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Archives for July 2008


Betsan Powys | 15:16 UK time, Friday, 18 July 2008


As I rearrange the contents of my case, rumours are getting louder by the minute in Cardiff Bay that Ieuan Wyn Jones is about to rearrange something rather more significant: the contents of the Plaid Ministerial team.

The Heritage Minister, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, who hit the headlines when he announced the wrong winner at the Welsh Book of the Year awards, is facing questions about allegations that he broke the smoking ban earlier this week by carrying a lit cigar inside a pub.

Major incident? Apparently not. Witnesses say he was told he 'couldn't bring that in here' and left. But 'accident prone' is the kind of phrase no politician wants to claim and is one that's increasingly lending itself to the Heritage Minister.

Tonight he opens the new Kyffin Williams gallery at Oriel Ynys Mon in Llangefni on Anglesey. On August 2nd the Plaid Heritage Minister will face a long and important week at the National Eisteddfod in Cardiff. The question in the Bay is whether it'll be the same Plaid Heritage Minister as they were expecting.

Out with the old, in with the ...

Betsan Powys | 15:06 UK time, Wednesday, 16 July 2008


So on the very last day of Assembly business out go health trusts and local health boards and in come seven new bodies who'll run the health service in Wales ... just like they did when I lived in a place called South Glamorgan and before terms like service providers and health commissioning had ever been coined.

Out go any plans to prevent patients in North Wales to cross the border to receive neurosurgery treatment, out goes a problem that had got bigger and bigger for Labour AMs in the North East and in come calls from David Jones MP for Edwina Hart to resign.

Out go plans to do anything anytime soon about a Federal College, a body that would ensure the provision of education through the medium of Welsh in higher education. A "planning board" keeps the One Wales pledge alive.

And out goes lack of clarity about how to transfer powers to the Assembly. In case you were worried about holiday reading, your problem has been solved. With me to Tenby I'll be taking a copy of this and this - two new sets of guidelines which are designed to ease the devolving of powers.

The first is the Ministry of Justice's offering; the second is written for Welsh Assembly Government departments and 'complements' the first.

The Ten Commandments for Whitehall officials dealing with Wales don't actually include the words: 'Be nice. Your neighbour probably does have the right to ask you for those powers you know' but that, in essence, is what they're trying to say.

The good news for anyone still uncertain about the effects of devolution is that one thing is spelled out very clearly:

"Government departments ... should not normally object to proposals for legislative competence on the grounds that the Welsh Assembly Government could pursue policies that differ from England ..."

Glad that one's been cleared up.

I also spot an opening for a 'finish the sentence' competition:

"UK Government Departments should maintain a clear distinction between the scope of legislative competence in the proposed Order and the detail of any Measures likely to be brought forward as a result of the Order being made. The contents of likely Assembly Measures are ..."

I turn the page and find the sentence has trailed off. MPs, AMs, blog readers: feel free.

'Welsh solutions'

Betsan Powys | 11:03 UK time, Tuesday, 15 July 2008


morganwn203.jpgSo yesterday, there we were waving farewell as the sixteen core members of the All Wales Convention set off on their journey to discover whether we're ready for a referendum or not, let alone ready for gaining the powers in one fell swoop that would put us in something like Scotland's position.

Today it's back to the day job, back to the process of bidding for powers from Westminster, issue by issue, that will lead to those 'Welsh solutions' to 'Welsh problems' we've heard much about.

In other words Rhodri Morgan will this afternoon be announcing to the Assembly what the Labour Plaid coalition government's legislative plans are for the coming year. And yes, I know we've been billing it as the Assembly's equivalent of the Queen's Speech - but be warned. There'll be no pomp, no ceremony, no men in tights.

We are talking salami slicing of powers after all. It'll be more Black Pudding than Black Rod - more solid than showy.

How do they gain those new powers? To those of you unfamiliar with the wonderful world of Legislative Competence Orders or LCOs (pronounced by most of us a bit like Tesco's) it goes a bit like this:

The Government, an Assembly Member of any political hue, or even Jones Public has an idea. They put that idea to the rest of the Assembly and if they think it's a good one, it's drafted into an LCO - or a bid for competenc/power - and off it goes for scrutiny: scrutiny in Cardiff Bay, scrutiny by the Welsh Affairs Committee in Westminster. (Cue headlines about bubbling tension between the two institutions). The scope of the LCO is narrowed, or redrafted a bit. (Cue headlines about MPs cramping AMs' style). More scrutiny.

It's debated in both Houses, it gets Royal Assent and finally, after a longer time than most had anticipated, it gets one of these.

In last year's speech Rhodri Morgan set six LCOs on their way, requests for powers in the areas of child poverty and assisting vulnerable children; environmental protection and waste management; charges for home care and other non-residential social services; affordable housing; the Welsh language and powers to enable a substantial restructuring of the statementing system in special education.

Over twelve months, just two have made it through the political pipeline. So expect to hear this afternoon how the government intends to use its new powers to ensure charges for home care and the quality of care are rather more consistent across Wales, expect tackling child poverty and affordable housing to be at the top of the First MInister's agenda.

But will he start many more balls rolling? Will the coalition government set off more LCOs on that tortuous journey or will the emphasis this time round be rather more on using what they've already got? Wouldn't it make more sense to start using those powers to come up with the much anticipated Welsh measures, or laws - the first new made-in-Wales, for-Wales-only-laws, in around a thousand years?

After all, ask the devo-sceptics and newly coined devo-realists, can you really ask a Convention to ask a nation whether it wants more new powers, before you've truly shown it how you plan to use what you've just got your hands on?

Rhodri Morgan gave his only hint this morning on Radio Wales:

"We don't want to raise people's hopes too high that there is a legislative solution to every problem in society and the economy - there isn't ... People will always be frustrated but that doesn't really worry me because we are still in year one going into year two."

So was the government guilty of raising people's hopes too high last year?

If your old Mum is paying through the nose for homecare or you're desperate to ban plastic bags and you're still waiting for 'the Welsh solution' to your problem, you may well think so.

If you're a Conservative or Liberal Democrat AM, you almost certainly think so.

If you have an eye on yet more powers for the Welsh Assembly, then I suspect you'll simply have stood back and applauded their ambition.

Look this way

Betsan Powys | 07:35 UK time, Monday, 14 July 2008


convention3.jpgOn March 1st 1979 I was thirteen years old and hadn't yet made my 'O' level choices. What that means is that I was still studying Religious Education, a subject that - as a Minister's daughter - I was bound to drop as soon as possible. But back in March 1979 there I was in Mr Salisbury's class trying not to show up my father.

And back in March 1979, or more likely in the weeks leading up to March 1st, I remember a fellow pupil being asked a question that should have elicited the answer: The Book of Revelation, or in Welsh, Dat-guddiad. Instead he blurted out: Dat-ganoli. He'd opted not for Revelation but for Devolution.

And you could understand why. Devolution and the referendum on March 1st were in the headlines, in the paper, on the doorstep, in leaflets and the word, if not the debate, had made an impression on my fellow thirteen year old.

We all know what sort of impression the debate made on the rest of the nation. 58.8% voted; 79.7% said no, just 20.3% said yes to putting "the provisions of the Wales Act 1978 into effect".

And we all know what sort of impression the debate made eighteen years later in1997. 50.1% voted; 49.7% said no, 50.3% said yes, to "whether there should be a Welsh Assembly".

Lord Richard had his turn and now it's over to the Executive Committee of the All Wales Convention. They will meet today for the first time over the road in the Pierhead Building and face the task of spelling out for Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones what the implications would be of going ahead and holding a third referendum - or not. (Yes, I know, visitors to this blog favour another, less neutral job description but I'll leave you to point that out).

Are they representative of the people of Wales? Yes, says Chair Sir Emyr Jones Parry. Really? Well yes, "given those who came forward ... what we were offered".

I asked Ieuan Wyn Jones last week whether he still believes a referendum will be held on or before 2011, as per the One Wales Agreement. He didn't answer the first time but did the second, quite emphatically. Yes, he does. He'd have one heck of a job explaining any other answer to his party of course but I found I was almost taken aback.

For many Plaid Cymru voters, Labour support in campaigning for a referendum, caveats and all, was the clincher that kept them from somewhere over the rainbow. Now there's a drip-drip of doubt among at least some I've spoken to, a belief that it will happen but not before the next Assembly election. Some don't think it can be won; others think Labour will do everything not to honour the pledge; others just can't work out when it can be held.

It's hardly surprising that more and more Labour supporters shake their heads when asked about a referendum. They, after all, have other things to worry about, be they devo-sceptics, devo-realists or die-hard devolutionists.

Read the views of Sir Emyr Jones Parry, Chair of the Convention here and those of Huw Lewis AM here. You may note that we added a question mark to the title of the story we wrote about Huw Lewis' piece. Why? It was in response to a suggestion from his camp that "Cart before the horse" didn't reflect the nuances in his piece. On this occasion, fair enough.

Ah nuances.

Good luck Sir Emyr.

I've been slow in putting up this entry. Apologies. I've been chairing a conference on Immigration and inclusion in South Wales.

I've just seen the footage of the Executive Committee posing for the official photographer. "Smile" he says encouragingly, "Relax ... Everyone turn your head in this direction".

They looked even less relaxed.

Cross border co-operation

Betsan Powys | 11:49 UK time, Thursday, 10 July 2008


For weeks now we've been asking the Conservatives at their weekly briefing, when Lord Wyn Roberts, who retired as the party's spokesman on Wales in the House of Lords, intends to submit his interim report reviewing party policy on devolution.

Granted it was David Cameron who asked him to write it (no surprises that he didn't think to give the job to the current spokesman on Wales,Lord Glentoran) and it's to the party leader that Lord Roberts has, we learn today, just submitted it.

Bang on time Lord Roberts.

Now given that Mr Cameron's plan is that "we get the devolution issue right and we settle it" and given his party may well be in a position to "settle it" after the next General Election, it would be very, very good to know what Lord Roberts has discovered while rifling among the party's grassroots. I've been on this kind of trail before and don't want to end up empty handed again.

A quick call to the Conservatives here to ask whether they've seen it yet and what are the chances of getting a copy?

The - sanguine - answer is that no, they haven't seen it yet, that as an interim report it may not be made public at all and in fact, they had no idea it had been submitted.

Lord Roberts apparently thinks the future lies in "a more co-operative spirit between Wales and Westminster".

Leeks and all

Betsan Powys | 07:53 UK time, Wednesday, 9 July 2008



Scotland has one and now, so have we: our very own coat of arms.

It's been approved by the Queen and signed by a man with a title Hywel Dda - who was around when the last made in Wales, applying only to Wales law was passed - would be impressed by: The Garter King of Arms.

If all goes according to plan and the Privy Council approve the first Welsh measure, the NHS Redress Measure - this afternoon, then the Royal Badge will see the light of day for the first time.

I doubt you'll be discussing it around the water cooler but for those of you who can't wait a moment longer, here it is, leeks and all.

"Running rings"

Betsan Powys | 07:20 UK time, Wednesday, 9 July 2008


Was Don Touhig ever a fan of the deal his party struck with Plaid Cymru to stay in government? No, of course he wasn't.

Is the fact that he's making his distaste for it public? No, of course it isn't. He was firmly opposed to the idea then and is no more a fan of it now.

But this time he isn't saying quite the same thing. He's not saying he doesn't like the deal. He's saying that over the past twelve months, Labour have failed to heed the warning he and others sounded that if they had to reach out and bring Plaid Cymru into government, they had to make equally sure they didn't let their junior partners make too much hay.

Let's face it: it worked with the Liberal Democrats, who - Rhodri Morgan himself believes -advised Plaid directly and bluntly to play it differently, to get in there and spin, to make every effort to persuade the public that the tail was wagging (or should that be WAGging) the dog.

That's exactly what Plaid have done. Just look at the two press statements the two governing parties released to mark one year of One Wales. Labour concentrated on delivery, on the work Labour Ministers have been putting in over the past year. Plaid? Ieuan Wyn Jones knew he'd ruffle Labour feathers by claiming it was Plaid who had set "a new Welsh agenda".

And what about that very term, One Wales government? From the start it's the name Plaid gave to the coalition government. It was in their early press statements, on their lips in press conferences. Labour went for Labour-led coalition. What, now, is the official name on government documentation and glossy backdrops? One Wales government.

That's what Don Touhig calls "running rings" round Labour.

Tonight Plaid celebrate their first year in government with a £50.00 a head dinner in one of Cardiff's trendiest hotels. If you fancy taking up "a sponsorship opportunity" you get "great benefits" thrown in "including 2 tickets on the top table, a thank you from a senior party figure, a chance to address the dinner with a short speech, and space for pop ups".

Labour get on with the job of sorting out plummeting membership and the party structure in Wales, as well as telling Don Touhig that they think he's wrong.

It's all in the delivery

Betsan Powys | 12:51 UK time, Tuesday, 8 July 2008


Coffee and Welsh cakes: that's what Labour and Plaid deemed a suitable credit-crunch celebration, or observation perhaps, of one year of the One Wales government this morning. Gerry Holtham, just named as chair of the commission looking into funding and finance - or which formula if not the Barnett formula - would have been proud of them.

They're actually a day early cracking out the cakes but Tuesday is lobby day, so let's not dwell on that.

An under the weather Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones herded us up to the fifth floor to serve up coffee in One Wales mugs, to say that the Welsh Assembly Government is on schedule to deliver on its programme of government and to mutter that herding a lobby full of journalists to the top floor is bad enough but getting them all to write the same thing is even worse.

The two men, who found it hard to connect in the months leading up to the coalition deal, now call each other 'ti a tithe' when speak ing in Welsh - the familiar form of 'you'. Think 'tu' rather than 'vous' in French. Whatever the understanding they've come to between them, it does look like one that works for them.

So what have they achieved?

They've provided "a stable platform" says the First Minister, "that enables us to honour our promises to the people of Wales".

So once again, what have they achieved?

Both parties talk about health, Labour from the point of view of the new Aneurin Bevan hospital going up in Ebbw Vale, waiting lists 'on target' to come down, a £1bn plus investment in NHS infrastructure over the next three years, an end to the internal market in Welsh hospitals, extra funding for palliative care, for social care - oh and of course, Wales making strides as a "small, clever country".

Plaid talk about health too but from the point of view of stopping Labour's pre-election hospital closure plans first and foremost. The hymn sheet is the same but the order of service is different.

What else do they say they've achieved? This is the coalition government list:

The All Wales Convention. Members of the Executive Committee were named last week.
Appointing Gerald Holtham as Chair of the Independent Commission on Funding and Finance.
Ending the internal market in the NHS.
Ending competitive tendering for NHS cleaning contracts
Introducing a new national oral health action plan.
Investing £15m in an action plan to improve care for people suffering chronic conditions.
A new NHS Redress Measure giving patients fairer access to compensation when things go wrong.
Creating a single investment fund, radically changing the way the Assembly Government supports business in Wales.
A new transport strategy.
A new Learner Transport Measure to improve school transport and to promote access to Welsh medium education.
Approving 27 business ventures with a total investment of £504 million with aid from the European Convergence Programme.
Giving local authorities greater freedom to designate non-development sites for affordable housing.
An action plan to tackle bovine TB
Increasing the Social Housing Grant to £107 million per year with a pledge to provide 6,500 affordable new homes over four years.
Boosting the availability of affordable housing in rural areas.
Established the Child Poverty Expert Group.
Investing £10.5 million in Libraries for Life, a three year strategy to improve libraries.
Investing £200,000 a year in a new daily Welsh language news service to meet the demands of the 21st Century.

Let's just point out that the first achievement on that list fails to mention the fact that the Convention will hold its first meeting on Monday, six months later than promised. Does that matter? Yes, mostly because it'll report back six months later than promised and time to make up its mind on if and when to hold a referendum on further powers is something this government doesn't have much of to spare.

And the last achievement on the list? Well that fails to mention the fact that £200,000 for a new Welsh language service falls way short, in the eyes of Plaid supporters and others, of the pledge to support the establishment of a Welsh language daily newspaper.

I'll let you have a go at the achievements in between.

Before leaving them to get on with the job, a chat with Rhodri Morgan and a chance to ask whether he thinks Ieuan Wyn Jones is right and that he'd get a warmer welcome in a Rhondda Labour club than he would have done last year?

The First Minister put his head in his hands, attempted an answer before smiling wanly and suggesting that wasn't an experiment Mr Jones should try in a hurry.


Betsan Powys | 13:39 UK time, Monday, 7 July 2008



I see that Huw Lewis AM, who's almost certain to stand for the Labour leadership, has joined the Facebook network.

He was reluctant but has succumbed having looked into its use - "particularly as a vehicle for single issue campaigns, and as an awareness tool".

What could he possibly mean?

Those who in July do wed ..

Betsan Powys | 12:25 UK time, Monday, 7 July 2008


If the security guard in the government offices in Cathays Park spotted the irony of inviting us to wait our turn to interview Ieuan Wyn Jones while 'sitting in the rainbow lounge' last Thursday he didn't show it. He might not realise that the rainbow government - reputed to be the Deputy First Minister's favoured option back then - died an official death a year ago today when Plaid Cymru members joined Labour in voting in favour of the red green One Wales government.

The rainbow was already dead of course. The Lib Dems had seen to that and no amount of post-mortem attempts to breathe life back into it were going to work. Red Green it was.

Twelve months ago at the Cardiff International Arena, as I suggest here, one lot of delegates said yes-if-we-really-have-to while the other lot shouted 'yes' from the rooftops of Pontrhydfendigaid's pavilion.

A year on both parties claim victory - but note that just for the anniversary, they've both decided to ditch the other. For Labour, who fail to mention Plaid, Rhodri did it, while Plaid, who fail to mention Labour, seem convinced that the past year's announcements were all their own work.

(By the way is that a shot of the new Ebbw Vale rail line in the video? If so, someone in Plaid must enjoy living dangerously ...)

We mark one year of the One Wales government on Wednesday. It's the day Ieuan Wyn Jones was made Deputy First Minister and Plaid entered into government. And you can bet that both First Minister and his Deputy will shake hands, smile a lot and tell us they've been better buddies over the past twelve months than they could have imagined.

The funny thing is that I believe them but on the anniversary of agreeing to take each other on, it clearly won't do to tell their own parties that.

By the way Ieuan Wyn Jones reckons he'd be more welcome today at a Rhondda Labour Club than he was a year ago. Really? "Well I think they realise that without us, they wouldn't be in power at all". He senses that's not the best line to take and tries again, convinced they'd recognise and welcome the 'new Welsh agenda' Plaid Cymru today claim they've created in government. I dare him to give that line a try.

A quick peek inside the Secretary of State's flat - now available for use by a Plaid Deputy Minister - before I leave Cathays Park. Retro wallpaper, a vintage Ercol table, an ironing board leaning against the kitchen wall and a Plaid politician admitting that when he made it inside, he very, very nearly punched the air.

Oh and those who in July do wed? Must labour for their daily bread, apparently.


Betsan Powys | 07:19 UK time, Wednesday, 2 July 2008


Perhaps you live in a street of around sixty people.

Perhaps you work with around sixty colleagues, some of whom you know well and have a drink with after work sometimes; others you nod to in the corridor but know very little about. They're only around for a few years and then they're gone. Some you'll miss, some you won't.

Perhaps you're an Assembly Member sitting at your desk this morning and reading that three of your colleagues have chosen to respond to an anonymous questionnaire about domestic and sexual violence, a short questionnaire sent just to all sixty AMs to coincide with a far wider-ranging survey of students in colleges and universities across Wales.

If you are an AM you probably didn't respond to it. You might not have had time. Perhaps you had nothing to record. Perhaps you did but didn't want to in a survey of just sixty people. It's anonymous you're told but all the same, you may not have wanted to be drawn into a numbers game. You're one out of just sixty.

Eight did respond; seven women and one man. And when you read that three of your colleagues have revealed anonymously to Plaid Cymru AM Nerys Evans that they have been raped, you'll probably be shocked.

When you read that 64% of the students that responded to the Amnesty/NUS survey say they know women whose boyfriends or partners have hit them, you'll be less surprised somehow. And when you read that 41% know women whose boyfriends or partners have coerced or pressurised them into sex - again, you'll probably carry on reading without pausing too long.

Would that story have made it into the headlines? Probably not.

But that three of your colleagues say they've been raped?

That'll probably make you, make most of us stop for a second. And that will make it into the headlines.

That is the point, of course. Nerys Evans, who at the Senedd today launches the larger, wider-ranging, more informative and reliable survey about students and their attitudes to women and domestic or sexual violence wanted to show that it's far more prevalent than you might think. That none of the three AMs reported what happened to them to the police 'chimes' says Nerys Evans, with the wider picture of women from all walks of life who tend not to report what's happened to them, who aren't sure how to deal with what's happened to them.

That's why she's decided to put her sixty colleagues under scrutiny, why she's revealed what the eight who responded told her.

As they sit at their desks this morning I wonder how the fifty-two who didn't respond - but who are part of the sixty and therefore part of the story - will respond to this morning's headline that three of them have been raped.

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