A ‘Government’ Bereft of Ideas and Much Else Besides

Monday saw the unveiling of the Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW) by First Minister Carwyn Jones. Or maybe it was last May. Or was it November 2012? Perhaps it was mentioned in the Act of Incorporation of 1536. Whatever, the PPIW is a group made up mainly of academics, and expected to “give ministers fresh ideas on how to improve Wales’ public services”. These academics will be doing their day jobs in the universities at Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Glamorgan, Liverpool and Swansea, plus the London School of Economics. The academics of Cardiff will run the show, to ensureCarwyn Jones 3 that Cardiff continues to rip off the rest of the country enjoy the benefits of its capital status.

I can see the sense in involving the LSE, but Liverpool? Is it to offer advice on the north east? Perhaps to implement the takeover of that corner of the country proposed by the Mersey Dee Alliance, and backed by civil servants and local government chiefs . . . until the plan became public? Has the ‘Welsh’ Government forgotten that there is a university now in Wrecsam? Does it matter, because the academics involved on both sides of the border will, in the main, be English.

As I’ve explained in recent posts, the ‘Welsh ‘ Government is already taking orders from London departments and their civil servants, plus agencies such as the Planning Inspectorate; then there’s the self-serving ‘advice’ from the scroungers of the Third Sector. Talking of which, I note that the Bevan Foundation is also to be involved with PPIW. Which probably explains why a few high-profile Labour politicians recently resigned as Trustees of the Foundation. Can’t have a Labour administration giving work and funding to an organisation too obviously linked to the Labour Party.

What a way to run a country! A collection of weaklings masquerading as a ‘Government’, taking orders from those they claim no longer have authority in Wales, while also seeking ‘advice’ from cronies whose only motivation is milking the public purse. Didn’t we used to have politicians of vision, who would tell civil servants: ‘Here’s my idea, you lot come up with the nuts and bolts to make it work’. Labour in Wales reveres Aneurin Bevan – was the National Health Service the idea of his civil servants, or was it his vision that he made civil servants implement?

This problem of unimaginative, weak, time-serving politicians being manipulated by those who should be serving them is not confined to the ‘Welsh’ Government. We also see it at local government level, as we were reminded today with the release of the Wales Audit Office report into curious payments in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.

Though I am not suggesting that Dr. Elizabeth Haywood, Chair of the City Regions Task and Finish Group, is a Labour crony. Yet her Report, completed in 2012, did strike me as totally superfluous, seeing as city regions were already a done deal. Decided by, among others, the Cardiff and County Club, some 20 years ago. Be that as it may, Doctor Haywood fulfilled her alloted role and dutifully confirmed the desperate need for a Cardiff city region (and wondered how Wales had survived this long without it), recommended a Swansea city region in the hope of disguising Cardiff’s takeover of the south east, and she also advised acceptance of the Mersey Dee Alliance plan for the north east – i.e. Clwyd should be swallowed up by Liverchester. So, pray tell, who is this woman given a totally pointless – but publicly funded – job? Who is She who can, with a few taps on her keyboard, recommend the dismemberment of our ancient homeland? Of course! she is none other than Mrs Peter Hain . . . though you wouldn’t know that from any reports in the Welsh media.

Another concern that has me pacing my bedroom all night is the future of the Wales Rural Observatory. I did a post on the WRO on September 17, 2012, on my Google Blogger site; now, sadly, demised by those lovers of free speech (and conscientious payers of tax) at Google. Fortunately, Stuart Evans (WelshnotBritish) had saved my posts, minus comments, in RSS format, which explains why you can still read it. Though the WRO website seems to have been re-written, and is now less open about the fact that the WRO is funded by the ‘Welsh’ Government to come up with original and mind-blowing findings – e.g. rural Wales has an ageing population, it’s handy to have a caPaul Milborner if you live in the countryside, etc. Another change I noticed was that the home page now carries a video by the WRO’s Director, Professor Paul Milbourne, reading from a script, and explaining what his organisation does. The video is dated October 22, 2012, just five days after my original post. I do hope it was nothing I said!

So where does the Wales Rural Observatory stand vis-a-vis the new Public Policy Institute for Wales? Will the WRO be allowed to carry on with its ground-breaking research into the more bucolic aspects of Welsh life, leaving the PPIW to focus on urban areas? Or will there be a turf war, two gangs of English academics, both funded by the ‘Welsh’ Government, fighting it out to prove which of them knows the least about our country and cares the less about us? Do we need both? Do we need either one? Should we have to suffer any?

Legislation is being forced on Wales to which this ‘Welsh’ Government is neither mother nor father. It is not even the midwife, or the nanny. It is nothing more than a slow-witted serving girl from the village, left holding the baby in the hope that people will believe it’s hers. And now this ‘serving girl’ is to be handed more ‘babies’. And she will do exactly as she is told . . . then say ‘thank you’, and probably curtsey!

This is not devolution. This is not democracy.

Who Runs Wales? Well, It Ain’t The ‘Welsh’ Government

In a sense, this post is supplementary to the previous post. Because having made a number of references, both direct and oblique, to the problem I now think it’s time to hit the nail squarely on the head. This ‘nail’ of which I speak is the deception that has been practised for over a decade that wants us to believe Wales is run by the politicians we have elected to the Assembly.

It is now clear beyond doubt that Wales is in fact run by people we have never heard of, and have never voted for. In the main, these are civil servants. Answerable to London but, more importantly, also taking orders from London and making sure that the ‘Welsh’ Government follows the same directives. Though this often means co-operation if there is a shared objective. The number of examples proving this continue to mount.

From talking with Pol Wong about the way his Powys Fadog venture in Llangollen was sabotaged it soon became clear that civil servants – no less than Gillian Morgan, the top civil servant in Wales at the time – showed blatant bias by conspiring with Labour politicians who clearly saw Pol’s vision as being ‘too Welsh’. Meetings to discuss how best to sabotage the Powys Fadog project were even taking place in the home of a local Labour AM!

Then last week, a delegation from Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) met with Carl Sargeant, NosworthyMinister for Housing and Regeneration, in the hope of persuading him to make the Welsh language a material consideration in planning for new housing. Tweets from a couple of those at the meeting make it clear how it went. The politician was at least prepared to listen to the Society’s wishes, but the civil servants wanted to dismiss it out of hand. How do we explain such open hostility?Robin Farrar

I think this takes us back to what I said in the previous post about the insane housebuilding plans being imposed on Wales. As I showed in that post, using official figures, the only way to explain this housebuilding extravaganza is to view it as a deliberate attempt to further damage Welsh identity. That being so, then the attitude of the civil servants at the meeting with Cymdeithas yr Iaith is entirely consistent with this strategy, but difficult to explain otherwise.

Something else I pointed out in the previous post was the article in the most recent Planning Inspectorate newsletter. This piece, headed ‘Planning Reform in Wales’, contained phrases such as ” . . . (proposed reforms) resonate with those in England” and “Again reflecting change in England”. Major planning decisions in England and Wales, plus Local Development Plans, are under the control of the Planning Inspectorate, which answers solely to the UK Government. This is disguised by the UK government passing legislation ‘for England’ and the ‘Welsh’ Government ‘for Wales’ – but, increasingly, it’s the same legislation! And this is why civil servants that have been ‘advised’ by the Planning Inspectorate cannot accept any legislation for Wales that fundamentally differentiates Wales from England. (Plus of course there’s the over-arching consideration of anglicisation.)

It’s the same picture in social housing. The preserve in Wales of the shadowy Housing Directorate. Here, again, Wales is locked into an Englandandwales system. One that, inevitably, works against the Welsh national interest; a) by ensuring that, in many areas, more social housing is built than local applicants need, and b) seeing to it that Welsh applicants are always at the back of the queue for allocations. Many social housing providers are now little more than large private companies. Why they should still be treated as charities or social enterprises is a mystery. An even bigger mystery is why any housing association should be receiving funding from the ‘Welsh’ Government.

Then, last year, and purely by chance, I ran across the Wales Rural Observatory. This is a group of English academics, funded by the ‘Welsh’ Government, that comes up with ‘policy suggestions’ for its benefactor. Their website talks of Wales as if was East Anglia, there is no mention of the language or any other distinctively Welsh factors. This is the blind leading the blind. A bunch of English interlopers funded with Welsh money ‘advising’ a political party that believes civilisation stops somewhere just after Llanelli, or the western outskirts of Wrecsam.

It used to be said, back in the pre-devolution days, that a Welsh parliament would be nothing more than ‘Glamorgan County Council on stilts’, suggesting that it would just be a glorified county council controlled by Labour. Looking at what we have today down Cardiff docks there is a comparison to be made with a county council, but it’s not Glamorgan. With the elected representatives surrendering their authoritypuppets to civil servants, the real comparison is with Carmarthenshire. An authority where the unelected are firmly in control, and General James marches his bedraggled and increasingly mutinous troops towards the unavoidable fate of Special Measures (and probably legal action, as well).

I have believed for some years that Wales under devolution has become less, not more, democratic. The more evidence that comes to light of the power wielded by civil servants then the more obvious this becomes. ‘Welsh’ Labour goes along with this system partly because it lacks the balls to stand up to London; partly because it doesn’t really care about Wales; and partly because as a reward for its submission it is given the freedom to indulge in socialistic fol-de-rols like free prescriptions and the like. Which, if you think about them, are all measures likely to attract into Wales those who’ll be a burden on health care and other services. Coincidence, no doubt.

We need to face up to the truth that devolution has been a dismal failure. I voted for devolution because I wanted a system prioritising Welsh needs and protecting Welsh identity. What we have is a collaborationist regime working with those whose objective is the assimilation of Wales into England. And it wouldn’t matter which party claimed to be in charge down Cardiff docks. Our enemies get away with this because we don’t stand up to them. Consequently, they regard us Welsh with the contempt we deserve. We need to start defending Welsh interests, any way we can.

River Lodge and Powys Fadog: Wales Lied To, Again

Over the past couple of days you’ve probably read or heard about what has been presented as a scandalous waste of public money on a silly idea for a “kung fu lodge” in Llangollen. This is how the BBC News website covered it. (The Public Accounts Committee reports can be found here.) Having followed this story for a couple of years, and spoken with Pol Wong, the man behind the project, quite a few times, I can tell you that the truth is very different. And rather worrying.

To get where we find ourselves today official documents have been altered; senior civil servants have been dishonest and partial; the Welsh Government deliberately misinformed the Public Accounts Committee; decent people have been scapegoated; while the former local Labour Assembly Member (Karen Sinclair) sank to a level of vindictiveness that would have drawn gasps of awed approval from the brothers and sisters down south.

A valuable and financially viable project, a project that could have become a national asset, was sabotaged because those behind it ‘didn’t fit’, they didn’t meet with the approval of the Labour Party and certain civil servants. Wales could have been home to the only officially-sanctioned Shaolin monastery outside China, but the party of Cledwyn Hughes and Jim Griffiths destroyed Pol Wongthe project because the man leading it is ‘too Welsh’.

Though I am convinced that the death-blow to the project was provoked by Pol’s simultaneous involvement in exposing the hitherto secret West Cheshire sub-regional strategy (in which ‘West Cheshire’ equates with north east Wales). The chronology persuades me that fighting this takeover of our north east made Pol enemies in high places, and they took their revenge.

For me there are three lessons to be drawn from this case:

1/ The Labour Party in Wales still contains too many anti-Welsh bigots. Bigots of the kind that would, in a normal country, be an embarrassment to any mainstream political party.

2/ Wales is in reality governed by civil servants, who can run rings around the buffoons sitting in the Assembly. Many of these civil servants operate with complete freedom because their authority comes from London, and this trumps anything in Cardiff. The perfect illustration of this would be the Local Development Plans being forced on Welsh local authorities by the English Planning Inspectorate.

3/ In a normal country, with a healthy and independent media, the story of Powys Fadog would be meat and drink for investigative reporters. In Wales today, all we have are sad and compliant outposts of London, or else regurgitators of press releases and promoters of Cardiff.

What follows is Pol Wong’s reponse the Public Accounts Committee report. It was originally issued – yesterday – as an e-mail. Pol has kindly allowed me to reprint it here, so that more people might learn the truth of the Powys Fadog / River Lodge project. (I decided to publish certain sections in bold type to highlight what I consider to be their significance.)

“Powys Fadog response to Welsh Government report on River Lodge – “half a story”.

The headline quote of the report is that “over £1.6m of public money has been wasted”. This is nonsense. The same could be said of any Welsh Government property bought at the top of the market and which has substantially reduced in value as a result of market forces. The Welsh Government still own a valuable asset in River Lodge, which they acknowledge is worth at least £500,000 in today’s market, so how can the money have been wasted? They still own the property. Similarly had the lease to Powys Fadog gone ahead, the Welsh Government would still have owned the building and Powys Fadog would have been obliged to pay a rent of £31,000 a year , which is an income for the public purse.

Value for money only became an issue from 2010 onwards, AFTER the Welsh Government stopped the project. The relevant officers with the relevant authority making the decisions, thought in their professional opinion that the project was value for money. Of course, these officers had read the business plan. It’s only many years later that these decision have been overturned without being quantified. As far as we know, the people who overturned these decisions don’t seem to know anything about the project.

Value for money is of course a very subjective issue. The purchase price was market value, this is now acknowledged through this report, therefore I think they need to explain why they think it was a waste of money.

If Powys Fadog had been successful then the value for money in terms of the project is proven. If it wasn’t successful then the building would have reverted back to the Government. Instead they’ve chosen to keep the building empty with a vague plan for a health centre, that has clearly been pushed through whilst holding back our project approval. Is that value for money?

We also need to look at value for money in terms of other projects and the criteria used for them. For example, Canolfan Cywain in Bala (more here and here), Nant Gwyrtheyrn*, the Royal Hotel in Llangollen. They’ve all received funding from the public purse which is many, many more times what Powys Fadog was looking for. Although we’re not knocking these projects, a hotel in Llangollen had £1m to refurbish the outside of their building,  and this was a private business. We are a not-for-profit social enterprise, the question we ask is: “what was different about our project?”

Generally, I think there is too much focus on what are very sweeping statements that are not detailed nor evidenced, concerning value for money. I think what is more important are some of the other issues that the report acknowledges. These point to much more worrying actions regarding the use of public money and public trust in the Government

The report clearly states that Powys Fadog had been treated unfairly. It also clearly states that there was a “tantamount communication blackout”, and explains that Powys Fadog were shut out of options for the site in 2010, when we were the most viable option on the table even according to the district valuer. Under those circumstances they ran our lease out of time and prevented us from securing any other funding. They did not act in good faith and even stopped our potential funders from viewing the site. We were never given chance to address any so called “issues”. None of the reasons for this treatment are addressed by the report.

Possibly the most concern should be the acknowledgement that a crucial document, which was an independent review of the project, that looked into all the issues raised by Karen Sinclair AM and those responsible for stopping the project, was altered. Again this was done AFTER the project was stopped not before. The report notes that the original review found no impropriety and that the value for money was fine. The amended report shows different conclusions.Karen Sinclair

When asked to provide the tracked changes of this vital evidence by the Committee, the Welsh Government refused to provide it to the Committee. This is unbelievable to any reasonable person and highlights serious issues in terms of honesty and integrity regarding the Governments story.

To summarise, we are happy to see that some things we’ve been saying for a long time have finally been acknowledged. We understand the remit of the report was quite narrow but it has flagged up some serious concerns which now need further investigation. There are far more serious issues raised in terms of public trust than the value for money headline, which seems to be a bit of a red herring.

The Welsh Government have a building that is sitting empty and deteriorating, instead of having a centre delivering jobs, a major development in health fitness, promoting the Welsh language and culture and history, along with education and community cohesion. The project has a viable business plan and will provide international out of season tourism to Llangollen. Is the money the Welsh Government spent stopping our project over the last 6 years value for money? Hundreds of thousand of pounds has been spent on solicitors and reports to avoid speaking to us. The whole way they’ve treated Powys Fadog and the message that gives out does not show the Welsh Government in a good light. The message is that the Welsh Government think it’s perfectly acceptable to do what they’ve done.

A substantial body of the evidence we submitted has not been considered, such as what was the legal issue that was raised to stop our project? This still hasn’t been answered. What is the value for money issue exactly? Also why was the Chris Munday report altered and why are they hiding it? Why did they close the door on us, was that fair? A lot of the evidence we submitted actually reveals another timeline of events, as yet undeclared, involving Karen Sinclair AM, Welsh Audit Office officers and Welsh Assembly officers and Ministers involved in the halting of the Powys Fadog project. Most of this evidence is already in the public domain.

In my evidence I declared that I thought the Welsh audit office report was not impartial due to communication between Karen Sinclair AM and the Wales Audit Office. Since I made that declaration, more evidence has come out through FOI that in fact Karen Sinclair and Audit Office officials, and the officers responsible for blocking the project were meeting at her home. Some of this evidence contains an arrangement to meet and discuss an unfinished disciplinary report in march 2010, between Karen Sinclair AM, Arwel Thomas (Welsh Government officer responsible for recommending the project was stopped) and Richard Harries of the Welsh Audit Office. Surely this speaks for itself and at the same time letters between the Health Board, various Ministers and Karen Sinclair demonstrate that plans for a health centre on the site were well under way whilst we were being subjected to our ‘communication blackout’ and the review document was being altered.

It is beyond doubt from the evidence that we have seen that the Welsh Government and the Wales Audit Office have deliberately misinformed the Public Accounts Committee. This is a very serious matter and should be investigated as a matter of urgency.”

*One of the income streams planned for River Lodge was residential Welsh courses. As this piece shows, there is definitely a demand for such courses. It may be argued that this would have put River Lodge in competition with Nant Gwyrtheyrn, but NG is solely for language courses whereas at River Lodge such courses would have been part of a wide range of activities and courses on offer. Also bear in mind the distance – some 80 miles – between the two locations.

Three Encounters With Civil Servants

NUMBER ONE, PENSION SERVICE: My mother is resident in a council-run retirement home. Seeing as State Pensions increased in April the council wants to know by how much my mother’s pension has gone up so they can re-calculate her payments. Fair enough. Problem being that despite the fact that everyone should have been informed by the Pension Service of their increase by the end of March, my mother has received nothing.

So last week I went on the internet, put in the correct post code, and came up with the details for the Swansea office of the Pensions Service. Using my dainty and impeccably manicured digit I telephoned the number given. Eventually I reached a live, unrecorded, human being, to whom I explained my predicament. After repeating that all notifications had been sent out long ago the woman on the other end of the line finally accepted that my mother had not received hers, and that this was why I was ringing.

In the hope of being helpful I suggested that she tell me the the address to which the notification would be sent in order for me to confirm that it was correct. She: “Oh, can’t do that”. Me: “But if you sent the original notification to the wrong address then you’re going to repeat the mistake”. Silence. Me: “Why can’t you tell me the address – I’m her son, for God’s sake!” She: “I’ll have to put you on to the supervisor”. (I felt like saying that had no desire to mount her supervisor, but I bit my tongue.) From the supervisor I got the same metronomic response. Which I could have understood if I’d been asking MI6 for the names of their operatives in Dushanbe . . . but I was asking these bloody women to give me the address of a retirement home in Gwynedd!

I’ve just phoned the Pension Service again. To be told that “it takes seven to ten working days”. Why should it take that long to do something that should have been done properly by the end of bloody March! And another thing. Although the telephone number given on the web page suggested I would be put through to the Swansea office, the three women I spoke with (two last week and one today) all had north west English accents, making it very unlikely that they are based in the City of the Blest.

NUMBER TWO, WELSH EUROPEAN FUNDING OFFICE: About thirteen years ago I allowed myself to be talked into raising money for a new community centre in the village. After a few false starts, and once I was allowed free rein, I got into my stride and raised the necessary lucre. The major funder was the Welsh European Funding carwyn-jones-755691908Office. Which, if nothing else, proves that some EU funding is well spent. For our now self-funding community centre provides jobs, facilities and amenities for the community seven days a week. Anyway, last month, out of the blue, came a letter from WEFO’s Aberystwyth office saying that they wanted to call and check on how the money had been spent.

The meeting went ahead last week. Fortunately, I had kept all the paperwork they needed and was able to answer the questions. (I managed to steer the inquisitor away from my six-week fact-finding mission to Tahiti.) I was not surprised to learn that this visit should have been made in 2009 or 2010, rather than eight years after the building had opened. The meeting ended with the WEFO official giving me an e-mail address to which I would send copies of invoices and other documents requested. Which I did . . . but they didn’t get through, because the WEFO Internet system does not accept e-mails with attachments.

Or perhaps not from unverified sources, which I could understand. But if so, then it should be possible for a member of WEFO’s staff to contact their IT department and say, ‘Let this one through, please, I’m waiting for this information’. How hard can it be? Anyway, once we’d realised what the problem was WEFO sent me an envelope, with two first class stamps. Then I had to print out the various bits of paperwork, put them in the envelope. and mail the envelope. Money and time wasted, unnecessary delay, me frustrated, and all so bloody avoidable.

How can WEFO, or any organisation, operate at anything approaching maximum efficiency when people like me cannot e-mail the information WEFO itself is asking for! No wonder they’re years behind with their work. And perhaps this goes some way to explaining why we ‘qualify’ for a third round of EU Structural Funds.

NUMBER THREE, STATS WALES: Earlier this week I went to the StatsWales website looking for the numbers of English born living in Wales, by local authority area, from the 2011 census. Once into the site, I went to the publications under ‘Population’, but nowhere could I find the information I wanted; even though the section was able to offer bed-time reading like, ‘Child poverty dental indicators by year‘ and ‘European Union harmonised unemployment rates by gender, area and year‘, plus the absolutely riveting, ‘Smoke detectors and other fire detection equipment in dwellings by year and Fire and Rescue Service area‘. The section contained many reports covering ‘gender’ and ‘ethnicity’, such as ‘Ethnicity of staff by Fire and Rescue Service‘.

Today I got my reply (see panel). Now, in fairness, I knew that this information was available on the Office of National Statistics website, and has been for a few months, but that’s not the point. These are important figures relating to Wales, so I have every right to expect to find them on a website devoted to Welsh statistics.Stats

Given the data available on the site, the obvious obsession with race and gender, my guess would be that this site is maintained by someone more concerned with observing political correctness than with providing information. And given the absence of the figures I wanted, maybe no friend of the Welsh. Then again, perhaps it was a political decision not to offer these damning and alarming figures.

Though, surely, if there are figures to tell us how many Afro-Caribbeans, women and other groups are employed by the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service then it must be possible to tell us how many English are employed, and in what ranks? And how many of the top civil servants in Wales are English? Senior police officers . . . academics . . . doctors and other medical staff . . . senior officers in local government, BBC, etc., etc. Could it be that StatsWales is a bit like our media and our politicians, treating us as mushrooms? Keeping us in the dark by withholding the really damning stuff that would lay bare colonial Wales, while feeding us regular dollops of shit in the form of what they deem it safe to tell us.