Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Protest and the cuts

Aberystwyth came to the Assembly today. Well, not actually the town but the people in their hundreds. They came to demonstrate because rumours abound that their district hospital is to be downgraded.
Politicians are never slow to get on a band waggon and this one is no exception, so up step Plaid Cymru with an accusation that the government is putting patients at risk with their proposals. Quoting research conducted by Sheffield University which concluded “increased journey distance to hospital appears to be associated with increased risk of mortality.”
Carwyn Jones responded “I would like to make it perfectly clear, there are no plans to close Bronglais hospital. There are no plans to downgrade Bronglais hospital. District General Hospitals - like Bronglais - will continue to be District General Hospitals. Our commitment to Bronglais is clear - and reinforced by the £38m investment we have made in the hospital over the past few years.” 
So there you have it, or do you? Because what the First Minister goes on to say is that “In order to deliver on this commitment, and create a world class health service, we must take into account the pressures placed on the NHS by an ageing population and the advances in medical treatment.
Any changes that are proposed by any health board across Wales will be based on clinical evidence - and on the need to improve services. Any changes will then be scrutinised by experts on the National Clinical Forum and by local communities as well as the Welsh Government.”
What he’s saying is, lets get real, there aren’t limitless resources. And he’s right. You know and I know that times are tough. 
In the real world, which the voter inhabits there is an understanding that the cash just ain’t there to do everything. It’s the real world. But politicians live in some parallel universe where cash can be thrown at every problem.
In the last few weeks alone, Conservative Janet Finch-Saunders  demanded a freeze on Council taxes. Her leader demanded that Carwyn Jones, “stopped dithering and playing politics and got on with the job of delivering improvements in public services for the people of Wales.” In other words spend more.
Last week Plaid spokesperson Alan Ffred Jones wanted “The Labour government.  Our Small Business Job Protection Scheme would directly help any business with a ratable value of up to £18,000 – over 80% of businesses in Wales - and I call on the Labour government to reconsider their rejection of these plans.”
Now politicians across the Assembly have got to get real. There ain't enough cash to go around. You can blame Westminster but there you have it. The cupboard is bare.

With cuts in both revenue and capital expenditure, priorities have to be decided on. Politicians can’t have the penny and the bun. For the first time they may have to take decisions. Unpleasant, but necessary. Priorities. Yes,  priorities should be the language of the time.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Show them the door, George

The budget will be held on the 21 March. But now is the time when pressure groups get their campaigns going to try to influence the Chancellor. 
One of these that are pressing the Chancellor are the Free Enterprise group of MPs. Membership of this right wing group consists of many of the new intake in 2010. One of those from Wales in membership is Alun Cairns formerly an Assembly Member and now MP for the Vale of Glamorgan.
What case are they pressing on Mr Osborne you ask? Wait for it, even deeper public spending cuts. 
Not happy with the draconian cuts already visited on the economy by the government. They want more. They’re calling for the Spending Review to be reopened to see if more savings can be made. Why? In order to deliver more tax cuts for the rich.
The group are working in tandem with the right wing think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs on a ‘wish-list’ to present to the Chancellor. This list includes a cut regulation for businesses, to merge national insurance and income tax, and to reduce the 50p top rate of income tax over two years. All this will be paid for by further cuts.
If the Chancellor was to listen to the group and public expenditure was cut further, then undoubtedly Wales would suffer. For these cuts  would likely reduced the amount the Assembly receives, courtesy of our old friend the Barnett formula.
This kind of medicine is exactly the opposite of what the economy needs. Indeed such a move would add further to the country’s woes. What the economy needs is confidence. It needs people to start spending. They don’t start spending if they think their jobs are under threat.
In Wales over 30 percent of the population are employed in the public sector. Making more of their number unemployed would make no sense at all. What is needed is more confidence, this doesn’t happen when the dole queue beckons.
There are signs that gradually the economy is beginning to pick up. 
Estate agents are indicating there has been a slight increase in activity and signs that the housing market is on the turn. There was an increase in average house prices in Wales and England of 1.1% in January. OK, some of this might be explained by first time buyers trying to buy before the stamp duty exemption on cheaper properties ends towards the end of March.
But accessing mortgages is getting slightly easier. Some would say not before time. But the fact is, the last four years has seen a very depressed housing market. Housing is a good indicator of the state of the economy if the housing market is depressed the economy as a whole is also down. So activity in housing, bodes well for the economy. But this could all be sniffed out if  the Chancellor falls into the trap that his own party’s right wing are urging on him.
His budget should be based on stimulating growth with more public investment not less. Let’s not kill the small shoots of growth that are appearing. So show the door to Cairns and his new chums, George.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Gloves off in leadership race

The open Plaid husting was a tame affair. All the candidates on their best behaviour, none to them delivering a killer punch. There are very much more exciting things to do with one’s time, watching paint dry might be such an alternative.
But one shouldn’t be fooled by the outward display of courtesy and goodwill. You know and I know, things are not always what they seem.
As Harold MacMillan once wryly commented, about the nature of party politics. The Opposition are in front of you it’s the enemy behind you have to watch.
It’s in the nature of these internal party elections that the gloves come off behind closed doors and its only occasionally do outside observers get a whiff of the vitriol behind the scenes. 
And lo, and behold such is the case with Plaid Cymru’s leadership election.  No sooner are the Plaid Cymru hustings over, the bare knuckle fighting begins.
Just as the ballot papers land in the letterboxes of party members they are confronted with the spectacle of two of the candidates, not so subtly, ganging up on the other.  
How? You may ask. Well, the prince across the water, a chap named Adam Price, has taken the pulse of the members and decided his candidate of choice was not anywhere near, home and dry. So he decided that it would have to be anyone, but Elin Jones.
It is difficult to know why, unless of course, it is based on the personal rather than the political. These things often are. 

 After all Elin Jones is the candidate that has made the clearest commitment to independence. She even said that she would produce a route map to such. Not a fare that many find palatable but red meat to others. And, right up Price’s street, one would think.
After all it was the very same Adam Price that wrote in December “ Without independence as our goal, what, frankly, is the point?  We might as well have spent our time in the metaphorical (or in some cases, quite literal) pub..... If I had wanted a life of political posturing that was agnostic on the question of independence I might have joined the Liberals..... Unlike the current Welsh Government I think targets are a good way of holding yourself to account.  So how about independence by 2036, as Elin Jones has suggested?  Why not?  Five hundred years of colonialism is surely enough, even for us long-suffering Welsh.”
Now to endorse the candidate that has almost the opposite view on independence to him, is strange indeed. That canny operator Dafydd Elis-Thomas, will be like the cat that got the cream with this endorsement. Indeed he wasted no time in posting it on his campaign web page. 
For the good Lord, has from the very start based his campaign strategy  on winning enough second preference votes to gain himself the crown.
Clearly Adam Price concurs “This election will probably be decided by second preference votes. For those of you who are supporting Dafydd with your first vote, I would urge you to consider supporting Leanne with your second. I would ask Leanne’s supporters to consider lending their second vote to Dafydd.“
So what are we to make of this dramatic intervention. From such a political thinker this is unlikely to be an impulsive intervention. He would have thought it through. As a political journalist I can ensure readers, stories such as this hardly ever are printed after some news breaking investigative journalism. They are handed to us on a plate, to suit the agenda of the politician that places it (and also the needs of a journalist to break a story)
So why was the story placed? Well, clearly, there is a feeling abroad that Elin Jones is the candidate that has to be stopped. Have the other two made a deal to stop her? Politics are full of marriages of convenience.  It certainly wouldn’t be the first time in the sordid world politics that a deal had been struck. 
And could there also be worry that if Elin Jones won, she might just be a successful  and gritty leader. Now, if that happened there wouldn’t be any pressure for her to move aside in a few years time. In such circumstances there just might not be a coronation for the venerable Price. Perish, the thought. 
But whatever the motive it would seem to be hamfisted. There is nothing that party members, who are usually sophisticated in their politics, resent more, than to be told what to do and how to vote.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Behind the Speakers chair.

Forget the ritual shouting at Prime Ministers Question time. When it comes to the vex question of Scottish independence there will be a great deal of talking between the two combatants behind the Speakers Chair. Indeed if recent speeches are anything to go by, the talking has already begun.

Cameron in his recent speech in Scotland said “There are the practical reasons for the Union to stay together.  The United Kingdom helps to make Scotland – and all of us – stronger, safer, richer and fairer.”

Milliband “economically we are stronger together.” 

So the line is emerging from both sides of the political divide that “we’re all stronger together.”
An unusual degree of unity between Labour and Conservative. All members of the two largest UK parties singing from the same hymn sheet. Hmm, are they?
For sure David Cameron doesn’t want to see the Union break up on his watch. After all the official title of his party is the Conservative and Unionist party. 
But there is another view gaining momentum within the Tory party, the party should forget the Unionist bit. Let the Scots leave if they want to. The departure would offer real advantages so some Conservatives reckon. 
So with Cameron girding his loins like some mediaeval monarch for the war of the Union, he may find his own troops talking insurrection and unwilling to become foot-soldiers under his Unionist banner. There is a growing feeling that getting rid of the Scots and down the line the Welsh might not be such a bad thing.
The Conservatives Party is a toxic brand north of the border. There ain’t any gain politically for the Tories in keeping the Scots in the Union.  Lets face it, backbenchers are not very interested in high principles, low politics is their game.
So in the fight with the wily Salmond, Cameron will have to look elsewhere for support. 

Enter stage left, the Leader of the Opposition. 
Now for Labour there is that  happiest of convergence, low politics and high principle. 
Why? Well, should young Ed ever hope to become prime minister he really needs the Scots in the game. Well Scottish Labour Members of Parliament to be precise.
OK, Labour have had majorities in England alone, but not often. No, on many an occasion its the Scots and the Welsh that have given Labour that comfortable majority so that they get their programme through the Commons with ease.
Take the current party breakdown of Scottish representatives in Westminster, 41 Labour, 11 Liberal Democrats, 6 SNP and only 1 isolated Conservative. 

You can see why Mr Milliband might want to stop Alex Salmond’s ambitions. For his party to lose 41 backers at a stroke would make it even less likely that the keys to Number Ten will be handed to him. 
So Cameron and Milliband will enter into a marriage of convenience to campaign for the Union. But they’ll have to show more animal cunning than they’ve showed to date if their partnership is to succeed. 

If the objective is to keep the northern celts on board real constitutional change is required. Yes, real Home rule in a Federal stage is the only long term answer for both Edinburgh and dare it be said, Cardiff too. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Back to the future

“A mixed team of councillors and housing professional from Wales visited Moscow in the late nineteen seventies on a visit of observation. They were shown a series of drab featureless, overcrowded tower-blocks.  All were built with the cheapest of materials and with little in the way of amenities inside. They were an overhang from the Stalin era. 
On the last day of the visit the group were shown, what could only be described as, luxury flats. A councillor asked the Russian hosts who had been allocated these apartments. The answer - party members.  The councillor commented in reply “ we have the same allocation system for our council housing back in Wales too.”
OK, not the best of jokes I grant you. But one I used when delivering an after dinner speech to councillors and staff attending a housing conference during the same period.  The joke certainly provoke a reaction. Some of the audience objected and accused me of having committed a slur on honourable men (at the time there were few women involved) But there was clearly a slither of truth in what was said to provoke such a reaction. 
Public life at the time was bedevilled with patronage. Patronage by Labour Councils for their own members in areas that they held power, patronage in Wales’s quango land by the Conservatives who held power in Westminster.
Now fast forward to the 21st century and yesterday’s exchange in the Assembly.
The occasion First Minister’s question time.

Andrew R.T. Davies: You are being defensive, First Minister. There is no reason not to comment on the report that was presented to the Assembly Government back in 2004, and the subsequent remarks in 2007. I appreciate that you might have difficulty commenting on the current revelations, which are subject to investigation and reports, as you have alluded to. However, there is a real perception that if you want a senior public appointment in Wales, you need to carry a Labour Party card. Look at local health board appointments: Maria Battle, a former Labour candidate, was recently appointed as a chair; Wyn Griffiths is the chair of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board; and the chair of Hywel Dda Local Health Board is a former Labour councillor. Can you assure the Chamber and the people of Wales that it is not necessary to carry a Labour Party membership card to secure a senior public appointment in Wales?

The First Minister: The Member is unaware of the Nolan principles and the fact that many appointments are made openly—unlike the 1990s, when Tories who could not get elected ended up in quangos. There are plenty of examples. When they lost their seats in Parliament, or on councils, they became quangocrats in Wales, because the people of Wales did not want them as their representatives. In the 1990s, you needed to be an active Tory to sit on any board or organisation in Wales that took decisions. Now it is much more open, and unless he has evidence of this happening, and can produce that evidence, I would advise him not to make himself look so foolish in future.
So there we have it, accusations of cronyism, banded about by the leaders of the two largest parties in the Assembly.  
The catalyst to these latest accusations is what happened in AWEMA. And two of those involved in the organisation being suspended from membership of the Labour Party pending an enquiry.
Now there are plenty of able people in Wales that are members of political parties. Clearly to bar them from holding public office would be wrong. As a small country Wales cannot afford to ignore people of talent whether they are members of a political party or not.
What would be wrong, however, if people find themselves in important posts simply because they are members of a political party.  That should be a no, no. It would breach one of the principles of Nolan about behaviour in public life.
What is needed is more transparency. The public should know whether those that hold any public office or posts that are in the gift of Ministers or Council leaders are members of a political party or not.  
Joining a political party should be because of belief, not because it enhances job prospects.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Labour visit Cardiff

Labour’s conference this last weekend was like the proverbial curate’s egg. Good in parts. There was an enthusiasm that comes from being the Opposition in Westminster. 

It’s always good to have a bogeyman to blame for all your ills.  With devolution all that’s wrong is Westminster’s fault, and, of course all that is right is because the Welsh Labour government “is standing up for Wales.” 

This state of affairs is likely to last a fair while yet. Why? The leadership of Ed Milliband. If ever there was a party leader that has had a charisma by-pass it is he. 

For those that arrived in the conference hall early, they would have had the experience of seeing and hearing him practicing his speech. If practice makes perfect, he need a hell of a lot more of it.

The Labour leaders’ speech was devoted to the economy and the greater need for fairness. His main thrust, irresponsible capitalism. It’s all those nasty bankers fault. His answer. No not full bloodied socialism or even the traditional Labour version of a watered down pinko version of the creed. No, the answer is responsible capitalism. These nasty capitalists have got to be fair, oh yeah Ed. A good talking to by you, and your team will change the leopards spots, right?

He left the platform after underwhelming the audience. But being loyal comrades, oh, not a word to use in today’s Labour party. OK, being loyal delegates they were full of praise for their leaders efforts. “His best speech ever”. Gosh if this is the best, what would the worst one be like.
Carwyn Jones in contrast knew his audience and has the merit of holding high office - in Wales at least. He gave a bit of red meat to the audience by attacking the other parties. It was all good knock about stuff at the expense of the other parties. He even suggested a collection so that the Tories could hold a conference. But his target was Plaid Cymru.
First it was the Tories, and now it’s Labour that are targeting Plaid Cymru voters

The Tories started to eat into Plaid Cymru’s vote by targeting the more conservative Plaid. The strategy was greatly helped by Plaid Cymru trying to position itself as a left wing party. Whilst Plaid were trying to out left Labour the Tories were blatantly mopping up the some of Plaid’s more traditional conservative voters. Indeed they were so successful that  at the last Assembly election Plaid were pushed into third place and Tories became the Official Opposition.

Now Labour have their eyes on those Plaid supporters that remain. Their approach, target those Plaid voters that don’t believe in independence.  Labour have studied the latest opinion polls.  The First Minister said: “If you look at the latest opinion poll we know that two-thirds of Plaid voters don’t believe in independence.

“We know that only 10% of the electors of Wales believe in independence as well, yet independence has been the major theme of the Plaid leadership contest.

“What we are saying to people out there who are very proud to be Welsh, who want to see a strong devolved Wales, [who] are very keen that we should have a progressive agenda in Wales, Welsh Labour is actually their natural home and not Plaid Cymru.”

Blatant political opportunism, but who can blame him. If there is an open goal it would be churlish not to take your chances.

The elephant in the room was that all important referendum in Scotland.  They all thought that the Scots would reject going it alone.

Milliband echoed David Cameron that “economically we are stronger together.” Me thinks that more cogent arguments need to be put than these simple slogans if the Union is going to hold together.

Oh, just in case he’s overlooked the Shadow Secretary of State was there signing his book and made a speech that sounded valedictory in its content. It gave the impression of a man that was about to leave the stage.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Campaigning, is more than eating porridge

Two speeches delivered within twenty four hours of each other. The two by governing leaders. The two dealing with the one subject - Scottish Independence. But oh, how different they were. The one emphasised the negative the other the positive.
The speech by Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland to my old University, LSE last night was full of hope. It outlined how Scotland would thrive economically post-independence.
Salmond has quietly dropped talk of being part of the euro zone. His speech was based on an independent Scotland having control of fiscal policy within a Sterling monetary union.
Indeed the argument he put was that Scotland’s economy would only thrive with full fiscal control in Edinburgh.  Note fiscal policy, he chose to ignore monetary policy. Why? ‘Cos that would still be determined by the Bank of England.
Despite this slight of hand Salmon did put a creditable case forward. He said that 
“With responsibility for taxation, including corporation tax, we will be able to target support to specific areas and industries, such as our vast energy sector or the computer games industry, where Scotland has a real edge on international competitors in terms of cutting-edge innovation.
“Air passenger duty is another example – a tool we could use to help encourage direct air links with the rest of the world and thus stimulate tourism and economic growth. The Calman Commission recommended that Scotland should have responsibility for air passenger duty but so far the UK government has not agreed to devolve this tool.
“Capital investment is something that we are already using to stimulate economic growth here in Scotland. But our powers are extremely limited and right now we have no borrowing powers whatsoever – with the same borrowing powers as other nations we would help stimulate further economic growth in Scotland.
“Scotland is not immune from current global economic challenges. But once we are equipped with the same powers that independent countries around the world take for granted we will be very well placed to thrive economically in the years to come.”
So the spin was, only good would come to Scotland with independence. And it would be good for England too. All in all a positive message.
David Cameron in Edinburgh to campaign for the Union ate the statutory bowl of porridge, and then delivered a speech. As a rallying call, brave heart it was not.
His message was like Private Fraser's in Dad's Army "you’re all doomed" if independence comes. 
He said 
“The best case for the United Kingdom is entirely positive. We are better off together. Why? Well, first of all, let’s be practical. Inside the United Kingdom, Scotland – just as much as England, Wales and Northern Ireland – is stronger, safer, richer and fairer.” 
Fair enough, Prime Minister. But  then here’s the example. 
“We’re stronger, because together we count for more in the world, with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, real clout in NATO and Europe and unique influence with allies all over the world.” 
Hmmm. Surely, the idea that an independent Scotland or Wales for that matter would not have a seat in the United Nations is plain wrong, they would. 
OK, the permanent seat in the security council would go, but has that disadvantaged Germany, Japan or Brazil for that matter. No. Often that seat has given the UK a false impression of its status in the world, and has often tied the country to an over dependence on American foreign policy. 
Are Scotland and Wales safer because of going into Iraq and Afghanistan? Or would the countries be safer ploughing their own course. Cameron goes on to say
 “We’re safer, because in an increasingly dangerous world we have the fourth-largest defence budget on the planet, superb armed forces and anti-terrorist and security capabilities that stretch across the globe and are feared by our enemies and admired by our friends.” 
But would we need to spend as much on these areas if the foreign policy wasn’t based on an old Imperial view of the world. Let’s get real, none of these arguments are compelling. 
Even the argument that Scotland is part of the seventh-richest economy on the planet is not very compelling an argument against the Scots going it alone. After all the Republic of Ireland remains one of the UKs strongest trading partners even after independence, the same would be the same for Scotland. Why? Self interest. It’s to the comparative advantage of both nations to remain trading partners.
No, Mr Cameron has to put a more coherent argument for the Union than “we’re stronger together.”
Many in Scotland and Wales feel that the current Union has not worked for them. New arrangements are needed if the Union is going to continue.  Dangling devo max with no substance behind it as Cameron did today is just not good enough. Scotland, Ireland and Wales need to feel wanted. The case has to be made that their are real advantages to all the nations of these islands being in the Union. That case wasn't made in Edinburgh today.
If the Prime Minister is going to succeed in holding the Union together he’d be better occupied in spelling out new arrangements so that the smaller nations of the isles don’t feel dominated and taken for granted by England. 
Back to the drawing board before you’re next trip north, Prime Minister and bring along a written constitution for the UK of a real Union of equal nations. On this Carwyn Jones is right when he suggested new arrangements were needed.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Youngsters without work

The job total for the United Kingdom again rose in the last three months. The figure now stands at 2.67 million people out of work an increase of 48,000 since December. This is the highest level since 1995.
There is however some good news in Wales were the numbers actually fell by 3000 to 134,000. This follows a drop of 1000 for the previous month. But comparing Wales with an year ago, unemployment is 12,000 higher and the Welsh unemployment rate is above the UK average.
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) the unemployment rate for the UK is 8.4% whilst for Wales it remains stubbornly high at 9%.
The number of young people without a job rose 22,000, 1.04 million in the three months to December, taking the unemployment rate for 16-to 24-year-olds to 22.2%. 
In Wales those claiming in this group of young people was 26.2%. The Claimant Count Unemployment level was 28,200, an increase of 3,600 on January 2011. 
This is a worrying increase and shows again that over quarter of young people in Wales are without work. It shows that youngsters have borne the brunt of the recession
At the same time the ONS showed that average earnings increased by 2% in the year to December. This figure is unchanged from the previous month. 
Despite the official figures showing the Consumer Prices Index showing inflation having fallen from 4.2% in December to 3.6% in January those in work still face a squeeze on the cash they have available to spend.  Another pressure that depresses activity within the economy.
Most economists expect unemployment to rise much further in response to the weakness in the wider economy.
Indeed these latest figures indicate a very sick economy. Its very weak state surely should be a warning to the Chancellor that his approach is not producing the growth that is needed to reduce the country’s deficit. 
A change of approach is needed and needed soon. Public money needs to be invested to grow the economy. The Obama approach(see yesterday’s blog) needs to be followed in the UK.
The Welsh Government needs also to be more proactive. It particularly needs to target help on helping young people. Any society that has such a large number of young people without work is storing up trouble for itself. The devil makes work for idle hands, and all that. 
It must redouble its efforts in getting borrowing powers for itself, so that it can target and bring forward infrastructure schemes. It needs to explore worthwhile deals with local councils and registered social landlords who do have the powers to raise capital. 
Urgency is required not complacency. Wales cannot afford to have a generation that have never experienced work. A message should go to Carwyn Jones and his team, redouble your efforts if you’re to stand up for Wales.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Let's learn from Obama

An announcement was made yesterday, to increase investment in infrastructure and increased taxes on the rich.  With the twin aims of getting the economy moving and reducing the deficit. No, not in Britain but in the home of capitalism, the United States.
It’s Barack Obama’s last budget before next November’s elections and contains ambitious spending plans and a dollop of tax increases aimed at the rich. The stated aim is to ensure that everyone making more than $1m a year would have to pay at least 30% in tax.

He does this against a background of an economy that is growing and showing real signs of recovery. But the US strategy has been to invest in the economy, some public expenditure cuts and of course an increase in taxation so that the burden is really shared amongst all.

Contrast this with what has happened in the UK. Here the only weapon in the economic armoury used has been cuts, cuts and more cuts. And the results, a growing deficit and now a threat to Britain’s AAA credit rating. 

The Chancellor’s response more of the same. Austerity, austerity and even more austerity.

But Moody’s, the ratings agency, threat to our triple ‘A’ rating is partly based on fears over weaker growth prospects for the UK economy. This is the clearest indication yet that Mr Osborne’s strategy is just not working. A new approach is needed.

An approach that more closely mirror’s that of Obama.
The government has been successful in one respect it has deflected the anger over cuts on to the bankers. Dealing with the bankers bonus is headline grabbing. But it’s actually completely the wrong target.

The target should be the inequality of income and wealth in the UK. Let the bankers earn their bonuses, but let’s make certain that wealth and income are taxed properly. By scrapping the bonuses there is no gain to the Treasury, by taxing them the Treasury gains. 

Let us have a real sharing of the burden. 

There are two ways of reducing the deficit, reducing the governments expenditure  and/or increasing the government’s income. 

This government has done much about the former but done nothing about the latter. And neither did the last Labour government. Inequality in  society grew in their period of office too.

So Obama’s medicine should equally be applied to the economic patient this side of the pond. 

The underlining message is that a more complex and sophisticated approach to the UK economy is required, and soon. If The Chancellor’s not for changing then Cameron ought to replace him with someone that understands how to run a modern economy.

Friday, 10 February 2012

AWEMA: the latest

Review and evaluation commissioned by Welsh Government of AWEMA which concluded that the organisation should have no new money and as principal funders the Assembly must apply more stringent scrutiny and develop raised expectations of AWEMA’s ability to deliver.
2 July  2007
The acting chairman of Awema, Mr PK Verma, resigned, together with two other trustees when attempts by him to call a special meeting of Awema’s trustees to discuss the remuneration of Naz Malik had been thwarted. His concern was that authorisation of salary and pension increases that had never been before the board.
July 2011
Annual General Meeting since then 7 Trustees from the management board have resigned.
12  December 2011
Report to AWEMA Trustees by Dr Paul Dunn outlining the findings of an investigation into allegations made against AWEMA’s Chief Executive Naz Malik
16 December 2011
Extraordinary General Meeting in which a new Chair is elected, namely Dr Rita Austin
19 December 2011
A Disciplinary Panel consisting of Chair and 2 Trustees convened to consider allegations against CEO they conclude there were areas of concern and impose three disciplinary sanctions. 
The first a written warning in respect of cash “floats” construed to be loans. The panel regarded the circumstances surrounding the matter as gross misconduct. 
Secondly, oral warning in respect of salary awards to his daughter. (His daughter’s salary was £20,469 and increased several times to the current level of £50,052)
Thirdly, an oral warning in respect of the accounting treatment of life assurance payments.
30 December 2011
Missed deadline for registering accounts with Companies House
10 January 2012 
Trustees agree to the terms of reference of review 
12 January 2012
AWEMA’s Finance Director suspended
31January 2012
Deadline missed for registering accounts with Charity Commission
9 February 2012
Joint report by Welsh Government and Big Lottery Fund published recommending a stop on cash to the organisation.
9 February 2012
Jane Hutt Equalities Minister pulls plug on AWEMA funding and announces a full independent review of the history of the funding of AWEMA by the Welsh Government.

9 February 2012
Labour Party make a statement regarding  AWEMA that they’ve suspended both Naz and Tegwyn Malik from the party pending the outcome of an internal enquiry.

Looking at the time line of events in AWEMA show that the organisation has had a troubled history. But despite this public bodies have continued to fund  the organisation. The review set up by Jane Hutt must address the question why? 
But of more immediate concern is the response of the organisation to yesterday’s announcement of the cash being stopped. Dr Rita Austin and trustees and the Chief Executive will manage an orderly exit for the organisation. 
It is normal in similar circumstances for those that have had concerns raised about their behaviour to be suspended while such matters are looked into. The government auditors that prepared, yesterdays report complained that their investigations had “been hampered” by the absence of key documentation. 

If further enquiries are going to be made into the organisation by other authorities such as the Charity Commission and the Police as seems likely, then surely the right and proper thing to do is to suspend the Chief Executive. 
It’s a nonsense to leave him in charge of the exit. If the Board of Trustees can't see this and act, then the Charity Commissioners should intervene, and soon.
Late Addition
Another date can now be added to the AWEMA time line, the announcement of the dismissal of the Chief Executive and the Finance officer. The following was posted on the AWEMA web site by the Chair Rita Austin

"Following the Welsh Government Internal Audit Services Report and the Minister’s Written Statement of 9 February 2012 terminating all grants of public funds to AWEMA, the AWEMA Board has taken the following decisions: 
  • To summarily dismiss with immediate effect the Chief Executive Officer and the Finance Director
  • To appoint in due course an insolvency practitioner as the company’s administrator to take over control of AWEMA’s business and assets from the charity trustees and to close the business
The AWEMA Board would like to thank its staff for the dedicated service they have provided to several hundred participants registered with European funded AWEMA managed projects in Swansea and surrounding local authority areas, and in North Wales, especially in these last difficult weeks. Staff members are in active contact with participants and will do their best to ensure that support services to them continue through other means.
The AWEMA Board is resolved to provide a proper duty of care towards our staff as AWEMA moves towards closure, and is taking all necessary steps to do so.
Finally, the AWEMA Board wishes to acknowledge the gravity of the matters brought to public attention in the WG Internal Audit Services report. Clearly there have been serious failings in the effectiveness of governance and financial management within AWEMA upon which the Welsh Government has acted, and upon which, in consequence, the AWEMA Board now act, with all due speed, one week later.
But the defects and deficiencies brought to light at AWEMA should not be seen as defining features of the charitable sector as a whole in Wales, or as characteristic of the devoted work of minority ethnic voluntary and community groups in Wales. Such assumptions would be undeserved. It is the fervent hope of the AWEMA Board that the swift and decisive action it has taken will successfully confine the reputational damage to AWEMA alone, so that the charitable and voluntary sector more widely in Wales does not suffer any collateral damage.
The AWEMA Board will not be making any further public comment on this matter."