Sunday, March 30, 2008

Shine a light

:: Among the soaring rhetoric and occasional mentions of the "I" word at Plaid's spring conference yesterday, Helen Mary Jones gave this unusual warning about the next general election.

"Maybe you'll get lucky. Maybe for all Cameron's shiny hair and green credentials he won't pull it off."

Shiny hair?

:: I didn't stop at the stand selling volumes of the new Welsh encyclopaedia, which I now regret, having read the Guardian's glowing review. What a shame then that as we finally get around to producing our own encyclopaedia, the rest of the world is abandoning them.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Serve and protect

I wasn't going to blog during recess. But the decision not to get Wales covered by laws protecting NHS staff seems like a bit of a gaffe by someone. Especially given that the constituents of the minister who introduced the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill - David Hanson, MP for Delyn - will not be covered by the clauses in question.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Well Plaid my son

"Someone ought to tell Rhodri Glyn Thomas that Cardiff City fans WANT to go to Wembley," a reader emails.

The Heritage Minister told today's plenary he would suggest to the FA that it holds Cup semi-finals at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

This in the week that City progressed to the FA Cup semi-finals, earning the club its first trip to Wembley since 1927.

I thought Plaid wanted to do well in Grangetown in May.

Goodwill on Earth

Goodwill has broken out all over the place.

An inquiry into last summer's foot and mouth outbreak found the relationship between Wales, Scotland and Whitehall only functioned because of goodwill on all sides between officials and ministers.

Meanwhile, commenting on an increased workload for the Welsh Affairs Select Committee thanks to the LCO procedure, Rt Hon Alun Michael MP tells the Western Mail: "Frankly it's been a bit of a nightmare but goodwill on both sides has made it work."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Welsh Way

Last week, Department of Health minister Ben Bradshaw claimed Wales was going to miss out on extended GP surgery opening hours. Guardian columnist George Monbiot thinks the policy is an example of NHS privatisation by stealth.

You would do well to argue that the Welsh health service is headed for a similarly privatised destiny. But if we are going in the opposite direction, I can't help wondering where we will end up. What exactly is the big idea that unifies all this ...

The Health Minister says there are too many commissioning bodies, allowing patients to fall through the gaps. Meanwhile bigger trusts are being created. During last year's election campaign, Edwina Hart's predecessor was forced to clarify himself when he told a hustings that trusts had reached the end of their lives. A former doctor and senior public health official has been appointed as Wales's top civil servant. First Minister Rhodri Morgan has talked of a health service revolution. The One Wales agreement says the internal market will be brought to an end and there will be no PFI in the health service. But the Assembly Government is happy to use it to build schools.

Pay attention

Plaid Cymru AMs might think that 8.3% is far too much, but an AM from another party tells me he hopes Plaid realise some members "took a f***ing pay cut to get elected". Another says the only civil servants who earn the equivalent of an AM's salary are "minions".

Monday, March 10, 2008

Holding back the years

:: On the menu in the Assembly canteen today - North American Hash.

:: Not a day, week, month or year goes by without at least one special interest laying claim to it. You know the sort. April is National Paint Your House Red Month. June 11 is International Take Your Cat to Work Day.

Sadly, there are now so many of these well-intentioned "awareness raising" initiatives that I fear they struggle to raise the awareness they were intended to raise.

Unless you work in the Assembly Government, where such days/weeks/months/years hold extraordinary importance. WAG loves to match its publicity activities to them.

Today we were informed that ministers will this week be making announcements or attending events that in some way relate to the following units of time: Tourism Week, Science and Engineering Week, World Kidney Day, UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the National Year of Reading and, my favourite, Wales Innovation Week.

Something about dental health is also going to happen, which is odd, given that National Smile Month isn't until May.

I want to meet the civil servant responsible for keeping track of what day it is.

Friday, March 07, 2008

More light than heat

Those of us who work in the Assembly will know how cold the Senedd can get. It's part of what you might call a drive for sustainability. Or turning the heating down to save the rainforests.

But the fact you can sometimes see condensed moisture when you talk in there on a cold day still isn't enough to fulfill the impeccable environmental credentials that the Senedd aims for.

A report to the Assembly Commission last December found "the building is currently consuming around 50% more electricity than it should need on an annual basis".

While the performance on heating was excellent, the Senedd was using noticeably more energy for lighting, broadcasting and computer equipment than anticipated.

We can only hope that in the drive for greater sustainability the Commission heads for the light switches, not the thermostat.

Timed to imperfection

The idea behind this pay rise is fair - take away AMs' perks by scrapping the allowances regime and give them a fair wage as judged by an independent pay review.

It cannot be right that someone's workload increases so much in eight years, but their pay does not reflect it. Meanwhile, they are able to swell their income through a mysterious system of benefits and allowances that no-one outside the Assembly knows about or understands.

This is the argument being advanced by Dafydd El. But I fear that because of the timing it's an argument that won't win much sympathy. There could not be a worse time to do this. And the new allowances regime might not even be in place until the next election.

I'll be intrigued by how and if Plaid AMs return their pay rises.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Our survey says

A very large 10-volume document was deposited on my desk this week. It contains the findings of Assembly Government research into what we think of public services. And lo, it found we are very happy with them.
Of more interest is a finding that 24% of people "preferred to access services" bilingually in English and Welsh. One per cent said English or Welsh, two per cent said Welsh only and 73% said English only.
Because of the rather awkward way this is phrased in the report, I'm not entirely sure what that 24% is saying. No-one can access services in English and Welsh at the same time, unless they are clever enough to fill out two forms at once or conduct the same conversation simultaneously in two languages.
Of late there has been an increased focus on encouraging Welsh speakers to use the language, a development I applaud because as a Welsh speaker I can certainly identify with the type of person described here who does not use Welsh when dealing with officialdom.
Does this survey mean that only a quarter of the people in Wales agree with the principle, indeed the law, that says public bodies should operate in English and Welsh?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Afternoon delight

Counsel General and Leader of the House Carwyn Jones found himself in an embarrassing spot about extending the Assembly's timetable yesterday. A hardcore of Labour AMs - said to have north-Walian origins - were opposed to more Thursday afternoon committee meetings.

Following harsh words from the opposition, and tricky questions for Mr Jones at the Cabinet's weekly press briefing, Labour decided to back down at a group meeting yesterday morning.

Thursday afternoon sessions needed a unanimous agreement at the Assembly's Business Committee. Other party whips, business managers and the Presiding Officer were happy with the idea, but Mr Jones could not agree because of the opposed Labour AMs.

It is extraordinary that Labour found itself in this position. AMs are very hard working and may have good reasons to oppose Thursday afternoon meetings. But there is no way politicians can win sympathy from the public on an issue like this, especially in the present climate.

One wonders whether Mr Jones would have similar difficulty delivering his group if he was its leader. Meanwhile, Andrew Davies answered First Minister's questions while Rhodri Morgan was away.

Say what you see

You may have read recently that end-of-term oral exams in foreign language GCSEs are to be replaced with term-time assessments in the classroom. Lib Dem AM Eleanor Burnham read this, in the Daily Telegraph as it happens, so she asked Education Minister Jane Hutt whether the policy would apply to Wales.

Here is the reply Ms Hutt gave plenary last Wednesday.

"As I'm not a reader of the Daily Telegraph (laughter), particularly, I have to say, when it does not relate to Welsh policy or Welsh issues, I don't think I need to comment any further than that I am fully in support of the pioneering work being undertaken by Cilt Cymru."

I confess I was not certain what this meant, but I took it to mean that Wales was plotting its own course and would not scrap end-of-term foreign language oral exams

Just to be sure I was not grasping the stick at its incorrect end, I checked with the Assembly Government press office. And it seems I was wrong.

So, to clarify, when Ms Hutt was asked whether end-of-term oral exams are to be scrapped in foreign language GCSEs, what she should have said was "Yes".