Archive for November, 2012

Oh no Leveson

Some years back the opening speech at a Welsh Labour conference was delivered by the chairman of the Standing Order committee. Not the greatest of opening speakers, you’d agree. But his language was colourful. He urged the delegates to be on their guard because in the hall according to him were vultures and a nest of vipers.
He was of course referring to us journalist. We were there to plough our trade. Covering their conference. As welcomes go not the best. But not a surprising comment, politicians just don’t like scrutiny.
Now according to recent opinion polls that man’s views and of course being the Welsh Labour party it was a man,  wasn’t to different to that held by the public today.
Journalists it seems are not universally loved.
Tomorrow will see the publication of the Leveson report into the press. All the indications are that he’ll want more than the self-regulation of the press that exists at the moment. A view undoubtedly shared by the public.
All, it would seem, want a system of deterrents. Deterrents to stop the press, not only breaking the law, but also to stop journalists investigating the lives of people.
On the face of it perfectly reasonable demands.
Of course, ordinary people should have redress if they’ve been misused by journalists. They too should be able to get compensation for the distress caused just as the rich and powerful are able to. Legal aid should allow the ordinary person to seek legal redress.
But there is a danger that we’re abpot to embark on a journey that journalism will be so seriously curtailed. The powerful will be  able to get away with corruption, dishonesty, illegality and hypocrisy in both the public and private sphere.
For example the army of press officers, public relations officers that control every aspect of the publicity of a celebrity will paint such a glossy, clean image that the public will think that what they read in the OK magazine is the real thing. Perfect, saintly even. Put on a pedestal.
Hold on isn’t that’s what happened to Jimmy Saville. Knighted by church and state, monarch and pope. Allowed into institutions of all kinds. Leading inquiries on behalf of the state. Feted by charities. The man could do no wrong.
But he was no saint. He was evil. But got away with it.  The press at the time didn’t do its job. For whatever reason they did nothing. Is this the kind of press we want now?  If a celeb choses to have prostitutes in a back of taxi should their image remain wholesome?
There are armies of people already employed to hinder the press.  Before long all  newspaper will contain are pages and pages of press notices sent out by government and other organisations. Many of our weekly papers are just that now. Seldom are local councils put under the microscope today. They get away with murder.
The Welsh Government alone has an army of press people. Their task, to put the best gloss on the Welsh government. But it’s not just in Welsh government, there’s an army of them in Whitehall. And almost every other tinpot organisation in the land. An army of people spending their time frustrating journalism.
Oh, no the last thing that’s required are more curbs on the press. If the police had done their job properly in the first place and investigated illegal phone taps Lord Justice Leveson could have stayed doing his day jobs. But they were to busy enjoying News International’s ‘hospitality.’
The laws are already in place to protect against press abuse. Do we need more? There is a real danger that here the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater. There is every danger that a free, robust press will be killed. The real looser will be democracy itself.

No growth, let’s cut the cash


Duw, it’s bad and likely to get worst. No, not the weather, or perhaps that too. No its the economy.  Not my view although it’s been a constant theme in this blog for some time. But its now the view of none other than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
This leading economic think tank says that Britain’s economy will shrink less than was thought this year. Good news indeed, but it was followed by the bad news that recovery would be slow and uncertain against a worsening international backdrop.
Their reasons for pessimism, a global slowdown, a crisis in the eurozone, the government’s deficit reduction programme and the paying down of consumer debt.  All were acting as a brake on growth.
To get things moving the OECD said it would back the Chancellor  if the weakness of the economy forced him to slow down his debt-reduction plans.
The reason that the OECD are quietly urging Osborne to ease back on its programme of cuts is that despite low wage increases and part-time working limiting job losses, they are concerned about the high level of youth unemployment and “this could worsen if the economy faltered.”
Unemployment is forecast to rise to 8.3% in 2013, against a backdrop of 0.9% growth.
So where does this prognosis leave Wales. The simple answer, not in a good place. As one of the poorer regions of the UK with some of the highest rates of unemployment.  The country desperately needs a growth programme.
This is why it’s strange that the Conservative Opposition in the Assembly want to see serious cuts to the funds Wales gets from Europe.
In the words of Andrew RT Davies Tory leader in the Assembly it’s “only right and reasonable that savings be made.” His reason, Wales is still poor after receiving two tranches of European money.  So that clearly points to the money being wasted. His answer to cut the next tranche that comes from Europe.
But without the cash Wales has received from Europe the economy would be in an even worse state. Where would our rural areas be without CAP. The structure funds have helped with various infrastructure projects and have helped the economy. The fact that Wales is still poor is an indication that more needs to be done, not less.
That is why Carwyn Jones  was right to warn the British Irish Council meeting yesterday that “leaving the EU would be an unmitigated disaster.
We would lose our access to structural funding as well as access to the European market. When I travel abroad to attract foreign direct investment to Wales, what brings people here is not the three million population of Wales, or even indeed the 60 million population of the UK – which is tiny when you compare it the size of India or China.
“No, the reason why people come here is the access to the European market. Anything that interferes with that access to the European market is not in our interests.”
If the OECD forecast is right, Wales needs all the help it can get in the next few years. Cutting the European funds to Wales at a time of recession will harm the economy not help it.

Educational changes


The Minister of Education today said Welsh local government was not up to delivering education.
In information based on Estyn investigations he concluded that there were no excellent local authorities but 5 good ones.  5 are in a formal Estyn category and 5 are being monitored by Estyn.
As teachers might write in a homework book – not good enough.
That Wales’s education system is not up to much is generally agreed. Kids leave our schools with very low standards indeed. In the last PISA tests out of 67 countries taking part, Wales was ranked 38th for reading, 40th for maths and 30th for the tests for science. Something is not right in the State of Wales.
So what’s to be done?
Well, Education Minister Leighton Andrews has tried to get the 22 education authorities to work together.

To say that he’s disappointed with their response, would be an understatement. He catalogued that local authorities had in general not been effective in delivering efficiencies, “including promised savings through the creation of consortia, or through the reduction of surplus places. As we have seen during discussion on the School Standards Bill, they have rarely used their powers of intervention to address failure when it arises in schools.”

He goes on to complain that both he and the Minister for Local Government and Communities had repeatedly called upon local authorities to make joint appointments when vacancies arise.  “In respect of posts for Directors of Education and Chief Education Officers, this has largely fallen on deaf ears.”
Now in his desperation he’s ordered a wide-ranging review of the delivery of education services.  It will look at what should be undertaken at school, local authority, regional and national level.
He says that The review will look at a number of options for delivery:
  • whether we should move to forms of regional delivery, and what the boundaries of those regions in the future should be, taking account of the regional footprint of delivery in public services amongst other options.
  • whether responsibilities for school improvement should be removed from local authorities and vested in a more streamlined regional service accountable to Welsh Government
  • whether statutory merger of the education services of local authorities under joint management by a number of authorities could be a solution.
  • whether we need to go further and remove all education functions from local government and create regional school boards accountable to Welsh Government, either with or without a level of local government representation.
The review will consider whether schools should be directly funded by Welsh Ministers, and/or whether there is scope for cooperative ownership of schools at a local level, combining secondary schools and the primary schools in their clusters, with shared systems of governance, which could mean reforming the system known as local management of schools. Such a system could operate in tandem with any of the proposals outlined above for regional delivery of education services.
I have not ruled anything in or out but the time is right for a full review and obviously the consequence of potential change would need to be considered.”
He may not have ruled anything out, but the mood music is very much that the days are numbered for local councils to be providers of educational service.
But why just review the provision of education. There are other council services that are below par. Some of Wales’s social service departments have been falling short of expectations. Commissioners have been running departments or in the case of Ynys Mon the whole council.

Surely enough is enough. Why not have a whole scale review of the role, functions and size of local authorities. Can they deliver in these austere times?

The last reorganisation produced councils that were far too small to deliver many a council service. It was rushed through in the dying days of the Major government. It took place before the Assembly had been established.
Surely now is a good time to look again at what kind of authorities should be delivering what service. There is a place for localism of some services. But equally some services are better delivered at a regional  and an all-Wales level. Desirable though Andrews’s review is its to narrow. A bigger question needs addressing, how best do we deliver Wales’s many public services?


  1. Free schools after all we know they work. Remove state control from education.


  2. Surely the biggest question of all is ‘why don’t Welsh parents complain about the level of education their kids are receiving in these Welsh schools?’.

    Why does everything in Wales, education included, always have to be a race to the bottom? Have we learn’t nothing from our more successful neighbours, England & Scotland?

    Yes, we have kept the language alive, but surely we can achieve a bit more than this for the next generations.


  3. If it seems that local government is poor at delivering a range of services and not just education, then rather than taking education alone out of its remit, wouldn’t it be better to reform local government, weeding out ineffective staff in the process? This may involve merging council’s or creating a regional tier of government.

    And yes, before you say it I knwo it will be tough as there are very powerful vested interests who want to keep the status quo, but such is life.


  4. I would favour creating a regional tier of government – which would take in (and replace) police, fire, health & social services, education – including further education, transport planning and waste disposal. I think we need to democratise the provision of these services and I am instinctively wary of single purpose joint boards. Also there is a suggestion that education might be run by 4 regional consortia, as opposed to the 6 collaborative regions already set up for joint working.

    I hate to bang on about this by my suggestions are set out here…