Archive for February, 2013

Labour pains

Whilst the rest of the country saw a fall in those out of work the numbers in Wales were up by 6,000 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
In Wales the figures of those out of work reached 127,000 during the last three months of 2012. In the same period
unemployment fell by 14,000 in the UK as a whole.
For lovers of statistics Wales’ unemployment rate is 8.6% higher than the UK unemployment rate of 7.8%.
According to the ONS said there were 29.73 million people in the UK in employment, of which 73% were working full-time and 27% were working part-time.
The changes to the figures give us an insight to the changing labour market and why despite the overall fall in the figures people are not feeling any better off.
The ONS said that between October to December 2012, full-time employment was 378,000 lower than in the April-to-June quarter in 2008, the first quarter of the recession. But part-time employment was 572,000 higher compared with the same period.
So its part-time work that’s giving the overall figures the boost. So less wages coming into peoples pockets.
The ‘feel bad’ factor  is made even worse by the statistics on pay. As the ONS says “there continues to be a cut in the real value of pay” as inflation remains higher than pay increases.
This is the fifth year that peoples standard of living is down. The figures show average earnings down. Average earnings growth last year was down from 1.7% to 1.4%.
Overall the news is not good at all. If you look at the output of the economy it hasn’t moved. We’re still crawling along the bottom of the dip. With more people producing the same it means that the country’s productivity is falling.
But perhaps more worrying, as this blog pointed out, the manufacturing sector saw a downturn in the run-up to Christmas. That coupled with big names on our high streets moving into receivership doesn’t make for a sunny outlook even for employment figures in the months to come.
My prediction is that unemployment figures will begin to rise later this year. The figures tend to lag behind the rest of the economy and as Friday’s figures on GDP are likely to show, an economy still contracting and the prospect of a triple dip recession.
A Plan B is needed and soon.

More powers?

The journey to Home rule for Wales has been a very slow and tortuous affair.  Another small step was taken by the Welsh Government today when they published their vision of Wales’ long term constitutional future. In other words, what powers they want devolved to Wales.
In his government’s submission to the Silk Commission Carwyn Jones see’s Wales not as an independent country but part of the United Kingdom, all be it with more powers over its own affairs.
Basically, Carwyn’s no separatist more a Home Ruler in the fine tradition of Lloyd George. Until of course LlG got the big job of running the roost in the UK and Empire and quietly forgot his commitment to the land of his fathers. Oh, I suppose he did disestablish the Church in Wales. A big deal in its day.
But back to Carwyn.  The Jones boy wants to go back to first base with a new Government for Wales Act. Instead of powers being handed to Wales at the whim of Westminster he wants the default position that Wales has all the powers. But acknowledges that some areas should be ‘reserved’ to the UK parliament. He wants Westminster to continue to have their sticky paws on the lever of power in the areas of constitutional affairs, defence, foreign affairs, social security and macro-economic policy.
A political leader would never voluntarily give up powers over areas they already have control over and Carwyn Jones is no exception he wants to retain these and add  considerable more to his fiefdom.
He wants control over the Police and other law and order services, but  the criminal justice system has a whole should be devolved a lot later. Cash being the problem. To devolve them now would be to costly. It begs the question when will they be affordable. But once these were passed to Wales the establishment of a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction would follow. A case of we want more powers. When? In the fullness of time.
One thing he definitely wants control over is water. He know that with his current powers he could not prevent another Tryweryn. So he wants control over all laws relating to water matters within the geographical boundary of  Wales.
Other areas include : Vulnerable adults and children – to clarify and extend competence including in relation to taking children into care, fostering and adoption (public child law); Road safety and powers to improve public transport – including powers over speed and drink driving limits, bus and taxi regulation; Ports -  to ensure that we maximise the economic development potential of Welsh ports; Licensing of alcohol and late night entertainment – in order to promote public health and community safety; Administrative Justice in relation to devolved areas, including arrangements for complaints and redress;The administration of elections in Wales – including Elections to the National Assembly for Wales and local authorities; Taxation – powers consistent with the Silk 1 recommendations to enable the Assembly to legislate on devolved taxes.
So quite a shopping list. If granted the Assembly would become powerful indeed. According to the First Minister no new constitutional principle is involved, so need for a referendum.  Despite addition powers he still things that any new laws stemming from these could be passed without increasing the size of the current 60 seat Assembly.  Assembly Members would just have to work harder for no additional rewards or anyone to share the burden. Oh dear, poor things.
And when will all this come to pass if ever, I hear you ask? Well, the Welsh Government believes these responsibilities should be devolved to the Assembly by 2020/21, as part of a wider reform of the UK Constitution following the Scottish independence referendum. So we might get them when the Scots have had their say on their future. It was always so.



An eloquence of them

There were 37 pages devoted to firms of solicitors and lawyers in Yellow pages for the Cardiff and West Wales region. All be it, my book was a bit dated but it seems clear we’re over-run with lawyers.  An eloquence of lawyers we have in abundance.
As an ordinary hack I’ve seen them in many guises over the years. The one thing they seem to have in common, apart from their eloquence of course, is they’re usually well heeled.
Now in half term week with little happening in the Assembly I decided to trawl through the minutes of some of our committees, yes, I know I need to get a life. But I happen to come across this exchange. A question by Dafydd El to Edwina Hart the Business Minister.
I am sure that you will be aware, Minister, that some established companies in the city are of the opinion that the support you provided during this month to Lewis Silkin to establish and develop its operation is considered as unfair competition and some sort of subsidy to a firm of lawyers from London to compete unfairly with companies from Cardiff. How do you respond to that, and will you explain clearly to the committee, and to any other interested parties, that this type of assistance is available to companies already based in the area? Enterprise zones are not just about inward investment.
 Edwina Hart: Enterprise zones are about enhancing job opportunities—the retention of jobs and additional jobs. If you are an existing company and you are in an enterprise zone—this is particularly key in Deeside, where we have some larger companies on the periphery—and you wish to expand your operation, what is available in the enterprise zones would also be available to you. I am also quite disappointed by some of the attitudes towards what we are trying to encourage into the Cardiff zone. It is a good zone in terms of the professional and financial services that we want to bring in, and they will be good-quality jobs. It is very important that the Welsh business community as a whole welcomes the development of the enterprise zones and recognises that we can make appropriate offers to Welsh companies that are already there if they are taking on additional staff.
[159] It is important to recognise, particularly in financial services, that companies sometimes outgrow premises and want to be in one centre, thereby bringing in additional jobs, and we will definitely welcome such companies if they want to relocate to the enterprise zone.
And what was the good Lord referring to, I hear you ask. A not insignificant grant to bring yet another law firm to Cardiff.  Lewis Silkin to be precise. The firm is coming to Cardiff with the help of a £160,000 business finance grant from the Welsh Government.Now not many will worry to much that there is another competitor to all the other law firms in Cardiff. Although all this competition doesn’t drive down their fees. But that’s a different story.
But as tax-payers we’re entitled to ask whether dishing out our cash to fat cat law firms is a good use of public money.

Now Enterprise matters. Of course we wish all the Enterprise zones to succeed. But if syphoning public money to well-heeled law firms is what they’re about I’m not sure that they’re going to be doing much to get the Welsh economy moving.