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Archives for July 2010

S4 Changes

Betsan Powys | 14:17 UK time, Friday, 30 July 2010


Hello, I'm Arwyn Jones, a Political Correspondent for BBC Cymru Wales.

While Betsan tries to make the best of the West Wales weather, I'll be updating her blog every now and again.

Next week, I'll be following the political goings on at the National Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale, proving it's not all choirs and clogs on the Maes.

But one subject you can bet your pavilion on being on everyone's lips will be S4C.

Betsan has already blogged that the new UK Government may well be looking to cut the channel's funding. There have been reports suggesting cuts of up to 24% over the next 4 years to the £100 million they get from the UK Government.

Wednesday evening, news emerged that after five year's at the helm, Iona Jones, S4C's Chief Executive had left her her job.

A short statement from S4C followed and then hours and hours of radio silence (or should that be TV silence?)Eventually the Chair of S4C, John Walter Jones was thrust in front of a microphone to explain that a long established "due separation" between the S4C Authority (the regulator) and the Executive (the management) is no more.

Instead the S4C Authority will have a hands-on role working with a management team that has been halved to just four members overnight.

Swift stuff you may think and you'd be right -- so swift that no-one in the UK Government's Department of Culture, Media and Sport (they who hold the purse-strings) still had no idea what was going when I spoke to them last night.

Before she left her job, Iona Jones spoke to MediaGuardian. She told them she'd given the S4C Authority a plan of how to deal with the cuts they were expecting which included saying:

"The scale of cuts needed are not going to be addressed by working at the margins, or focusing on costs.

"There is no room to move other than looking at the scale of what we do."

What we don't know is what this means for the future of programming on S4C. Does "looking at the scale of what we do" suggest that Iona Jones wanted fewer programmes, for example?

Well that's the suggestion, at least. She goes on to hint at cutting the numbers, ordering longer runs and dropping some strands of programming from Independent production companies.

So fewer programmes, but that last for longer was part of her plan, it seems.

If you think you have a better plan, S4C say they'll be looking for another Chief Executive in the not too distant future. If the salary stays at Iona Jones' £160,000, you might be tempted to dust off the old CV.

If you do decide to give it a punt, however, please bear this in mind. It's a fair old salary, but open to public scrutiny.

Any MP will tell you that when the public can see your expenses, it's often not the big ticket claims that cause embarrassment, but the little niggling ones.

Iona Jones might now be regretting, then, her claims of 66p, 55p and 33p in mileage. Nothing out of place mind. But when you're talking about cuts, as the supermarket says "every little helps".

See you on the Maes...

Off to go

Betsan Powys | 15:20 UK time, Friday, 16 July 2010


The sun's gone and it's raining - it must be time for me to pack up and go to Tenby and smile, whatever the weather throws at me this year. I'll be packing and unpacking quite a bit over the Summer, some holidays, some doing things other than the day job.

There will be intermittent blogging over the next few weeks, mostly from colleagues who didn't see me coming in good time. They'll have plenty to get on with. There were rumours in Westminster that the new coalition government, in the not too distant future, will look kindly on Plaid Cymru's Lords-in-waiting; that we'll know more soon about S4C's future budget; rumours abound in the tea room in the Bay about who will head the Conservative list in the South East - AMs getting very worked up about that one, though it's a case of no smoke, no fire, say the party centrally.

Before I go, let me unpack one more thing - the comments area on this blog. There've been times when healthy, informed debate has taken a leave of absence. Too often debates start to feel like family feuds. It's not exactly an easy conversation to join.

From September the team who will moderate your comments on this blog and on David Cornock's blog are going to be on hand to steer comments back on course if they veer off topic and step in if debates cross the line. The aim? That all of those who tell me they read - but would never dream of contributing to - this site think again; that all of those who already comment have a more interesting time from now on.

Until then, hold your thoughts and entries will re-open to comments from September.

"Breezing in."

Betsan Powys | 16:03 UK time, Wednesday, 14 July 2010


The Presiding Officer, April 2009

"The idea that the Prime Minister of the UK answers questions in the National Assembly for Wales is impracticable and preposterous.

"It's our own First Minister who answers questions here and the relationship is between the UK Government and the Welsh Government. It isn't between the Prime Minister and the Assembly.

"That's demeaning to our National Assembly and turns it into some kind of Grand Committee (of the House of Commons) equivalent.

"The idea that the Prime Minister of the UK can breeze in for a Q&A isn't allowed under our Standing Orders and I have no intention of changing it.

"He is the first minister of another Government in terms of our constitution. I would think if those people were serious they would have looked at the constitution. It smacks a bit of paternal unionism."

The Presiding Officer, in a letter to David Cameron, June 2010

"When you visited last month you offered, if the Assembly wished, to come to the Assembly and to contribute to our proceedings. You also suggested that a senior Treasury Minister could come to answer questions after the budget.

"I have now had an opportunity to discuss your suggestions with business managers of each of the political groups in the Assembly. As a result, I would liek to invite you to address Members of the National Assembly at a suitable time during the remaining term of the Third Assembly. The format I propose is that you would make a statement to the Assembly, to be followed by responses from each of the four party leaders ...

"These are new constitutional times for us all and I share your desire for an agenda of respect for relations between the Assembly and the UK Parliament, which you articulated when you visited us last month. I also welcome the construcitve, pragmatic approach the Secretary of State for Wales has already taken to engagement with the National Assembly. I look forward to taking forward these arrangements with you so that together we can indeed make sure that we make devolution work even better in the future".

These are new constitutional times for us all? Indeed.

Standing where?

Betsan Powys | 13:16 UK time, Wednesday, 14 July 2010


The question most heard in Cardiff Bay these days?

Heard who's standing in ...?

Some of today's answers for you.

Myfanwy Davies, who fought Llanelli for Plaid Cymru in the General Election, is now putting her hat into the ring for a seat on the South Wales West list. What a busy electoral bit of Wales that's turning out to be.

First Conservative Alun Cairns wanted out having won a Westminster seat for but was asked by his party to double up as a list AM until next May. The fight to take over the Tory list slot is yet to come.

Peter Black intends to stay put on the list for the Lib Dems and so, by all accounts, are the two Plaid members who won the other two seats last time round - Bethan Jenkins and Dai Lloyd. Plaid just squeezed that last spot in 2007, the maths just about defeating us as dawn was breaking outside the studios.

Now the news, on her blog, that Myfanwy Davies is going for a slot on the Plaid list. As one Plaid watcher just put it rather more bluntly than I'll put it here: someone's just parked their tank on the Jenkins lawn.

And how about this for a pub quiz question?

Which Welsh politician it hoping to represent the same constituency in the same institution for three different parties?

The answer, of course, John Marek. The closing date for those interested in fighting Wrexham for the Tories passed some days ago. Mr Marek's name is in the mix at least, though locally the suggestion is that nothing's in the bag for him.

He won Wrexham for Labour in 1999 , for the John Marek Independent Party in 2003 before losing to Labour in 2007 .... before becoming a Conservative a few months ago. Conservatives who've already made it to Cardiff Bay reckon he's the favourite to fight Wrexham for them. Mr Marek is, for now, staying stumm.

His independent following - put together with the Conservative vote - would give him a shout. Question is how many of those who backed him when he took on Labour for being too far to the right will fancy putting a cross in the John Marek Conservative box? I can't imagine it's that many.

I've just bumped into Lesley Griffiths in the lift, the Labour AM who ousted him last time round. She was, let's say, pretty sanguine about the news.

If Ron Davies makes it back to Cardiff Bay as the Plaid member for Caerphilly, a reunion party for the two former, newly-formed, members might be on the cards.

There's one guest list you wouldn't want to organise.

Minding the gap

Betsan Powys | 11:37 UK time, Wednesday, 14 July 2010


Our story today speaks for itself.

In hard cash terms, the growth in funding for the NHS in Wales over the past six years has been one-third lower than that for the NHS in England.

There's no argument about that. The Liberal Democrats say such an situation is "shocking" while the Conservatives claim it "shatters the cosmetic front of the Assembly Government and their claims that the NHS is a true priority".

I say there's no argument because the government accept the figures. They don't deny the gap is there. In fact they point to it, invite us to take a good look at it and argue that gaps like this open up because Wales, as a whole, is underfunded. It is, they say, the legacy of that £300m a year underpayment from the Treasury that Gerald Holtham and his team detected and spelled out in their report last year.

This is it, they say. This is what it means in real life. When we get less money than we ought to over the years, it shows. So guess what guys, they say - the Welsh health service is a part (albeit a very big part) of the Welsh government. The Welsh government is underfunded so health takes its hit along with everyone else. Sound logical? isn't it interesting, however, that this is the first time in ten years we've ever heard this argument used directly when it comes to Assembly Government spending decisions?

It's hardly surprising the Liberal Democrats find such candid statements 'shocking'. They won't be alone. But perhaps they - and all of us - should get used to it.

There are tough times ahead. That's what David Cameron is spelling out again, right now in the House of Commons. The need to cut is real, he argues and not about to go away. "Tory cuts?" said one Labour MP yesterday. "The irony is that we were way too soft in the warnings we sounded. We didn't scare people enough".

And as each and every axe falls in Wales, there'll be no softening of the blow in Cardiff Bay. Instead get set for more upfront admissions and for two fingers pointing - one at Westminster and the other at Gerald Holtham's conclusions.

Down the line

Betsan Powys | 08:38 UK time, Tuesday, 13 July 2010


b007k3cx_640_360.jpgI'm writing this on the (non-electrified) First Great Western en route to a day at Westminster meeting MPs and catching up on the latest from the London end of the line. But as I head in one direction, there seems more and more momentum for powers to be travelling in the opposite direction towards Cardiff Central - both through a referendum, and beyond.

Let's have a look.

As part of his White Paper on health yesterday, the UK health secretary Andrew Lansley signalled the demise of the Food Standards Agency. The FSA and I had our run-ins over the years - usually involving dodgy chicken and sugar laden cereals. I didn't think then I'd outlast them ... Still. It's highly likely that many of the key functions around public health will be devolved to the Assembly Government. It's already working closely with the FSA on implementing the Pennington proposals to prevent another ecoli outbreak but it's a whole other ballgame to take on the expensive business of running the operation.

A little-noted statement last week from Sustainability Minister Jane Davidson indicated a radical plan is afoot to take in-house to WAG most, or all, of the organisations relating to the natural environment here - among them the Welsh arm of the UK-wide Environment Agency.

There's growing concern in Cardiff Bay about the future of the DCMS-funded S4C. It took a £2m in-year cut this year to its £100m budget. The suggestion at the time was that they'd "volunteered" the cut. Note the inverted commas and imagine the kind of "volunteering" involved when your children "offer" to help you clean the car. But the feeling seems to be that the new administration will be back for more soon - and possibly much more.

The natural reaction from its supporters in the Assembly Government will be to bring the service into its embrace. But the total Welsh heritage budget is £172m and likely to fall. Without guarantees that S4C will bring with it sufficient funding into the future, it starts to look less like a rescue operation and more like chucking an anvil into a dinghy.

Also moving well up the agenda is devolution of the criminal justice system in Wales. Devolving the system lock stock may be a step way too far for now but what about youth justice? Far too many Welsh young offenders are currently locked up in England because there is no space for them in Wales.

Don't think, though, that by simply devolving powers to Wales that the Ministry of Justice will automatically hand over the capital funding for a brand new secure youth offending institution in Wales. Don't imagine they'd offer guarantees of enough money to sustain the service under a Welsh policy framework in the years to come either.

The devolution of policing, too is firmly on the agenda. But as for taking responsibility for funding the four Welsh police forces, between precept, politician, PC and person on the street, there's hardly a more febrile mix of financial and - yes, another 'p' word - psychological relationships anywhere in Government.

There was a strong campaign to bring the Welsh element of the ailing Children and Family Court Service under the Assembly Government's wing.

The fight for CAFCASS Wales was won - but at a price. The transfer from the then Department for Education came with a £2m shortfall. That's grown to approximately £4m annually since 2005-6. The ailing patient turned out to be financially flatlining and has been pretty much on life support from the Welsh block grant ever since.

The moral of the tale?

Not so much a case, you might say, of 'beware Greeks bearing gifts', more perhaps a case of 'beware leek wearing stiffs'. Sorry. Couldn't resist it. It's been a long old Assembly term.

But the lesson is in there somewhere. Just because a service has a Welsh arm that's facing UK government cutbacks is not necessarily a reason to bring it under WAG's control - no matter how tempting it may look.

As politicians start drawing up manifestos for 2011, one of the more superficially attractive ploys will be - instead of proposing expensive and complex changes to existing responsibilities, rather to try and devolve more and more from Westminster - instant progress, in the sure belief that more funding will follow.
This isn't, of course, an argument for or against broadening powers sometime in the future. But as my imminent visit to the buffet car will no doubt confirm, things which look initially attractive can come with a hefty price tag ... and leave a nasty aftertaste.

The upshot? Be careful, I suppose, what you wish for.

Um ...

Betsan Powys | 17:40 UK time, Monday, 12 July 2010


question_mark15_203x152.jpgA quick question from a stymied Political Editor:

What's super Thursday in Welsh?

Though given the Presiding Officer is talking three votes in one ... any ideas for super-duper-Thursday?

Burning bridges?

Betsan Powys | 12:48 UK time, Monday, 12 July 2010


pontywerin_complete304.JPGOn the official ministerial to-do list this week?

The official opening of "Pont y Werin" - "the People's Bridge" - that crosses the river Ely and completes the Cardiff Bay circular walk. It was named by local children and will be opened officially on Wednesday.

By the way, is it me of are the words 'gwerin' and its terrible twin 'crachach' cropping up quite a lot these days? No idea what they mean? Not from by 'ere? Let me give you Don Touhig's version in the House of Commons back in 2008, delivered before the Islwyn MP swapped green leather for red and became Lord Touhig:

"The chattering classes, the crachach, who believe that they know best for Wales, swoon at the prospect of more powers for the National Assembly. Many in the media think that more powers for Cardiff is the story of the decade--tosh, rubbish. The real people of Wales, the werin, have no time for all of this, and I stand with them."

Got it? Chattering classes v real people.

So I'd better come clean and admit that I spent most of Friday with the chattering classes talking, in part at least, about bridges. In this instance is was about the sort of bridges political parties build when they form coalitions and about the prospect of parties burning them before going to the polls the next time.

The thesis put forward by Professor Richard Wyn Jones of the Wales Governance Centre is spelled out here? What he argues is that a minority Labour administration is the most likely outcome of next year's Assembly election.


In part because recent opinion polls suggest Labour could pick up a few seats come the election; in part because they'd rather do a deal with the Lib Dems than Plaid - but that a Lib Lab partnership is made difficult by that other coalition in Westminster; in part because Plaid would be better off working out where they go next as a political force rather than striving to stay in government with a party no longer in power in Westminster and in part because Professor Jones detects that Labour are out there now actively "burning their bridges" with partners, Plaid.

How come? Has he spotted flames? Look at Labour's stance on the reorganisation of schools in the West of Cardiff, he said. Look at the refusal to elevate elected Plaid nominees to the House of Lords. At the same time key Labour advisers have been writing barely coded "love letters" to the Lib Dems, he added. He's referring to Mark Drakeford, the Labour candidate in Cardiff West and former adviser to Rhodri Morgan advocating PR for Local Government ... the political equivalent of showing a bit of leg to Lib Dems.

I'm not convinced that either example of 'bridges being burned' are signs of Labour sending Plaid a message - though that's not to say Professor Jones is wrong that a minority Labour administration looks more than possible. As for Labour sources? They're throwing up their hands today with a "look, no Swan Vestas" look on their faces. More orderly retreat than a blazing one, they say. More a cooling off as the polls draw closer, than scorched earth.

In the meantime Plaid ministers prepare for a difficult end of term. Tomorrow the appeal court says 'yes', 'no', or 'yes but' to the proposed badger cull. You get the impression the minister and her advisers are girding their loins for a 'yes but' at best. By the end of the week we're expecting the verdicts of two committees on the Welsh Language measure. The 'buts' are likely to be writ large once again.

Tonight Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones gives a speech setting out the party's priorities in the months leading up to the 2011 elections - knowing he has his work cut out and that plotting a straight course from a wobbly bridge is tough.

Everything you wanted to know ...

Betsan Powys | 12:01 UK time, Wednesday, 7 July 2010


What, says a friend in Switzerland, is all the fuss about? Can't you lot put two crosses in two boxes on one visit to the polling station? Not exactly earth-shattering, argues someone who left Wales for a dose of globe-trotting some years ago. Are you lot just looking for a fight, or what?

She's been reading the boost to democracy/bang goes the respect agenda stories that appeared in the wake of Nick Clegg's announcement that the referendum on AV will be held on the same day as the Assembly Elections.

You either believe, as does Mr Clegg, that it boosts turnout, saves money and simply makes sense to hold both votes on the same day and that those decrying the decision are out to shout down the coalition government, no matter what.

Or you believe, as do the two dozen MPs from Wales mostly but also from Scotland and Northern Ireland who signed an Early Day Motion tabled last night that the devolved administrations were by-passed and insulted by Mr Clegg's announcement. To that insult add the injury they can see coming to the future of democracy in Wales if the number of MPs is reduced from 40 to nearer - or even fewer than - 30.

The unofficial title of the EDM, I'm told, was "Alas the Respect Agenda, she faded fast".

In the meantime I've been brushing up on referendums. In case there's a round on referendums in your local pub quiz next week, read and commit to memory:

What's the job of the Electoral Commission?

1. commenting on the intelligibility of the referendum question
2. registering campaign groups and regulating campaign fund-raising and expenditure
3. supervising the voting arrangements
4. certifying and declaring the result of the referendum

On which subjects have our opinions been canvassed recently?

Let's kick off with the votes that led to the creation of the Assembly in Wales and the Scottish Parliament in 1997; there's the vote in London on an Assembly and Mayor in 1998, the vote in Northern Ireland on the Good Friday Agreement a fortnight later and in 2004 the vote in the North East on whether to create a regional government.

37 referendums have been held in local authorities in England on the issue of directly-elected Mayors. 24 said "No", 13 said "Yes".

There've been two referendums on the introduction of congestion charges (Edinburgh and Greater Manchester - both voted "No")

And there've been three votes on council tax increases - in Milton Keynes, Bristol and Croydon. Voters either went for the lowest or the medium increase. Funny that.

Lots of facts: one point to add. During every single campaign I bet you someone sounded a warning - that when people vote in a single-issue referndum, they rarely use their vote solely to answer the question on the ballot paper.

The latest to make that point? Glyn Davies MP on AMPM this lunchtime. Rarely, he said, are referendums fought on the exact issues under question and so, he fears that the call from the Holtham Commission yesterday for the Assembly to gain the power to vary income tax could prove "very dangerous" for the "Yes" campaign during next year's referendum in Wales.

There was, he said, logic in what Mr Holtham had said. In that he's singing from the same hymn sheet as his former boss in the Assembly, Nick Bourne. But political campaigns aren't always fulled by logic he points out and so Mr Davies' fear, as a supporter of further powers, is that the "No" campaign could very easily portray a vote for greater powers for the Assembly as a "vote for higher taxes". They could - Mr Davies is spot on there.

"I think" he added "that's a very dangerous change".

So what do you do?

Put logic to one side, or make it central to your argument? Not a pub quiz question this time but not a bad one.


A double whammy for AMPM - let me quote Rhodri Morgan, who used to sit in the First Minister's seat but this morning occupied a sofa in the Senedd and spoke bluntly:

"I've always believed that we've had no sanction or mandate from the original September 1997 referendum to have tax-varying powers. If we had had a tax-varying power on offer there is no question that we would have had 'no' instead of a 'yes' -- as a result there is no mandate for that."

"I understand all all the principles for accountability but there is no mandate for a tax-varying power for the Welsh Assembly".

"Horizontal equity"

Betsan Powys | 12:11 UK time, Tuesday, 6 July 2010


A busy day. Making sense of the "interpenetration" of the Welsh and UK economies and quest for "horizontal equity" leaves little time to blog, sadly.

A few quotes and thoughts:

First of all - a direct hit dealt by Commission Chairman, Gerald Holtham, at the UK coalition document that links reform to funding with the result of the referendum next March:

"The question of funding is completely separate from the question of powers. There's no connection - no connection at all."

On fiscal accountability: "If you accept that the principle of fiscal accountability, then it applies in Scotland, it applies in Wales, it applies in Timbuktu."

How much income tax revenue are we talking about here? For how much would the Assembly Government, in fact, be accountable? Half the income tax take in Wales is just over £2b. How much extra money do you get if you put, say, 1p on the basic rate of income tax in Wales? No more than £150m.

Might politicians not conclude that for that amount, the political grief just ain't worth it?

There are, says Gerry Holtham, "uncomfortable aspects" to the Commission's proposals published today. Will their report end up being given what the Assembly Government called "detailed consideration" on a shelf somewhere in Cathays Park? "I don't know where the political forces will settle but I truly believe it's under serious consideration".

Just as he repeated that on the lunchtime bulletin, a seagull targetted his bag. "Ah you see" said the Chairman: "a sign of good luck!" Off he went to do battle with Newsnight Scotland.

The SNP's take on Mr Holtham's version of "horizontal equity?" Full fiscal autonomy or bust. "Anything less would be messy and unsustainable, and could well leave Scotland worse off."

The Commission press conference gives way to the Conservative lobby briefing. Nick Bourne takes over Mr Holtham's seat. So what did he make of that "no connection at all" quote?

A direct hit, first, at Labour for having done nothing to change the Barnett formula while they were in power. If action is so urgent now, why was it not when their hands were on the levers of power? Then a curious response to Mr Holtham: "There is a clear political connection, even if there is no logical one". Mmm. The sort of answer that needs "detailed consideration."

Wriggle room

Betsan Powys | 15:51 UK time, Monday, 5 July 2010


July 5th 2010

Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's statement, on the decision to hold the AV referendum on the same day as the Assembly elections:

"That is why the Prime Minister and I have decided that the referendum will be held on 5 May 2011, the same day as the elections to the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and local elections in England. That will save an estimated £17m. I know that some Honourable Members have concerns over that date, but I believe that people will be able to distinguish between the different issues on which they will be asked to vote on on the same day."

You'll remember, a few months ago, that it was Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams who railed against the possibility of holding a referendum on further powers on the same day as the Assembly elections. She was prepared to vote against the referendum because of "concerns about what a dual vote on that day will mean in relation to being able to express clearly the reasons why people should vote 'yes'.

So what about this dual mandate?

"Referenda and elections cost a lot of money to run and we simply cannot justify to the people of Wales spending money when we don't need to. The Assembly elections should take place as planned and it will be the duty of political parties to inform the voters about the choices they face."

If you were wondering about the wriggle room - it's laid out here:

"I have previously said that we wouldn't support holding the Assembly referendum on the same day as the Assembly elections itself and that remains the case. We cannot have prospective Assembly candidates knocking lumps out of each other on one platform and standing together on another on both Welsh-wide issues.

"The AV referendum is a UK-wide poll and holding it on the same day as the Assembly election will save money and it will increase voter turn out, something that should be welcomed by all political parties. I see no reason why campaigning for the Assembly elections will conflict with campaigning on the referendum for a change in the electoral system".

A correction to the press release arrives. "My apologies. Additional Voting should read Alternative Voting". Shouldn't that be an apology for holding blatantly contradictory positions, says a cynical voice in Cardiff Bay.

So both polls will be held on the same day. Or will they?

A Wales Office spokesman has just told my colleagues in Westminster that "in the spirit of the respect agenda between the UK Government and the devolved bodies, all options are still being considered." The date of the Assembly election, he said, will not necessarily be on the 5th of May 2011.

Someone had better talk to Mr Clegg before his Welsh leader has to wriggle some more.

Back to the Future

Betsan Powys | 13:49 UK time, Monday, 5 July 2010


michaelj.JPGToday, I am reliably informed, is a red-letter day.

Yes, the Assembly Government has published its radical blueprint for the future of the Welsh economy, the Economic Renewal Programme. But as 80s film buffs will know - no, not me but I know a man who is - when Marty McFly and co fire up the DeLorean time machine at the end of 1985's Back To The Future, the date that's typed in is 25 years into the future.

Yes, it's today.

Now I don't know what you were doing in 1985 but it's fair to say that 2010 probably seemed a very, very long way into the future. Personally I'd just been told I'd be spending the rest of 1985 and most of 1986 in Austria, teaching English in a school near Vienna. They picked up my Welsh accent; I came home with their Viennese twang. The Welsh economy wasn't on my radar. But one thing we do know now is that back in 1985, those who were looking saw the beginnings of an economic strategy for Wales based on dangling huge grants in front of companies to locate themselves here.

Today's the day that this approach was finally buried - and a lot more besides.

There was little rewriting of history from the Minister for the Economy and Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones. He accepted that the performance of the Welsh economy "has not met expectations" over the past decades - hard to do anything else, given the largely stagnant GVA per head figures compared with the rest of the UK.

There was an interesting and carefully co-ordinated intervention from one of his predecessors though. Andrew Davies took to the airwaves this morning to denounce senior civil servants, who, he said, had frustrated his attempts to push through similar plans while he was in office. Perhaps he wishes he had his own DeLorean to go back and have his time again but as Mr Jones was left in no doubt from the questions at this morning's launch of the ERP - you only get one shot at this.

So what happens now?

Huge restructuring within the Department for the Economy for starters (and they know better than most that 'restructuring' means jobs in the firing line), an end to that grants culture, a focus on six key sectors in terms of attracting investment, get rid of the myriad of business support schemes, concentrate spending on infrastructure projects like next generation broadband, transport and so on.

As the film ends and the time machine prepares to fly into the future (to today), the final line is given to Doc Brown - "Where we're going, we don't need...roads".

Turns out we most certainly do. But with capital budgets about to take a serious hit over the next few years, the question is whether there'll be any money left to build them. If we could only invest in time travel...

As a footnote, I'm told there was a nice moment at the launch this morning at the Panasonic factory in Cardiff, which was the first of the big Japanese investments to come to Wales. Environment Minister Jane Davidson said she was particularly delighted to address the event, since her summer holiday job in 1976 was working on the first televisions to roll off the production line at the site.

Back to the Future indeed.

Like buses ...

Betsan Powys | 22:16 UK time, Thursday, 1 July 2010


We saw this coming and now, it looks as though the official confirmation is on its way over the next few days. The coalition government in Westminster intends to hold the referendum on reforming the electoral system on the first Thursday in May - the same day as the Assembly election and local elections in England.

Two questions: how much sense does it make to hold a referendum on changing the voting system for one institution on exactly the same day as voters choose who gets to sit in another?

And who was it who was prepared to vote against holding a referendum on further powers - one they supported wholeheartedly - IF there was any danger it was held on the same day as rhe Assembly election?

Mind you, let's consider one other question while we're at it. Won't it be quite tough to argue for paying to hold three votes in Wales within three months?

Funnily enough the Lib Dems and Conservatives are proving hard to pin down for the morning interviews.


It sounds as though the possibility of moving the Assembly Election to June was discussed at the last meeting of party leaders in Cardiff Bay. (There may be a clash there too if there's a snap General Election after a lost referendum of course ... but ...)

Moving the Assembly election to June would be Labour and Plaid Cymru's preferred option, I'm told - "because after all we believe the Assembly election to be rather important" said a source, too important to conflate with a referendum on changing the voting system to another institution. But it would be much easier to make that happen, of course, if all four Welsh party leaders support the idea.

Nick Bourne "made sympathetic noises" then says a source and this morning the Tory leader has made clear that he wrote a few days ago to his fellow leaders "seeking their support for the Assembly elections to be delayed for a month because of the likely Assembly powers referendum campaign".

Different referendum, same outcome.

He's urged Carwyn Jones to make the request to the Secretary of State urgently, before any money is wasted on preparing for a May election.

The suggestion from the Labour camp is that the First Minister will raise it but with Downing Street, rather than Gwydyr House, thank you very much.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have told BBC Wales they don't intend to respond until an announcement is made officially.

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