Archive for June, 2013

Another week in politics


Plaid Cymru’s former leader Ieuan Wyn Jones announces he is giving up active politics to run a £10 million Science Park in Bangor.  A park that Plaid Cymru wrestled out of the government in return for backing the Labour government’s budget. He stands down with immediate effect and triggers the third ever by-election in the life of the National Assembly.

Wales’s two most formidable political women are to hold joint negotiations with the Labour government on next year’s budget. Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Liberal Democrat’s Kirsty Williams are determined to negotiate together on where the money goes next time. The economy, education and health will be the priority. So no surprises there then. The Tories are clearly “Billy No Mates” having not been invited to join with the two. At the moment Plaid Cymru, courtesy of Ieuan Wyn Jones, have provided the government with a majority of one, but only the electors of Ynys Mon will decide whether that becomes a permanent state of affairs.

Jane Hutt and Danny Alexander have arrived at a deal that could save eleven Welsh councils £33m a year on their housing budgets. The English scrapped the housing revenue account in 2012 but it continues in Wales. Each year Welsh councils pay into a Treasury fund, money they raise from council house rents.  The funds purpose, to pay for repairs and maintenance of council houses in their patch. Now the new deal means that councils pay a lump sum to Treasury and take on a new debt.  However this new debt means they pay out a lot less, saving £33m.  So the eleven councils who still have council houses, namely Flintshire, Vale of Glamorgan, Caerphilly, Swansea, Wrexham, Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Denbighshire, Anglesey, Pembrokeshire and Powys, will shortly have enough cash meet the Wales Government’s Housing Quality Standards. Some of these councils have pled poverty and dragged their feet on meeting these standards. They now have less justification.

In politics as in football, two yellow cards and you’re off. That was the fate of Leighton Andrews the now ex-education minister. Campaigning first against cuts in services at the Royal Glamorgan got his knuckles rapt and an insistence from the First Minister that the name Labour should be withdrawn from the campaign. The next yellow card came when he campaigned against his own department’s policy of school closures arising out of surplus places. When it affected a school in his own patch the minister picked up his placard and rushed to the barricades.  Strangely this got up the nose of Carwyn Jones, who had the right hump with him and demonstrated this by refusing to back him at First Minister’s questions.  So out came the red card and Andrews exists stage left. Was his refusal to be a cabinet team player determined a little by the threat of that seasoned placard waver Leanne Wood who’s fighting him for the affections of the Rhondda voter.

The new cabinet changes in Wales include Huw Lewis from Merthyr as education minister, Jeff Cuthbert the Caerffili AM enters cabinet for first time as Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty helped by a new deputy Vaughan Gethin who tackles the poverty brief. Another  of the new intake gets made deputy for Skills and technology, the Clwyd South AM Ken Skates. So there you have it the new Turks start up the greasy pole. No women make it.

North Wales is to get a new prison. Its not any old prison it’s a super prison. Costing £250 million.  Able to hold 2000 wrong ‘uns and providing a 1000 jobs, so it really is some prison. No site has been announced yet, but Wrexham have been pushing hard for it to be placed there. But don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon, we’re talking about it welcoming its first guests in 2017.

Plaid Cymru pick Rhun ap Iorwerth an ex-BBC Wales presenter as their candidate to fight the Ynys Mon by-election, thus feeding Labour’s paranoia that BBC Wales is a hotbed of ‘nats.’ Meanwhile Labour will choose from  a list of four. They are Julia Dobson, a teacher; Daniel ap Eifion Jones, a charity worker; Tal Michael, currently unemployed having failed runner to win for Labour the job of North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner; and Paul Penlington,
 an FE lecturer and a Denbighshire Councillor.The hot money is on Michael, but it wouldn’t be a selection contest without someone crying foul. And true to form John Chorlton the former leader of Labour on the Council is complaining that he’s been treated very badly by not being included on the shortlist. A Labour stitch up, who would  believe that.

The Rest

David Jones, The Secretary of State made a keynote address on “Wales in the Continuing Union.” His conclusion that the Union is a good thing, the devolution settlement is fine so need for more changes, and the status quo is just what we need. Conservative in name and conservative by nature would describe Jones’s approach to Wales’s politics.

Osborne announces more gloom; a package of cuts totalling £11.5bn. He caps public sector pay rises at 1% and stops incremental payments. He caps welfare benefits overall but excludes State Pension. But no winter fuel allowance if you live abroad in sunny climes there’s a temperature test. Job seekers will not be able to claim benefits for 7 days and claimants will have to learn English by attending language schools or get their Benefits cut. Apart from Education, Health and Aid budgets all other budgets to be cut, some by more than others. For more details:

The son gets a pay cut of 48% but mum gets an extra £1m from us all. So the Buckingham Palace accounts reveal. Government spending on the monarchy rose by almost £1m to £33.3m in the last financial year. The Queen’s official expenditure increased by £900,000 in 2012-13.  Meanwhile, poor Charles, the Prince of Wales  saw his take from the taxpayer fall from £2.2m to £1.2m. But before you all pass around the hat remember his private income from the Duchy of Cornwall went up by 4% to just £19m. A nice little earner then.

The Scottish government are following Wales’s example and introducing a 5p levy on plastic bags in October. We’ll all have to cross to England if we want to replenish our bags for free shortly. Meanwhile they closed shop for the summer, but not before passing a bill to give 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in the Scottish independence referendum.

The Aussie’s ditched their Welsh born prime minister, Julia Gillard in favour of Kevin Rudd the guy that she toppled three years previously to get the job in the first place.  A rule of politics and life clearly, what goes round comes round.

This week’s UK polls

Fri         YouGov/Sun Con 33 Lab 39 LD 10 UKIP 13

Wed          YouGov/Sun Con 32 Lab 40 LD 11 UKIP 11

Mon          ComRes/Indy -Con 30(NC) Lab 36(+2) LD 10(NC) UKIP 14(-3)

Sun          YouGov/Sun. Times Con 31, Lab 39, LD   10, UKIP 13

What does it all mean? A uniform swing throughout the country still shows a Labour majority of 96.

Poll graph for weekly column jul 28




Carwyn’s New team

IMG_0010Out with old in with the new. The changes to the Welsh government are now complete following the sudden departure of Leighton Andrews.

One new face round the cabinet table, Jeff Cuthbert the Caerffili AM. He gets the job of soting our communities and solving Wales’s endemic poverty. But as poverty has been with us from biblical times he gets a helper in the form of Vaughan Gethin as a deputy minister to deal with poverty.

The poisoned chalice of closing schools and sorting out the three ‘Rs” goes to Huw Lewis a contender against Carwyn Jones in the leadership contest.  But clearly Carwyn Jones is a forgiving soul and bears no grudges

Another  of the new intake gets made deputy for Skills and technology, the Wrexham AM Ken Skates.

So there you have it the new Turks start up the greasy pole. No women make it.

What will happen to dear old Leighton, there is a vacancy for Chair of Health committee now. Or will he be left languishing on the back benches, planning his next protest campaign in the Rhondda.

Follow the everyday story of political folk in the Assembly.5177f3_a5308c7f5fb0e4326af50449ba945fba.jpg_srz_270_180_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz


Osborne’s cuts

PA0500015The Welsh Government are to have their budget cut by two per cent in 2015, so said Chancellor George Osborne when giving details of his spending review.

These cuts were widely predicted and are part of over all cuts in the revenue budget of the UK government £13.6bn.

But Osborne did hold the carrot of capital schemes such as an M4 relief road plan when the government published its response to the Silk Commission on assembly powers shortly.

Clearly such a project would cost about £1billion and points to the Welsh government getting borrowing powers and revenue raising powers from the Treasury.

But Welsh public sector workers will be hit hard as they will lose automatic annual pay increments. This is on top of the limiting of pay increases to 1%, considerably below the rate of inflation. This will also effect, schools, NHS, prisons and police workers.

He announced that the health service and education budgets are protected in England. Consequently the amount coming to Wales under the block grant will be protected.

Cuts in other areas, such as the Department of Communities and Local Government where he announced a 10% budget cut, will reduce the money coming into Wales in grant.

Jane Hutt, Finance Minister said that the effect on Wales would be, “ The Spending Round shows that we are taking a 2% cut between 2014-15 and 2015-16.  Overall, our budget in 2015-16 will be £280m lower in real terms than our budget in 2014-15.  It’s also worth remembering that these cuts come on top of those we have already had to manage since 2010 – so by 2015-16, our Budget will be lower by £1,680m in real terms than it was in 2010-11.

“I have repeatedly called on the UK Government to boost the funds available for capital investment so this is a disappointing capital settlement – which does not increase the funding available – will do little to boost the economy.  This is a missed opportunity.

“Our capital budget in 2015-16 will be a third lower in real terms than in 2009-10.  And almost £180m of our capital, which is an unprecedented 12% of the total, is subject to restrictions and can only be used for loans and equity investments.  This means that there is a cut in the funding available for real capital investment from 2014-15 to 2105-16 of more than 5% in real terms.”

The Wales Office, the Whitehall department that represents Wales in the UK government, has agreed a cut of 10 per cent in its running costs.

The chancellor’s cuts are a consequence of a slower than expected economic growth and deficit reduction.

But as had been flagged up by the Labour Opposition spokespersons, including Owen Smith MP the shadow Welsh Secretary they will stick to the overall budget cuts if they gain office. So there will be little to ease the pain if there is a change of government in Westminster.

Announcements on infrastructure expenditure will be made tomorrow but are unlikely to kick in anytime soon to ease the depressed state of the economy.