Recently elected Plaid councilor, Elwyn Vaughan, last week highlighted the outrageous fact that Powys County Council has spent £36,000 on a new Audi car for its Chairman. I’m enough of a realist to know that such things are why some people enter politics. However, it certainly stings when you see in the local press, right next to the report of the new car, an article about how the Council will be consulting the public on how to cut £200,000 from youth services.
Or how about the fact that our children will start school two years later than other counties’ children in order to save money. Placing financial burden on young families of the County.
Then you have the while funding of social care and day centres for the elderly being under threat due to County Hall tightening it’s belt.
The Council’s response?
The council has issued a statement claiming that spending the £36,000 is the cheapest option for them. In the tstatement he council claims that after the Chairman’s tenure ends in a year, the car will be sold and that they will have recouped £33,000.
However, a quick look at the second hand car market prices suggest that a year old Audi A6, automatic gearbox, with 20,000 miles on the clock are going for no more than £25,500. Meaning rather than costing £3,000, the car will cost Powys citizens £10,500.
The main thrust of the Council’s argument, however, is the fact that the Chairman needs an automatic vehicle due to a disability. It is only right and proper for this to be taken into consideration, but here is where the Council’s reasoning starts to leak. Why must the car be a prestigious brand costing £36,000? Do Ford focus’ not come in automatic? Or any other make that cost far less than £36,000? Why must it also be a brand new one, which will devalue far more than a nearly new car?
The council then claims that this option is far cheaper than paying travel expenses to the Chairman, which, according to them, would amount to £7,000. Again, this is true, apart from the fact than the £7,000 is fuel costs. Surely, it will cost £7,000 on top of the £3,000 to run the expensive Audi A6? So, at best this car is costing the citizens of Powys £10,000, that is if the council gets a good price for its sale in a year’s time. So that would be £3,000 more than paying the Chairman his milage cost for his own car.
I don’t doubt that the council will recoup some of the cost of the car in a year’s time, but there are some questions that linger.
Why not opt for a cheaper model?
What else could that £36,000 have gone to pay for for this one year?
How much is it going to cost us next year to buy another car after the sale of this one?
Today, Leanne Wood and Carwyn Jones will make a joint statement regarding the agreement reached to overcome the deadlock in nominating and appointing a First Minister.
It is clear what this won’t be.
It will not be an announcement of a formal (nor in formal) coalition. Plaid have made clear that they intend to be an effective opposition, unlike that of the Conservatives in the last assembly.
It won’t be an announcement of a ‘supply and confidence’ agreement where Plaid props up a Labour minority government for the next 5 years.
What will the announcement be?
This agreement is for one vote- that of appointing a First Minister. The will be a minority Labour government.
For this Plaid has won many concessions from Labour. These include:
Re-structure the committee process, which will strengthen the process of scrutinising the government.
Establish bilateral committees to examine legislation, budget and constitutional matter. This will put Plaid in an unique position to hold the government to account and have a hand in important developments.
Plaid has also successfully won concessions on 5 of their 9 election pledges. Although details of these will be announced later today, they range from commitments on childcare to working on a New Treatment Fund for the NHS.
In the first week of the Fifth Assembly, Plaid have shown that they are an effective opposition which will ensure that the people of Wales get the best possible deal.
Just imagine what they could achieve on government in 5 years time!
It has been four days since the 2015 General Election, and there’s a new Government in place – a government composed of…ONE PARTY! Yes, it was a shock to all, not least the pundits, who provided the narrative of a hung parliament and back-room wheeling and dealing. To be fair, we all expected this scenario thanks to pretty much every voting intention poll, but they were wrong.
Nationally, it was a good night for the Conservatives (+11); although disappointing, however neither positive nor negative for Plaid (n/c); slightly negative for Labour (-1); unlucky for UKIP (large share of the vote but no seat); and dismal for the Liberal Democrats (-2), leaving them with only 1 seat in Wales.
So, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the constituencies in Wales, and see what is going on in them. Today I’ll begin with the constituency I live in, Montgomeryshire.
Perhaps a little context for this constituency. It has traditionally been a Liberal / Lib Dem seat with smatterings of Conservatives here and there throughout its history. Prior to the previous election the seat was held by the infamous Lembit Opik. I won’t go into the details why there was a change in 2010, however I will say that the Lib Dems made it easy for the Conservatives.
By no means was this constituency going to be a shock in terms of its outcome, Glyn Davies, the Conservative candidate was always going to win this one. And of course this is the first time a Conservative holds this seat for a second term in succession.
This was a Lib Dem target seat and boy did the leaflets reflect this! At one point I was receiving one or two leaflets a day from
the Lib Dems. If you have driven through Montgomeryshire between 30th of April and 7 of May you would be forgiven for thinking that the Lib Dems were winning here, in fact I’m sure I received some leaflets saying so. The party put everything into winning back this seat, so why did they lose? The main issue at play in the constituency is the fact that it has a very popular local MP in Glyn Davies, so it was always going to be difficult to combat this. Another problem of the Lib Dems here is that they are seen as the pro windfarm party, a stance that does prove unpopular with many. A factor that we cannot ignore, and probably one that will crop up in many other constituencies – the national unpopularity of the Lib Dems.
The success of the Conservatives in Montgomeryshire is probably explained in the fact that Glyn Davies has built upon his popularity by strongly backing the protests against wind farm development in Mid Wales. The Conservatives in the constituency have managed to capture the image of the party of rural Mid Wales, the party of the farmers. Of course, Glyn Davies also enjoyed the national trend which saw the Conservatives gaining many of their target seats and increasing their vote.
This is really interesting, as far as I am aware there hasn’t really been a strong local campaign here, I received one leaflet through the post, and that was it. Placards on the side of roads were non existent, and without looking it up I couldn’t tell you who the candidate was. However in this election UKIP probably had the best result they’ve ever had in Montgomeryshire. The party has been hovering around the 3% share of the vote until this year where they have almost quadrupled their share of the vote. This reflects the situation at the national level, they have certainly increased their share of the vote, yet as a result of the first past the post system they will find it hard to translate their share of the vote into seats. I have blogged previously about my views on the voting system, however it would seem that even UKIP now support proportional representation.
In Montgomeryshire UKIP’s success is solely down to the national image of the party rather than the success of the local party.
Since 1997 Labour has been in decline in Montgomeryshire. This of course has been a result of the relatively popular situation Labour were in in 1997 with their national landslide and the increasing unpopularity of the party in rural Mid Wales. The party is seen as an urban party that doesn’t understand rural society. And of course in Wales the party has been regarded as one that ignores Mid Wales in favour of their South Wales heartlands.
Until 2010 Plaid have seen a small increase in their share of the vote in Montgomeryshire, but never rising above 9%. The 2010 election saw Plaid gaining 8.3% of the vote, a result of an energetic and bright candidate, Heledd Fychan. Even Glyn Davies paid his compliments,
“Again I was impressed by the leg-biting viciousness (accompanied by a lovely smile) of Heledd Fychan. I disagree with a lot she says, but I’m a real fan.”
This year there was some trouble for the Plaid Campaign with Gwynfor Owen, the original candidate having to pull out due to health issues. Ann Griffith, the candidate who took on the challenge did an sterling job in getting the message out, with a few leaflets arriving at my door and a few Plaid placards around the place. It might be a disappointment for Plaid that their share of the vote decreased this time, however, for a campaign that had to change candidate at the eleventh hour the result wasn’t that bad.
You would have to go back to 1997 to find the last time the Greens stood in Montgomeryshire. then they gained 1.1% of the vote. Surely, the TV debates had a hand to play here, with the Greens polling at 3.7%.
I’m sure you’ve all heard about the problems with the NHS in Wales, and I’m sure some of you have read about it in the British press (warning this is a link to the Daily Mail!). It would seem that the Daily Mail has “discovered”, “uncovered”, “exposed”, (and other adjectives) the failings of the Welsh NHS. Since the spring David Cameron has consistently talked of how Welsh patients are getting a ‘second rate’ health service. He even went as far as to say that “Offa’s Dyke was the line between life and death”. I would love to say that finally the British press has woken to Welsh politics, and that some attention is being turned to devolved politics; however I cannot. On the face of it this is about the failings of the Labour Government in Cardiff in relation of their handling of the Welsh NHS, however lets not forget there is a general election coming up in just over a year.
Political Point Scoring
To avoid repeating points raised many times online and in the media, I’ll cut straight to the point. This is nothing more than political point scoring with the Tory party and the right wing media attempting to highlight how the British Labour party will govern – “Want to see how Labour will run the NHS, then look at what’s happening in Wales”.
Before you think I’m trying to defend the Labour party and how it is running the NHS in Wales, I am not. There are problems with the NHS in Wales, however I am not supporting the selective evidence provided by the Tories and the Daily Mail either. For example, one criticism aften raised is the waiting times patients have to face.
Waiting times and refugees
The Daily Mail refers to patients who go to England for treatment as Refugees of the Welsh NHS. This, according to the paper is especially true in the counties on along the Welsh/English border. This is something I’ve found particularly puzzling. I live in Powys, an area where there are many ‘Health Refugees’, apparently. An area where there is no general hospital. For many in my county the nearest hospital is one in England, this is a matter of logistics, not preference. To suggest people from Powys are choosing to go to a hospital in England because of the waiting times is also an unfair assertion. By August this year Powys Teaching Health Board had met both the high targets set by the Welsh Government – 95% of patients waiting for treatment waited less than 26 weeks, and 100% of those not getting treatment within 26 weeks get it before 36 weeks. Of course this isn’t the case everywhere in Wales as the paper outlines, there are areas that are in dire need of improvement when it comes to waiting times. To suggest, however, that there are health refugees going to England is truly an insult to the hard-working staff of our NHS.
In a recent Report the Nuffield Trust stated that by 2025/26 the NHS in Wales will be facing a shortfall of £2.5bn – This will be the case if current efficiency savings are maintained and funding is held flat in cash terms. It is clearly going to be something that will be discussed over many elections to come, a stark choice will have to be made between funding the NHS in Wales and other public services. The Nuffield trust also state that although Wales faces tough decisions it isn’t vastly different in other parts of the UK. So why all the attention to Wales?
Political point scoring – As I’ve already mentioned, this is an ideal way for the Tories to score points against Labour in the run up to the general election on a topic Labour consistently out perform them on in the polls.
Right wing free marketeerism – There is a wider neo-liberal agenda at play here a view the tories and right wing paper such as the Daily Mail subscribe to. Let’s face it, by painting the NHS under Labour control as a basket case then it makes the argument for privatization much easier to sell to the public in England.
There needs to be proper scrutiny of Labour’s mismanagement of the NHS in wales, however the Punch and Judy show given by Cameron and Hunt in the Commons and the ridiculous ‘Exclusives’ published by the Daily mail are nothing more than cheap electioneering.
I will be adding a poll to this post below to see how people feel about the EU, please take part in it
UKIP have won! They are the undisputed champions of the elections and are on course for a landslide next year… It’s difficult to convey irony in writing sometimes, and amongst the hyperbole of the media today, I’m afraid that it might be lost unless i explain my opening sentence. You see, according to the media something massive has happened in British politics, and in European politics; UKIP are no longer a protest fringe group, but part of the mainstream.
First of all, I don’t deny that UKIP are a force in British politics now. Yes, they have increased their vote, and also topped the poll (in England), won 23 seats, and increased their vote by 10.99%. However, is this as significant as many would have you believe? The European elections are seen by many as a protest vote against the governing party (or parties in the case of this year). UKIP have done well in the Euro elections since 2004, and the fact remains, they have no MPs and are unlikely to win any Westminster seats; or at least not enough to warrant the tag line ‘Political earthquake’.
If (it seems an increasingly big ‘if’ at this moment) Cameron wins an outright majority next year, and a referendum is held on Europe, then the wind will be taken out of the sails of HMS Farage. Let’s consider another scenario. It would seem that this result has forced the mainstream parties to consider Europe and it certainly will be an election issue in 2016, at the least the next UK government will push for EU reform. If it can be demonstrated that the UK has had a good deal out of any reform, then the rise of UKIP with be stopped in its tracks.
However, can we really say that there is something new here in Wales? The distribution of seats remains one each for Plaid, Labour, Conservative and UKIP. Labour remains at the top of the poll, and, in fact was close to gaining another seat. I would contend this morning’s headline on the BBC News Wales website “Wales’ as Eurosceptic as rest of UK”. It begins with the same line as all other media outlets, how we’re all Euro-skeptics now, yet it goes on to show that 308,401 (508,143 if you include the Tories) people voted for pro EU parties as opposed to 224,917. I would say that the majority of the people who voted are pro Europe, wouldn’t you?
And how will all of this affect business in Brussels and Strasbourg? The truth is, UKIP will not have much sway in the European Parliament, it belongs to the EFD grouping, which (at the time of writing) has 38 seats, making it the smallest grouping in the Parliament.
This is how i see it:
UKIP have performed better than last time.
It certainly is a protest vote against the governing parties.
People want reform of the EU – but not out.
UKIP will not win many (if any) seats in Westminster.
There will be a danger that an ‘in/out’ referendum will be held where turnout is very low and a decision to leave the EU will be taken by around 15% of the electorate.
Finally, Labour will stand up against Zero Hour contracts and fight for hard working people. It’s a bit rich for Miliband to tackle an “epidemic” of zero hour contracts today. It is funny how Labour UK are saying one thing and Welsh Labour do another. How can the people of Wales, and the people of the UK, for that matter vote for a party that says one thing and does another?
What in particular has Welsh Labour done that contradicts Miliband? Well the details can be found here. To summarise, during the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill progression through the Assembly (which is at the 4th stage of the legislative process now), Plaid AM Jocylyn Davies, attempted to introduced an amendment which would have ensured that social care provided by Local Authorities would not be done so by using zero hour contracts.
Here is the wording of the amendment:
To insert a new section—
Meeting needs: use of zero hours contracts
(1)A local authority that provides or makes arrangements of the type referred to in section 30(2)(b) must ensure as far as practicable that such provision or arrangements do not provide for the delivery of care and support by use of zero hours contracts.
(2) A zero hours contract is a contract or arrangement for the provision of labour which fails to specify guaranteed working hours and has one or more of the following features—
(a) it requires the worker to be available for work when there is no guarantee the worker will be needed;
(b) it requires the worker to work exclusively for one employer.
(3) For the purposes of this section—
(a) a worker is a person who is employed;
(b) a person is employed for the purposes of this section if he or she is engaged by another person to provide labour and is not genuinely operating a business on his or her own account;
(c) in any legal proceedings it is for the respondent to show that the applicant is not employed.
(4) The Welsh Ministers may by regulations amend the definition of “zero hours contracts” in subsection (2).’.
If Miliband and his Labour party are truly against zero hour contracts, even if this is in principal only then why not support this amendment?
And soon I shall have a full house! The third person on my predicted candidates for Plaid Cymru leadership list, which I complied a while ago, has announced that he will be standing. Former Ceredigion MP, WAG SpAd and current Mid and West Wales regional AM, Simon Thomas has thrown his headwear into the ring.
This has now made things a bit more interesting, two of the candidates are either current of former representatives of one of Wales’ most marginal seats.
In his statement, Simon made it clear (like other candidates) how in touch he is with all of Wales, not just Welsh speaking areas. Of course, being from Aberdare originally, Simon is the first candidate in this race to have a connection with the Valleys (I believe).
Simon is a left of centre candidate, very much like Elin Jones, and so I must question how will these two individuals win support from a shared pool of natural supporters?
Lets see whether anyone else from my list will step up to the mark?
Well, it has been a quiet summer in politics and on this blog (I was busy getting married, so sorry for no posts). However, things are beginning to look interesting within Plaid Cymru. A while ago I blogged about the Plaid leadership race, or non race at the time. I set a prediction of who might go for the top job after Ieuan Wyn Jones announced that he will be stepping down. Back then I gave a list of five possibilities, and within days one of the names I listed had thrown their hat into the ring. However, today comes a new announcement that a second person on my list has made her intentions known. Today Elin Jones published on her website a statement, clearly indicating that she will run for party leader.
The statement reads very much like a letter of application, however there are some hints of the kind of leader she will be. She is keen to point out her Socialist and Republican values, as well as her west Wales roots. How long will we have to wait before we hear who else will officially go for the job? Not long i would guess.
After hearing the terrible way Carmarthenshire County council treated a Jacqui Thompson and seeing that a FOI request was sent to the council in question about their policies on blogging, tweeting, and filming at council meetings, I thought it would be great to see how each of Wales’ 22 councils treat these issues. So I have already put a request into my council, Powys. I urge you to do so with your council.