Archive for October, 2012

An historic agreement?

As the the Spanish would say “mañana”. Sometime, perhaps, the day after tomorrow.This is exactly what was offered in what was trailed as an historic agreement by the Westminster and Welsh governments.

 How many Ministers does it take to make an historic agreement? In this case it took a Liberal Democrat Minister, a Conservative Minister and a Labour minister. Sounds like a joke. But the agreement doesn’t offer much laughs.

 So what have both governments signed up to?

Well, they’ve both agreed that it would be good thing for the Welsh Government to be able to borrow for capital projects. A good thing indeed.

As Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said:

“Today’s announcement agrees in-principle to devolved capital borrowing powers for the Welsh Government. This is an important step forward on the devolution journey for Welsh people, and will bring them significant benefits. I am delighted that the two Governments have worked closely together to deliver this good outcome for Wales.”

But despite his warm words there is a slight problem, the Welsh government hasn’t got any means of its own to pay back a loan.  So it doesn’t have a place at the table with the big boys when cash is handed out. Not a great place for bailiffs to plough their trade.

So despite the warm words the reality, no borrowing without tax raising. Put in language of accountants, there needs to be a revenue stream in place before these powers are granted.

But Wales unlike Scotland have no powers over tax. So the right to borrow awaits on the Silk Commission deciding whether Wales is worthy of having such rights.  It is not, yet, a done deal.

But not wishing to rain on the trio’s parade let them have their say, I say.

Labour’s Welsh Government Finance Minister, Jane Hutt, said: “The statement we are publishing today includes a new commitment by both Governments to review the path of  Welsh relative funding  at future Spending Reviews. I welcome the in principle devolution of capital borrowing powers, which should give the Welsh Government an additional lever to generate economic growth.”

What does it mean? It means the government in Westminster will look at Welsh funding every time it’s making a financial settlement. It doesn’t mean that they’ll do anything about it, but they promise to look.

As the Tory Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones, wished: “I hope that today’s announcement will reassure the people in Wales of the progress both Governments have been making on Welsh funding arrangements.”  

Well, the prospect of jam tomorrow is not a great reassurance.

Today’s agreement is not a a great deal to shout about after twelve months of bilateral talks. Despite the photo opportunity it still very much a work in progress. And a lot more progress is needed before the champagne is taken off the ice. Perhaps it will all have to wait until the Scottish independence issue is resolved before the bubbles flow. If bubbles can flow, that is.

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Principle for public administration?

Joseph Heller’s wonderful novel Catch-22 was a classic of its kind and all students of government ought to read it. Just to paraphrase its essence. It concerned flying dangerous missions in World war 11. With the death rate that bombers were experiencing you had to be crazy to want to fly more missions. And crazy people would be grounded.

 

But Catch-22 was that if you expressed concern for your safety in the face of the dangers that were real this showed that you were rational. Being rational you wouldn’t be grounded.

 

There you have it, you would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if you didn’t, but if you were sane you had to fly them.

 

Now Catch-22 is alive and well and is affecting  some of the most disadvantaged people living in Wales. It is connected with changes to the Housing Benefit regime and one change in particular. The change concerned is popularly named “the bedroom tax.” And there’s nothing fruity about it.

 

If tenants rent a house and are on housing benefit they’d lose on average £11 per week if they were under-occupying by 1 bedroom. Those under-occupying by 2 bedrooms or more would lose on average £19 per week. They’d have to make the money up themselves to pay the rent.  But they wouldn’t be on housing benefit in the first place if they could pay the rent. The Heller principle again.

 

So they can’t pay the rent, agreed? And the consequence? Out on their necks. Another addition to the homeless statistics.

 

A sensible policy I hear you saying, why should tenants continue to live in a house that is to large for them. Let them move to somewhere smaller. But here’s the rub. There ain’t anywhere smaller. Nobody’s been building  smaller houses or flats. At least not in the number’s that housing bodies say will be required as a consequence of the changes.

 

So for example  a couple that have raised a family and whose children have left the nest will have to give up on the family home, because they no longer have the cash to pay the rent. Fine and dandy but where can they go?

 

That’s the catch, nowhere.

 

So they’ll be evicted for non-payment. Become homeless. The council will have a responsibility to house them. And where will they house them. In the housing stock that’s available. And what kind will that be? Well, it will could be a hostel at great expense to the public purse or as is most likely they’ll be put in temporary accommodation.

 

And what kind of temporary accommodation, a house that’s likely to have more bedrooms than they need.

 

Heller’s principle is alive and well and embedded in Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms.

 

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What’s in a name

POW’s the initials not of prisoners of war but of the new rebranded Party of Wales formerly known as Plaid Cymru.  Whilst the rest of us were enjoying the late Autumn sunshine Plaid Cymru, oh shucks sorry, Party of Wales, Assembly Members went away to seminars to learn to love each others and to be loved in turn by the electorate.

The outcome? To try harder with the monoglot English speaking voter in Wales. And how was this to be achieved? I hear you ask.  Well, ditch the use of the name Plaid Cymru. Apparently the use of the name is a big turn off. As a political expedient they are going out of their way to appeal to the English speakers. So its Welsh out, and English in. Don’t turn in your grave Saunders Lewis.

So this week they’ve all made a special effort in the Assembly  not to use the term “Plaid Cymru” in their orations, if that is not stretching the term oratory to much. No, the party AMs were liberally spreading the term Party of Wales in their many utterances.

Although the edict hasn’t quite reached as far as Plaid or should it be Party of Wales’s Westminster wing. Hywel Williams sent a press release out with the sexy title, “PLAID SAYS WELFARE OF THE WELSH PEOPLE ISN’T SAFE IN WESTMINSTER HANDS.”

Although to be fair to him,  he tried to make amends later in the release with the new brand  “That is why the Party of Wales will continue to call for the devolution of specific benefits budgets such as those for disability, and the transfer of powers over job-creating levers in order to tackle the broken economic backdrop that leaves so many dependent on the welfare state.”

Not the most succinct sentence you’ll come across granted, but at least the latter part of the press release was now on message.

But it’s not only the name that’s had a transformation but attempts were made to change the character of Assembly Members themselves. Positiveness, now that’s the new mantra.

If Members at the seminar had negative thoughts they had to throw coins into a hat. The Party of Wales have not released whose coins filled the hat.

But for all they’re new age practices, the enterprise was almost derailed by the nocturnal drive of their youngest Member. She surely must have caused a great deal of negative thoughts within her party. However, they soldier on.

Come election time if two smiling individuals turn up at your door speaking English and being positive about the world, don’t slam the door in their face thinking they’re Mormons. Chances are they’ll by POWs not escaping but garnering votes.

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