Theatre in Wales

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A Political Diary

Things That Were Said , First Weeks of 2024 , February 29, 2024
A Political Diary by Things That Were Said Public policy is difficult, complex, detailed. Arts writer have no particular insights of value.

But arts writers read and they know a bit about language. They are used to its sifting: rhetoric versus meaning, surface and depth, revelations intended and unintended. A watchful eye on public language is a useful eye.

So from the first half of 2024:

1st January: The year started unusually. Brian Roper wrote in three parts a synoptic account of government; not issue by issue but an attempt to write a review of the effectiveness of government as a whole.

On the economy:

“Total revenue funding – £436 million- Total capital funding – £106 million. The Government Economist’s commentary on the 2023-4 budget is a message of more of the same expressed in a suitably anaesthetic manner:

“A key long run challenge remains relatively weak productivity, the main long run driver of sustainable increases in pay, prosperity, and the tax base.

“Challenges also remain in the labour market: employment opportunities are restricted for many disadvantaged groups, particularly the disabled, those with long term health conditions, and people with low skill levels.

“Welsh population has been growing more slowly than in all English regions. With the number of deaths exceeding the number of births over recent years, due principally to a low fertility rate, in-migration has prevented overall population decline.

“....The Welsh economy suffers from endemic welfarism, a dependence upon publicly funded employment, a lack of creativity in sourcing inward investment on the right terms, a continuing dependence on old extractive resources and out-dated manufacturing technologies, a vulnerability to foreign supply chains and infrastructural ownership and a failure to connect up the few major economic centres domestically or internationally. I assess performance in the economy as 6/20."


* * * *

“In 2022 Dŵr Cymru achieved a 2-star overall company rating, which means the ‘company requires improvement’. It is disappointing to see Dŵr Cymru’s performance has dropped further from their 4-star ‘industry leading’ rating achieved in 2020 and 3-star ‘good company’ rating in 2021” (Natural Resources Wales, Annual environmental performance report for Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water 2022).

"Hardly a ringing endorsement for a country so attached to landscape and stewardship of the environment. But the untold story also needs telling. I assess performance in this area as 2/10."


* * * *

9th January. Rhun ap Iorwerth: “...a new sense of nationhood has developed and there’s been a growing political understanding of the powers that reside in Wales – especially after our Covid experience.”

The reality: “A third of people still don’t appreciate that the Welsh Government is responsible for health. A third actually believe the Conservatives have ministers in the Welsh Government.”


* * * *

15th January: “He will also pledge that preventing employment being offshored will help ensure that the people of Wales benefit from the jobs created.”


* * * *

17th January. “80% of small firms in Wales struggled to recruit in the past 12 months due to skills shortages. The Labour Welsh Government’s budget for 2024/2025 as set out in December 2023 proposes a cut of nearly 25% to the apprenticeship programme, which is expected to see 10,000 fewer apprentice starters in Wales over the next year – an approximate 50% reduction in the apprentices.

“A Welsh Government Spokesperson said: “Despite declining budgets, we will continue investing in quality apprenticeships and provide our young people with successful futures.”


* * * *

19th January. David Rees, Labour Aberavon MS and chair of the Welsh Parliament's reform bill committee, said the changes will take away "the voters' choice for who they want...We want to try to see voter choice being made more explicit and allow the voter to decide who they want."

His report said the committee had heard evidence the system would prioritise the influence and wishes of political parties over voters, and erode the link between politicians and their constituents. It could also introduce an effective threshold of 12% of the vote to get elected, with implications for smaller parties and individuals.


* * * *

27th January. “If he becomes first minister, Mr Gething also pledged to make infrastructure improvements to ease congestion along the M4 corridor. He said he wanted to get the public more engaged on issues like transport. "I actually think it's really important for the public to have greater engagement in why we're designing a different future.”

“He made a number of other promises in his manifesto, including to increase the number of apprenticeships.”

The reality is that he is a member of the Cabinet that reduced apprenticeships five weeks previously.


* * * *

3rd February: Brian Roper returned:

“Even by the standards of contemporary political discourse it would be difficult to find more banal, fatuous or vacuous statements than those that we have so far been offered by both candidates.

"Jeremy Miles says that “There is no route to the more compassionate country that we want to be which doesn’t pass through the more prosperous country that we need to be.”

“...Vaughan Gething promises “Educational opportunity at every age and stage of life. Putting the weight of the First Minister’s office behind achieving excellence in our schools and colleges, working with teachers and school support staff” – who would not agree but given the PISA scores-how?

Jeremy Miles made no mention of the accomplishments of the government of Wales:

“We have accomplished things that people told us couldn’t be done. The NHS, the minimum wage, even the act of founding this party in the first place to give a voice to working people in a system that had tried to shut them out.”


* * * *

February 8th: Jeremy Miles: “he is proposing to reward businesses which recognise unions – which will help create a mutually beneficial culture of social partnership across our economy. He promises to use the Welsh Government’s leverage to develop an economy in which recognising unions and collective bargaining is the norm – by using public spending to drive up trade union access.”


* * * *

15th February: The hustings for the Welsh labour leadership had nothing on the farming proposals, the 20 mph limits, the electoral reform, or the quality of education. Instead the candidate declared the superiority of the Welsh government in the pandemic. “In Wales we delivered better results.”
On health (18:49) “there's a challenge for us to address.”


* * * *

February: A Senedd Committee used unusually direct language in its scrutiny of the draft budget.

From the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee:

“The written evidence we have received falls below the standard we expect and we are unable to consider the figures and calculations provided with confidence.

“While the First Minister’s second written submission provided figures that could be reconciled, it did not provide satisfactory explanations, nor the detailed information we requested. In some instances, we have had to make assumptions over important and consequential information and our questions have gone unanswered. This is unacceptable/

“Despite our best efforts, we do not have accurate breakdowns of the International Engagement budget line which are key to the delivery of the International Strategy, its accompanying action plans and Programme for Government commitments.

“The issues identified in this report compound our previous concerns regarding the lack of clarity we have received in previous Draft Budgets relating to outcomes, impact and value for money. The impact of this is multiplied by the First Minister’s unwillingness to attend Draft Budget oral evidence sessions during this Senedd term, means we have been unable to clarify these matters in situ.”


* * * *

11th February: An interview of unusual tenor played out on the Sunday politics between Nic Servini and a leadership contender.

SERVINI: “I accused you of giving people false hope. I just want to get this clear. Since then we've had senior executives from Tata who could not have made it clearer in front of MP's both in Westminster and Cardiff that nothing is going to change. The blast furnaces are going to close....Things have changed. Unfortunately those blast furnaces are going to close now.

GETHING: “I don't think you're right, Nick. And I think the real challenge here is understanding the human impact on what is happening for all those thousands of families who are anxious for their futures.”

SERVINI: “Are you saying the two senior executives at Tata are wrong who have told us explicitly that they are going to close, and whether there's a labour government or not it will make no difference.”

GETHING: I think if you think about where we are now, Nick, and where we could be at the end of this year with a Labour government there's a world of difference between the two. “

SERVINI: “Not on this there isn't.”

GETHING: “With respect Tata have already said that the plan provided by trade unions is credible but not affordable. If you have a government that is actually there as opposed to just maybe there prepared to say we're going to invest more capital.”

SERVINI: “It's disingenuous to people in Port Talbot and I'm sorry it doesn't reflect well on your grasp of reality on this. You're not in touch with reality on this. It poses questions about whether your grasp on reality on any other issue is the same.”

Source: BBC Cymru Wales BBC1 Sunday Politics

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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