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The dogs that didn't bark

Betsan Powys | 13:07 UK time, Tuesday, 18 January 2011

In a moment, the bell will ring out around the Senedd and after questions to the First Minister, Assembly members will get their first set-piece opportunity to debate the draft budget. What will we get? I imagine that we can look forward to some sound and fury, certainly but in this morning's Conservative press briefing, all the talk was of the strange lack of sound and fury from Welsh civic society.

Listen. What do you hear? The relative silence that goes hand in hand with a broad welcome to a difficult announcement.

Strange? Just a bit because after all, this is the first proper cutting budget in the Assembly's history, so why such a muted response from all those organisations affected, from the NHS to local government to education? Especially since in previous years, responses have ranged from the gloomy to the apocalyptic. As my colleague Vaughan Roderick always asks on draft budget morning: so whose turn is it to gather the clip of the minister saying "it's a tough but fair settlement" and the local government representative saying "we've cut into the flesh, now we're cutting into the bone?"

The question was put to Tory leader Nick Bourne this morning - does this relative silence indicate that the Assembly Government's got it, well, about right and by implication, does it suggest your alternative plans get it wrong?

Mr Bourne opted for a leader-of-the-people tone. Perhaps Welsh interest groups might believe the government has got it right, he said but I'm appealing to the Welsh people. That's who I care about and I firmly believe they think we've got it right, he added.

Sitting next to him though, was Angela Burns AM, there to talk about the Tories environmental policy launch later in the week but also someone who has clearly been thinking about this for some time. And when Angela Burns has been thinking about something, it's generally worth listening to where that process has taken her.

Where are the howls of outrage, she asked. Where are the local government leaders promising rivers of blood? Where - specifically - is John Davies, leader of the Welsh Local Government Association? Why are the Local Health Boards not warning of swingeing cuts to services? If they did so in the good years, then why isn't it times ten in the bad?

And her answer? There's an election round the corner. The response - or lack of it - isn't because the budget is popular, it's because the institutions concerned are looking just over the horizon at life after May 2011 - and they know which side their bread is buttered.

Blood curdling warnings of massive cuts won't be popular should there be another Labour finance minister in charge of the books after May, particularly one who's just faced the Welsh electorate having to defend their party against quotes from various chief executives promising doom for public services under their budget plans.

"Just look at it guys" she implored, "It's pretty blatant!"

But the result gives Mr Bourne, Mrs Burns and their colleagues precious little to work with in attacking the government and hence today's outpouring of frustration.

Vague appeals to the wisdom of the people of Wales don't really wash too well when the government can point to endorsement - however lukewarm - from the people who actually deliver the services on the sharp end.

The Liberal Democrats have taken a different tack. Rather than argue the draft budget should be taken to bits and rewritten from scratch - not serious politics, the Lib Dems might argue - they're focusing on two specific areas, a pupil premium for disadvantaged children and an Innovation Fund to build an entrepreneurial economy.

Between them, they would cost £66.2m in 2011-12 and they've laid out exactly where they would find £66.2m to pay for them.

All well and good but does that mean, as an opposition party, they agree with 99.56% of the government's draft budget next year? £66m out of £15bn = 0.44%.

Hardly a figure to man the barricades with.

As one senior Lib Dem said afterwards, somewhat despairingly, this is what we've been able to piece together ourselves. If we knew more, we could make more changes.

It just goes to show the massive advantage held by governments when it comes to budgets: knowledge is power.

And it doesn't hurt to have those whose budgets you're cutting seemingly onside too - at least until after May.


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  • 1. At 7:46pm on 18 Jan 2011, Indy2010 wrote:

    See how muted the response is from Torfaen Council Leader

    No blame placed at WAG door, the hypothesis of let's wait until after election is reasonable.

    On the same cabinet meeting, proposals that staff at the Council will have their pension rights eroded even further, unions strangely silent, Torfaen went through a job evaluation exercise last year, with all of the issues being argued about at RCT this year, implemented at Torfaen, where were the unions then?.

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  • 2. At 7:56pm on 18 Jan 2011, Fitzmark2 wrote:

    The lack of "sound and fury" in Welsh civic society is evident on your blog Betsan. Every time the anti Assembly posters congregate on one of your blogs it's closed, toute suite.

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  • 3. At 8:22pm on 18 Jan 2011, TellingmewhatIknowalready wrote:

    Thank you Betsan for "position" statement on current feelings down BAY of DREAMERS. Things dont look so bad then,as compared to the DIRE predictions about mass poverty/dead left in the street etc etc. There's HUGE structural problems in welsh economy/education/health provision,not to mention towns being destroyed by drugs/drink and its bound to get worse as the income (subsidies from england) are going to reduce dramatically over coming years.Never mind keep the people happy with S4C/freebies for everybody/workshy living in nice homes and we can all pivk up our cheques at end of month,as we are SERVING the people.As President Reagon said it aint the people that need"fixing" its the politicians that needed "fixing".

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  • 4. At 10:21pm on 18 Jan 2011, cleverelliejo wrote:

    I agree with poster 2.
    Any dissenting voice gets a mauling from the rottweiller guard dogs patrolling around.
    It would seem that those that disagree are not welcome and their opinions not wanted on-board the good ship "Heading For Independence" (in Welsh of course)
    I wonder sometimes why you bother with an English Language Board.

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  • 5. At 10:41pm on 18 Jan 2011, Lyn David Thomas wrote:

    Maybe the sound of fury is lacking because civic society know that the cause of the cuts is the Westminster Government and that the Welsh Government have done a reasonable job of protecting the most vulnerable in Wales from the worst aspects of the cuts.

    Also that the Welsh Government and the majority of the Assembly members will protect Wales from the disastrous health reorganisation that the Westminster government is about to inflict on England. There are structural problems with the Welsh economy - but as Westminster hold the purse strings and also are in charge of macro economic policy the scope for the National Assembly and the Welsh government to make a difference is limited.

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  • 6. At 04:48am on 19 Jan 2011, leighrichards wrote:

    if the wales haters poster 4 refers to are that unhappy with this scrupulously fair and impartial blog....why dont they find their own blog to post on?..

    then they can post their sheer loathing of all things to do with wales and the welsh to their hearts content!!!....not that anyone outside of the tiny coterie of wales haters would be remotely interested in the ramblings posted on any such blog of its clear that the people of wales had the good sense to stop listening to such shrill hateful voices long will emphatically be demonstrated on march 3rd

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  • 7. At 10:47am on 19 Jan 2011, Fitzmark2 wrote:

    Well here's a little bit of sound and fury, which might signify nothing to whinging nationalists but I'm sure it would be important to Welsh tax payers.
    Why do nationalist constantly complain that all their economic and social problems are caused by the English or their favourite bête noir, the Westminster Parliament when all the evidence points to that unnecessary extra tier of government in Cardiff Bay.

    Every responsible social policy research and development charity in the past year has shown that Wales, since the undemocratic inception of devolution has gone steadily downhill in relation to the other regions of Britain.

    And that sorry state of affairs is not because Westminster holds the purse strings but because nationalists have pursued a wasteful and "nation building", language obsessed agenda. Such an agenda would be laughable if it hadn't had such dire consequences for the Welsh economy.
    A graphic example of this wasteful agenda can be seen in the way the nationalists come out in force in support of the fiscal black hole also known as S4C. This barely watched channel requires large and regular transfusions of tax payer's money to keep alive itself and an almost moribund language.

    More powers and more dosh for the Assembly? No thank you very much. Dissolve the Assembly and let the AMs find proper jobs in the real world. The public wouldn't miss them one little bit.

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  • 8. At 11:57am on 19 Jan 2011, TellingmewhatIknowalready wrote:

    Fitxmark 2. Spot- on as per normal. Put the shoe on other foot and if you were welsh speaking,and wished to stay in wales you could'nt find better vehicle for employment than S4C. All this "guff" from all political parties about welsh language is a disgrace,and public money of circa £100 Million+ going to a channel with virtually NIL viewers is a "joke",unless your the CEO and earning £150+ and then it become vitally important.Your analysis is correct and whilst services for ordinary people,(including NHS)are going backwards,certain select groups are well and truly on gravy train,and that aint going to stop.

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  • 9. At 1:34pm on 19 Jan 2011, Alwyn Evans wrote:

    leighrichards "if the wales haters poster 4 refers to are that unhappy with this scrupulously fair and impartial blog....why dont they find their own blog to post on?.."
    They've got one already - it's known as the Walesonline forum, where the total negativity of a small group of constant posters, who seem to have nothing else to do with their lives, and whose comments are couched in totally immoderate language, has destroyed all semblance of logical debate on those forums.
    I for one would be unhappy if people like Fitzmark and TMWIKA stopped posting here. They're interesting, and keep the debate moving, even though they're wrong...!
    For instance, Fitzmark2 - Wales hasn't got an additional tier of government. England has District councils as well as County and Borough councils It has one more tier than Wales at local government level. And tellingmewhatIknowalready,why do you keep propounding the lies about NIL viewers for S4C? Look at the actual latest figures rather than the single one-off poll which gave rise to the controversy - and remember to including the figures for viewers in England!!

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  • 10. At 2:43pm on 19 Jan 2011, chrisjoneschrisjones wrote:

    People like TellingmewhatIknowalready and Fitzmark2 have what i would deem to be a very old fashioned 'one or the other' view of modern Wales which to me is needlessly divisive and illogically paranoid.Their only offering to a debate is hate ,negativity and genuinely ugly attacks on anything to do with Wales and any voice it might have.

    They even try to ask for the abolishment of the Welsh Assembly-an institution that was democraticly voted for by the people of Wales over 12 years ago. They do not seek to contribute to a reasoned and constructive debate but rather to attack and vilify anything they disagree with with inflamatory language.

    They critisise this very blog for not allowing their voice to be heard but yet are given the opportunity to do just that which they use to spout more ugly and unconstructive comments. There is no attempt by them to offer any positive points or hope that might improve the lives of the people of Wales whatsoever.

    The hateful and accusatory language used on forums such as Walesonline forum by a few individuals is genuinely tragic to see

    p.s - Betsan Powys is hot!

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  • 11. At 2:51pm on 19 Jan 2011, comeoffit wrote:

    #9 wrote
    "They've got one already - it's known as the Walesonline forum, where the total negativity of a small group of constant posters, who seem to have nothing else to do with their lives, and whose comments are couched in totally immoderate language, has destroyed all semblance of logical debate on those forums."

    Yes funny isnt it! funny that the website of the Echo and Western Mail (papers read by regular every day Welsh people) has a forum which has an overwhelming chunk of anti-devolution/more powers sentiment. Also here, on the website for BBC Wales, that particular viewpoint is very strong.

    Yet over on (a website only publicised within political circles - because you wouldnt know it existed otherwise) the gravy train Welsh politico wanabees that post there are way past debating devolution and more powers!! over at Waleshome they are free to discuss things like 'how best to kick non Welsh speakers working at Anglesey, Ceredigion and Conwy councils out of their jobs so that the council can administrate through the medium of Welsh like Gwynedd does' in complete peace without any of the meddling monoglot public present to question their oppresive social engineering plans (masked under the facade of 'protecting the Welsh language')

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  • 12. At 3:57pm on 19 Jan 2011, comeoffit wrote:

    #10 writes
    "They even try to ask for the abolishment of the Welsh Assembly-an institution that was democraticly voted for by the people of Wales over 12 years ago."

    That's a bit hypocritical! So it's ok for the troughers and the seperatists to demand another referendum on Welsh devolution after the 1979 trouncing with 3 no votes to 1 yes....

    but it's not ok for people to question the 0.6% winning margin of the 1997 referendum, which incidentally was based on a very low 50% turnout. All in all, with stricter margins for error the result wouldnt even have been allowed to stand in many countries.

    So just over 25% of the Welsh electorate voted for devolution and the inception of the Welsh Assembly, whereas just under 25% voted against it. For me, unfortunately I dont see that there is any going back... but belittling the very reasonable view of those who would like a final 'best of 3' is pretty low.

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  • 13. At 4:04pm on 19 Jan 2011, chrisjoneschrisjones wrote:

    in response to comeoffit {11's point above}

    Once again a point made which is needlessly divise and illogically paranoid .Nobody is denying anyones right to their opinion or to debate but you offer nothing constructive to the debate that will provide a reasoned and reasonable debate.All you can do is attack,create unnesseccary negativity and try to to create a political football out of a language.

    The Assembly has been democraticly voted in .You should use our democratic process to properly and constructively voice your opinions - that is why democracy is in place.

    Havent you an opinion on the referendum that doent rely on attacking everything and anything and offering no constructive alternative? And have you no other argument than vilifying people just on the basis of a language they might speak?

    Regarding the western mail,echo and the wales online forum i think you'll find that the overwhelming majority of readers are regular everyday Welsh people who appreciate constructive debate that actually leads somewhere and improves peoples lives ,and have better things to offer than attacking everything they dislike and stirring up negativity and paranoia

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  • 14. At 4:30pm on 19 Jan 2011, TellingmewhatIknowalready wrote:

    There was me thinking after (9) and thank you what a reasonable person I am(eventhough wrong!!),and then(10)comes along and my confidence,and feel good factor has evaporated.(10) and (13). Come of it we are entitled to express our views in what ever manner we wish (subject to Law and decency),and why should we be "positive" about an institution that we perceive as less than useful,and also its policy of nation building in its entirety. As I've said a hundred time I have no personal animus to welsh language,as some of my friends use it in my company,however the policy of throwing public money at it is one to which I dont not subscribe. If S4C is so "wonderful",let the WAG tell everybody that it is going to fund it directly out of welsh peoples taxation,rather than relying on english taxpayers,or even [people who subscribe to TV Licence and only want to use the english language. I can assure you that as tennis veteran I meet a lot of older people throughout south wales,and virtually all of them have had a "bellyfull" of the useless Assembly and would wish it gone.

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  • 15. At 4:53pm on 19 Jan 2011, Fitzmark2 wrote:

    The inception of the Assemnly was not only undemocratic it was a democratic sham. Unless of course you regard a fundamental change to a constitution on a 0.6% winning margin on a turnout of just over 50% democratic – which I'm sure you do. I don't.

    Leave that aside for the moment, and please enough of this childish nonsense that I'm "paranoid" or I "hate" Wales, the Welsh, you or anyone else. The paranoia is obvious in the unsubstanciated and silly assertions in #10 and #6.

    The last decade of nationalist rule has seen Wales fall to the bottom of any table of economic and social well being you care to name. That is not an assertion on my part and it is not an example of "inflammatory" language, it is a verifiable statement and one which is borne out by reputable investigations into the social and economic well being of the regions of Britain.

    Funding to the NHS in Wales (an essential institution in any man's language) has been much lower than funding for the NHS in England.

    Funding on education is considerably less in Wales than it is in England.

    And critically since the inception of devolution and the years of misrule the Welsh economy is the least competitive of the regions of Britain.

    The one glowing success story in Welsh affairs has been the lavish spending on such pet, wasteful nationalistic policies as an ever increasing civil service and an ever growing burucratic empire and related buildings.

    And what did the Ams get just a few years ago while social services in Wales were going to the dogs? Well of course they got a backdated rise in their salaries of over 8%, for their new responsibilities.

    And what will they get if they are given more powers? Why of course another big hike in their salaries for their new resposibilities.

    Stop the rot: vote No to more powers.

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  • 16. At 5:06pm on 19 Jan 2011, chrisjoneschrisjones wrote:

    in response to"TellingmewhatIknowalready " above and point 14

    "Come of it we are entitled to express our views in what ever manner we wish (subject to Law and decency"

    i absoloutely agree - a bit of common sense at last. people are entitled to their opinion subject to law and decency.I would add to that "subject to not inflamatory or vilification speech" as well.Everyone has a right to live their lives in the language or languages of their choice without being vilified and steryotyped because of it.

    as for your statement;

    "I can assure you that as tennis veteran I meet a lot of older people throughout south wales,and virtually all of them have had a "bellyfull" of the useless Assembly and would wish it gone"

    There isnt a referendum on the Assembly being there or not,and i dont know if you know how democracy tends to work but the Assembly has been democratically voted for by the people of Wales and it gives us some voice where as before we had none.Maybe you dont think we are good enough to have any voice and shouldnt even have the same power in devolved areas as Scotland and Northern Ireland? What a positive view you have of your nation and its wellbeing

    I guess those older people you claim to keep company with would rather see the useless westminster government run everything and start charging them for their bus passes,prescriptions and hospital parking and who want to charge top whack fees for their grandsons and granddaughters to go to college and mean that they leave with debts of at least £30,000 plus ? Tell that to a family who are living on the poverty line but want the best possible education for their children.

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  • 17. At 5:24pm on 19 Jan 2011, Fitzmark2 wrote:

    Well thank you for the support Alwyn Evans. As you realise but leighrichards dosen’t this is a BBC blog and like almost everyone else I've paid my Licence Fee.

    However I don't think Im wrong in calling the Assembly an unnecessary extra tier of government. We had devolution in this country (Britain) well before the inception of the undemocratic institution in Cardiff Bay.

    Power radiated out from the centre and it was called local democracy: regular county, town, village and so on, elections. And there was greater accountability in those days and of course local politicians drew expenses but not inflated salaries as they do now.

    With hindsight they were halcyon days with greater wealth and greater social cohesion. In 1989 the region of Wales held a very respectable position on the table of social and economic well being but just look at it now: the least competitive economy of all the regions of Britain.

    More power to the Assembly, definately not.

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  • 18. At 5:33pm on 19 Jan 2011, chrisjoneschrisjones wrote:

    IN response to Fitzmark2's point above {point 15)

    I far prefer this message in general -it offers some reasoned arguments and doesnt just revolve around attacking and vilifying people based on a language they might speak or not.

    A few points in response to the following quotes;

    "The inception of the Assembly was not only undemocratic it was a democratic sham. Unless of course you regard a fundamental change to a constitution on a 0.6% winning margin on a turnout of just over 50% democratic – which I'm sure you do. I don't"

    Thats not undemocratic or a sham.It's whats called a very close result.But its still democracy.I wonder if the anti Assembly would complain and try to over rule the decision if it was they with a 0.6 % majority? Regarding the 49% that didnt vote-that is how democracy works ,if people dont choose to vote then they have to accept the result.

    "The last decade of nationalist rule"

    Thats not accurate is it.The coalition in Cardiff is made up of Labour and Plaid Cymru in coalition.Personally i dont get this nationalist business.Isnt the westminster government in london also a nationalist party if they are fighting on behalf of the nation of the UK? Or is that allowed nationalism?Is invading sovereign countries and killing up to a million innocent people at a cost of up to £20 billion an acceptable form of nationalism for you ? Whilst you only have derision and scorn for a Welsh devolved government doing what they can to protect the people of Wales against more cuts whilst trying protect vital services and make sure poor families can afford a good education for their children? This i find odd

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  • 19. At 6:30pm on 19 Jan 2011, TellingmewhatIknowalready wrote:

    16. Everybody has the right to live their lives through their language of choice...What nonsense as it would mean welsh speakers or any other minority language could demand that all people/organizations respond to their demands.This kind of thinking is what is dividing wales along linguistic lines and leading in my opinion to "backlash" against welsh language.I am perfectly happy to live my life through english,and am fed up with welsh language documents,and its intrusion into the BBC Wales english language programmes. The validity of Assembly is well dealt with by 15,and never ending pressure for "more powers"will not cease until Plaid Cymru have got what they want in their constitution,i.e INDEPENDENCE.Its a curious twist of history that the "development" of Cardiff Bay,was carried out by "QUANGO" called CB Development Corporation which was set up under Conservative Government in Westminster of blessed memory. As I remember King Rhodri and rest of old Labour diehards were totally opposed,as with the original Opera House,which King Rhodri felt was too elitest for his taste. Under the present regime I personally doubt that any such devolopment would be allowed by WAG.Asfar as current Government's policies in Westminster are concerned they are needed because of the crisis in public funding caused by years of misrule by Labour,and in particular Gordon Brown.To a certain degree wales is protect from reality by virtue of the Barnett formula which provides huge public subsidies from the profitable industries,including City of London which are found "over the border" as so beloved by BBC CYMRU. We will have to agree to difffer,but we will fight our corner in that we do not wish to have further powers granted to a failed organization. If they take charge of what they have and re-structure and make success then I would vote for "more powers" for a clearly successful administration. I'snt that LOGIC?

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  • 20. At 8:06pm on 19 Jan 2011, chrisjoneschrisjones wrote:

    in response to TellingmewhatIknowalready and point 19 above ;

    i quote;

    "What nonsense as it would mean welsh speakers or any other minority language could demand that all people/organizations respond to their demands.This kind of thinking is what is dividing wales along linguistic lines and leading in my opinion to "backlash" against welsh language"

    An astonishing level of double standards on your behalf-congratulations.Of course everyone is entitled to live their lives in whatever language they want.Whether there is official national status for it is another matter.But maybe you need reminding that we are in a country called Wales and one of our languages is also called Welsh and has official status the same as English.Your kind of knee jerk divisive talk is what any backlash should be against.I am saddened that such idiocy exists.God forbid you if you lived in Switzerland where there are 4 official languges or Belgium which has 3 or Indonesia which has over 200 recognised languages.

    The only person being devise here is you .

    "I am perfectly happy to live my life through english,and am fed up with welsh language documents,and its intrusion into the BBC Wales english language programmes" ...

    Thats great ,not a problem,good for you.No one wants to stop you enjoying your life through whatever language. You are seriously flattering yourself if you think anyone wants to sit down with you and force you to speak Welsh or any other language.Your hostility towards a few forms or anything else in English and Welsh just comes accross as nit picking for an excuse to have a bigger rant

    By your standards every Welsh speakers should be incensed every time anything arrives to them in English or bilingually.But they arent are they because they accept it is one of the languages of Wales and they just get on with their lives.Are you incensed when instructions for electrical goods arrive with five or six different languages as well,just to be consistent? Or is it just when one of the languages of your own country are used that you turn purple with rage?

    There is obviously a place to debate Welsh langauge services ,costs and use in all forms of public life in Wales but for it to matter it should be done in our Assembly and in public forums /local authoritys rather than in places like this where nothing much is resolved and unnesscary hostility potentially created.

    But enough of this god damn language business-personally it bores me to tears to keep harping on about it. I'm not really sure what the rest of your comments are about but it seems that all thats there is some rather sad looking back at how bad things were or something.I can safely say that the generations that have grown up within the Assembly's time are looking forward with hope for Wales's future and looking for ways this country can improve and be more accountable and not looking back at some past gloom .The Assembly isnt perfect by any stretch but it's there and we have to make it work for all of us in Wales. Complaining and constsntly trying to put it down just isnt going to help anything or anyone

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  • 21. At 8:50pm on 19 Jan 2011, Quilpole wrote:

    What about something a little closer to home, Betsan.
    Why have you not commented on the strange decision by Carl Sargeant not to implement recommendations produced by the boundary commission to address the imbalances in county council representation?
    Some of these are blatantly unfair and the cardiff review has increased council membership over the limit in an attempt to improve the situation - apparently it's not the labour party taste so it's been shelved...

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  • 22. At 9:05pm on 21 Jan 2011, Quilpole wrote:

    Well, Betsan (if you are reading this) - there is still no barking about the labour party continuing to sanction the fact that some county councillors in wales represent 600 people but some here in the capital represent many many times that number.
    this fits in with the way they don't want to address the same problem in westminster. will the same dog-in-a-manger attitude apply to cardiff bay's sacred cows?

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