Cymraeg needs power in the West – Arfor can deliver it

A guest post by Aled Gwyn Jôb

‘Tri chynnig i Gymro’ (Three tries for a Welshman) is a very old and much-loved Welsh saying.

Where Leighton Andrews and Mark Drakeford ultimately feared to tread, the Welsh Government’s own inimitable attack dog, Alun Davies, is now all set to get his teeth into Local Government re-organisation.

But, if this to mean anything other than a tokenistic tinkering with the map of Wales once again, surely the process has to involve meaningful change this time round.

It’s an opportunity to look afresh at what local democracy should actually mean today, and how it can manifest itself anew in different parts of Wales. The long neglected link up between health care and social care should definitely be on the agenda, as well as democratic control of social housing, a sector which has grown exponentially over the past few years with little or no local scrutiny attached to it.

With Cardiff having a disproportionate slice of the political and economic cake, there is also a strong case for the creation of perhaps no more than 6 regional authorities to counter-balance the Cardiff-centricity of modern Wales, and those authorities imbued with real powers. Which could even perhaps include some element of tax-varying powers of their own, as is the case with local authorities in the thriving Basque Country.

It’s also high time for some radical thinking where the Welsh language and local government is concerned.

It presents a golden opportunity to implement the idea proposed by Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru AM – i.e. to create ARFOR, a single authority for the Welsh-speaking areas of Ynys Môn, Gwynedd, Ceredigion, and Caerfyrddin, which would operate through the medium of Welsh.

The much-maligned nationalist thinker, Saunders Lewis predicted that the Welsh language would decline faster with a Welsh Government in situ in Cardiff than it would under Westminster control, unless local government first conducted its work through the medium of Welsh in Y Fro Gymraeg.

With less than 5 per cent of deliberations at Y Senedd conducted in Welsh (well below the national 21 per cent of Welsh speakers), Saunders Lewis’ prophecy seems to have been borne out.

Every single party at Y Senedd (even UKIP) pledges strong support for Welsh in public: but the harsh truth after 20 years of devolution is that English has become the governing language in our national parliament. With the best will in the world, this is not going to change any time soon.

A cultural and political counterpoint is sorely needed to provide Cymraeg with real status and power- located in those areas where it remains an everyday living language.

Socio-linguists agree that a minority language requires some form of territorial integrity in order to thrive. Increasing use is now being made of environmental metaphors with a minority language imagined as a plant or flower which has to have a secure habitat in order to be able to breathe, grow and flourish.

If we continue with the environmental metaphor, most of us are all aware that Welsh’s natural habitat has been eroding on a frighteningly fast rate over the past two generations.

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At the time of the 1961 census there were areas within sight of Stradey Park and Llandudno promenade where over 80% of the population spoke Welsh, and the whole of the west apart from south Pembrokeshire was mainly Welsh speaking.

By the 2011 census however, this former solid bank of Welsh speakers across these western counties had dried up alarmingly with Gwynedd down to 64% of  Welsh speakers, Ynys Mon 59%, Ceredigion on 48% and Caerfyrddin down to 44%.

The calamitous retreat of Cymraeg in these heartlands since 1951, has been virtually ignored by all the political parties. Partly of course because of the thorny reality that this decline has been accelerated by an inflow of migration from England- with the vast majority of these incomers not showing any inclination to learn the language of their new country. Not one party, not even Plaid Cymru, has dared to challenge and oppose this hugely destructive process over the years.

But the decline has also been about an exodus of Welsh-speaking people, especially younger people in search of employment opportunities, not available in the traditional Welsh-speaking areas. Cardiff of course has been the main beneficiary of this exodus and although it’s comforting on one level that these people are at least staying in Wales, there can be no denying that this process has denuded their home communities of their  vitality, their energy and their creativity.

The habitat needs to be rewilded, and the best way to start is with an idea

ARFOR could operate with say 60 elected councillors( 15 from the 4 areas). The geographic distances between Caergybi on Ynys Môn and Llanelli in Carmarthenshire need not be a problem in an age of fast-developing video conferencing. Its nominal headquarters could be based, say, in Aberystwyth or even Machynlleth, but with specific departments located in all four areas.

Arfor should be able to draw up a strategic trajectory for its territory in terms of economic development, housing, planning, social care and other key sectors such as food and drink, tourism, entrepreneurship and language regeneration.

The overall plans could then be implemented at a more local level by beefing up the role of present day community councils. These could be re-imagined by reviving the old model of the rural/town district councils (with several local community councils coming together to form these new entities) employing staff to discharge the duties delivered downwards by the central Arfor authority.

This would allow both a regional identity and a local identity to co-exist and co-create a better future for the heartlands which have only known decline, despair and disillusionment for the past two generations.

Cyngor Sir Gwynedd has already pioneered the way, having operated successfully through the medium of Welsh since the mid 90ies. Ynys Môn has declared that they are now going to follow its example. Arfor is half way there already.

As to the predictable concerns that Arfor would “divide” Wales, and re-ignite the old arguments aired in the 1970ies about such an idea, I would argue that the Welsh national identity is much more secure today than back then. That identity is secure enough to be able to live with the thought that different parts of Wales should perhaps be able to do things differently.

And there is no need to fret either that such a development would allow the other 5/6 regional authorities to ignore Welsh, because the Welsh Language Standards passed by Y Senedd recently will ensure that a modicum of bilingualism will remain in the others.

Associate membership of Arfor could also be provided over time to other Welsh-speaking areas, e.g Dyffryn Conwy, Parts of Denbighsire, Powys and Pembrokeshire, who wish to be part of the new entity.

Arfor has the potential to do more to develop the Welsh language than almost any other language success gained over the years, even arguably S4C – now a pale shadow of its former self and shorn of the clout it used to have in Welsh-speaking Wales.

It will give Welsh real political and economic clout in its traditional heartlands. It will provide employment opportunties and career structures for Welsh speakers from all over Wales. It will, at a stroke, make learning Welsh a real, economic and social necessity for incomers to these areas. It is quite literally, the golden bullet as far as language regeneration is concerned in Y Fro Gymraeg.

Cultural regeneration in the heartlands will undoubtedly lead to economic regeneration as well. It can be a magnet for Welsh speakers from all over the UK and wider afield. It can prove an inspiration to Welsh learners all over Wales and beyond to see that Welsh can thrive as a living, community language.

As Alun Davies weighs up his options, and perhaps even his legacy as far as the Welsh language is concerned as an enthusiastic learner himself, he might be tempted to bring that famous Bill Clinton slogan to mind, and re-phrase it to say : “It’s the culture, stupid” in seeking to effect change.

♦ end ♦

Jac chips in . . .

As persuasive as Aled’s argument is, I’m not totally convinced. For two main reasons. First, I’m one of those who believes it would divide Wales. Second, I look to Ireland’s Gaeltacht and I see no great success to emulate.

My fears on dividing Wales can be explained with an anecdote. My wife’s eldest brother lives in Crickhowell. About 20 years ago, with the Meibion Glyndŵr campaign still fresh in the memory, we were visiting and I got talking to my brother-in-law’s eldest son.

He brought up the subject of the campaign and made a forceful point that youngsters of his age in that area were experiencing a similar problem from retirees, good-lifers, commuters and others pushing up local property values – but nobody seemed to care about them because they didn’t speak Welsh.

The realisation of Arfor could result in those sentiments I heard in Crickhowell being raised again. And not just by sincere and sympathetic people like my nephew, but by the growing army of anti-Welsh bigots getting bolder by the day.

Which is why if Arfor does became reality I would like to see legislation introduced to protect anglophone Welsh identities in other rural areas. Otherwise Arfor could alienate people from Rhuddlan to Rhossili.

Now let’s turn to the Gaeltacht, as I guarantee many will do! It seems to be widely acknowledged in Ireland that the whole concept has been a failure. Everybody seems to blame everybody else, but the fact remains that the Gaeltacht is largely symbolic and kept afloat by a state reluctant to admit its abject failure.

The maps below tell their own story. (Available here in PDF format.)

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Maybe a Gaeltacht made up of small, widely separated areas was doomed to fail, and this might be Arfor’s advantage over the Irish model.

But let’s assume that the Arfor project takes off, how is it to be sold to the large, non-Welsh populations in Beddgelert, Betws-y-Coed, Barmouth, Tywyn, Aberdyfi, Borth, New Quay – even Aberystwyth? Will these communities be able to opt out?

Whether these settlements buy in or not to survive Arfor will need positive discrimination in favour of the indigenous population coupled with restrictions on who can move in . . . which would send the English media and its Welsh lapdogs into a feeding frenzy!

As I say, I would prefer to see all-Wales legislation that could protect all areas facing similar problems. A strategy guaranteeing that locals get priority in housing, employment, education, training, grants, and everything else, with nothing forced on these areas unless it is of demonstrable benefit to the local population.

But if we can’t have a national strategy, then I would support Arfor, but my support could never be wholehearted.

Local Government Reorganisation, Again!

INTRODUCTION

I’m old enough to remember the term ‘Wales and Monmouthshire’ being used, which gave us the thirteen old counties, and then there were the four county boroughs (Swansea, Cardiff, Newport and Merthyr).

This system was swept away by the Local Government Act 1972 which in 1974 gave us a two-tier system of local government, made up of eight counties, thirty-seven districts, and, if I counted them all, 43,736 councillors. It was probably the most absurd system of local government ever devised by man.

Mrs Jones would go her district council office with a query or a complaint only to be told that the issue vexing her was a matter for the county council. (And vice versa.) To further confuse us I seem to recall that responsibilities were often shared or split. Didn’t district councils collect the rubbish but counties dispose of it?

The obvious thing to have done, of course, would have been to do away with the districts leaving us with eight good-sized unitary authorities. But no, this is Wales, and other factors influenced decisions. Such as lowering the minimum population level to 60,000 so that Merthyr could be one of the new unitary authorities.

Quite obviously, twenty-two local authorities – and Powys having more councillors than New York City – is no real improvement on the two-tier system in a country of just over three million people.

The two local government reorganisations introduced in 1974 and 1996 were the work of the UK government and the Boundary Commission with considerable input from political parties and others. But now the power lies with the ‘Welsh’ Government.

For this is the age of devolution; Wales is a land of milk and honey, where lambs frolic under the planet-saving wind turbines (watered daily by the local hippies). Freed from the tyranny of labour by the introduction of AI we fly from Cardiff airport to our villas in the sun – even those from the north can reach Cardiff International in two or three hours on the new motorways and train lines that traverse the land. Students from Vladivostok and Valparaiso fight to get into the Assembly in order to see and hear for themselves our leaders, men and women globally renowned for their wisdom and their probity. Poverty is forever banished, everyone has a nice home and a new electric car or three . . . and I really must lay off the Malbec.

Back to reality. For a few years now the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government down in Corruption Bay, that monument to the late Nicholas Edwards, has toyed with the idea of yet another round of local government reorganisation. The subject seems to surface from time to time, often when Labour needs a distraction, or wants to be seen as ‘visionary’.

Earlier this month the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Local Government Secretary Alun Davies resurrected the suggestion to trim down our twenty-two local authorities to just ten with the publication of a Green Paper. So let’s examine the proposal in a little more detail.

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NORTH, MID AND WEST

In the previous, two-tier system, the north had two counties, Clwyd in the east and Gwynedd in the west. In the map above you’ll see three counties mooted for any future reorganisation. But why?

I suggest that the answer lies with the Labour Party itself. Lump together Flintshire and Wrexham and you create a council that might just have a Labour majority, or certainly a council that could be run by Labour in coalition with Plaid Cymru and/or assorted Independents. (There being no less than three different Independent groups on Flintshire council!)

But add Denbighshire to the mix, where Labour currently has 13 (out of 47) councillors, and a resurrected Clwyd would be much less likely to be a Labour fiefdom. Which makes the union of Flintshire and Wrexham far more acceptable to the bruvvers.

This would leave the combined Denbighshire and Conwy with the burden of almost the whole of the north coast and its problems, ranging from the importation of criminals and assorted deadbeats into Rhyl and other towns to the granny trafficking that gives this littoral its nickname of the Costa Geriatrica.

Gwynedd and Ynys Môn is a natural unit in every way and of little interest to the Labour Party. Though in the former Gwynedd these two were joined with Conwy.

Moving south, to other areas where Labour has little chance of success (and consequently little interest), we see that the ‘Welsh’ Government has no wish to change the status quo or the status quo ante, with Powys left untouched and Dyfed reborn.

THE STEAMY SOUTH

Now we move into the south, where Labour most definitely does have an interest in the new boundaries.

First, Swansea Bay, where my understanding is that Swansea and Neath Port Talbot councils have already agreed in principle to merge, thereby formalising what is happening on the ground, with Amazon’s ‘Swansea’ distribution depot and Swansea University’s new Bay Campus both in Neath Port Talbot.

Aerial photo (courtesy of Swansea University) from 2013 showing the old, Mumbles Road, campus, top star; and the yet to be built Bay Campus, lower star. Also shown: River Neath, M4, Port Talbot to the left, Swansea to the right. Click to enlarge.

Next, it’s suggested that Bridgend links up with Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr. Which makes a certain sense in that they are three staunchly Labour areas covering the central valleys and approximate to the old Mid Glamorgan. Things get more complicated, and contentious, as we move east.

Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan comprised the county of South Glamorgan under the two-tier system, and it’s proposed to bring this back. This respect for history must be the reason for the proposal, and not the fact that the Vale is (with the help of an Independent) a Tory-run authority, with Labour holding just 14 of the 47 council seats.

Merged with more populous, and Labour voting, Cardiff, the proposed new authority would almost certainly have a Labour majority.

GWENT

Moving yet further east, things get really, really complicated.

Under the two-tier system Gwent was one of the eight counties, now it’s proposed to link Newport with Caerphilly, while Monmouthshire merges with Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent. The first we can almost overlook, seeing as it brings together two Labour areas, but the second is gerrymandering on a scale that old-style Ulster Unionists would applaud.

Monmouthshire council today is Conservative run, with the party holding 25 of the council’s 43 seats. At Westminster level Monmouthshire is represented by David Davies MP, and at Welsh Assembly level the AM is fellow-Tory Nick Ramsay.

Next door we find one of the poorest areas in Europe, an area that the twenty-first century – maybe also the twentieth – seems to have passed by. Blaenau Gwent should be held up as an example to the rest of the world of how not to handle the decline of traditional industries.

For whereas in well-run countries the post-industrial era means metal-bashing and extractive industries being replaced by clean, new industries, in Blaenau Gwent it just means neglect and decline. But, God bless ’em, for after a brief flirtation with the People’s Voice, Blaenau Gwent is back to blaming the Tories for its deprivation.

Perhaps I’m wrong, so let’s hear Alun Davies – the AM for Blaenau Gwent – argue that this proposed merger of Monmouthshire with Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent is not a kick in the plums for Dai Davies, nor an act of socialist vindictiveness against wealthier neighbours.

CONCLUSION

Within days of Alun Davies bringing out his Green Paper it came under attack from a very predictable quarter – the Welsh Local Government Association.

Despite all the flim-flam from the WLGA about ‘services’, and the ‘public interest’, and worries about ‘who’s gonna feed the gondolas?’, the real objections to local government reform from this Labour-controlled group are pretty selfish, and no different to the objections to earlier council reorganisations.

If you’re a council leader who’s schemed and back-stabbed his/her way to the top then you won’t take kindly to a plan to dismember your little empire or have it taken over by someone else’s empire. (The big fish in little pools syndrome.) Something similar goes for ambitious younger councillors with dreams of making it to the top.

And even if you have no ambitions beyond turning up now and again, snoozing on the comfy benches in the centrally-heated chamber, and picking up your allowance, you will still be alarmed because mergers must mean fewer councillors.

Which leaves Wales in a dangerous place.

For just about everyone accepts that we need fewer councils. But if the debate is restricted to the ‘Welsh’ Government on the one hand and the Labour-led WLGA representing the councils on the other then party unity will be the priority rather than the public or national interest.

This would be a disaster.

The ‘Welsh’ Government must be firm and force through reorganisation, and it must also fund reorganisation. The money needed to implement the changes will soon be recouped from the savings made in having many fewer councils.

And rather than go for crudely political and frankly illogical mergers why not just revert to the eight counties we knew up until 1996 and with which many of us are still familiar?

To avoid local government reorganisation becoming an internal Labour Party matter I encourage those reading this to make your opinions known; with letters to your local ‘paper, to your AM, your MP, and also make your local councillors realise that you want fewer councils and councillors even it means them losing out.

♦ end ♦

Dirty, Dirty Politics

BIGOTRY WRIT LARGE

Last Friday I was sent photographs of a leaflet that had been distributed in Trawsfynydd. The accompanying message was that they were handed out by a guy in a Mercedes.

The contents of the leaflet fit a pattern I became familiar with long ago. ‘Plaid Cymru’ or ‘Gwynedd Council’ is attacked but the real target is us, the Welsh people. That’s because having the natives running things really upsets a certain kind of English mindset, it challenges what they believe to be the natural order of things. Such people will not be satisfied until we are fully assimilated and every vestigial memory of our identity is destroyed.

Or maybe, as with Jacques Protic and other swivel-eyed obsessives, the real target is the Welsh language, which they blame for everything from infant mortality rates to potholes, with Plaid Cymru or Gwynedd just collateral damage, along with Labour, for Protic also targets ‘closet nationalists’ like Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones. (A ‘closet’ in which both remained forever secreted.)

For Welsh medium education is also targeted in this leaflet, with defamatory references to an ‘English Not’, ‘language police’, and the suggestion that Welsh words are formed by adding ‘io’ to English words. A kind of Fast Show Channel 9 weather forecast with Poula ‘Skorchio’, but without the humour or any other redeeming features.

This opposition to ‘Gwynedd’/’Plaid Cymru’ can take bizarre forms. Around twenty years ago I recall a notable anti-Welsh campaigner arguing for local government reorganisation so that we might enjoy a council stretching along the Cardigan Bay coast because, it was argued, a coastal community had more in common with another coastal community 70 miles away than with a settlement 10 or 15 miles inland.

To understand the calculation behind this, mentally link Barmouth with Borth rather than with Blaenau Ffestiniog or Bala.

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After putting the leaflet out on social media I received a message on Saturday morning telling me that there were two persons involved, a man and a woman, and they’d been observed in a cafe in Trawsfynydd discussing the council election with other customers, and handing out what looked like the leaflet in question. One of the pair was the Independent councillor for Llangelynin ward, Louise Hughes. It made sense because I’d recently seen her in Tywyn driving a Mercedes.

Her male companion was described as being around 60 years of age, with dark/greying hair but not bald, quite tall, with wrinkles, and “scruffy”. Has anyone seen a man answering this description in the company of Councillor Louise Hughes?

I telephoned Louise Hughes around mid-day on Saturday and she admitted that she’d been in the Trawsfynydd cafe and, yes, she had handed out leaflets, but she became rather evasive on the nature of the leaflets and suggested she was doing it for someone else.

The reason she gave for being in the cafe was that she and her companion were on their way to canvas for Liberal Democrat Councillor Steven Churchman in Dolbenmaen ward, where he is opposed by a Plaid Cymru candidate. I am not suggesting that Churchman has any part in this despicable episode, so I invite Councillor Churchman to comment and make his position clear.

Louise Hughes also stood for Westminster in 2015, when she got 4.8% of the vote. She has stood for the Assembly twice, in 2011 and 2016. The first time was under the Llais Gwynedd banner, when she came in a respectable third, on 15.5% of the vote, but in 2016, standing as an Independent, she was fifth, with just 6.2%. So her star appears to be waning.

One of the names on her nomination paper from 2015 is George M Stevens, which might pass unnoticed until you realise that it’s her pal and political mentor, UKIP-leaning Councillor Mike Stevens. Why he should be so shy about using the name by which everyone knows him is a mystery.

Stevens it was who came up with the barmy scheme to have a local authority that would make Chile look fat. He has come up with many other barmy schemes, such as the cod and crow banner for Tywyn, which he used as an excuse to remove our national flag from Tywyn promenade (in case it frightens the tourists).

When he’s not being an annoying colonialist twat Stevens runs his own printing business in Tywyn, Genesis, which is very useful for someone who feels he has a vital message for the deluded masses unaware of the Plaid Cymru tyranny they live under.

Though I’m not for one minute suggesting that Mike Stevens printed the glossy and otherwise expensive leaflets being handed out by Louise Hughes and her scruffy companion in Trawsfynydd, and their allies in Dolgellau, such as MM and ARE.

What I am saying, and I say this quite clearly, is that this leaflet contravenes electoral and possibly other law, and those who wrote, published and distributed it, could be prosecuted, on the following grounds:

  • It describes itself as “a special Plaid Cymru Election edition”. Obviously it was not produced by Plaid Cymru. The party may care to take this up with the electoral authorities, or the police, or both.
  • It is election material, in that it is designed to influence how people vote on May 4th, yet it carries no imprint other than “Printy McPrintface”. This is definitely illegal, and not remotely funny.
  • Given what this leaflet says about an ‘English Not’ operating in Gwynedd schools and other references to the Welsh language it borders on being a hate crime.

On Thursday we have an election in our ward of Bryncrug-Llanfihangel. Our sitting candidate, local woman Beth Lawton, is being opposed by a Royston Hammond of Llanegryn. The response has been one of confusion because no one seems to know Hammond.

The confusion is partly caused by the fact that he doesn’t live in our ward, for Llanegryn is in Louise Hughes’ Llangelynin ward, so why doesn’t he stand in that ward, which he must know better – if only marginally – than the ward he’s standing for? Louise Hughes is now returned unopposed.

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Well, the word in the local thés dansants is that Hammond and his wife Mercia are very pally with Louise Hughes. So it’s reasonable to assume that a deal has been cut to give Hughes a clear run – and time to distribute the vile leaflets – while Hammond tries to give the gang another councillor in a neighbouring ward.

On his leaflet Hammond says “I have run my own companies”. True, but it may not be the kind of record he should boast about. Here’s the list from the Companies House website. One company he’s recently been involved with was SHS Inns Ltd of Blackburn (latterly, Southampton), which was liquidated last year.

The only company that he’s been involved with that appears to be still standing is H.I.S.&S. Ltd. (Formerly known as Hammond Industrial Services Ltd.) Though Hammond himself resigned as a director 31 December 2015 his wife remains a director. Hammond appears to have been replaced in April 2016 by Susan Salt, who was also involved with them in the ill-fated SHS Inns Ltd.

The figures for H.I.S.&S. Ltd are not good. The balance sheet up to 31 July 2016 shows total assets of -£14,305 against a figure for the previous year of £4,481. There appears to be one (depreciating) asset, possibly a vehicle, which contributes £10,786 to the value of the company, down from £18,114 the previous year. The true picture might be even worse, for these figures are taken from an unaudited return.

APOLOGY: In last year’s Assembly elections I voted for Louise Hughes, partly because I knew that the sitting AM Dafydd Elis Thomas was leaving Plaid Cymru. Now that I better understand her and the company she keeps I assure you it will never happen again. I shall henceforth do my best to atone for my mistake.

BAY OF PLENTY

No, this has got nothing to do with New Zealand, or rugby, or the forthcoming Lions tour. Now read on.

Another curious publication was brought to my attention on Friday, this one being put through letter-boxes in the City of the Blest. It’s available here on a website that does not allow downloading. So I’d catch it while you can, for it may not be up for much longer.

The magazine is called ‘Vision Swansea Bay’, described as an “independent magazine” which “is independently funded and published by an association of local residents and business owners.” The first few pages are innocuous enough, the City Deal, Swansea University, the tidal lagoon, then comes a double-page spread on the council elections – which is all about the Labour Party.

For example, “Think Jeremy Corbyn is a loser? Oh dear, you’ve been brainwashed”.

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Turning to the back cover provides the clue. For here we find a plug for the Aspire Foundation, an organisation for go-getting women. The Aspire Foundation website is registered to a Dawn Lyle, of Swansea, who just happens to be a Labour stalwart.

This is her:

In addition to mentoring young women, she has a company called iCreate Ltd. (There are a few other companies to be found for Dawn Muriel Lyle on the Companies House website.)

Another group with which she’s involved is Swansea Bay Futures Ltd, a company limited by guarantee and packed with local worthies, including academics and of course politicians; among them Meryl Gravell, the soon-to-retire Emissary on Earth for His Omnipotence Mark James; while among the mortals we find Rob Stewart, Labour leader of Swansea council, who we met just now in ‘Vision Swansea Bay’.

In her self-penned bio you will have noticed that, “Dawn is a motivational speaker for girls and school-leavers, and is passionate about raising aspirations and increasing opportunities for young women in Swansea and beyond.” Which presumably means that she goes around schools giving inspirational talks. For this she would need local education authority approval – no problem when Swansea and Neath Port Talbot are Labour controlled and she’s an “active member of the Labour Party”.

And it’s reasonable to assume that she gets paid by her friends in these Labour-run local authorities. Which means that what we have here is just a new slant on Labour cronyism. This woman, who modestly describes herself as “one of Wales leading women entrepreneurs”, might struggle without Labour Party patronage.

But what of those involved with the Swansea Bay project, who represent all political parties and none; how do they feel about the brand being used to promote the Labour Party just a week before a council election? Feedback I’ve already had suggests storm clouds may be gathering.

And who’s paying for it, is it Swansea Bay Futures? Is it the Labour Party? According to the imprint, “VISION is independently published by an association of local residents”! (That word ‘independent[ly]’ again!)

Are we to believe that a group of residents met up, maybe in an Uplands coffee house, and for no better reason than having time on their hands, decided to bring out a magazine; most of which consists of regurgitated ‘news’ available elsewhere, with the only departures being plugs for the Labour Party and a full-page ad for Dawn Lyle’s company?

You can buy that or you can believe my interpretation, which is that Dawn Lyle and Swansea Labour Party have subverted a cross-party or non-party body (and perhaps used its resources), to bring out a crude and obvious plug for a worried Labour Party just ahead of an election. Lay your bets!

If I’m right then this magazine is Labour Party electioneering material with a false or misleading imprint. An offence.

LEE WATERS AM

The Assembly Member for Llanelli has become something of a celebrity in some political circles, partly due to his support for the ‘protesters’ whose knuckles dragging outside Llangennech school have so disturbed the children they claim to be speaking for, and partly because of the widely-held belief that, despite being the AM for Llanelli, the man has never lived in that town.

To my knowledge, no one has ever made a formal complaint, or asked for an investigation into whether Lee Waters might have committed an offence, so I decided to do it myself.

First, I wrote to a couple of departments in the Assembly (the website not making it clear who to contact) and was eventually advised by the office of the Standards Commissioner that I should take my complaint to Paul Callard of Dyfed Powys Police, who “is the single point of contact on election matters”.

I telephoned Mr Callard on Friday. (Busy day, Friday.) He confirmed that any complaint should be addressed to him, and that time was running out, because there is only a year from the date of the election – 5 May 2016 – to make a complaint.

Fundamentally, my complaint hinges on the fact that the nomination paper submitted by a candidate must give the ‘Home Address’. Waters gave as his home address last year 25 New Zealand Street, Llanelli, when all the evidence points to him living in Barry.

It doesn’t help Waters’ case that if you read the list of nominated candidates from last year you will see that two of them knew the law, and complied with it, stating that they did not live in the constituency. Though I guarantee that, like Waters, they stayed in Llanelli at times during the campaign.

My letter was e-mailed to Mr Callard at Dyfed Powys Police this morning. You can read it here.

UPDATE 04.05.2017: After telephoning him at around mid-day yesterday I was told by Mr Callard that I would receive an answer later in the day, and it arrived at around 3:45. According to Mr Callard the year allowed in which to make a complain starts from the date on the ‘Statement of Persons Nominated’, in this case 8th April. So my complaint was too late.

Which would appear to be the end of the matter. But at least I tried, which is more than can be said for anyone else. I won’t make that mistake again.

♦ end ♦

Councils of Despair

Few people seemed to have noticed the passing last Friday of the deadline for our 22 local authorities to submit their Expression of Interest (EoI) on agreed council mergers to the ‘Welsh’ Government. Only 3 EoIs were received, covering just 6 local authorities. It seems that Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen would be happy to tie the knot, as would the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend, while in the north, the only two to have taken the first, hesitant steps to the altar are Conwy and Denbighshire.Population density

To help you with what follows, and to give the current lie of the land, the map on the right shows the distribution of our population (this can be enlarged by clicking). It tells us that, in the north, the population is concentrated in Wrecsam, Deeside and the coastal strip; while in the south it’s Swansea Bay, Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys. The area in between the two, and further west, is more sparsely populated or, in some areas, almost uninhabited. You will notice a rough corellation between population distribution and the size and configuration of the existing councils.

It’s also worth remembering that certain constraints were put on the exercise by the Williams Commission. Which, as the BBC reported ” . . . recommends the new councils should be within current health board and police force areas and also not cross the geographical areas governing eligibility for EMap1 (eng)U aid.” So let us look at a few more maps showing. top to bottom, the EU aid map, which also shows the current council boundaries, the health board areas, and the police force areas. (Again, all can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

Looking at the maps we see that the highest level of EU aid does not cross local authority boundaries. The health boards also keep to local authority boundaries. However the police forces, while also observing local authority boundaries group them differently to the  health boards. (Though other than pandering to the ‘Monmouthshire is English’ lobby I have no idea what the justification is for retaining the Gwent Police.) Finally, just for fun, and to show how silly it is to stick rigidly to the existing boundaries of other organisations I have thrown in (below right) the fire and rescue service map. While also respecting local authority boundaries this shows yet another way of dividing ufire and rescue servicesp the country.

Also bear in minHealth boardsd that these divisions have not been handed down to us from our ancestors on tablets of stone. Take the seven health boards, which came into effect in 2009. These replaced the seven Local Health Trusts and the twenty-two Local Health Boards that went all the way back to 2003. (So are we due another reorganisation in 2015?) The point to be taken from these various maps is that for different purposes Wales is divided up in different ways, but each and every organisation dealt with here follows local authority boundaries, thereby establishing their primacy. So rather than screw up local government reorganisation, again, by being too restrictive with the ground rules, let’s be more flexible – get the new local authority boundaries right then – if necessary – let other bodies reconfigure their boundaries to fit the local government map, not the other way round.

A final consideration may bepolice forces that some of these other boundaries may not exist for much longer. For example, many people believe it’s only a matter of time before Wales has a single police force (like Scotland). Perhaps we’ll also have a national fire and rescue service. And as for EU Structural Funds, well, if the ‘Welsh’ Government uses this funding wisely, rather than squandering it on its sponging cronies in the Third Sector, then this will be another internal division that disappears. And even if ‘Welsh’ Labour does make the same mistake for a third time the 2014 – 2020 round is the last tranche of Structural Funds we’ll see. So it would be foolish to use boundaries that may be gone in three or four years time to determine the map of a local government structure we hope will last at least a couple of generations.

Even though the ‘Welsh’ Government only received three Expressions of Interest that doesn’t mean that other local authorities haven’t been discussing mergers and suggesting options. The most interesting proposal I know of is the paper put out by Swansea council, which stated as its preferred option a merger with Neath Port Talbot and, more surprisingly, linking with Llanelli, and also taking in part of Powys, presumably the area around Ystradgynlais at the top of the Swansea Valley. This would create a council with a population of some half a million and would obviously be the core for the proposed Swansea city region.Swansea Bay

Clearly, Swansea, Neath, Llanelli and Port Talbot is a ‘natural’ unit, already a contiguous urban-industrial complex. That Swansea should have made this proposal its number one option suggests to me that preliminary talks have already taken place with Labour councillors in Llanelli, who are known to be unhappy with their party’s leadership on Carmarthenshire county council and the coalition with the Independent Party. (Yes, it is a party.) For Neath Port Talbot the Williams Commission mooted a merger with Bridgend, yet Bridgend, as we know, has already agreed a merger with the Vale of Glamorgan, for which the Commission had Cardiff lined up as a suitable match. The full Williams Commission recommendations can be seen in the table below (click to enlarge).

Looking north, we see that the Commission suggests mergers giving us three authorities instead of the current six, yet others are calling for just two, or even a single authority for the whole north. If we went for two, then presumably Conwy would join with Gwynedd and Ynys Môn while Denbighshire would link up with Wrecsam and Flintshire (maybe the latter authority can be called West Cheshire). Though perhaps the biggest problem is what to do with Powys, currently our largest authority in terms of area but with a population less than that of Wrecsam or Bridgend. Though with the relentless policy of colWilliams Comm 12onisation now being implemented its population is guaranteed to rise faster than almost any other part of the country. Looking again at some of the other recommendations you have to wonder at the reasoning behind them. Why link Pembrokeshire with Ceredigion but leave Carmarthenshire as a stand-alone authority?

Another problematic authority is obviously Monmouthshire. For many of those living in Monmouthshire being part of Wales is bad enough, but having to link up with burger-eating oiks in Newport or the Heads of the Valleys is just too too much. For such people the preferred option would probably be to join Herefordshire or Gloucestershire, which is why I suggest linking Monmouthshire with Blaenau Gwent, Newport, Torfaen (and perhaps part of Caerffili) in a new authority with ‘Gwent’ as the sole official name.

The Williams Commission and the silly restrictions it imposed on the exercise – no crossing existing council, police or health bouundaries – made it impossible to come up with the best solution for Welsh local government. Another concern I have is that in asking for ‘voluntary’ mergers, who exactly is being asked? The answer seems to be whoever ruEight countiesns the council, be that councillors or officers, which means that we shall end up with political stitch-ups. For while I support the plan for the new Swansea Bay authority I am not blind to its attractions for the Labour Party. And where is the public consultation – or will the public be invited to give its views on done deals? Has there been input from business and other sectors of Welsh life? And isn’t the exercise somewhat undermined by Cardiff planning to leave Wales and join up with Bristol?

My view remains that the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 threw out the baby with the bathwater. Admittedly, the two-tier system of 8 counties and 37 districts introduced in 1974 was a confusing and expensive mistake. But another mistake was made in 1994 when we should have kept the 8 county councils as the new unitary authorities instead of ditching them in favour of 22 new unitary councils, including that unworkable sop to Labour sentimentality, Merthyr. Had it been done properly in 1994 we wouldn’t be discussing local government reorganisation again today.

That’s two huge and very expensive mistakes in the space of just forty years, and surely all the more reason to get it right this time rather than trying to do it on the cheap by sticking with existing boundaries we know will be changed, or even cease to exist, in the near future. So, my advice would be – with a few modifications, such as Swansea Bay – revert to the eight pre-1994 councils and have done with it.