Archive for February, 2015

A quiet week in the Bay

14 to 20 February


Half term so no meeting if the Assembly but being out of the chamber they turned their attention to football. Should fans be allowed to stand at football matches? That was the vexed question. The answer if there’s votes in it for us, yes. See my views

The European Commission is to give £80m to enhance economic links between Wales and Ireland.  It’s going to be spent on heritage, tourism, and climate change and innovation projects. (Whatever that means) According to Finance Minister Jane Hutt this was “a unique partnership” and the cash would build on “our shared aspirations for economic growth and job creation”. North and west Wales and southeast Ireland stand to benefit the most.

Things are not happy in the Labour controlled Cardiff Council. Some of the good comrade councillors are thinking of rebelling against cuts that their own cabinet are going to introduce. The council’s cabinet plans threaten 600 jobs and could hit services. It’s in a bid to plug a £41m hole in Cardiff’s finances. The opposition parties are drawing up an alternative to Labour’s budget and it’s this alternative that the rebel Labour Councillors are threatening to back. The Councillors concerned are from the poorest wards and they feel that the Labour leadership are ignoring the needs of these traditional working class areas. It will all come to ahead next Thursday when the budget will go to a vote of the full council.

Oh dear, more trouble for the Welsh Government, on the economic front. One of Labour’s own Welsh guru puts the boot in hard into their economic policy. Gerald Holtham, yes he of the much quoted Holtham report on Financing Wales,  says Wales’ enterprise zones are more about politics “than out of any industrial or commercial logic.” He goes on to claim that ministersprefer the advice of business acquaintances to that of colleagues in government. Who could he mean? He also sees that the bonfire of the quangos as a “huge mistake”. Oh dear and just to put salt in the wound the essay was published by the Wales TUC of which the current Economic minister was once chair.


Britain and the European Union have been accused of a “catastrophic misreading” of the mood in the Kremlin in the run-up to the crisis in Ukraine. The House of Lords EU committee accused Britain and the European Union of a “catastrophic misreading” of the mood in the Kremlin in the run-up to the crisis in Ukraine. The EU had not realised the depth of Russian hostility to its plans for closer relations with Ukraine. Britain had not been “active or visible enough” in dealing with the situation in Ukraine. The reason? Cuts in the Foreign Office, which it said meant it had fewer Russian experts.  The unexpected consequence of Mr Orborne’s war on public services, a hot war in the east of Europe.

The Electoral Commisssion published the donations received by the political parties in the final quarter of last year. Not surprising the Conservatives  topped the list. The party took home £8,345,687, compared to Labour’s £7,163,988. Ed Miliband’s party remained heavily-backed by trade unions. Meanwhile UKIP reported £1,505,055 and the Greens £248,520. Plaid Cymru received none.


The polls still point to hung parliament with Labour being the largest party bit short of 18 for the majority.


Scottish Poll

Survation/Daily Record Con 15%(+1) Lab 28%(+2) LibDem 5% (-2) SNP 45%(-1)  UKIP 3%(-1)  Green (nc)


TNS Con 28% Lab 35% LibDem 6% UKIP 18% Green 7%


ICM/Guardian Con 36%(+6) Lab 32%(-1) LibDem 10%(-1) UKIP 9% (-2) Green 7% (-2)

Populus         Con 31% Lab 33% LibDem 10% UKIP 15% Green 5%

Ashcroft         Con 34%(+3) Lab 31%(nc) LibDem 9%(nc) UKIP 16% (+2) Green 8% (+2)

YouGov/Sun         Con 32% Lab 32% LibDem 6% UKIP 16% Green 8%


Opinium/Observer  Con 33%(+1) Lab 35%(+1) LibDem 8%(+1) UKIP 14%(-1) Green 6%(-2)

YouGov/Sunday Times         Con 32% Lab 35% LibDem 7% UKIP 15% Green 7


The right to stand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf there’s a bandwagon, politicians scramble to get on board. No more so if it involves sport. They just love to show they’re down there with the people. Right on eh. The latest sport to grab their collective attention is football. Well, in its new sanitized family friendly guise, it’s a sport that politicians are happy to endorse.  What do AMs from all four parties want for the sport, they want to allow fans to stand to watch the game.

Now, of course, you can stand or sit if you watch games in any of the numerous football leagues of Wales, but lets face it there’s not much kudos for politicians in being associated with Wales’s home grown leagues, excellent though they are. No, it’s the Premier or Championship for them. Teams with a massive fan base, of course that’s purely co-incidental.

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies AM, has said he would be keen to see Wales “leading the way” on the issue of safe standing and has reiterated his backing for a limited trial of standing areas at football grounds in the top two divisions of the professional game.

Not to be caught without the ball, AMs from all the other parties have also given their backing to the campaign.

Many fans do want the restrictions lifted, but of course, the real fans never wanted the restrictions in the first place.  What fans wanted then, and now, are safe and secure stadia. Mr Davies has suggested that the time is right for the UK government to look at the issues again, potentially with a view to amending the legislation to allow for the introduction of a limited trial of safe standing areas.

Mr Davies says, “Football fans are stigmatised by a piece of legislation which was drafted in a different era, to address a different set of problems.”  Too true, football fans were certainly stigmatised. Indeed the authorities treated the loyal fan like animals. All fans were seen as hooligans. That’s why safety mattered very little. “Why waste money on fans?” was the attitude.

It all changed after a series of disasters that even the authorities could not ignore.

In May 1985 the main stand at Bradford City’s neglected old ground caught fire and 56 people were killed. Less than three weeks later, 39 were killed and six hundred injured when rival fans clashed and a wall collapsed at the European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels.

Then, of course, towards the end of the eighties the Hillsborough disaster, when 96 Liverpool supporters died in a crush. This led to an inquiry under Lord Justice Taylor.

He found a sport where fat cats were making money but nothing ploughed into facilities for fans. As he put it “Boardroom struggles for power, wheeler-dealing in the buying and selling of shares, and indeed of whole clubs, sometimes suggest that those involved are more interested in the personal financial benefits or social status of being a director than of directing the club in the interests of its supporter customers.”

Requiring the clubs to treat supporters not as hooligans to be penned into fenced enclosures, but in the way that a modern business treats its customers, the Taylor Report played its part in the transformation of English football into today’s pricy, seated, box-office entertainment. One of its key recommendations, that stadia become all seated in the top two divisions with the help of public money. Transforming crumbling unsafe grounds into places where families could comfortably enjoy an afternoon out. This change overhauled football’s image and laid the foundations for the Premier League boom. A league that has just sold TV rights for a staggering £5.14 billion.

Meanwhile  clubs changed. They have ceased to be clubs, they’re now businesses, often owned by foreign entrepreneurs.  Not surprising the once loyal fan has been priced out of the game. Entrance fees for ordinary fans have increased dramatically. Last year to watch Swansea, a fan would have to pay £429-£499 with individual tickets ranging between £35-45.

At these prices, it’s difficult if not impossible, for many ordinary working class supporters to afford the price of admission. Hence, the move to allow for changes to allow fans to stand. Simple supply and demand the more you can crowd in the cheaper the entrance fee, well that’s the theory.

Often quoted by the politicians is the German Bundesglia. Adopting similar arrangements to the German league they argue will allow some cheaper tickets to be issued

Last season the crowds at Bundesliga matches averaged 45,000, the highest in the world. Supporters could watch Bayern Munich, fielding world-class players who reached the European Champions League final, for €15, in standing areas that accommodate 13,500 supporters. The cheapest ticket to see their rivals in the final, Chelsea, play a top Premier League match was £56.  A massive difference.

But it’s not all about standing. In Germany the structure is different. They are still clubs in the true meaning of the word. Germany has been able to do things differently because they are still member organisations.

The Bundesliga has repeatedly voted to retain a rule that supporters must own at least 50 per cent plus one share of their own clubs. At Bayern, 130,000 members own 82 per cent of the club. They in turn elect the president and board. Bayern has sold 9 per cent stakes over the last ten years to Audi and Adidas, the investment helping to pay for a new stadium, the Allianz Arena, but control of the Bundesliga clubs cannot be bought and sold, the constitution cannot be changed except by a vote of members, the league strictly regulates the amount of debt that clubs can carry, and all profits are reinvested into the clubs.

If our politicians were to raise their game and start campaigning for something like the German model over here then that might make a real different. But that would require tackling the fat cats of the game. Can’t see much appetite for that.  It’s so much easier to chase populist headlines with “a safe standing campaign” than tackle questions of ownership.


Tax dominates the week

8 to 13 February


This weekend Labour come to Swansea for their Welsh conference. The comrades, oh dear is that to old Labour, will be told that the party has plans to speak to half a million voters in Wales ahead of May’s general election . Recent polls indicate that they will gain an additional two seats in Wales which does not really make up for their losses at the last election hence the effort to contact voters. Labour currently hold 26 out of the 40 seats in Wales. Both Carwyn Jones and Ed Miliband will address the conference on Saturday with Owen Smith the shadow Welsh Secretary given the graveyard shift on Sunday. See

Fags are definitely a no, no in cars carrying kids from October by decree of the Welsh Government.  If caught smokers will face a £50 on-the-spot fine. The same will happen in England. Understandably health charities welcomed the move, whether smokers feel the same way is doubtful. Apparently second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, many of which are harmful to health causing chest infections, asthma, ear problems and cot death.

Anything that can be done to improve health becomes important because you’ll wait a hell of a long time for a hospital appointment according to the latest figures. The number of patients in Wales waiting longer than they should for hospital treatment has reached 21,000 for the first time, a rise of 8% in a month. One of the problems is a shortage of personnel. Both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Government have suggestions as to how to tackle the issue of shortages of medical staff this week. Both concentrate on training. The government are to invest £80m to increase training places for the next generation of healthcare professionals by 16% next year. Meanwhile Plaid Cymru concentrate their ambitions on doctors. They want to train and recruit a 1000 extra medics. They want to “increase medical education places in Welsh medical schools and offer golden hellos for training and recruiting in hard to recruit areas and specialisms.

Next week sees the Assembly on its half term holiday. The almanac will also be moving office so expect a limited service.


Tax dominated the political agenda this week.  It first started with the HSBC’s Swiss off shoot helping the rich avoid paying their dues. For the full story see  This inevitably spilt over to PMQ’s  with Miliband  calling the Tories “dodgy” and listed “several questionable” donors to the party which included Tory treasurer Lord Fink. Lord Flink then threatened Mr Miliband with legal action if he should repeat the remarks outside the House. In the event it wasn’t Miliband that blinked but the peer confirmed in a press interview that he had parcelled up cash in tax-avoiding trusts. The “vanilla” arrangement was perfectly normal, suggested the out-of-touch lord. “Everyone does tax avoidance.” Hmmm. See

Not a good week for Mr Cameron. At the same time as having to fend off accusations on tax avoidance he hosted a fundraising event for all the super rich.  See

Mark Carney governor of the Bank of England predicted that prices could enter an unprecedented negative spiral later this year. The latest monthly inflation report said the CPI measure could plunge below zero within weeks — raising the prospect of drastic action to stop a total economic stall. Sustained falling prices would push up the cost of debts and risk a major slump, lower pay and higher unemployment.


On the basis of this weeks polls we are still looking at Labour being the largest party but 21 short of a majority. The had better check up on the manifesto commitments of the smaller parties and pronto!


YouGov/Sun         Con 32% Lab 33% LibDem 7% UKIP 15% Green 7%

Mori/Standard    Con 34%(+1)  Lab 36%(+2)   LibDem 6%(-2)   UKIP 9%(-2)   Green 7%(-1)


Scottish Poll by TNS Con 16% Lab 31% LibDem 4% SNP 41% UKIP 2%


Populus         Con 33% Lab 34% LibDem 8% UKIP 15% Green 4%

Ashcroft         Con 34%(+3) Lab 31%(nc) LibDem 9%(+1) UKIP 14% (-1) Green 6% (-3)

YouGov/Sun         Con 34% Lab 33% LibDem 7% UKIP 14% Green 7%


Opinium/Observer  Con 32%(nc) Lab 34%(+1) LibDem 7%(+2) UKIP 15%(-3) Green 8%(+2)

YouGov/Sunday Times         Con 32% Lab 33% LibDem 7% UKIP 15% Green 8