Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hain and the Barnett Formula

Discussion of Peter Hain’s statement on the Barnett Formula on Thursday has generally been confused due to a distinct lack of clarity from Hain himself.

It is clear that briefings given to both the Welsh lobby and to Welsh MPs and peers in London suggested that they would be introducing a ‘floor’ to the Formula so that Wales wouldn’t be worse off. This floor, of Welsh spend being approximately 114% of England, was suggested in the Holtham Commission report as an interim measure.

Initial reports on the statement were therefore very positive, until people read the statement itself and realised that there was no such commitment given in the text, only that at the time of Comprehensive Spending Reviews the Welsh position would be assessed and action taken if Wales was found to be ‘disproportionately disadvantaged’ (whatever that means).

As a mechanism already exists for querying departmental expenditure limits but has never been used, it seems that the statement is effectively one of ‘no change’.

But convergence, the method by which expenditure per head between the UK countries should eventually level, is just one of the issues of the Barnett Formula.

It has, of course, already taken place, with the proportionate increase per head of spending in Wales far less under Labour in the last decade than in England or Scotland.

But what about the abstract notion of comparability which is central to the Barnett Formula?

The formula for variation in the block grant is increase/decrease in England spend x comparability x population.

Government investment in the Olympics are a UK spend which means no comparability for Wales = no money while billions are poured in to East London.

Comparability therefore is a very big issue.

Or what about the whole concept of spending in Wales being dependant upon public spending positions defined by the UK Government and their promises on specific departmental budgets?

When people complain about Welsh and Scottish MPs voting on English issues they often forget that increasing spending on education and health in England will mean more money for the Welsh and Scottish Governments – hardly a recipe for sensible discussion.

If the English NHS decides to save money then the Welsh Government has to make savings too, irrespective of need.

As the reports this year have made clear, the Barnett Formula is fatally flawed and needs to be replaced with a system that better reflects the needs of Wales.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gavin and Stacey are back!

So, only a couple of hours to go before the new series of Gavin and Stacey begins!

(If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a quick round-up)

I'm sure that anyone reading this will know that Gavin and Stacey is both filmed and set in the Vale of Glamorgan, with local landmarks forever being used as a backdrop.

I think that everyone in Barry has that little touch of pride when they see Barry Island or Trinity Hill in the series, and the series has done more than its fairshare in putting Barry on the map for this generation, in the same way as the Docks, the Island and the football club has done in the past

Personally, every time I see one of those buses on Trinity Hill I remember when I used to do a paper-round there where Stacey’s family lives, so I can imagine what they must feel like walking up there on the way home after a pint and a meal on High Street or Broad Street. It’s exhausting!

Aside from that fuzzy feeling of seeing 'home' on the tv, Gavin and Stacey has been great publicity for Barry, but we must get something from it – whether through tourism or changing the psyche of the town and making Barry a real success story.

The series has shown us Barry’s warm heart – the real Barry that we all know and love.

We have to turn that sense of community in our town into something productive – we’ll all enjoy the lights going on in King Square on Saturday and down the High Street the week after, and I’m willing to bet that there’ll be thousands using the Winter Wonderland rink down Barry Island when it opens next week, but we also have to make sure that we build a better Barry for our kids and for us to grow old in.

Monday, November 23, 2009


One of our ongoing campaigns in the Vale of Glamorgan is to ensure that local residents, or at least community councillors and representatives of groups, should be allowed to speak at Vale County Council planning meetings.

16 of the 22 unitary authorities allow some form of representation so that local people are able to clearly put forward their opinions on planning proposals so that they can be taken into consideration by the planning committee. Not the Vale, though.

The issue has come to a head after a series of contentious planning proposals in the area, from Cemetery Lane to St Athan where frustrated members of the public felt that their voices were not being heard or treated fairly by the committee.

The Vale’s Tory cabinet has already thrown out the proposal once, while the council’s community liaison meeting last month descended into farce as the Vale councillors on the committee voted to accept the cabinet report on the matter while community councillors wanted to refer the issue back to cabinet.

The Vale’s attitude towards this has been so poor that a number of councils are actively considering leaving the Vale’s council charter which governs rules and responsibilities between the unitary authority and the community councils beneath them.

The campaign takes a different turn tomorrow (Tuesday) as the Welsh Assembly’s Petitions Committee responds to a petition signed on-line and off-line by many community councillors in the Vale, and from further afield.

Organised by Plaid’s leaders on the Vale, Nic Hodges, and on Barry Town community council, Shirley Hodges, it will be an interesting test of the Assembly’s petitions committee (which includes a Conservative AM from the Vale of Glamorgan) to see how they deal with the issue.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bryneithin Decision Today

While other events today such as the Queen’s Speech and the release of the All-Wales Convention Report on the need for a referendum might be the big issue of the day for many, my thoughts will be elsewhere this afternoon as the Conservative-run Vale of Glamorgan Council take the chance to bury bad news and close Bryneithin care home in Dinas Powys.

The Tory Cabinet will be taking the decision today, presuming they follow the recommendations provided to them in their papers.

If they do, it’s not a decision that would be in any way a surprise – many in the Keep Bryneithin Open campaign think that the whole care home review exercise was concocted with the intention of closing the home in the first place.

If the Conservatives do close the home, they will have ignored the extensive evidence provided in favour of keeping Bryneithin open at the scrutiny meeting back in February and that which was provided in the consultation which ended in March.

They will also have gone back on earlier promises that the issue would be debated first in the social care and health scrutiny committee.

As it is, the Conservatives, who use their majority to take every position on the cabinet, will be making the decision themselves without the input of other parties.

A sad day for the Vale if this happens.

Update : Pleased to hear that the Vale Cabinet have postponed making a decision for two weeks. Hopefully that'll give them time to read the document properly and ask the same questions that Keep Bryneithin Open and others have already put forward.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bringing Gareth Jones Home

Last week saw the launch of a new display at Cambridge's Wren Library of the diaries of Gareth Jones, a Barry-born journalist with an international reputation.

He was the son of Major Edgar Jones, the headmaster at Barry County Grammar School, and was a highly-regarded international affairs journalist who worked for David Lloyd-George amongst others.

Gareth is best remembered in the Ukraine as being the only Western journalist to visit the country during the Holodomor in 1932-33, a deliberate starvation of the Ukrainian population by Stalin, and where Gareth has been posthumously honoured, but interviewed Goebbels amongst others.

He was killed under suspicious circumstances by Mongolian bandits in 1935, still aged only 29.

It seems a shame to me that the story of Gareth Jones isn't better known in Wales, especially as it is intertwined with another Welsh urban myth - the Welsh colony at Hughesovka, now Donetsk, in the Ukraine, but especially that it's not better known in Barry itself.

Now that we have an excellent exhibition space in the heart of Barry at the new library, wouldn't it be great to see an exhibition of Gareth's work and its international importance in his hometown - and then in the new town museum, when we finally persuade the authorities that it's necessary!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Barry Waterfront Plans

The plans for Barry Waterfront were considered by Barry Town Council earlier this week - including plans for around 2,000 housing units.

Recommendations passed by the Town Council included a return to the 30% affordable housing threshold that was removed by the Vale Council a few weeks ago – and which surely makes far more sense regarding housing than the ‘up to 30%’ that was put in its place.

After all, if there is a ‘need’ for housing, then surely that need is greatest amongst people who can’t afford their own place under market circumstances.

The Plaid group on the council managed to push through a change in definition of the new connection with the island, changing it from a ‘street’ to a ‘road’, a subtle change reflecting the need for the road to the Island to be a direct route from Ffordd y Mileniwm, for use by people in Barry and beyond to reach the Island and relieve the Summertime stress on the causeway, and not just a residential area.

Other points made by the Plaid group included the fact that the East Quay is close to an industrial zone and that a light industrial area might be a better proposition than flats, and, of course, the sad fact that the whole development is based around a supermarket and a whole load of commuter housing rather than the facilities – a cinema, museum or all year round family activities – that Barry needs to re-establish itself as a viable tourist location, and was surely the point of the Waterfront re-development in Barry.

As seems to be the norm these days, the Conservatives on the Town Council were non-commital about their party’s development policy for Barry – meaning that we have to wait, once more, until the Vale’s planning committee meet to know what members of the Vale council's majority group are going to say or do.