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Archives for February 2011

Cosy or nosy?

Betsan Powys | 16:42 UK time, Tuesday, 22 February 2011


Back from Labour's conference in Llandudno, where the traffic wardens got me again and where the party politicking was in full swing. Suddenly May 5th seems a whole lot closer.

Alongside the regulation attacks on other parties, par for the course at this stage of the electoral cycle, it seemed to me that Carwyn Jones was anticipating a similar roughing-up of his party's record in government over the past decade when the other tribes meet in the coming weeks.

His defence?

To quote his keynote speech: "There has been far too much attention paid to policy and process and too little attention on delivery.

"It's quite easy for a Government to turn itself into a 'Strategy Factory' - you know, creating an endless stream of strategies without there being any product at the end of it.

"I want this to change and change radically.

"Delivery will be the watchword of the next Welsh Labour Government."

When the term 'strategy factory' was floated to the press pack on the eve of the speech, ears pricked up. Was the First Minister really going to use that term? Yes, he was. It had been 'totally understandable' that in the early years of devolution, the Assembly had needed time to bed down - but now we were in 'a different phase'.

This is, it goes without saying, a risky strategy. It opens his party's flank up to attacks that, put very simply, it has failed to deliver in government, that it's concentrated on thinking and talking rather than doing, a potentially rich seam for the other three major parties. You get the feeling that the press release from the Welsh Conservatives almost wrote itself.

At the same time it's strategy that conveys to the electorate a tangible reason to vote Labour (or so Mr Jones would have it) and gives the party a sense of purpose heading into May 5th.

In passing, it does seem somewhat strange that while Mr Jones publicly states in his speech that he presides over a system of government and civil service that "in many aspects is not suitable for a modern, devolved Wales" while his party leader Ed Miliband writes an article headlined "Wales is an alternative for Britain to follow". But that's politics, and they're at very different stages of that electoral cycle, remember.

So what will "delivery" actually look like?

In recent days, there have been three contributions to the debate about how our public services are delivered - all fascinating and all with something different to say. What unites them is that none are particularly complimentary about the way they have been delivered so far.

First up, Gerry Holtham, he of the Commission fame, a man who must hold a record for the number of namechecks from Welsh politicians for his two careful, thorough and comprehensive reports into the way Wales is funded.

In a piece for WalesOnline, he widens his focus on to the way that money is actually spent. He admits to having subscribed to the Rhodri Morgan/Mark Drakeford approach which placed co-operation and consensus well ahead of competition and choice in the running of public services.

Now, he says, it's time to face reality and evidence and in his words "the news so far is not good".

In the most piercing series of questions, which will be most painful for Carwyn Jones and his party, he suggests that the close relationship between the left and the trades unions may be among the causes.

He writes, "Public sector trades unions are very powerful in Wales, sponsoring many politicians. Has this led to a culture of complacency and cosy connivance in inadequacy? Has trusting the professionals become a reluctance to subject them to proper scrutiny?

"Has abolishing invidious comparisons lapsed into starving the public of legitimate information needed to hold services to account? At first glance it seems that the more bracing regime in England has permitted better results than our approach.

"Do we in Wales generally have a tendency to take the soft options?"

Mr Holtham does single out Education Minister Leighton Andrews as an honourable exception to this in recent months - but remember too that teaching unions are not affiliated to the Labour party.

He admits that he doesn't have a blueprint for doing it better and certainly isn't advocating that Wales simply copies whatever is done in England. For him, it's about recognising evidence that standards and expectations are too low in Welsh public services and alongside putting our trust in professionals to get on with job must come a means of holding them to account for the performance of the services they deliver.

Delivery is also high on the list of Wales' most senior civil servant, the Assembly Government Permanent Secretary Dame Gillian Morgan. In a speech last week, reported by the IWA's John Osmond, she gave a frank analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Welsh policy making and service delivery.

The third very interesting contribution to the debate comes from a less political source but is no less intriguing for that. Work psychologist Philippa Davies gives her prescription for educational improvement and concludes - it's time to get nosy.

In refreshingly frank language, she says it's time to take on individuals whose entrenched interests block reform, or, as she puts it, "nobble the change chokers" at each level "from minister, to civil servants, to local authorities and then teaching front-liners".

At the same time, she warns, all stick and no carrot will mean change will be sabotaged, unconsciously or otherwise.

For her, it's public engagement - and downright nosiness - that stands the best chance of delivering change.

So where does all this leave us? Well, it shows that change and reform are now being thought about across the board and not just in ministerial speeches and opposition press releases. At the same time, the UK government will unveil radical changes to public service delivery in England within the next fortnight that look to go much, much further than anything even being contemplated in Wales.

While the question of "what will delivery look like" is likely to be a central theme of the coming election campaign, it's also likely to be well after May 5th before we find out what the answer is. And even then, the scale of the challenge, judging by the three contributions I've mentioned here, is nothing short of immense.

One pointer may come from the last big review yet to be published before this Assembly is dissolved on April 1st - the wide-ranging group set up to investigate whether services should be delivered at a local, regional, or national level in future.

In terms of changes to public services, it may well give us the where and the why - but possibly not the most critical part of all - the how.


Betsan Powys | 09:34 UK time, Saturday, 19 February 2011


Talk about 'making things clear'. My bright idea of filming on Offa's Dyke yesterday on the way up to Llandudno turned considerably less bright the closer we got to Knighton. Plan abandoned.

In the cafe in the town centre they had plenty to add to the debate. Let's just say that where the referendum's concerned, the 'Yes' campaign have their work cut out. Powys has been forgotten by the Assembly Government, they said. They've done a whole load for Cardiff and then worry about Anglesey. "We in the middle are losing out".

Yet more powers? They must be joking. "People feel really strongly about it round here" said one man who'd lived in Knighton all his life.

He needed a dose of Labour's Susan Elan Jones. She kicked off the Labour Yes Rally in Llandudno a few hours later with some vigour. As one stunned looking party man put it, "she went off like a rocket!" The room loved it and loved the speech of a new leader many were hearing for the first time, even more. Ed Miliband called for a Yes vote "with all my heart". It was, he said, logical to vote Yes. Wales had "led the way" with its support for a smoking ban, free bus passes for older travellers and the children's commissioner. Unlike the 80s and 90s there was a Labour-led government in Cardiff Bay that could stand up for Wales in face of Tory imposed cuts. (The word 'coalition', as you may have heard, is out of fashion in Labour circles. It's Tory-led and Labour-led all the way ...)

He was not a separatist said Mr Miliband - they loved that too - but as a minister in the last government whose opinion had been sought on the bids for power to legislate that came from Cardiff, he admitted "a large part of me thought, hang on," these issues were devolved, why was he having a say at all.

In other words this is a two-for-the-price-of-one weekend. Labour's message: if you want to protect Wales in any way from Tory cuts, vote Yes in March, vote Labour in May.

Yes for Wales Chair, Roger Lewis, looked pretty comfortable on the top table. Another Yes for Wales colleague trailing the boss looked slightly more strained. "This IS a cross-party Yes campaign of course" he muttered, while Labour, next door, were very much doing it "the Labour way".

This morning the same support for devolution was there and the same rocks thrown at the Conservatives for trying to sell off the forests, for closing public libraries. There may have been one or two in the audience, or even on the stage, who might have thought about the post offices Labour closed and blushed for a moment or two.

There was recognition from Mr Miliband too that in 1997, at the time of the last referendum, big Labour beasts had made their opposition to devolution chrystal clear. "Let's be honest: many people in Wales had major doubts about devolution" he told conference this morning. "But let us declare here from this Conference: devolution has worked".

Rachel Banner, the Labour face and voice of True Wales, would question his certainty.

Russell Goodway would do the same and argue he - a current unbeliever - is speaking for many in the party whose concerns are going unheard.

On Radio Wales this morning Kim Howells - the biggest Labour beast the No camp have at the moment - took a different tack. He's questioned whether "the Welsh way" - so admired today by Ed Miliband - has delivered. He's questioned what it is. But most of all this morning he seemed to be saying that that he'll vote No because the issue at stake on March 3rd is so "trivial". A few weeks ago he described it to me as "flaking a bit off the constitution." Won't there be many in the No camp who might find that argument uncomfortably close to the Yes line that this is a "tidying up exercise?" True Wales have been utterly consistent in arguing that, is quite simply a lie and one that should be exposed.

By the way a big - in fact huge talking point in Llandudno is an equally huge banner showing Carwyn Jones standing .. .well in a way that suggests he's "standing up for Wales". "Carwyn-zilla" as my colleague Tomos Livingstone has dubbed it, is certainly striking and at certain angles looks, as I said to a Labour spin doctor who was passing by, as if there's something missing in the middle. "That" he said firmly "is NOT a story".

As if ...

The Basics

Betsan Powys | 14:21 UK time, Wednesday, 16 February 2011


I've just flown past what looks like a distribution centre for the Daily Mail. Ok, I haven't flown by literally - I flew past on the train - though I will be taking to the air on tomorrow night's Wales Today as it happens. All in the aid of giving an over-view of how the process of scrutinising new Welsh measures or laws works now, given the issue has become such a key one in this campaign.

But back to that distribution centre. It was the Daily Mail who reported that the Assembly Government's policy on tuition fees could lead to "education apartheid" and though the wave of comment has calmed down, the ripples show no sign of abating.

Yesterday, the Education Minister announced that the basic fee that universities in Wales will be allowed to charge their students from 2012 will be £4,000 - that's significantly less than the £6,000 in England. Another clear policy divergence but it's left people scratching their heads.

What will it actually mean?

Leighton Andrews said his decision was based on the contribution he believed higher education should make to social justice.

He added, "The feedback from the consultation exercise has informed my decision to prescribe the basic fee amount as £4,000."

Let's have a look at some of the actual consultation responses from within the HE sector in Wales on whether there should be a lower basic fee level in Wales, released overnight on the Assembly's website as part of the background to the regulations which will introduce the new fees regime.

Margaret Phelan,University and College Union :"UCU would be extremely concerned at the perception that a such a move might create. It is our view that given the rate set in England that Wales must not take a decision which could suggest that the fees are cheaper in Wales because the education one receives is not as good as England."

Mike Williams,Coleg Sir Gar: "We see no advantages in setting a lower basic fee rate in Wales compared to England and agree that it would be sensible to have a basic rate that is in line with England at £6000."

Dr David Grant,Cardiff University: "While there may be some superficial attraction in setting a basic rate at a lower level the consequences could be serious and would need to be carefully considered. From a marketing perspective having a lower basic fee rate than England would make Welsh higher education look cheap to non-Welsh students and may therefore pull in greater numbers of applications from beyond Wales, but under the proposed arrangements for tuition fee compensation, the lower fee level would offer no competitive advantage in attracting Welsh students."

Kym Roberts,Skill Wales "The concern of Skill Wales for those HEIs who wish to retain fees at lower than the revised fee level, is that conversely, access to higher education by young disabled people could be affected adversely."

David Moyle, Higher Education Liaison officers Association (HELOA Wales) "HELOA Wales cannot see any real advantages of implementing a fee rate lower than that proposed by the Minster for Education. Given the reductions in public funding for higher education over the coming years, the raising of the basic fee rate would appear to be the most likely mechanism of bridging this shortfall to ensure that the HE sector in Wales continues to deliver excellence in teaching, research and the student experience."

Professor Noel G Lloyd,Vice-Chancellor Aberystwyth University: "We believe the substantial reduction in resources available at Welsh Universities which would be the direct consequences of the introduction of a lower basic fee rate in Wales would be detrimental to the delivery of two major WAG policy priorities of supporting a buoyant economy and improving social justice. A major disadvantage of a lower basic fee would be that students would eventually find the student experience in Welsh HEIs degraded and inevitably therefore move in larger and larger numbers to study in English HEIs."

Phil Gough,Swansea University: "The lower basic fee level should be set at £6,000 (uplifted by GDP). This will be comparable with England and will give HEIs more flexibility to set differential fees below £6,000."

National Association of Student Money Advisors: "If the basic rate is lower than the proposed £6K there may be a number of issues. If lower, would there be a significant rise in applications from English applicants which would result in less places for Welsh domiciled students?

NUS Wales :"NUS Wales does not believe that higher education institutions have done anything to deserve the automatic right to charge above the current rate, As a result, we would suggest that the basic tuition fee rate should be at the current maximum rate of £3,375 rather than at £6,000 per annum."

So with the strong exception of the NUS, and some organisations who saw both advantages and disadvantages in a lower basic rate, it would seem the HE sector is dead against. A case of 'they would be, wouldn't they', I hear you say?

So what is the Minister up to?

Is it a crafty attempt to undercut England, to make Wales a cost-effective destination in the higher education market as fees rise sharply over the border to £6,000 and beyond? Is he just out to make Wales an attractive option for young people in the towns and villages that I can see through the window on this journey?

My guess is strongly no, it isn't and no, he's not.

Remember that for any university to charge more than the prescribed basic fee, they must produce a set of plans, showing how they are widening access and collaborating with other institutions, among other things.

What's likely to be going on here is that the Minister has realised that a number of universities in Wales would pretty much settle for a £6,000 basic fee income per student, without the need to draw up those pesky (and I suspect that's one of the politer adjectives that spring to the minds of Vice Chancellors) plans to get their hands on any more cash.

So in a very cute move, he's set the basic fee in Wales at a level that is pretty much unsustainable from a university's point of view, forcing every institution in Wales into drawing up a plan on access and collaboration and therefore following his agenda, whether they like it or not.

The only issue is that, as I've blogged before, this policy is already full of Donald Rumsfeld's "known unknowns." There are so many variables around student numbers, cross-border flows, budgets and funding streams that it's nigh on impossible to work out how it will all play out in practice over the coming years.

You can take the responses from the HE sector as the kind of special pleading one would expect when this much money is at stake but if they're right, then the £4,000 basic level introduces yet another curve ball into the process in Wales.

Flying visits

Betsan Powys | 13:43 UK time, Monday, 14 February 2011


The momentum really feels like it's building now.

In the Senedd this morning, the Electoral Commission are rehearsing for their results announcements on March 4th, as the results come in from the local counts through that day.

I'll soon be making my way to Aberystwyth for the first of our "Wales Debates" programmes which you can see tonight on BBC1 Wales at 2235.

Andrew Neil from the Daily Politics is on the desk next to me poring over scripts for his programme which is coming from the Senedd today and focusing on the referendum and Assembly election in May. Has he detected a strength of feeling either way on his visit to Wales? "Zero. Zilch." But he's not exactly surprised. Until the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly are fully in charge of the purse strings and are accountable for every penny they raise and spend, how can you get properly excited? That they're not is, in his blunt view, a fundamental weakness in the devolution settlement from the start.

The Yes for Wales campaign are breathing a sigh of relief that the figure fronting their one million printed leaflets had a good weekend. I'm talking about Shane Williams of course, who bagged a brace against Scotland. The cheers would have been particularly loud in the YfW offices, I suspect.

The No campaigners are also busy, their mascot not a rugby player but a large pink inflatable pig that's flying today outside the Senedd. I don't need totell you where on the pig the word 'NO' appears.

And one of the most high profile figures in True Wales - and a frequent visitor to this blog - has decided to strike out on his own. Len Gibbs has registered with the Electoral Commission as a permitted participant under the name "March 3 is 'Vote NO! Day'"

In characteristically robust style, he introduces his new website with the words:

"The most immediate reaction of many will be, 'Len Gibbs has quarrelled with True Wales'. And then they will ask, "Why?"

"The first question is easy to answer, "He hasn't."

"The second question is as easily answered. "He hasn't."

Any clues in his press release? "He has supported True Wales as a pro-devolution group but has increasingly become aware that there are a large number of people who want to re-evaluate the role of the National Assembly for Wales". True Wales, he believes, are hamstrung by their policy of NOT calling for that 're-evaluation' of the current devolution settlement.

So that's that then. A True Wales figure told me, "Len is an individual and he felt he needed to be freer to express his views. But he'll still campaign with us."

Overall, then, how are things looking? Polling data remains scarce but in terms of empirical evidence perhaps it's best told by a tale of two Jonathans - both firm supporters of further powers.

The Tory AM Jonathan Morgan, says the two reactions he's encountered most often when out canvassing have been scepticism and apathy and seems genuinely concerned that the vote could be a No.

The Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards says he's encountered more support in those parts of his constituency that were most sceptical last time round. Hard work but cool heads is his line and seems quitely confident that the vote could be a Yes.

Police drama

Betsan Powys | 15:37 UK time, Wednesday, 9 February 2011


On the whole I imagine that policemen are more used to breaking up rows than being the cause of them. But in the case of the fundamental changes to policing in England and Wales being proposed by the Home Office, that's exactly what they are.

Imagine I'm a traffic police officer - here's a quick recap on where we've been, where we are, and where we may be going.

Where have we come from?

The UK Government wants to introduce elected police commissioners in England and Wales. Policing is not devolved, so it can do this.

It also wants to change the scrutiny arrangements though, abolishing police authorities - which it can do.

It wants to replace them with Police and Crime Panels, which would be set up as committees of local councils. And this is where it's run into a problem.

Only the National Assembly can pass legislation relating to this aspect of local government in Wales.

Fortunately, there's a mechanism called a Legislative Consent Motion - LCM - cousin of the LCO - where the Assembly gives its permission for Parliament to step onto its land. In effect it gives its permission to temporarily transfer legislative powers back from Cardiff Bay to Westminster and pass a law in that area on its behalf.

There have been a number of these LCMs since 2007, all of which have passed through the Assembly utterly uneventfully.

Until now.

The Assembly Government is opposed to the introduction of elected police commissioners in Wales. In a series of meetings stretching back to last autumn, the Social Justice Minister Carl Sargeant pushed Policing Minister Nick Herbert to allow Wales a complete opt-out from the system - to keep the status quo here.

Nice try, said Mr Herbert - but policing responsibility is England and Wales and that's the way I'm going to go.

Up to you then, said Mr Sargeant. But I hope the Assembly passes the LCM so you can have your Police Panels here. And since I disagree with the policy - as do my colleagues in Plaid Cymru - don't expect me to bend over backwards to push it through, even with concessions around the Assembly Government's rights to appoint a couple of people to each panel.

Mr Herbert saw which way the wind was blowing and wrote to all AMs on Monday warning them that turning down the LCM would be "a hollow victory". Hollow or not, Plaid and Labour backbenchers voted against, their ministers abstained, and the Lib Dems and Tories voted for. Result - no consent.

So where do we go from here?

There appear to be two different views - one at each end of the M4. The Home Office and the Wales Office are playing it down, saying not only will Commissioners go ahead but the Panels will too - and all that will happen, in fact, is that the concessions offered to Carl Sargeant will be withdrawn. Hence Mr Herbert called the AMs "unwise" and accused them of "cutting off their nose to spite their face".

Others, including the Assembly's Presiding Officer Lord Elis Thomas and his advisers, say the situation is much more serious.

The Assembly has legislative competence over local government, and specifically over scrutiny committees formed out of local councils (Matter 12.7 of Schedule 5 of the Government of Wales Act if you have it there on your shelf). The Presiding Officer's clear and forthright view is that it would be unconstitutional for the Westminster government to press ahead and legislate for Police and Crime Panels in Wales, since powers over this are held in Cardiff not in London.

In exactly the same way that the Assembly would be acting illegally if it tried to legislate on things that it doesn't have powers over, now for the first time, the boot is on the other foot, so to speak.

And it must, at least, be worth noting that this view seems to be given some added weight by the amount of lobbying done by the Home Office and the Wales Office over this LCM. If they are quite certain that it only refers to the concessions, not to the Panels, why bother going to such lengths to persuade the government to back it and AMs to vote in favour of it?

At the time of writing, the Home Office and the Wales Office are sticking to their guns.

We shall see.


Betsan Powys | 12:57 UK time, Monday, 7 February 2011



If you'd ever wondered whether the Americans had thought twice about Rhodri Morgan's departure as Labour leader and First Minister and then gone on to wonder what information they reported back about his likely successor, then the answer is here.

Just to beat you all to it, let's just say that their take on the state of devolution is fascinating and they've got the state of the Welsh economy bang on ... but that's about it.

UPDATE 16.20

A response from Hywel Francis:

"I do not recall such a conversation. It sounds as if the diplomat suffers from poor shorthand. I would have said all the candidates had strengths and weaknesses. It is on the record that I was an early supporter of Carwyn Jones and I believe I made the right choice.

"I would certainly not have supported such an absurd suggestion as parachuting anyone into the Assembly."

Four weeks and counting

Betsan Powys | 10:02 UK time, Thursday, 3 February 2011


It was with a month to go that I started swotting for my GCSEs, or as they were known then, O levels. I knew I should have started sooner but wished I could have left it until later - a feeling some of you might be sharing with a month to go until the referendum on law-making powers.

I won't do this to you every day, don't worry but given it's day one of what will be a step-change in our coverage and lots to do, what follows is my bit-by-bit take on the first day of the last month.

The Western Mail's come out in favour of a Yes vote. Not knock-me-down-with-a-feather stuff, I know but it's a reminder that when I landed in Edinburgh airport last week, one of the first things I saw was a bank of papers, every single one of them with a Scottish story on the front page. I left first thing the next morning and saw Tommy Sheridan's face, in a prison van, staring out from most of them. If there were Welsh editions of national newspapers and thriving Welsh papers, how different a campaign would this be?
The People's Assembly is up and running - up very early in the case of four members who were in the Senedd by 6am. Rebcca Wasinski, Linda Bennett , Aled Morris and Gareth Protheroe are all undecided voters. The main issues that bothered them - how can you make up your mind when both sides spin so much, how can you weigh up the argument around scrutiny when both sides disagree so fundamentally about it, not enough information in the Electoral Commission's leaflet about the current situation, what would actually change, do No campaigners in all honesty hate the Assembly and things as they are, do Yes campaigners in all honesty want to appoint another 20 Assembly Members.
A change of tack by Roger Lewis of Yes for Wales, who went for it on Good Morning Wales and went for Rachel Banner of True Wales. It's as though he'd decided it was time to go for the no side, though he realised, I suspect, that he risked appearing over-bearing. Rachel Banner was taken aback by the change in tone since their last exchange. Our panel of four didn't seem to like the 'heat not light' element and left still undecided.
Neither will be on Wales Today this evening. Newbridge businessman and no campaigner Paul Matthews will be on, along with Cardiff City announcer and vice chair of Yes for Wales, Ali Yassine.

A quote from Steve Thomas, Chief Executive of the Welsh Local Government Association, who gave evidence to the Communities and Culture committee this morning: "I have appeared before this committee before on various initiatives which have stemmed from the Home Office, and the Home Office, in terms of its relationship to devolution is a bit like, sort of, Frank Spencer. Well meaning, but generally incompetent and bumbling ..."

Went down very well with AMs ...

which is ... more than can be said for the government's controversial amendments to the Local Government Measure, first revealed on this blog. The amendment, tabled very late in the process, would allow a Minister to merge or amalgamate two or three councils together by order. It's developing into a serious row, with three significant interventions today.

Firstly, the Liberal Democrats are to table no less than 82 amendments in a bid to delay its progress. This isn't Westminster of course, so there'll be no filibustering, no reading out of recipes to try and talk it out. The Assembly (maybe sadly) doesn't have a scriptwriter of Lord Fellowes' calibre to lecture them on the art of winning Oscars while waiting for a vote to take place.

But the time it will take to debate and vote on them is going to make the legislative timetable even trickier than before.

The second intervention came from the noted constitutional expert David Lambert. His view, expressed without the caveats normally favoured by lawyers of his ilk, is that in Westminster, an amendment of the scale being proposed by Carl Sargeant, so late in the process, would be turned down flat. Under Cabinet Office rules, the Government wouldn't propose it, and under Parliamentary procedure, it wouldn't be accepted.

His bottom line? If bodies such as councils are established by primary legislation, then they should only be dissolved by primary legislation. And that means another Measure, rather than ministerial decree. Very clear.

The third intervention, in the same Constitutional Affairs Committee meeting as David Lambert gave his views, was from the former First Minister Rhodri Morgan. One got the impression that he didn't entirely buy the create by primary, dissolve by primary argument, but at the same time, it doesn't appear that he's one hundred per cent comfortable with the government's last minute decision to include the powers in the Measure.

Here's what he had to say: "We all share this sort of unease about this late addition, obviously a late addition is naturally going to create suspicions of 'what's going on here' and is this really subsidiary to the overall purpose of the local government measure as we have previously understood it."

That sense of unease is felt across the political spectrum, to a greater or lesser extent - but, and to return to where we started the day - this is what law making looks like.

Debating the issues

Betsan Powys | 12:30 UK time, Tuesday, 1 February 2011


Breaking news: the UK Government has been told it has to give prisoners in Scotland and Wales the right to vote in May's Assembly elections - though not the March referendum - or risk compensation claims for allegedly breaking human rights laws. The recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, they've been warned, doesn't just affect the vote in Westminster parliamentary elections, as they'd thought, because the Assembly elections use the same electoral roll. Local elections have a slightly different roll.

More on that during the day.

My own polling card still hasn't arrived for the March vote but yours may well have - and come tomorrow, there'll be a month to go until you get a chance to use it in the referendum.

Granted, I haven't been around very much to check the post. I've been to Scotland to speak to the First Minister, to London, to Morriston, listening to the views of people in Conwy and sifting through the hundreds - yes, no 'stirring up apathy' going on here - who applied to be one of the sixy who'll make up our People's Assembly.

You'll first hear from them tomorrow and you'll be hearing quite a lot more from us on the sorts of questions both Yes and No campaigns will face between now and March 3rd.

In the meantime I thought you might be interested in hearing - at some length - from Rachel Banner of True Wales and former First Minister Rhodri Morgan. They met to debate the issues that will lead them to vote No and Yes on March 3rd on The World this Weekend. The cut-down version was broadcast on Sunday but here's a chance to listen to pretty much the whole conversation.

I've cut out some mis-speaking and phones ringing mid-interview but otherwise, here's the conversation as recorded with Shaun Ley.

UPDATE 08.02.11

We've tried everything. Our colleagues in London have tried everything - but for some reason way behind my technical know-how, we can't get the link to the interview to work. Apologies but we're finally admitting defeat.

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