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The hard ‘facts of life’ for the Welsh Assembly Government

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Gordon Triggs is not a religious person, but BTM want to give him the opportunity to make his case for voting ‘No’ to the Welsh Assembly Government’s (WAG’s) grab for questionably ‘more efficient’ and additional law making powers on 3rd March 2011. Facts are facts and Gordon’s catalogue of public domain information of the WAG’s performance and incompetence in power should make all Welsh voters think twice about giving WAG more legislative power.

 If you want Wales to be a proud nation and not bottom of every league, then WAG has to be fundamentally reformed to address the real priorities that are impacting the lives of the Welsh people or abolished. Voting ‘No’ is a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly and WAG and will give the Welsh political elite another poke in the eye and the push to get their snout out of the power trough.


Background

The taxpaying voters of Wales will soon be asked if they want the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) to have more powers. Most of these voters are deeply concerned about Wales both now and for its future and want to be sure they are making the right decision when they vote.

There will be; broadly, two kinds of voter, those who will look at the facts and those who will vote on emotional instincts. The minds of those who will vote emotionally are already made up and they will vote accordingly. Then there will be those who will look objectively at the track record of the Welsh Assembly Government, its politicians and civil servants.

In order to decide whether or not to give more powers to the WAG, which means in essence to get laws passed faster without the scrutiny of Westminster, the objective voters will wittingly or unwittingly go through the same process as any efficiently run business would in a similar situation. They are, after all, looking for the best value for their tax pound.

In industry or business, before promoting someone to a more senior, that is a more powerful position; before giving say, a long serving Senior Manager a position on the Board of Directors, the Chairman (or in this case, the share holder or voter) will look at the track record of the candidates achievements according to the best quantifiable evidence available from his/her ‘Track Record’. It will be necessary to distinguish between real achievements and any vague, ‘nice to have done’ successes the candidate is happy to claim.

The problem for the busy voter is that it’s not easy to examine the track record without some research. Memory alone might not be enough and so an attempt has been made to catalogue some of the record below.

The Welsh Assembly Government’s scorecard

In looking at the achievements of the WAG, there have been some excellent articles, essays and letters in the local Welsh newspapers over the last year or so and they provide a good source of information; many of which are quoted in this article. In addition there is data from the National Statistics Office, the WAG’s web site and the National Assembly’s web site and other similar sources.

The facts show that the controlling politicians of Wales, their civil servants and unelected bodies, have a track record of managerial incompetence of such staggering proportions, that if they were employed in the private sector at the salaries and hence responsibility levels they are supposed to work at, not only would they be told in no uncertain fashion that they were certainly not going to get more responsibility and powers, they would be sacked without further ado.

Even the most pro WAG supporters say that the WAG, when measured by business criteria, has been an unmitigated disaster and this is reflected in the words of the politicians themselves as shown in the present flare up of disagreement in the Plaid and Labour ‘One Wales’ coalition about which party provided the worst Minister for Economy and Transport, Andrew Davies or Ieuan Wynn Jones.

Track Record

The following WAG competencies, bought with our money, and appearing high on the list of failures, disasters and distractions of the WAG, are:-

  • The Economy
  • Child Poverty
  • Education
  • Communities First
  • Welsh Audit Office
  • Health Service
  • Cost of WAG and Rise in Bureaucrats
  • Distractions of Welsh Language and Costs
  • The Technium Project
  • Business Support (with one notable exception Opportunity Wales)
  • S4C
  • Illusions of ‘Climate Change and its Costs’

The WAG’s greatest failure, which impinges on everyone and everything else, is that they have, year after year, before the current recession and since, managed to keep the economy of Wales at the bottom of the UK economic league table in spite of huge amounts of British and European tax being spent on old and new initiatives which were all supposed to solve the problem. This has gone on for 13 years since the inception of WAG.

An earlier target of WAG was, by 2010 that the Gross Value Added (GVA) per head of population of Wales would be 90% of UK’s average. This target has now been abandoned. Jeff Jones, former Bridgend council leader said that “the WAG target of 90% was a typical; picked out of the air figure, loved by politicians, because they won’t be there when the time comes to assess results”.

The following 2010 figures for Wales compared with UK’s average speak for themselves:-

  • Labour productivity = 86.4% (only Northern Ireland marginally worse)
  • Gross disposable income per head = £13,073 (worst in UK)
  • Business birth rate = 10.1 (worst in UK)
  • In 1989 the GVA for Wales was = 85.4% (of UK average)
  • In 2010 the GVA for Wales was = 74.3% (of UK average-worst in UK)
  • In real money terms now:
    • GVA per head Wales = £14,842
    • GVA UK (Ave.) = £20,357
    • A difference of £5,515 a year per head of population is significant.

Illustrating Labour politicians reaction to comparative figures, Peter Haines said “Yes the economy of Wales is poor but there are poorer countries than Wales”. Perhaps he had Zambia in mind.

WAG set its own targets with the tools they had. They cannot whine now that they did not have the tools to do the job.

‘WAG is in a muddle on business support’ – said Professor Dylan Jones with a 9% reduction in private sector employment being worst in UK. Since 2008, 80,000 private sector jobs have been lost in spite of access to £2 billion European Convergence funds.

Missed Opportunity

A Chinese delegation of some 50 government officials and 100 business leaders recently visited Scotland and apart from announcing a £6.4 million deal there, achieved a cordial relationship with the Scottish Assembly to create deeper business and economic ties for the future. The delegation also visited England but not Wales. Did the WAG invite them to Wales or didn’t they know these powerful potential partners were coming to the UK? Where was the WAG? One of the ‘economic powerhouses’ of the world must surely provide potential for business opportunities with Wales yet the last contact Wales had with China was a trade visit 11 years ago and the Deputy First Minister met with the Chinese Ambassador last October. How different to the Welsh Office’s approaches to the Japanese in the 1970’s when so many large companies came here and set up operations employing tens of thousands of people.

Child Poverty

The WAG’s strategy for the problem of child poverty over the last 13 years in Wales shows its failure by the figures provided by Shadow Education Minister Paul Davies. 192,000 children live in poverty, or 32%, compared with Northern Ireland’s 26% and Scotland’s 24%. Of these; 96,000 live in severe poverty without basic necessities such as nutritious food and warm clothing.

Education

The plans for Wales to claw its way back up the prosperity league must include well educated future generations. The Education Minister, Leighton Andrews said in a recently published comment “everyone in the education sector should be alarmed by the findings of a global assessment comparing school performance”. The assessment found Wales languishing behind countries such as Poland, Estonia and all UK countries in Reading, Maths and Science. The league table published by the Western Mail (08.12.2010) simply adds to our understanding of yet another serious mismanagement by WAG of a vital responsibility which has been ‘devolved’ to them for ten years.

Profligacy

Probably the most publicised example of the WAG’s profligacy with the tax payers money was the Plas Madoc Communities First Fund, where for six years no one took action to stop it becoming a family fiefdom where brothers, sisters, fathers, daughters, partners and friends of the Board of Trustees and their 21 employees worked in ‘a culture of generosity’ receiving phones, computers, car expenses, travel perks to Gambia and over generous payment for giving ju jitsu lessons, acting classes and other work.

The WAG’s attention was drawn to this misuse of tax payer’s money by employees of the PMCF but the WAG passed the buck back to them to put their own house in order which they did not do. The Communities First Programme, was commented on by Plaids AM member Nerys Evans, who said “she was unconvinced that the £214 million spent on it between 2001 and 2009 had proved value for money” A cross party group of AM’s condemned it as a “chronic failure”

Mismanagement

Wales’ financial watch dog, the Wales Audit Office has failed to follow its own basic accounting procedures for the past five years and is now £1 million in the red.

In the Welsh Audit Office scandal, Anthony Snow, Chief Operating Officer of the WAO was paid off with £750,000 at the retirement age of 50. There were questions over the audit official’s £750,000 package because he got another job in the public sector very quickly. Conservative AM Angela Burns said it was staggering that pension provisions were not disclosed in the WAO accounts.

“The Wales Audit Office will now be investigated by the UK Auditor General” an assembly committee was told. Wales disgraced former Auditor General Jeremy Colman who granted the payoff to Anthony Snow ran up bills of hundreds of pounds for wining and dining public servants in plush London Hotels. Apparently both Snow and Colman required a lot of training in London, Windsor and Kendal to be able to do their jobs properly and for this purpose ran up over £40,000 in the case of Snow and £8,000 a year for Coleman. This training must have taken up a lot of their time. Colman is now serving an eight month prison sentence for other reasons. Huw Vaughan Thomas said the WAG and WAO shouldn’t audit each other, “they are going to stop it now”.

National Health Service

When asked about an adverse McKinsey report on the Welsh NHS, Health Minister Edwina Hart spent months denying it existed. When shown it she said “it didn’t matter”.

Kirsty Williams said the First Minister should no longer be responsible for investigating the conduct of members of the Welsh Assembly Government following the first Minister Carwyn Jones ruling that Health Minister Edwina Hart did not mislead the assembly by denying the existence of the report which she or someone in her department must have commissioned, sanctioned and paid for. Misleading the assembly would normally leads to resignation if proven.

Hart said she was going to stream line the NHS, but there were no redundancies among senior staff. They were left in place at old salaries. Not a single administrator’s job was lost when NHS Wales underwent a major reorganisation in October 2009 when Local Health Boards were reduced from 22 to 7 (A previous reorganisation by Hart six years ago increased bureaucracy when the 22 Local Health Boards were created) Now it has been disclosed that the Welsh National Health Service paid out 60% more in negligence payments in 2010 than it did in 2009, an increase of £49 million.

Building Costs

In July 1997; Hansard recorded Ron Davies, Secretary of State for Wales as saying “we do not propose to construct a new building for the assembly or create more bureaucracy in a democratic Wales or employ more Civil Servants”. WAG now employs 6,000 civil servants.

  • In July 2010 the WAG had 72 offices in Wales (excluding Cardiff) and 14 outside of Wales and overseas making a total of 86 offices at a running cost of £17.7 million pa.
  • In 1999 prior to WAG, the total running cost of the Welsh Office was £78.2 million pa.
  • In 2001 the total running cost of WAG was £128.70 million pa.
  • In 2007 the total running cost of WAG was £355.41 million pa.
  • In 1997 it was estimated that the WAG’s new home in Cardiff would cost £12 million. On completion in 2006 it was found to have cost nearly six times as much at £69.6 million and was 5 years late in completion. Along with the new regional building in Aberystwyth, £26.14 million and Llandudno Junction, £25.62 million, the total cost of building and equipping WAG’s offices is about £121.36 million.

Business Support Failure

Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan, said the falling number of start up businesses in Wales was unacceptable and that the private sector was the key to fixing the Welsh Economy. She told the Welsh Affairs Select Committee that public sector employment was around 30.5%.

The most senior civil servant in Wales, Dame Gillian Morgan the Permanent Secretary of the Assembly Government dismissed as a “myth of too big a public sector in Wales” and “Our problems should be addressed by a bigger investment in the Private Sector”.

In October and November 2010, the failed business rate in Wales was up 14% from 2009 during the same period. The UK’s failure rate as a whole was down 4.6% in the same months.

It seems that whether the politician or official is from Westminster or Wales, they agree someone else has to solve the problems.

Welsh Language Distractions

No one born, raised in and committed to Wales will deny or doubt the need to preserve the Welsh Language and culture. However many tax payers are concerned about the measures that have been taken by the WAG and Welsh Language Board to impose the language on the very organisations we need to run at their maximum efficiency to produce a better economy. These organisations don’t need extra burdens of cost, administration, training and managerial distraction to conduct their business in both Welsh and English when English is the global business language. The National Assembly for Wales’ Members of Legislation Committee No. 5 published their report on the Welsh Government’s bid to gain greater legislative powers on the Welsh Language in 2009. Without going into the 74 pages of the report in detail (cost?) it will come as no surprise that the committee found in favour of more powers for themselves.

There can be little doubt that those seeking more power will use it if they get it. The great fear is that it will be used to impose further burdens on Public and Private businesses in Wales in spite of the cautious and sometimes strident resistance from the 70 organisations in the business community who replied to the consultation process on the subject through their various organisations such as the CBI, Federation of Small Businesses, West Wales Chamber of Commerce, South Wales Chamber of Commerce, Institute of Directors, BBC National Trustees of Wales (Editorial Freedom?) and many others concerned mainly about the extra costs, restraints and burdens which would be imposed on them. The reply from the Federation of Small and Medium Enterprises of which there are 10,000 in Wales is worth quoting:

“The Federation of Small Businesses position regarding strengthening the language in SME’s is that we do not believe that it would be a positive move to try and strengthen the language through further legislation for these businesses and in fact during our consultation with our members we feel that we have evidence to show that it would actually be detrimental to the language itself as well as having a potentially negative impact on SME’s.”

The Welsh economy is the weakest of the 13 economic regions in the UK and way down the European league. Shouldn't all our energy be going into solving that problem (as George Bernard Shaw suggested many years ago, when asked to address an organisation in Ireland who were very enthusiastic about promoting Erse)?

All voters are familiar with versions of the following example: the Inland Revenue issued 9 sides of A4 paper in Welsh to go with the same information in English; for most people in Wales the 9 A4’s in Welsh went straight into the bin - similarly, with information coming from the DVLA, etc. With modern IT technology why can’t there be a list of people who wish to receive their information in Welsh or publish the Welsh on-line for free download or available on request?

The WAG is planning to increase spending on Welsh translation departments. Management posts have been upgraded to higher levels of pay. These are yet more distractions. Spend that money on Child Poverty, Care for the Elderly or improving efficiency in all government departments. What does the translation, production; printing and recycling of this extra paper do for Wales’s carbon footprint?

The statutory role of the Welsh Language Board (at a cost of £13.8 million a year), to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh Language and to play a vital role in delivering the Assembly Governments vision of a bilingual nation includes the cost of its jolly’s such as sending our ex First Minister, Rhodri Morgan to check on the £105,000 spent in Chubut, Patagonia to keep the Welsh language and culture alive with the Argentineans there.

Technium Project

The Technium project in Wales (originally part of a £100 million programme) has turned out a disaster. Six Techniums are to be axed. The first one was built in 2001. Enough time passed long before the recent decision to scrap six of them to know that they were not producing value for money. Why wasn’t managerial action taken earlier? Minister Andrew Davies said the project faltered because of failings by his civil servants. Recently his civil servants had injected a further £17 million without his approval. Losses of £5.1 million have been logged since 2001.

Committing Wales to the pseudo-science of Global Warming

Jane Davidson, the Welsh Assembly Environmental Minister, has invested her time and a lot of tax payers’ money working on these matters which were previously given the titles of ‘Man Made Global Warming’, ‘Global Warming’ and now less precisely and therefore perhaps able to ‘stay below the radar’ of tax payers, ‘Climate Change’. Her time working in the ‘Climate Change Industry’, including a less than productive visit to Cancun Mexico, is a safe subject for any politician to use as a platform. She and her colleagues won’t be around to see the results. The targets that we in Wales must achieve as a result of the ‘Climate Change Strategy for Wales’ which was introduced in October 2010 are apparently even higher than the UK targets and will require, as always, an army of bureaucrats, public employees and inspectors to implement the changes needed. These changes include human engineering (behavioural modification) and new technologies. The changes will be monitored and if the results are not satisfactory penalties will be applied for failure.

The cost to the Welsh Tax payer is calculated by Jane Davidson’s department as £723 million over the next two years and hence £14.4 billion over the next 40 years. What could be done with that money for the benefit of Wales if the new religion of carbon footprint dancing was abandoned?

‘Minor’ issues speaking for themselves

  • The S4C debacle.
  • The Assembly’s third attempt at ‘rebranding’ in order to help them “secure better engagement with people of Wales” cost £100,000. This during the recession. The WAG’s logos were almost identical before and after. It was criticised as ‘frivolous’.
  • Laptops costing £800 each and 30 mobile phones worth a total of £21,000 went missing from the Assembly Government in past 2 years. (Is it any wonder that only 30% of WAG’s 6000 employees have confidence in their senior management?)
  • The Church Village Bypass. First Minister Carwyn Jones claimed it was “on time and on budget”. Its estimated cost was £35 million. It became £90 million.
  • AMs refused to cross Civil Servants picket lines to get on with their jobs.
  • Kirsty Williams Welsh, Liberal Democrat leader, felt compelled to call for an independent scrutiny of Assembly Ministers: “This should not be done by the First Minister who is their boss” she said.
  • The Cost of the 12 Assembly Sponsored Public Bodies or ‘quangos’ as they are better known, amounts to some £671 million a year. With the track record of management illustrated above can we believe these are well managed and supervised? If indeed they are necessary at all.
  • The Welsh Assembly paid £500,000 towards the purchase of the River Lodge in Llangollen so that ‘Kung Fu’ could be practiced there. Two high ranking civil servants, Amanda Brewer and John Adshead were suspended for making the payment without prior authorisation.

The May 5th Assembly Election Ruse

Even after looking at the record many ‘Yes’ campaigners, including a prominent Welsh newspaper, coolly say, “a bad track record should not be a reason to vote ‘No’. You should vote ‘Yes’ at the poll box on March 3rd for more powers for the WAG so that laws and actions can be implemented faster. Then you correct the WAG’s failings on May 5th by voting for different members of the Assembly”.

The paucity of their claim is immediately evident. On May 5th the voters’ choice of candidates will be (more or less) the same as before and mostly Labour. The ‘real politik’ is that through limited choice or tradition, voters will put the same people back in power.

The ‘Yes campaigners will claim this is the democratic process. It may well be, under some definition of the word democracy, but the same Labour and self fulfilling politicians will, in the main, be re-elected and so in practice nothing will change and we will get “More of the same track record (or worse), but faster”.

Now, which way will you vote on 3rd March 2011 Referendum?

Following an appraisal of the facts above there can be no other decision but to vote ‘No’ to more legislative powers and ‘No’ to more policy failure by WAG.

After digesting this information it is clear that an additional box should be included on the referendum voting form asking the voters if they would like to see the WAG disbanded altogether.

Since changing the WAG is not possible there is only one course of action – Get rid of the WAG, turn their buildings in Cardiff, Aberystwyth and Llandudno Junction into conference centres or put them to better use and get back to having a ‘Welsh Office’ or similar as in better days.


Short Biography of Gordon W. Triggs, from Swansea, Wales, UK

Gordon Triggs was born in Swansea and had a successful career in industrial management as a Chartered Engineer in Wales and other parts of the world. His senior executive positions included General Manager of the Sony television manufacturing plant in Bridgend and the Director of the Electronics Division of Poly Peck International in Turkey. Later he set up and ran his own successful Business and Management Consultancy in Wales.

© 21 February 2011

Published on www.christiandoctrine.com

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