OPINION - thisisnotgwent.co.uk
WHAT HAS THE WELSH GOVERNMENT DONE FOR US?
Monty Python posed the famous question ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ in their film ‘Life of Brian’. It turned out to be quite a lot. So I thought it might be useful to pose the same question about the Welsh Assembly Government. I voted for it but it was a difficult decision. In the 1997 referendum the city of Newport demonstrating its natural caution about Welsh issues voted decisively against it by 62.5 per cent to 37.5 per cent. Since that date fewer and fewer Newportonians participate in Welsh elections when compared to referenda or their Westminster equivalents. Increasingly, Newport and the east of Wales is an after-thought, when the money is spent in Cardiff lets give a little bit to Newport.
In September 1997 I did not vote for a wasteful and expensive regional assembly, I wanted Welsh decisions made in Cardiff accountable to the Welsh people via a small number of directly elected politicians. Since 1999 when the Assembly Government was established it has struggled for public acceptance. But now all parties seem to favour its continuation even if they have doubts about whether it should assume increased powers e.g. to make laws. Newportonians should use their voice wisely and not be taken in by the propaganda of the devo-racketeers, supported by the Welsh political establishment.
Let’s have a look at some of its principle achievements since 1999.
Providing a worse health service than in England
A recent study by the Health Service Journal into the devolved administration found the rate of emergency admissions to hospital - used by some analysts as a sign of issues with access to primary healthcare - was higher in Wales than the other nations in Great Britain, and continues to rise.
By the end of the year, patients in England should be guaranteed hospital treatment within 18 weeks, compared to waits of over two years just a decade ago.
In Wales the current target is 8 months/36 weeks from GP referral to inpatient, day case or first outpatient appointment. However this is not necessarily the time to treatment as at the outpatient appointment you enter another waiting list and so under the welsh target can wait 16 months from GP referral to treatment. In Wales the improvement target was that by the end of 2009 95 no one would wait more than 26 weeks (6 months) from GP referral to treatment including diagnostic tests. The target was downgraded to 95 per cent in 2010, it has never been achieved.
In 2014/15 it was 75 days to wait for a hip operation in England and 197 in Wales.
The Ambulance Service in Wales consistently underperforms its English counter-part getting to calls within target time in 60-65 per cent of cases, its consistently around 80 per cent in England. A new lower target of 65 per cent has now been set and met since October 2015.
Health expenditure per head of population in Wales is the lowest of the four home countries.
Why does the health service vary so much between the two countries?
Providing a lower standard of education than in England
In Wales the assembly has scrapped national curriculum tests (Sats) and league tables, and stuck with comprehensives. Statistics obtained by the BBC from the Assembly and the Department for Education and Skills showed that in 1999 the percentage of 15-year-old pupils achieving at least five A* to C grades or equivalent at GCSE/GNVQ level was 48% in both Wales and England.
By 2001, both countries were still at level pegging with 50%, but by 2002, England's figure had increased to 52%, while Wales remained at 50%. By 2004 the figure was 51% for Wales and 54% for England - a 3% gap. The figure is now 8%!
Despite having lower levels of deprivation than Scotland or Northern Ireland, Wales comes out bottom of the home nations in the three subjects of mathematics, science and reading. This has consistently been confirmed by international findings and rankings including the Programme for International Student Assessment
The Welsh Government seems obsessed with extolling the benefits of Welsh medium education when there are other more pressing priorities like numeracy and literacy.
Their own study of Welsh medium education compared to English medium education (in Wales) between 2004 and 2006 indicated results in the former are marginally better in bilingual schools than in English. The study also showed that deprivation levels in the Welsh medium schools were lower, normally the reason for better results and linked to more aspirational parents. The benefits of Welsh medium education are yet another urban myth propagated by Cardiff’s self serving elite. Look in the Sunday Times list of the best schools in the UK and you will find Newport schools - Caerleon, Bassaleg and Rougemont - all providing an excellent education through the medium of English.
All the evidence suggests that schools in Newport are bucking the Welsh national trend but that the Blairite mantra in England of ‘education, education, education’ has not been replicated across the whole Principality and is certainly not policed on behalf of parents by the Assembly.
A reorganisation of University education saw Newport University take over by USW at the behest of Welsh Government. The other merger partner, Cardiff Met were set free and in the stroke of a pen Newport lost her University. Since the takeover Newport has been asset-stripped with the loss to housing of the iconic Caerleon campus.
Significantly increasing the cost of personal expenses claimed by Welsh Assembly Members
2007/8 our 60 AM’s claimed £400,000 of taxpayers money in personal expenses
including a £2,000 sofa, a £1,000 surround-sound TV, right down to a £2 glass
bowl, it has been revealed. Most of the 60 Welsh AMs are allowed to claim costs
for second homes because their main residence is deemed to be sufficiently far
enough away from Cardiff Bay to justify it. The eight maximum claimants for
2007/2008 include Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas. Two more claimed within
a few pence of the maximum £12,500.
One of the highest claimants, Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, Mike German, had his main home in Cwmbran, 16 miles from Cardiff Bay! German supposedly represents Newport as part of his constituency.
Labour's Lesley Griffiths spent £2,000 on a sofa, whilst Conservative Nick Ramsey spent £1,000 on a surround-sound TV system and more than £2,000 on two beds.
Another Labour AM Torfaen’s Lynne Neagle, has claimed £400 for curtains and £317.57 for book shelves as well as £2 for a Pyrex bowl and £4 for a salt and pepper set. She earned £50,692 annually and lives in Pontypool!
Two Conservative members of the Welsh assembly claimed ipods on expenses in 2008. Opposition leader Nick Bourne and fellow Tory Alun Cairns submitted the portable music players, worth a combined £398, as office costs. A Conservative spokesman said Bourne uses it to listen to news podcasts and help him learn Welsh.
Spending millions on an Assembly building in Cardiff Bay and a more expensive civil service
Enough said, how could that money have been spent? Not only that we now have three times as many civil servants as we had when the Welsh Office had responsibility for running the Principality. In 1997 it was claimed by the UK Government that the Assembly would cost £15 million per annum to run, last year it cost over £450 million!
Offering free prescriptions to all Welsh residents
Cost to the taxpayer - £30 million. Reports suggest that since April 2007 when this scheme was introduced the level of freely prescribed medicine has gone up by five per cent. Prescription charges were means-tested, so people who could not afford to pay the charge still got their medications for free. Now it is the better off who benefit by not having to fork out for their medicines, could this money not be better spent elsewhere within Wales?
Spending more on translation of documents from Welsh in to English (and vice versa)
In 2003-4 the Welsh Assembly Government translation spent £1.6 million on the above. Allowing for inflation the figure will now be over £3 million per annum.
Subsidising Welsh language newspapers and other publications
The Welsh Assembly Government is subsidising Welsh language newspapers and other publications to the tune of £600k over the next three years. What about subsidising our well-established Anglo-Welsh culture or better still leaving market forces to determine who reads what and when, whether it is English or Welsh. The new Welsh Language Act provisions is forcing public bodies to spend resources on translation that could be spent on much needed services.
OPINION - thisisnotgwent.co.uk
Free bus travel for the disabled and over 60s
This is undoubtedly an effective scheme to reduce reliance on car travel and improve the life of pensioners. It is now also available in Scotland and England but not across the border. However, there is plenty of evidence that investment in this scheme has been at the expense of substantial increases for fare paying passengers and that service frequencies are reducing particularly as the Government has just substantially cut grants (this does not affect its pointless north wales transport service - see below)
Free school milk for five- to seven-year-olds
In principle a good idea, no arguments
Free breakfasts for primary schoolchildren
A questionable measure aimed at improving nutrition that assists wealthier parents who want to drop their kids off earlier at school. Only 1 Newport school out of 59 had joined up by the start of the first year of the scheme. Unions and the City Council believe the money would be better spent on teachers.
Promoting .cym instead of .co.uk
The Assembly has provided a grant of £20k to promote the .cym web address as opposed to .co.uk. Ieuan Wyn Jones said it would "open up new marketing opportunities and help promote the Wales brand." But a Cardiff Business School report said there was little evidence to show .cym would promote Welsh culture. Why is this being done? Purely to satisfy
Promoting teenage sex education in the Valleys
The Welsh Government spent £415k in 2010 promoting better teenage sex education particularly in Merthyr Tydfil and the Rhondda, areas with the highest conception rates in Europe.
Figures in February showed Merthyr Tydfil in the South Wales Valleys has the highest teenage pregnancy rate for 15-17 year-olds in England and Wales. In 2008, the rate was 73.5 conceptions per 1,000 girls. The second highest figure in Wales was Rhondda Cynon Taf, with 59.2 per 1,000 girls.
The Health Minister, Edwina Hart, said on the BBC that ‘people must take personal responsibility for their actions.’ This in itself suggests that no matter how much money is pumped into a particular sexual health project, if those in the community are not listening or not even attending sessions, it is money down the drain. At the moment, sex education is provided through a number of delivery points including health practitioners, schools and WAG’s Communities First project, to name a few.
Operating a mis-guided transport policy
£1.6 million subsidy over three years for an air service between Anglesey and Cardiff but not able to run trains from Newport to Ebbw Vale. In fact they managed to develop a rail system between Cardiff and Ebbw Vale bringer further benefits to the Welsh capital at the expense of Newport. Rhodri Clark, Transport Correspondent of the Western Mail has speculated at the time as to whether Newport was avoided for ‘political or technical reasons’.
The Assembly Government has shunned investment in public transport and has devised a scheme ‘the M4 Relief Road’ that seems no nearer completion now than when it was first suggested and although it has been improved with junctions into the city its design could could have a damaging impact on the ability of cargo ships to convey in and out of Newport Docks.
A Metro scheme than includes lots of possibilities for light rail and trams in Cardiff but offers little to congested Newport other than rapid transit buses and the offer of new rail stations at some indeterminate date as well as Ebbw Valley services.
The recent summary of infrastructure investment (February 2016) revealed 13 schemes Cardiff has 37!
The Welsh Government did not contribute to Friars Walk. Instead the City Council took out the loan for £90 million! Their only contribution was funding for the new bus station.
OTHER ‘ACHIEVEMENTS’ COULD INCLUDE
The Welsh Assembly Government has done little to impact upon the lives of Newportonians during the course of the last seventeen years. There are one or two steps forward but where it has had a real opportunity to make an impact it has not come up to scratch. The customary disdain for Monmouthshire and Newport seems to pervade little Wales in Cardiff.
Too many of the decisions taken there are pre-occupied with the promotion of our capital city and also with its self serving Welsh speaking elite. It is a wonder that English taxpayers have not revolted at the mis-use of the massive expenditure from England that subsidises the administration of the Assembly, the language and Welsh public services.
And in the key areas of public services, education and health evidence suggests that there is a significant and widening gap between England and Wales since 1999. The Welsh Assembly Government’s policy on transport seems fixated on joining north and south rather than dealing with the need for improved public transport particularly around the Newport area.
In addition during the last nine years Welsh Assembly Members have increased cynicism about politics. Their expenses claims are little short of scandalous. They are nothing more than city councillors in terms of power and responsibility but claim salaries that are double the Welsh average.
Now they want more powers to puff up their own self importance. There is no evidence that services have improved. For once David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth, is right. Wales would find itself sleepwalking towards an independent state.