BBC BLOGS - Betsan's Blog

Archives for June 2010

Are you sitting comfortably?

Betsan Powys | 12:15 UK time, Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Tonight the two authors of the best books published in Wales during this past year, both in Welsh and in English, will be named and lauded and given £10,000 , in the hope they manage to buy some time to write another cracker. Then again they might find it comes in useful, as the winner of the Artes Mundi prize did a few years ago, to sort out the damp in the cellar. Why not. Even conceptual artists obviously appreciate dry cellars.

This morning we're starting the day with a narrative, a story that's now being told, honed and retold every week. A comment here a press release there but put them together and what you have is a growing narrative. It's the Welsh Labour party who are doing the telling and the story they're relating is all about the new Secretary of State, Cheryl Gillan, an MP who represents an English constituency but who is now heading up the Wales Office - or as it's been newly re-named, or re-re-named, the Welsh Office.

At least that's where the story begins - with a new Welsh Secretary and with a growing sense amongst Labour MPs that she's seen as weak link and is a character around whom a whole story can be very successfully spun.

There was the town crier who strode back and forth in front of the Senedd a few weeks ago and welcomed 'the Governor General who's dropped in on us here in Wales ... come out and pay your respects'.

She and her party laughed it off as a stunt that made Labour look pathetic.

Pick up the narrative from there.

The Assembly Government joins in. The new Welsh Secretary, they said, had made an announcement about the date of the referendum in the Commons before letting them know.

A letter had been sent but arrived a few hours after the announcement had been made. Not good enough, said WAG. Hardly worth such an eruption, said the Welsh Office.

There was Peter Hain in the House of Commons last week, who came as close as parliamentary rules allow to accusing Cheryl Gillan of lying. She should, he warned, remember where she was and tread very carefully before she made any more claims about what he had - or more significantly - had failed to do on securing a referendum before the General Election.

She came out fighting and pretty much repeated her claims.

Just yesterday, two Labour MPs picked up on a hit delivered in the Western Mail and turned the screw a few more times in letters to the Cabinet Office. Jessica Morden asked for an investigation into the conduct of the Secretary of State, while Owen Smith wanted "an assessment of the additional accommodation costs to the public purse of visits to Wales by a Secretary of State who is an MP representing an English constituency?"

Fair dues, you might say, though the Cabinet Office didn't seem to think so.

Yesterday too the news broke that the Housing LCO is to be allowed on its way without amendment, because David Jones, the Parliamentary Under Secertary of State, had discovered there'd be no time to consider changes and get it through before recess. Have it then, he effectively said ... but bear in mind those reassurances you gave us that you've no intention of using the bit we disagree with.

An exmaple, said Mr Jones, of the new coalition government getting the job done, proof that the Welsh Office intended 'mutual respect' to mean something. "A total humiliating capitulation by the Wales Office" said Shadow Wales Office minister (Labour are sticking to Wales Office) Wayne David. "The Wales Office has become a beleaguered and rudderless Department."

Then this morning's session of the Welsh Grand Committee - watch it here and read about it here.

Along came the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander - something of a surprise, it turns out, for those there. So the narrative moves on. Not, after all, a further sign of transparency but a "humiliation" for the "under-fire Welsh Secretary" said Wayne David, again. Why had she been "dumped ... at the last minute"? Why had the Welsh Secretary's first Welsh Grand Committee "descended into farce."

Then he brought the story bang up to date: "It pains me to say it, but the Wales Office, under Cheryl Gillan's leadership, is becoming a laughing stock in Whitehall."

I don't know how Cheryl Gillan and her team intend to respond this time, if at all. What's clear is that they can't have failed to spot the story in which the boss is starring here, nor how her character's storyline is developing. They must know too that the poltical force driving the story is renowned for very successfully driving home messages that tend to stick. Say it loud enough and often enough and at least some of the people will believe you.

So: where does the story go from here?


This from Cheryl Gillan: "I was delighted when Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander was able to attend Welsh Grand today to address members on the implications of the emergency Budget on Wales.

"But this opportunity to have serious and constructive discussions on the Budget and its implications on Wales was totally wasted by Labour MPs who were more concerned with making political mischief making than serious debate.

"I was disappointed by the playground tactics of Labour members in trying to reduce today's Welsh Grand into a political circus, with no apparent wish to do real work on Welsh issues.

Rhetoric and reality 2

Betsan Powys | 16:34 UK time, Tuesday, 29 June 2010


The Tory David Melding, who's seen most things before, has just said of Leighton Andrews' statement on the future of higher education in Wales: "I don't know whether I'm in shock or awe".

Mr Andrews has told AMs there will be significantly fewer universities in Wales by 2013, indicating smaller institutions are to be forced into mergers in order to deliver a smaller number of larger and stronger institutions.

"Wales has been dogged for years by many institutions which are too small to cut a mark internationally, too small to withstand and respond to the growing pressure of international competition, and in danger of wasting resources competing with neighbours rather than looking out from Wales to win reputation and research income."

He added, "HEFCW has determined that by 2013 75% of HE institutions in Wales will have an annual income above the UK median, and none will be in the lower quartile. This target does not mean fewer students. But it is likely to mean fewer vice chancellors.

"We will have significantly fewer HE institutions in Wales but they will be larger and stronger."

For the Lib Dems, Jenny Randerson's reaction is stark, "The biggest effect of this long held plan by the Minister is the disappearance of most of our smaller HE institutions."

If the day started with rhetoric, it's ended with reality.

Rhetoric and reality

Betsan Powys | 11:20 UK time, Tuesday, 29 June 2010


_47203988_carlsargeant170bbc.jpgIf you chat to Assembly Government ministers these days, the impending public spending cuts don't take long to come up and it's a safe bet that very soon after that, the need for collaboration between public sector bodies isn't going to be far behind.

Collaboration, it would seem, is the silver bullet that will save our services.

At the Welsh Local Government Association conference in Llandudno a couple of weeks ago, the Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant, brought with him a pretty clear message - from now on, councils should fill senior officer vacancies through joint appointments with neighbouring authorities. This, he said, should be "the default position, not just one possibility". Get it?

You should. The aim is clear: to get councils to share or even merge departments, starting at the top and resulting in more efficiently delivered services. But a number of stories in the last couple of days would seem to illustrate that reality has begun to meet rhetoric head on.

A small story buried on page 13 of the Daily Post today should start ringing alarm bells in Cathays Park. "Conwy halt child services merger" reveals the plan to appoint a joint Head of Children's services between Conwy and Denbighshire councils has foundered.

Denbighshire, it seems, were up for it but Conwy's cabinet members have got cold feet. Reading between the lines it seems that councillors in Conwy were concerned about the implications for around 200 employees. They clearly saw the appointment of a single director as the first step towards the full merger of departments between the two councils.

This, as I said, is where the rhetoric of efficiency hits cold hard figures.

As one fairly hard nosed individual who's writing mainly in red ink these days said to me the other day, when you're dealing with a deficit, it's all very well to work more efficiently so that, for example, eight people do the same amount of work as ten but you don't actually save a penny unless you can save on the two salaries of the people who are by now surplus to requirements.

A crude analysis, but we're trying to deal with reality here, not rhetoric. It seems the Conwy councillors looked down the line and didn't like what they saw.

Over the weekend, it also emerged that the much vaunted merger between Powys County Council and Powys Local Health Board has also hit the rocks. This is of an order of magnitude greater than the Conwy-Denbighshire plan but, it seems, it's facing even greater problems in reality.

This time, both organisations were in favour but a report by consultants KPMG found "major obstacles" to the plan, which could have saved millions for both organisations, as well as delivering more integrated services.

Again what looks great on paper seems an awful lot trickier in practice.

So where do we go from here? It seems ministers are now looking for more powers to force public organisations into collaboration. They've considered amending the recent Local Government Measure 2009 to insert the powers but decided to wait for the next Measure relating to local government to be laid before the Assembly.

What would that mean in practice? Well, ministers could issue statutory guidance to ensure collaboration happens. Not as much banging heads together as forcibly merging heads of departments, you could say.

But where does that leave reports like the KPMG on the Powys merger, or the the worries of the locally-elected councillors of Conwy who are concerned about jobs and service quality?

There's rhetoric and reality and bridging the gap between the two is surely the biggest challenge now facing all sides.

Three, two, one ...

Betsan Powys | 11:25 UK time, Monday, 28 June 2010


_39170481_cake-bbc203.jpgCount down with me ... Three, two, one day to go until the One Wales Agreement is three years old. At least it's in three days' time that Labour and Plaid Cymru plan to mark officially their three year collaboration. The deal was, in fact, struck on June 27th and ratified by party members during the following week - but there we go, Thursday July 1st it officially is.

Let me try again.

Count down with me ... Three, two, one day to go until the One Wales Agreement has less than a year to run. At least it's in three days' time that Labour and Plaid Cymru plan to stare down the final furlong officially and set their course for the months to come ...

Forget birthday cakes and glasses of bubbly anything. They're not stupid. We're talking key note speeches here, more thinking caps than party hats. But more significantly we must also, surely, be talking about what's to come between now and the Assembly election next year, not where we've been.

In other words if marking years one and two was all about press officers and Ministers spelling out what the new coalition government had thus far introduced - how many competence orders had been negotiated through Westminster, what the powers transferred had been used to create, how well two old political enemies were collaborating - marking the end of year three must surely have more to do with where Labour and Plaid want us to be by the time their deal runs out, where they want to be as two parties. Ticking boxes and nodding to checklists will matter of course but not as much as laying the ground for what is to come.

So what will we get?

Well judged, politically astute - or way, way too much finger wagging at the newer coalition in Westminster?

Namechecking REact and PROact - or suggesting a blueprint for reshaping the economy so many experts have, over the years, picked over while wringing their hands?

Condemnation of cuts/Explanation of when and where cuts will be made?

Coalition partners playing it straight til the last - or partners starting to play hardball and stray onto each other's ministerial territory?

Condemnation of the Secretary of State's draft referendum question ("a bugger's muddle" as one horrified, senior figure put it to me at the weekend) - or the start of a campaign, as per One Wales, to win the vote?

I'm not sure that last example is absolutely, mutually exclusive but you get the idea.

So: three, two, one ...

And the questions are...

Betsan Powys | 10:49 UK time, Thursday, 24 June 2010


As blogged last night, the Secretary of State for Wales has submitted her draft referendum question to the Electoral Commission for their consideration, according to her responsibility under the Government of Wales Act.

Not to be outdone, the Assembly Government are to submit their own version of a question to the Commission. This is despite the fact that both the Wales Office and the Assembly Government are represented on the Project Board that Cheryl Gillan told the Commons yesterday were responsible for drawing up the question that she's submitted.

A spokesman for Assembly Government said, "We are disappointed that we could not agree a question with the Wales Office. We feel the suggestion put forward today by the Secretary of State is deficient and does not accurately reflect the issue that voters will be asked to decide. We will therefore be submitting an amended, shortened version to the Electoral Commission as an alternative proposal."

So instead of using its much vaunted ten week consultation period to assess the intelligibility of one question, it seems the Electoral Commission will instead spend its time refereeing between two competing proposals.

Which is starting to lead some quiet mutterings - does the Assembly Government really want to win this referendum - or use it as a means for conflict with Westminster? Let's see how the Assembly Government take those mutterings on.


They're not going to take the mutterings very far at all in terms of their version of the question. The Electoral Commission is only funded to carry out its statutory duty - and that is to consider the question submitted to it by the Secretary of State for Wales. The alternative proposal from the Assembly Government will not receive any consideration as part of the formal consultation process.

**UPDATE 2**

Maybe not, says an Assembly Government source but a letter from the Electoral Commission, delivered today, confirms that their voice has been heard and that the Commission "will take your concerns into account".

It's a pretty basic concern too, says the man with the letter in his hand. The phrase: "without needing the agreement of Parliament first" is factually inaccurate. The right exists already to make measures without the agreement of Parliament so that phrase just isn't right.

In fact, he says, it's plain wrong.

And the question is...

Betsan Powys | 17:36 UK time, Wednesday, 23 June 2010


The Wales Office have this evening published the draft preamble and question for the referendum on further powers and sent it to the Electoral Commission to begin their 10 week consultation.

Here it is...

At present, the National Assembly for Wales (the Assembly) has powers to make laws for Wales on some subjects within devolved areas. Devolved areas include health, education, social services, local government and environment. The Assembly can gain further powers to make laws in devolved areas with the agreement of the Parliament of the United Kingdom (Parliament) on a subject by subject basis.

If most people vote Yes in this referendum, the Assembly will gain powers to pass laws on all subjects in the devolved areas.

If most people vote No, then the present arrangements, which transfer that law-making power bit by bit, with the agreement of Parliament each time, will continue.

Do you agree that the Assembly should now have powers to pass laws on all subjects in the devolved areas without needing the agreement of Parliament first?

It went like this.

Betsan Powys | 11:31 UK time, Wednesday, 23 June 2010


A Wales Questions dominated by firsts: Cheryl Gillan's first outing as Welsh Secretary, the first female Welsh Secretary to take questions from Welsh MPs who wanted to be the first to land a blow. Here's another: a first attempt of a live-ish (ok, very 'ish' by now) blog it.

First thoughts on both sides were of condolences to the family of former Secretary of State, Lord Walker - "a good friend to the Welsh people."

Jonathan Evans (Con, Cardiff North) is first up and wishes the Wales Office team well "in the challenges that lay ahead." Tries to lay one on the First Minister, who has admitted that the proportion of jobs in the private sector in Wales is too low and doesn't success "depend on driving up private sector jobs in the Principality?"

Nice opener for David Jones: "Yes, private sector is the key to growth in Wales".

Elfyn Llwyd (pronounced Elvyn Mr Speaker - he's really not very elfin-like) thinks he's spotted an opportunity in yesterday's budget. Given the "admission" in budget that areas outside London and South East need a helping hand would the new government then "consider the idea of regionalising corporation tax according to GVA or devolving it to the Assembly ... so that needs can be met and support provided".

David Jones takes 3 seconds flat to say: no.

Why? Does he have a problem with that idea then?

2 seconds this time.

Phillip Davies (Con, Shipley): What talks have been held with the FM about the law-making powers referendum?

He adds: given so few actively voted for the National Assembly in first place, will she consider introducing a turnout threshold this time?

Cheryl Gillan is "afraid to tell the House" that she's bound by the Government of Wales Act 2006 but reminds the gentleman that there was a threshold of 40% last time round. (Was there? I didn't think there was.) So - a simple majority it will have be.

What progress on the question?

Here we go.

No work, says the Welsh Secretary, was done in the department on the question prior to the General Election but she's very pleased to tell the House that the project board has produced a question and a proceeding question that she sent it off to the Electoral Commission today.

Implication? I got the job done; Peter Hain didn't.

No, not implication, she's saying it bluntly now. We have achieved more in 10 weeks than my predecessor did in many months.

Howls of outrage from the one side. Cheers from the other.

Paul Murphy (Lab, Torfaen) calms the mood and asks whether the Secretary of State agrees there should be 40 Welsh MPs?

Niceties - Mrs Gillan always has a good word for the former, former Welsh Secretary but being polite doesn't amount to taking the question head on. "Nobody outside this House will be arguing for more highly paid politicians ... nothing will be done that will be affect Wales disproportionately".

Susan Elan Jones (Lab, Clwyd South) - asks whether the Welsh Secretary will be out pushing for a yes vote in the referendum - or will she be asking the electorate of ... Buckinghamshire for their views first? Ouch.

Woman to woman Mrs Gillan takes pride in being the first woman to do the job (cheers from her own benches) and what's more she was born and brought up in Wales (louder cheers from her own side who clearly reckon she's winning on points here). Anyway it's "singularly important that the people of Wales decide on this" so she and her Minister will be remaining neutral "which is the proper thing to do".

Cut-away to the Labour benches where heads are shaking and eyes rolling.

"I think she needs to familiarise herself with her own party" comes the riposte, who aren't absolutely united on this front either.

Another cutaway of a triumphant-looking Susan Jones laughing.

Mark Williams (Lib Dem, Ceredigion) will be "campaigning with enthusiasm" and points the finger at "the inactivity of the previous gov"

On cue: the Shadow Secretary of State gets to his feet. This is slow and very deliberate. He's choosing his words carefully here.

"Accounts given to the media have traduced the truth". He refers to a document that proves he did get on with the job of making an October referendum possible."Whatever she's been saying to media ... she must not mislead this House".

This is getting very close to the bone.

Cheryl Gillan can't comment on his document, she hasn't seen it but guess what, she has two of her own and they indicate to her than no work was done on the question prior to the General Election. (Perhaps they should have a show and tell meeting). But she's holding her ground: no work had been done on the question "and that was the FIRST question she'd asked when she walked into the department!"

Roger Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon and Radnor) - to VAT or not to VAT is not his question. That's been decided after all. "Necessary measures" were the words he chose on that one. He wants to know how open the Chancellor is to a dialogue on the future funding of Wales with Gerry Holtham?

The response is about tackling the deficit first but yes, there's a commitment too to "properly funding Wales".

Hang on, says Peter Hain again. What about the "historic agreement" he secured with the Treasury that showed just how prepared Labour were to stick up for Wales - unlike the Conservatives who talk of moving ahead on Barnet reform "pretty quickly" before the election and of moving ahead very, very slowly after it - "dumped into the long grass .. .Why not stand up for Wales like your predecessors did?"

Derision from the Tory benches.

David Jones takes this one. He puts on a lawyer's face. Having read the agreement to which Mr Hain refers, he's afraid to say it is "almost completely meaningless." The look on his face says: next?

Cross party support for the troops in Afghanistan - pride and support.

Owen Smith (Lab, Pontypridd) won't let the budget go - and its impact on Wales. How many jobs will Wales lose from the public sector during the course of this parliament?

Well done Owen, says a colleague.

Off topic, says Cheryl Gillan. What's the linkage with armed forces day?

Fair cop but not beyond you to respond I'm sure ... a polite smile from the Speaker.

She does. Yesterday's budget 'protected lowest earners'.

On to the Defence Academy in St Athan. Alun Cairns (Con, Vale of Glamorgan) lambasts "delays caused by the last administration" - "another example of .how Labour didn't stand up for Wales and didn't get on with it when in government".

Huw Irranca Davies (Lab, Ogmore) - on fire on Good Evening Wales yesterday afternoon about the impact the budget will have on Wales - asks about jobs but not public sector ones, exactly. How come Peter Hain sat on a dozen cabinet committees, watching out for the interests of Wales, while she's on just the one? And "loveable rogue ... but arch devo sceptic" is chairing the Welsh Affairs Select Committee - so who will stand up for Wales?

Cheryl Gillan is into full-throttle, school mistress, head-shaking mode.

"Dear me, dear me". Doesn't he know the procedures around committees have changed? And come off it. It's not the number of committees you sit and can boast about that people seriously care about. It's about what you deliver.

The "loveable rogue" - David Davies (Con, Monmouth) is on his feet. He's spotted a good moment to join in and isn't about to miss a chance to make a point. "People want us out and about sorting problems, not sitting on committees like those opposite!"

Wayne David (Lab, Caerphilly) next. First woman but not, apparently, the last Conservative Secretary of State representing an English constituency ... "Chesham and Amersham ... or is it Amersham and Chesham ... anyway somewhere in England". How many times has she visited Wales since her appointment?

They're loving this - and I mean the Tories. Pithy is good but what they're hearing is petty.

The Secretary of State "feels sorry" for Mr David. She's lost count of the number of times she's been to Wales - 9 or 10 already perhaps.

A sarcastic "wooooo" from Labour MPs.

"It that's the best he can do for a question at a time of such economic difficulties ..."

Benches are full now. End must be in sight.

David Hansen (Lab, Delyn) takes us back to Wales' manufacturing indsutry, especially in North Wales. Nick Smith (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) says the Future Jobs Fund - axed by the Chancellor - had done "terrific" work in his patch. Would the Minsiter like to visit?

He would. Mr Jones is "looking forward to a formal invitation".

Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda) is back to fighting for the defence training college in St Athan. Mrs Gillan wants to convince him she's with him all the way. The crucial review "is due to be completed in October".

Kevin Brennan (Lab, Cardiff West) wonders how many Assembly Members the new government believes there ought to be?

"That issue will be considered" says Mr Jones as Mrs Gillan moves slightly to her right .. to make way for the Prime Minister.

Figuring it out

Betsan Powys | 14:13 UK time, Tuesday, 22 June 2010


Not too bad a guess on the back of the not-taxed-any-extra fag packet yesterday from the looks of things but far too early to tell by how much exactly the Welsh Assembly Government will be hit. When we come up with guesstimates, then I'll update, as long as you take me at my word that until the Autumn and the Comprehensive Spending Review, rough - but looking at my colleagues - educated guesswork is pretty much all we can offer.

Labour's Peter Hain looked at the Chancellor's budget and saw less tough love, than brutality for the sake of it: "These brutal cuts are ideological not economic, the new ConDem Government is not cutting savagely because it needs to, it is cutting savagely because it wants to."

Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyd standing, as ever, alongside the SNP's Angus Robertson on the busy green outside the Houses of Parliament saw "some very good stuff in there - some good bits" but what he clearly regarded as some very bad stuff around social welfare.

Nothing, yet, from the Wales Office - and what about Roger Williams, the Welsh Liberal Democrat who explained on Sunday how he opposed a rise in VAT, a "very regressive tax that falls most heavily on the poorest in society". What did he make of this budget and the very rise he saw coming?

He and the party are, we're told, still working on their line. It will be one they'll have to walk very carefully.

Politics of the playground

Betsan Powys | 09:03 UK time, Tuesday, 22 June 2010


conkers_string_270.jpgCrumbs yesterday, scraps today.

I don't just mean the sorts of scraps of comfort George Osborne has offered some, before the budget delivers tough news for all and what the Chancellor would ask us to accept is tough love.

I mean another kind of scrap - the one developing fast between the Assembly Government and Cardiff council over the re-organisation of schools in the city.

The latest round in an increasingly bitter row? A written ministerial statement, normally used to announce major decisions or significant spending plans, arrives from Education Minister Leighton Andrews.

The purpose of this one? To point out that the Council's official notice that they propose to reduce the size of Whitchurch High School's annual intake refers to powers under "Section 28(1)(b) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998", when it should have referred to "Section 89 of the 1998 Act and Regulation 11(1) (b) of the Education (Determination of Admission Arrangements) (Wales) Regulations 2006".

Of course it's important to get these things right. And Mr Andrews seemingly can't resist another dig, saying "The appropriate method for reducing an admission number had been drawn to the attention of the local authority on a number of occasions by Welsh Assembly Government officials".

But a written ministerial statement to point out an administrative error by a local council?

Some would argue the statement could just as easily have read "Na na na na na" and come equipped with a dunce's cap.

The council leader, Rodney Berman would seem to agree. "It is regrettable and inexplicable why the Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning should choose to make a statement on a legal matter. This is simply a technical issue and does not mean that the Council is not proceeding with its proposals."

What's clear is that relations between Wales' largest council and the Assembly Government are rapidly approaching rock bottom.

The local Assembly member for Cardiff North, Tory Jonathan Morgan, who's strongly opposed to the Whitchurch proposals, needs little encouragement to follow Mr Andrews' lead.

"Cardiff Council clearly lack the capacity and expertise to reorganise the schools in the capital city. The publishing of the statutory notice for Whitchurch High School under the incorrect legislation demonstrates yet again how ill equipped this authority is.

"Whitchurch High School is popular and successful. Instead of penalising success the council should deal with poor performance elsewhere.

"This issue is now descending into farce"

Meanwhile I head off to Westminster to find out how much more difficult relations are about to get between those who share out the money left in the public purse and those who spend it.


This thread is now closed and no more comments will be published.

Dr Simon Brooks has asked us to point out that he did not, as alleged in comments earlier published on this post, run a 'wall daubing campaign earlier in the decade'. We apologise for this inaccuracy.

Oh crumbs.

Betsan Powys | 12:15 UK time, Monday, 21 June 2010


The storm clouds are gathering ahead of tomorrow's Budget - surely the most heavily trailed in history. The softening up exercise, started before the election and intensified afterwards has continued over the weekend.

But if the message of pain still hasn't come across, this morning's Financial Times has done some analysis of the impact of cuts in benefits and public sector spending across the UK.

West Wales is singled out as an area heavily dependent on the public sector and the paper warns the "existing regional distribution of public money makes it extremely difficult to avoid the cuts being concentrated in poorer areas." The FT warns that a 20 per cent cut in sectors dominated by the public services, the size of the local economy in West Wales would fall by 3.3 per cent. That's a serious hit.

So what can we expect in terms of the raw figures? Based on the projections from various think tanks and analysts, the kind of annual cash reductions in departmental spending that George Osborne is going to have to announce tomorrow are eye watering - something of the order of £16bn next year, £18bn in 2012-13, £18bn in 2013-14 and £4bn in 2014-15.

Taking into account that not all of this will be subject to Barnett consequentials (the decision to ring fence the English health budget is clearly highly significant on that front) then based on the hit the Welsh budget took from the first round of in-year cuts, the kind of potential spending reductions the Assembly Government could see, in a near-worst case scenario, are in the region of £530m next year, £590m in 2012-13, £590m in 2013-14 and £130m in 2014-15.

Some caveats there, clearly but if the Assembly Government's internal predictions are anything at all like these, then it would explain why ministers are taking their time over whether to defer the £187m in-year cuts to next year or not.


Don't expect any knee-jerk reactions on Tuesday from Welsh ministers but the Cabinet will meet in a rare Wednesday morning session at around half past eight, after which we may gain a little more information about just how bad they think things are going to get. The final figures won't come until the Comprehensive Spending Review is published in the autumn.

Talk about an in-tray for the new Assembly Government finance director, Michael Hearty, who'll take up the reins in August. His predecessors' work over the last decade has been all about slicing up a growing cake. His will be about divvying out the crumbs.

Spare him a thought on your summer holiday - and prepare for a grim, cold autumn.

"Why didn't Scots vote Tory?"

Betsan Powys | 16:45 UK time, Thursday, 17 June 2010


dci_gene_hunt_01_200x350.jpgNot very long ago David Melding got into his metaphorical Audi Quattro.

Before the General Election he was asked by a BBC Scotland programme, aired after the election, just why his party does so very badly there. The South Wales Central AM fired up the AQ and took a leap back to the 1980s and 1990s when "anti-Welshness" characerised his party. An example? The "unacceptable" and "shocking" practice - his words - of appointing English MPs as Secretaries of State for Wales.

"The party made some terrible errors in appointing English Secretaries of State for Wales" said Mr Melding. "I think it was quite unacceptable. I had some misgivings at the time though I wasn't courageous enough to speak out about it. But it really was shocking."

Out came the footage of John Redwood's spaced-out nodding-dog impression during the rendition of "Land of my Fathers" at the Welsh Conservative conference.

"We had Welsh Conservative MPs (then) and one of them should have been made Secretary of State" said Mr Melding.

Now it's true that Cheryl Gillan comes from Cardiff but those who voted her into Parliament come from Buckinghamshire.

So what does David Melding make of that, I wonder?

Then again, as Gene Hunt once said "Now is not the time to have a one night stand with your conscience."

Malalt com a lloro*

Betsan Powys | 10:11 UK time, Thursday, 17 June 2010


The Catalonian government secretary for language policy had no doubt expected to be cross-examined carefully about the level of resistance to the Catalan language amongst non-Catalan speakers.

Mr Bernat Joan i Mari appeared via videolink armed with evidence about the number of academics, consumers and the workforce who speak Catalan. The evidence, he said, showed that the perception of the language had changed and that it was now regarded rather more as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

What Mr Bernat wouldn't, perhaps, have been as prepared for was the unique style of the former First Minister.

"Muchas gracias" said Rhodri Morgan "and sorry about the football."

Enjoy the moment here on the Democracy Live site.

*Trans: Sick as a parrot

Oh yez?

Betsan Powys | 11:53 UK time, Wednesday, 16 June 2010



This afternoon Cheryl Gillan will address the Assembly for the first time as Secretary of State for Wales.

The purpose of her visit?

To update AMs on the content of the Queen's Speech.

The Welsh Secretary's intention?

To continue to stress the "respect" that will, she insists, be at the heart of dealings she has with the government of Wales.

The Labour party's intention?

To paint her as the visiting Governor General, deigning to leave her English constituency for the day to drop in on her people. Someone had better whisper in the town crier's ear and tell him that Chesham and Amersham is rather a long way from Cheshire. It's in Buckinghamshire ...

Mrs Gillan seems pretty relaxed. She can't be looking forward to her session in the chamber. She has, after all, a bit of a reputation for not dealing with the slightest curve ball particularly well. But to me, she almost feels like a woman who has one or two things up her sleeve, one or two things that make her think it's more than possible the government in Cardiff will probably - mostly - join in the anthem called "reciprocal respect".

So far she's announced she's pressing ahead with the referendum and that it'll be held next March - just as the idea of putting it off until next Autumn was growing in currency in and around the Assembly. I doubt she'll be much longer before she's come up with the wording of the question that will be asked of us all. She's made practical and far more supportive sounding noises around the bid to devolve powers over housing than many of her detractors had expected.

Sounding positive is one thing, WAG might say. Actually giving us the powers that we've identified and voted for in the chamber quite another - and they would, of course, be bang on. But there's no doubt the language adopted by Cheryl Gillan, so far, has been that of getting on with the job, of governing with practicality, with delivery in mind, rather than ideology and confrontation. She sounds like a woman who's perfectly well aware that she needs to establish her devolution bona fides early on but the flip side of that is that she doesn't come freighted with a deep-seated ideological position on either policy or the difficult compromises that brought the Government of Wales Act 2006 into being.

She seems to mean what she says about respect by the way but it can't have escaped the attention of some of those around her that by taking a soothing line, she may also wrong-foot some of those who detest her government most.

She managed to avoid the Labour Party's colourful and very loud welcoming party. Nick Bourne and his adviser were less lucky. They walked past with a broad smile and just the slightest shake of the head at what a spokesman later called Labour's "childish fancy dress show".

Cheryl names the date

Betsan Powys | 13:57 UK time, Tuesday, 15 June 2010


Why, say those who have to live with me, do you bang on about our grammar? Who cares how we say things on the school yard, as long as you understand us?

Why, I suspect, say those who choose to dip in to this blog, do you bang on about the date of the referendum? Who cares when it's held, as long as we understand what it's all about? Give it a rest.

For what it's worth, I can't wait to give it a rest. The question should have moved on from 'when' to 'why' and 'what's it all about' a long time ago.

Today Cheryl Gillan took us most of the way there. The referendum will not be held in the Autumn. She lays the responsibility for that directly at the collective door of the former Labour Welsh Secretary and current Labour First Minister. Peter Hain strikes quickly back with his disappointment that "the Secretary of State couldn't work fast enough to deliver the option of a referendum this year, as I would have done if I was still in office".

As he would have done? What was it Mr Hain said in evidence to the All Wales Convention?

"Indeed he went as far as to state that holding a referendum now would be a show of "bad faith to Parliament", and strongly believed that Parliament would not agree to "trigger a referendum before or during 2011".

Sound your vuvuzela if you notice any discrepancy between the two statements there.

Mrs Gillan intends for the poll to happen before the end of the first quarter of 2011. She seems, then, to have locked in a March referendum. In other words not this Autumn; not on the same day as the Assembly election in May as favoured by both the 'No' campaign, True Wales and by some supporters of a Yes vote but opposed strongly by the Tories and Lib Dems; not in the Autumn of 2011 either, as now apparently favoured by the hint-dropping Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas either.

It's a case of when in March.

The Plaid line is that they're relieved and pleased it's happening. Their partners in government sound less relaxed. "There are further discussions to be had" regarding the date they say.

A discussion about ... when exactly in March? Or about the issues that whatever your take on further powers, someone must surely start banging on about very soon.

Your vote counts ...

Betsan Powys | 07:57 UK time, Tuesday, 15 June 2010


sheppard_416x300.jpgIn an hour or so the second of the band of brothers - the Miliband of brothers - will be arriving in Cardiff.

Ed was here some weeks ago. Now David is coming to the Senedd to meet his supporters in the race to become Labour leader and to have a private meeting with the most senior elected Labour politician in the UK, as someone will no doubt have pointed out to Mr Miliband in his briefing notes. I wonder whether someone's given Carwyn Jones the T-shirt yet.

The Milibands aren't alone in arriving with something in their back pocket. In Scotland yesterday all the candidates - other than Diane Abbott who chose to tread more carefully - were happy to pledge that if made leader, they'd ensure the Scottish Labour leader got to join the UK party's governing body. No doubt the message will be the same here in Wales.

There's a seat on the NEC with Carwyn Jones' name on it.

The last time I looked the eldest brother was running neck and neck with his little brother in the race amongst Welsh MPs. Ten supporters each. Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott can so far name only one Welsh MP among their supporters. Rhondda's Chris Bryant might have nominated the only woman standing but he's no intention of using his vote to see her sitting in office. His vote will go to David Miliband.

How about Assembly Members, you ask? How will they vote?

The answer? That it doesn't actually matter as much.
With whose authority do I make such a dreadful claim?
By the Labour Party's.

Look at their rule book and you'll see that I'm talking electorally here. I'n talking about what votes are worth in the election of a UK Labour party leader. I'm thinking in terms of how much weight each vote carries and on that score - sorry AMs - how you vote will matter less to each and every candidate that heads to Wales than how your colleagues in Westminster vote.

The electoral college to choose the new leader is made up of on one third Parliamentarians, one third party members and one third affiliated organisations - Trades Unions mostly.

For Parliamentarians, read MPs, read MEPs. AMs? Nah.

Now hang on, you might say. When Carwyn Jones took on Edwina Hart and Huw Lewis in the race to become leader in Wales, the vote of a Welsh MP counted for just as much as the vote of an AM. They both shared the privilege of having more clout, per vote, than ordinary party members. Equal privilege.

In Scotland yesterday one MSP wasn't having it. The situation was, said Hugh Henry, "grossly unfair". He offered one of two solutions. Either MPs had to give up their privileged status when it came to the Scottish contest, or MSPs ought to join the electoral college in the vote for the overall party leader. In other words everyone ought to be equal, not some a little more equal some of the time.

He reckons the former makes for the best solution - make a vote from a Scottish MPs nothing special when it comes to electing a Labour leader who sits in the Scottish Parliament. Their vote counts but it counts no more than that of an ordinary voter.

So is there a Welsh Labour Assembly Member who's as prepared as Hugh Henry to speak plainly?

And if there is, might they spit it out today?

Getting the message

Betsan Powys | 11:03 UK time, Thursday, 10 June 2010


feelinghappy_feelingsad_385.gifSomeone is refusing to get on board - the gloom and doom tour, that is.

"No-one pretends that the financial situation is going to be good, but it's no good going to voters with a message of doom".

The voice of Carwyn Jones, First Minister and the leader of a Welsh Labour party where some had been starting to wonder already whether all we were about to be fed over the next twelve months was a diet of pointing a finger at Westminster, inter-governmental bickering, anger directed at Gwydyr House that at times felt synthetic ... and not a whole lot more.

Perhaps Mr Jones and his team have heard the same question. The answer - as provided by Mr Jones in today's Western Mail at least - is 'no'.

The stance on the Welsh Labour party and its prospects in next year's Assembly election? Positive.

On the day the first obvious impact of initial cuts to the £10b budget Whitehall departments spend here on non-devolved issues and agencies hits home, his stance on cuts? "It's not going to be good", rather than "bad".

His personal stance as a leader? Out and about during the election campaign, people were very warm and positive;

On the referendum? Giving the impression of being more positive than his predecessor, asked Martin Shipton? "All I've done is put into practice what I've always believed in".

Earlier this week I asked the three politicians who took the government and opposition party lobby briefings for three adjectives each - three words that best describe the first month of relations between Cardiff and London. We were all, I felt, a bit fed up with the over-used "constructive".

Tory leader Nick Bourne offered innovative, workman-like (if that's not un-PC he added) and respectful.

Soon to be Lord German used at least a hundred words before plumping for just three: listening, understanding and developing.

Labour's John Griffiths was hard pressed to break away from the 'c' word but came up with business-like, followed by realistic and ... positive.

Got the message?

Measure for Measure

Betsan Powys | 17:48 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010


The Counsel General, John Griffiths AM, is not a man who lets on if his feathers are ruffled. Maybe they never are.

I was once in a car, driven by a colleague who - unbeknownst to us - was following Mr Griffiths along the M50. She drove like the farmer's daughter that she is - in a hurry. He drove much as he conducted this week's lobby briefing: carefuly, within the white lines, within the speed limit. It was only when she sped past that we realised she'd just cut up the then Deputy Minister for Education.

The line Mr Griffiths followed was this: the Assembly Government continues to use its powers to deliver. He and the Assembly Government "want all and sundry to join in" supporting a yes vote in a referendum that would make it easier to deliver in future but in the meantime, rest assured that the powers available already are being used.

12 Legislative Competence Orders - or LCOs - have been secured, a "quite reasonable number" he thought.

8 Measures - or Welsh laws - have received royal approval and there are another 4 draft measures on their legislative way.

Amongst them, of course, the Welsh language measure, the longest and most complex yet. Was the Counsel General confident it could be properly scrutinised and still make it as far as royal approval before the end of this Assembly term? He was, in a quietly confident, unruffled kind of way.

Tomorrow morning a group of organisations will publish an open letter to the Culture Minister, Alun Ffred Jones, which they hope will very much ruffle government feathers. The letter is signed by representatives of national organisations - Urdd Gobaith Cymru, Friends of the Earth, Merched y Wawr, the Association of Welsh Translators and Interpreters amongst them - who think the draft measure is missing the mark.

They want it amended to include a statement to the effect that the Welsh language is an official language in Wales, to include linguistic rights for those choosing to speak Welsh and a language commissioner who is independent of government.

Fail to deliver that, they argue and as a government you've failed to deliver legislation that is strong and meaningful.

By the way Mr Griffiths had another message, one that says the government of Wales continues to make it clear to the Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillan that the referendum must happen "within this Assembly term".

Not calling for an Autumn referendum any more then, Mr Griffiths?

The affable Counsel General smiled and refused, quietly, steadfastly, to say any more.

The gloom and doom tour

Betsan Powys | 10:41 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010


If you were hoping to drop by for a little ray of sunshine, try somewhere else. I've been on a whistle-stop gloom and doom tour and don't see why you shouldn't have to join in.

It's a sort of magical mystery tour where all the surprises are awful and not that much of a surprise come to think of it. The pictures that break up the stream of depressing facts and figures help a bit. There's one of an axe, the sort of axe the Vikings used to slash and behead people as opposed to a neat and shiny woodcutters axe. There's a man standing on a precipice helpfully headlined "man standing on the edge of an abyss", a little kitten about to be mauled by ferocious dogs and another man with his head, literally, buried in the sand. They raise a smile but we're talking the rueful variety here.

The routine was devised by Steve Thomas, Chief Executive of the WLGA ("not the United States TV station 'We love Georgia and Alabama' ...") but the Welsh Local Government Association. He's the sort of man who laughs in the face of words like "readjusting", "reassessing", "juggling", "re-jigging" - then sobers up pretty quickly and starts thinking job losses.

After all, the gloom and doom tour that has recently visited a local authority near you, makes the points that if it was really all about making innovative use of existing resource, about "much greater efficiency," "accelerating the pace of change", "the optimum use of public money," "developing menus of good practice" - he has a sideline in cutting and pasting quotes from ministerial speeches - then there'd be no need to cut anything at all. But the Finance Minister Jane Hutt, who's on her way this morning to meet Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander in Westminster, won't be talking efficiency over tea and biscuits. They'll be talking cuts: how much, how much or little flexibliity, how soon.

Come to think of it, they'll probably do without the biscuits.

One of the highlights of the gloom and doom tour features a photo of Harry "Loadsamoney" Enfield.

Question: What do you get for a billion pounds these days?

You start thinking a collection of luxury homes, a fleet of cars, a shed load of Panini World Cup stickers, a Premiership striking partnership ...

Local Authority leaders think one billion and are then treated to what losing a billion would mean:

stop maintaining roads, turn off all the street lights, cut all spending on public transport, stop all winter maintenance of roads = £0.3b
close the libraries, sut the leisure centres and theatres and stop maintaining parks - = £0.3b
planning control activities, economic and community development to save another £0.1b and stop all home to school transport would add another £0.1b

Does the Chief Executive think for one minute that any council in Wales is about to slash and burn to that extent - even have to slash and burn to that extent? No, he doesn't. That's the scare-em-stupid part of the tour. But turn over the page and you get to the numbers he clearly believes they may well have to deal with. They're pretty scary too, the draft Deloittes, SOLACE and WLGA figures.

Under 'Best case scenario' is the advisory: "Ignore this".

'Moderate case scenario' has a small authority facing a budget shortfall of £21.9m, a medium authoritiy £42.1 and a large authority £79.1m.

The worse case - in bold - has a small authority facing a shortfall of £34.2m, a medium authority £65.8m and a large one £123.7m.

By the way the current annual budget of a large authority like Cardiff is somewhere in the region of £650m - £518m revenue and £136m capital.

And having pinned the audience to their seats, then comes the real advisory.

Stop thinking incremental change will do it. It won't. Don't even think ambitious when it comes to dealing with those budget shortfalls. Think very ambitious. Contemplate outrageous ambition and hope you'll never have to go there.

Ambition, in these terms, is about looking hard at education and social care budgets, considering statutory and discretionary pay freezes, considering other ways of financing investment, taking risks, getting central government to remove edicts and ring fencing on grants so local authorities are free to work out for themselves how they and the authority next door can cut least painfully.

Then comes the bottom line:

"They key question for political leaders is - what are you going to stop doing?"

Political leaders, bear in mind, who want to be re-elected in May 2012 - a year later than Assembly Members want to be re-elected, of course. Just what are you going to stop doing and just how are you going to time those deeply unpopular announcements for which trades unions and local action groups will crucify you?

Oh and by the way - and the tour ends here with councillors and officers alike pinned to their seats - we're all living longer so the cost of delivering adult social care is about to go through the roof, it looks as though the number of surplus school places will exceed 100,000 by 2014 and European targets on waste are about to get a whole lot tougher.

There. I told you not to expect a ray of sunshine.

Perhaps - in the spirit of the big society - you'd like to join in with your own thoughts.

The news where you are

Betsan Powys | 09:58 UK time, Tuesday, 8 June 2010


jeremy-hunt-419x210.jpgRemember plans - ones developed over many years of reviews into public service broadcasting - for a new style of news service for ITV in Wales?

Remember the competition amongst potential providers, keen to offer strong competition to the BBC?

In Wales, that competition was won by UTV. The independent selection panel were attracted by what they called "UTV's very strong philosophy of hard news." They liked the emphasis UTV had put on community websites, on newspapers "so that the north of Wales is not forgotten".

UTV pledged that Wales Live would offer a "fresh and authoritative" service.

BBC colleagues sat up, saw stiff competition coming - and liked it.

Then came the General Election. The Shadow Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, had already made it high-definition-clear that he opposed the plans and would scrap them. The plans, he argued, "to prop up regional news simply casts a failed regional TV model in aspic".

So here was one very specific issue where who won the election mattered. They didn't win outright but Mr Hunt's party got into government and so, we gather, he's about to announce that despite pressure to look again at Wales and its pilot, to accept the argument that says Wales - with its lack of national newspapers and real competition to the BBC - ought to be treated differently to other parts of the UK, the pilot here, as elsewhere, will be scrapped.

And in its place? What will Mr Hunt suggest?

Are we about to see a deal that will mean ITV, after all, keeps going with regional news, as long as there's something in it for them that makes it a more attractive and affordable prospect that it was, something to do with advertising revenue and what exactly they're obliged to provide in future on your tv screen and mine?

Are we about to see what Geraint Talfan Davies described some time ago as "the creation of a frothy UK magazine programme, no doubt replete with skateboarding ducks, with shorter news inserts from Wales, and other nations and regions?"

A deal where news for Wales is a peripheral matter for ITV would not, he argues, be "a happy prospect".

Or does Mr Hunt, who has spent a long time thinking about it, have something else up his sleeve to silence the critics already lining up in Wales?

The result of his deliberations will be announced - just after the break.


The announcement - and the reasons for it - are outlined here.

Bottom line?

It would, says Mr Hunt, be "inappropriate" to spend scarce public resources on propping up expensive regional news services. As to what next, he's asked the investment bank Lazard to look at the potential for commercially viable local TV stations in the UK nations and regions.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.