now considering using drones to spot fires and identify those who start them. Alongside this there are social media campaigns and extra-curricular activities to divert children from deliberate fire setting.

Natural Resources Wales are considering changes to land management structures to control the spread of fires, such as using fire breaks. Welsh Government will co-ordinate efforts through the Wales Resilience Forum and programmes like Glastir (The Green, Green Glas of Home).

Due to public and community concerns, there's a willingness to help reduce fires and identify arsonists. The Chief Fire Officer in south Wales has visited community groups, and a smart phone app has been developed to report fires. The Minister said that the threat hasn't gone away, so there's no room for complacency.

William Graham AM (Con, South Wales East) appreciated the actions of the Minister and paid tribute to the fire service and emergency call handlers (clip). He asked if the Minister agreed that sentencing guidelines needed to be changed to increase the punishments for these crimes?

The Minister said these fires are becoming "an annual event" and need to be properly addressed through the resilience forum. Over time, the number of grass fires has fallen, but emergency services have to plan for these events and set budgets accordingly. He described changes to sentencing guidelines as an "interesting idea" but preferred to wait upon the outcome of current prosecutions (plus it's non-devolved).

Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) asked for an expansion on the issues raised at the summit (clip). He also said pressure on emergency services was "huge", and that the response of call centres was "extremely efficient". Rhodri raised concerns about absence levels in the fire service, and whether it was linked to these fires, plus changes in the workforce from full-time officers to, part-time officers. He asked if they would be able to maintain these levels of work?

Leighton said collaboration has increased since the summit on prevention and detection. The balance between full and part-time firefighters was a matter for fire authorities, while fire services had coped with reduced budgets and "made efficiencies". He was satisfied current governance arrangements work, and wouldn't like to see PCC-style elected fire commissioners (unlike policing, fire & rescue services were devolved in 2004).

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) said the issue needed to be looked at from the other end (clip), calling for third sector bodies like the RSPB and Scouts to stress the importance of natural environments to the whole community, so children are much more minded "to be protectors of nature".

The Minister said the Foundation Phase has commitments to the outdoors and the environment, and there were already a number of voluntary bodies engaging with children. He did, however, stress that not all of the fires were started by children, with two arrests being men in their 30s and 50s. He wouldn't confirm if they were called Ramsay and Stannis respectively.

Eluned Parrott AM (Lib Dem, South Wales Central) condemned the arsonists as "reckless individuals" who not only endanger life through fires but divert resources from other emergencies (clip). She asked several questions, particularly on research into the profile of, and reasons why, people start fires. Eluned also stressed the importance of after-school and holiday activities, as well as schemes like Project Bernie (which appears to be based on DJ Dai from Grand Theft Auto II ).


The Minister said significant research had been done on the motivations of arsonists, and South Wales Police have commissioned further research from Cardiff University on motivations and the effectiveness of social media campaigns. A wide range of school clubs and other activities exist, and he acknowledged that Project Bernie has made a significant impact.

Christine Chapman AM's (Lab, Cynon Valley) constituency was disproportionately affected by the fires (clip). She asked what work has been done with offenders to understand drivers to authorities know what works and what doesn't? She noted the association between deprivation and the fires and whether these communities – in particular boys and men – should be targeted. Finally, she asked about how easy fires were to predict and whether a warning system has been developed?

Leighton said we need to focus on research which has already been done, but admitted it's "not comprehensive". He added it was right to say fires can be predicted and the emergency services' plans have them in mind, but the timing of education programmes/interventions might need to be adjusted accordingly.

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) said there were 145 similar fires in north Wales (clip), and the fire services instituted an effective "do you know where your kids are?" campaign. He asked whether community groups were involved in the summit and whether the responsibilities of landowners have been taken into account?

The Minister said social media had been used to engage with parents very effectively. There were too many community groups to take part in the summit, but many were engaged through the fire service. Also, he repeated what he said about land management, adding that fire authorities discuss issues with landowners.

Who can prevent forest fires?


You said "you", by which you were referring to me. That is incorrect. The correct answer is "you".

There have been calls down the years to re-forest/re-wild upland Wales – notably from George Monbiot – in order to increase flood protection in lowland areas. In areas of agricultural use that's perhaps impractical, but elsewhere I would love to see the valleys "re-greened" with native forestry to the same extent as Switzerland. This is one of the reasons why it can't/won't happen.

These fires have always been a background threat but, like flooding, it's time to take it a bit more seriously. Judging by what's been said, to their credit that's precisely what the Welsh Government and emergency services are doing.

Boredom might be a reason – and sensationalist coverage via the likes of Wales Online won't have helped - but none of that is an excuse and I hope those responsible, regardless of age, have the book thrown at them. Due to the topography of the valleys, it's inevitable that one day these fires will threaten entire villages and people will at least lose their homes, if not be killed, as a result.

Christine Chapman raised an important point about warnings. If you're close to a fire it's pretty obvious, but when there's a heightened risk of one starting, it's worth warning people so they can keep an eye out – particularly parents knowing where their children are going.

We've had a noticeably dry year so far. Maybe that was a factor in how the fires were able to spread so quickly. We might also have to accept that these things are increasingly going to start naturally, and so the fire service need the resources to deal with them.

Speaking of resources, for all the talk about defence spending and military recruitment recently, the UK can't properly defend itself from natural disasters (even if there's a criminal element with these fires).

Wales nominally contributes about £1.6billion towards the UK's military budget yet we seem to get very little back in terms of....actual defence from real threats. Perhaps all those kids recruited into the three services from Welsh schools in deprived areas should be sent in to help protect their hometowns during situations like these.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Should the military recruit in Welsh schools?

(Pic : The Telegraph)
Last Friday, the National Assembly's Petitions Committee published a report (pdf) on a petition submitted by Cymdeithas y Cymod, which gathered a total of 1,074 signatures online and offline.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Poverty Inquiry : Poverty & Inequality

The modern image of poverty is something like the above, but it should also include
low-paid care workers, part-time shop assistants and people priced out of housing.
(Pic : Swansea Sound)
Earlier this week, the Assembly's Communities & Local Government Committee launched the first report of a four-part inquiry into poverty in Wales (pdf) - and a 10-page summary (pdf). Each strand of the inquiry has its own terms of reference, and this first report focuses on how poverty is measured, defined and generally dealt with at a national level.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Beast - Programme for Government Report 2015

As promised.....
On Tuesday (16th June), the First Minister unveiled the 2015 annual progress report on the Programme for Government – a set of indicators used to measure whether the Welsh Government are delivering on their 2011 manifesto commitments. It's the final progress report before the 2016 National Assembly election.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Back to the Future

"If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 8 counties you're going to see some serious shit."

Today's post was originally going to be on the annual Programme of Government report, but due to a "dramatic" turn of events on local government reform I'll have to post it another time. There's a lot to get through.

Monday, 15 June 2015

AMs Pressured to Ban 'Invisible Killer'

A group of determined campaigners have set out to alert the public of an imminent danger to our health.
With it already claiming lives, is it too late for the National Assembly to take action?
(Pic : via gettyimages.com)

Oggy Bloggy Ogwr can exclusively reveal that following the recent introduction of the Public Health Bill, campaigners are pressing AMs and the Welsh Government to ban a pervasive dangerous substance which is secretly blighting the lives of the people of Wales.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Bridgend Public Toilets Earmarked for Closure

The "poorly-used" Derwen Road toilets in Bridgend town centre are
amongst a shortlist of at least 3 council-run public toilets facing closure.

As you might remember, earlier this year Bridgend Council (BCBC) undertook a public consultation on the future of council-run public toilets in the county (Consult At Your Convenience).

At Tuesday's cabinet meeting, cabinet members will discuss the results of the consultation and are expected to approve a wide range of changes. It comes hot on the heels of the Public Health Bill in the National Assembly (Tattoos, Bans & Bogs), which will introduce new statutory obligations on Welsh local authorities to plan public toilet services one year after the next local government elections (currently set for May 2017, but could be complicated by Williams Commission reforms).

The Consultation Findings (pdf)


The consultation was conducted online and offline and promoted in the local press (muggins here doesn't get a mention, of course – something I've come to expect from all quarters - despite getting several hundred hits on my post) and around 240 responses were received online. In total there were 933 responses (once citizens panel surveys are added).

Some of the key findings are :
  • Over-55s are twice as likely to use public toilets as the under-35s (though almost half of all responses to the consultation came from over-55s).
  • 49% of all respondents used public toilets at least weekly, and 17% daily. 85% of over-55s use toilets at least weekly.
  • 96% of respondents believe public toilets should have disabled access. Currently, four council-run toilets are inaccessible (Rhiw, Grand Pavilion, Blackmill & Pricetown).
  • 87% of respondents support the reintroduction of the "comfort scheme", where local businesses allow the public to use their toilets for free via a council grant.
  • Bridgend Bus Station toilets were considered the most-important toilets in Bridgend, while John Street were the most important in Porthcawl. The Rhiw and Cheapside toilets were considered nearly equal in importance. Rest Bay and Kenfig Nature Reserve were considered the most important out-of-town toilets.
  • Derwen Road toilets received the least support in Bridgend, while Blackmill and Pricetown were the least-supported out-of-town toilets.
  • 90% of respondents supported Sunday opening hours in Porthcawl, 80% in Bridgend and 76% in Maesteg.
  • Additional comments focused on public toilets as being an "essential service", opposition to toilet closures in Porthcawl in particular and cleanliness.
The Rhiw Hill toilets are also set to close.
In their comments on the state of each toilet in the main report (pdf), the Rhiw scored poorly. They are notably grim, uninviting (as you can see from the photo), and lack proper disabled access. This is despite internal upgrades in recent years. Derwen Road toilets "are not well used" and also have structural issues.

Similarly, the Grand Pavilion toilets in Porthcawl are only accessible via steep steps and are close to the John Street toilets. What might be a concerning development in Porthcawl is that, at present, a male attendant is used to clean male toilets and a woman to clean women's toilets. BCBC propose to end this practice and simply use signage to inform the public they're being cleaned, regardless of the cleaner's gender.

The only comment of real note on the Maesteg Bus Station toilets is that they have "minor reoccurring maintenance issues". In reality they were never under threat.

The Summarised Proposals (pdf)


Decommissioning & Closure
  • The Rhiw, Bridgend (underneath Bridgend Market)
  • Derwen Road, Bridgend (near Bridgend Tabernacle)
  • Grand Pavilion, Porthcawl
Offered to Town & Community councils and nature reserve; will close if offer rejected*
  • Pandy Road, Aberkenfig (Newcastle Higher CC)
  • Kenfig Nature Reserve
  • Pricetown Square (Ogmore Valley CC)
  • Blackmill, next to Ogmore Junction pub (Ogmore Valley CC)
*The report says a council-run toilet in Pencoed was recently transferred to Pencoed Town Council.

Reduction in staffing hours; no change to opening times
  • John Street, Porthcawl
  • Griffin Park, Porthcawl
No Change
  • Maesteg Bus Station
  • Rest Bay, Porthcawl
  • Bridgend Bus Station
  • Cheapside, Bridgend (Brackla Street Centre)
Reintroduction of the Comfort Scheme
  • BCBC are going to consider a reintroduction of the comfort scheme "at a small number of strategic sites" . A small amount of revenue funding has been provided and annual grants will be awarded to participating businesses (no figures provided). Applications will be considered on their merit.
4 public toilets - including Pricetown in the Ogmore Valley - will be offered to
community councils, but could close if those offers aren't taken up.
(Pic : © Copyright Lewis Clarke and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.)

Spending on council-run public toilets was £207,400 in 2014-15 – a £5,800 overspend. Most of this (about £141,000) was spent on staffing. BCBC estimate these proposals would save £50,400 in 2015-16 (pdf). I'm reliably told these extraordinary costs are down, mainly, to insurance premiums, particularly cover for fire damage, personal injury and vandalism.

On balance, I think this is what everyone would have expected. The writing was on the wall for the Rhiw toilets for some time. Meanwhile, it's hard to justify the Grand Pavilion toilets remaining open (without serious modification to make them disability-friendly) while the John Street toilets are a 5-minute walk away - even for the elderly - and have disabled facilities. As long as they're properly signposted from The Esplanade there shouldn't be a problem.

The issue now is whether the community councils can really afford to take on the facilities, especially in the Ogmore Valley.

Aberkenfig and Kenfig should be OK, but both the Blackmill and Pricetown toilets will need an upgrade. Figures in the report suggest a combined £47,000 of upgrades are required to make them disabled access. It's therefore highly likely that at least one of them, if not both, will have to close.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Tattoos, Bans & Bogs - The Public Health Bill

The Public Health Bill is a wide-ranging law, prompting controversy over
a proposed ban on the use of e-cigarettes in indoor public spaces.
(Pic : BBC Wales)
Earlier this week, the Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), introduced what's likely to be one of the most controversial and substantial laws of the Fourth Assembly, instigating one of those rare occasions where Welsh politics has made UK-wide headlines - not necessarily in flattering terms either.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

New Date Set for Council Webcasts

After months of delays a new date has been set for the
introduction of council meeting webcasts in Bridgend.
(Pic : Wales Online)

In December 2013, it was announced that Bridgend Council (BCBC) would – at long last - investigate the live streaming and/or recording of council meetings over the internet (Council webcasts coming to Bridgend?), aided by a Welsh Government grant to improve openness and transparency in local government.


Saturday, 6 June 2015

Assembly Calls for Tax Power Accountability



Although the above illustrates how much proposed devolved taxes would raise, the Assembly's Finance
Committee are taking a methodical approach to the issue of effective tax collection and management.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

Aggregates levy, stamp duty and landfill tax are set to be devolved to Wales from April 2018 as stipulated by the Wales Act 2014, which was passed by the previous UK Government and includes some of the recommendations of the Silk Commission Part I.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Tawel Fan : Betsi Cadwaladr's Shame

Little Ward of Horrors.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

Just so you've been warned, the following makes for depressing reading.

Within the last week, a catalogue of serious care failings were revealed in a damning report into the Tawel Fan mental health ward at Denbighshire's Glan Clwyd Hospital, which specialised in "care" for elderly patients with dementia. The ward closed in December 2013 as soon as the seriousness of the allegations became clear, and there are echos with what happened at the Princess of Wales and Neath Port Talbot Hospitals (Abertawe Bro Morgannwg : Trusted to Care?).

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Assembly Bans Smoking in Cars with Kids

(Pic : Wales Online)

Within the last hour, the National Assembly approved new regulations outlawing smoking in cars when carrying under-18s.

Monday, 1 June 2015

The In-Out EU Referendum Bill

Forty years since the last time the question was put to the public,
the UK is to be asked whether to remain a member of the EU.
(Pic : The Telegraph)
Last Thursday, the UK Government introduced a Bill setting out the arrangements for the forthcoming  referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union.