Archive for January, 2014

A look at the week

Week 19 to 24 January

Wales

The Williams Commission said Councils in Wales should merge to leave 10, 11 or 12 local authorities rather than the current 22. His Commission want  the changes agreed by Easter this year at the latest. The citeria they used to determine their conclusion was that the new councils should be within current health board and police force areas and also not cross the geographical areas governing eligibility for EU aid. It’s now over to the Welsh Government to implement the report. See http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2014/01/reform-but-not-just-yet/

Good to know that we have a successful growth industry in Wales – government.  Nearly 400 extra civil servants were hired by the Welsh government in the last two years. This contrasts with the rest of the UK when the numbers were down.  From December 2011 to December 2013, 391 more civil servants were hired bringing the number to 5,777. Between March 2012 and March 2013, UK civil servant numbers fell by 3%, and by 7% the year before. Never underestimate the skills of Carwyn Jones and his team to increase bureaucracy.

The figures for those out of work in Wales has dropped to 7.2%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The number of people out of work fell by 12,000 to 108,000 in the three months to November, a fall of 0.9%.  In the UK as a whole there has been a fall of 167,000 in the number of people unemployed bringing the total to 2.32 million, or 7.1%. Welcomed news, but how long before interest rates go up one wonders. Not just yet says Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney and when it comes it will be gradual.

Rest

It seems that the PM doesn’t see a pot of gold under the rainbow but does see salvation underground. He’s of the view that shale gas extraction through fracking can boost the economy and encourage businesses to come back to the UK. He told the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland, that fracking was already “flooring” energy prices in the US, and could be a “fresh driver” of UK growth. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves drilling deep underground and releasing a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals to crack rocks and release gas stored inside. It’s the opposite of political life when pouring cold water stops the release of hot air, here cold water gives an energy boost.

The government claims that British workers have seen their take-home pay rise in real terms in the past year, the government claims. To prove it they’ve produced figures showing all except the richest 10% saw their take-home wages rise by at least 2.5% once tax cuts were taken into account. More than inflation. Surprise, surprise Labour deny it. They say the figures were “highly selective” and did not take into account changes to benefits. This is the ding dong we’re to hear  between now and the general election. Yawn. So do you feel better off?

Polls

Tuesday

YouGov/Sun                            CON 34%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 13%.

 Sunday

YouGov/Sunday Times         CON 33%, LAB 39%, LD 8%, UKIP 13%.

ComRes/Indy on Sunday CON 30%(+1), LAB 35%(-1), LDEM 8%(nc), UKIP 19%(+1).

Opinium/Observer                  CON 30%(nc), LAB 36%(-1), LDEM 8%(nc), UKIP 17%(nc

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Coming of age

 

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Although the formal age for adulthood is eighteen. Politicians seem to think its 25. They’ve collectively got a downer on those adults under the age of 25.

Prime Minister David Cameron started the rot with his plans to strip jobseekers’ allowance and housing benefit from 18 to 25-year-olds. He says that they will feature in the Conservative manifesto for the 2015 election.

At the last Conservative Party Conference, he had a right go at these young citizen voters. Threatening to take away their housing benefit. Forget the fact that some in this age group might already be married with young children.

No, in Cameron’s eye’s they were still children rather than young adults who were capable of making life choices.

But hold on, its just not Cameron and the Conservatives.  Labour are up to it as well, they’re just as bad.

In a speech recently Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves’s  announced her intention of imposing lessons on young claimants as the price of their benefits.

She even goes further than the Conservatives who had already  announced intention of imposing English and maths lessons on young claimants as the price of their benefits.

“Not good enough” claims Reeves.

Why wait three years after jobless people’s first benefit claim before insisting on them starting literacy and numeracy training. Reeves would, test the basic skills of all new applicants for jobseeker’s allowance within six weeks. Then her nuclear option,  training or no benefits.

This is on top , Labour Leader Ed Miliband calling for a ‘Youth Jobs Guarantee’ which provide jobs for all 18-25 year old jobseekers out of work for a year, but  here’s the big sting, he would also force the young adults to take whatever job is offered or lose their benefits.

Contrasts this with his treatment of those seeking jobs over the age of 25 they have a two-year entitlement to benefits.

Basically it’s a game of cutting down on the benefits bill. By setting different conditions for access to  state benefits, for those under the age of 25s.

Forget the talk of voting age coming down to 16 no one would be a full citizen with full entitlements until after the age of 25.It’s not about equipping young adults for work. It’s simply to show how macho politicians are by being tough on supposed scroungers. They display their supposed toughness by berating people at the bottom of the heap who are least likely to vote.

photoIf it was about life skills then politicians would embrace schemes like the ones suggested by the Institute of Welsh Affairs in their first Senedd papers. They want “a comprehensive citizen service programme, not for just another job creation programme targeting socially disadvantaged young people – there are already a number of such schemes – though citizen service could fit effectively alongside them. On the contrary, citizen service is promoted here as a new and long-term addition to our social landscape in Wales. It has a wider rationale, a wider appeal and a wider constituency. It should be an opportunity for a comprehensive, wide range of young people from all parts of Wales to work together: young unemployed people, school-leavers over the age of 18 and recent graduates, who all want to contribute to Welsh communities, picking up valuable life skills, training and accreditation in the process”.

But its not about help, its about targeting claimants and reducing the benefit bill.

If they only displayed the same degree of innovation in tackling corporate and individual tax-dodgers who exploit government-approved tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. But these are the wealthy. No, much easier to tackle the powerless young.

 

 

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Reform but not just yet.

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Local Government reform is not going to happen anytime soon. Why? It’s unlikely that the political parties in the Assembly can agree a way forward this side of the Assembly elections.

Despite the William’s commission’s report putting a time limit  “The Welsh Government, local authorities and key stakeholders must agree the programme arrangements for mergers by Easter 2014 at the latest.” It’s unlikely that the Assembly political parties will get their collective act together to meet the timetable. Although Carwyn Jones thinks  it’s a realistic target.

There are too many points of principle that divide the parties.. For instance the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru are wedded to a system of Single Transferrable Votes (STV) Carwyn Jones would have great difficulty getting his party to agree such a system for electing councillors.

Peter Black, for the Welsh Liberal Democrat says that whilst his party support reducing the number of councils it should be about a lot more.

His party is calling for a wholesale change on how local government works in Wales and wants the councils to gain more powers and responsibility and wants the Welsh Government to devolve some of its powers to Councils. The idea of Carwyn Jones’s government losing some of its powers is difficult to envisage.

 

Andrew RT Davies went further and said it really wasn’t about the structure at all but how best to deliver services in an efficient and cost effective way. In his weekly press conference he seemed very cool about the Williams Commission all seemed to indicate that there was unlikely to be a meeting of minds between the government and the leader of the opposition. He wants Carwyn Jones to bring forward a considered and informed response setting out his intentions.

 

A similar view comes from Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Local Government Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas. “Any major reform needs decisive Government leadership. The Welsh Government needs to take direct action to outline which of these options is the best way forward, how costs will be met, and the implications for frontline staff.”

 

All parties agree that the status quo and keeping things exactly as they are now is not an option. It’s clear they all have many different views about the way forward.

All will now consult their respective parties and more importantly the local councilors in their respective parties ranks. It’s unlikely that sweetness and light will emerge from such a consultation.

The likely result is that all the political parties will have proposals about reform in their manifesto’s for the 2016 election and then formal proposals will be put forward. Legislation will then have to be passed. It’s unlikely that Wales will vote for new Councils much before 2018.

Just for the record here are the Williams Commissions proposals in relation to Councils

The number of council in Wales should be between 10 or 12. Currently, there are 22.

The Commission proposes the following amalgamation Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan; Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire; Anglesey and Gwynedd; Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly and Torfaen; Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot.: Conwy and Denbigh; Flintshire and Wrexham; Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda; and Newport and Monmouthshire.

Powys remains as it is, there are scenarios in which Swansea and Carmarthenshire would remain as stand alone councils.

 

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