Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tipping Point approaching ?

Since 18th September, 1997, I've accepted that the National Assembly for Wales is a permanent feature of the British Constitution. I've gone further than that. Since the referendum was lost (my perspective at the time), I've advocated that the toothless creature which began operations in May, 1999, should be granted law making powers in those subject areas devolved, without which it would not be worthwhile, or genuinely accountable. In May, 2006, the capacity for the Assembly to receive law making powers were granted by Act of Parliament, but by a complex system which I've consistently described as a "constitutional crisis waiting to happen" and as a "ticking time-bomb under the Union". Unsurprisingly, I've finished up taking 'stick' from both sides.

Yesterday, I shared two telephone conversations which caused me to revisit the main reason I was opposed to devolution in 1997. I reckoned Montgomeryshire would lose out more if 'Government' were to be based in Cardiff, than if it if it were to be based at Westminster. I reckoned that the M4 corridor would dominate in a devolved Wales. So lets look at what's happened. Not easy because the overall level of tax/spend has increased so much under Labour. Things like 'free provision for all' influences objective judgement. Its painful for me to acknowledge that in my opinion, the balance sheet of benefit to Montgomeryshire is in big deficit. That was just one sentence in a blog post, that 300 people at most will read, but I thought carefully and deliberately before writing it. It was born out of a sense of despair.

The economy seems to have gone backwards. Council services are going the same way, remote and centralised, outside the old county. Roads policy is a disaster. I have not the slightest doubt that the road improvement between Welshpool and the English border would have been finished by now if devolution had not taken place. I also sense, (but without the same degree of certainty), that a Newtown By-pass would be much further advanced. We just have empty promises. And then there's the health service.

The determination by the first Assembly Health Minister to 'do things differently in Wales' delivered shockingly long waiting times for elective treatment. We saw massive discrimination, compared with our neighbours over Offa's Dyke. Devolution has interfered with, and greatly damaged the traditional healthcare pathways that Montgomeryshire patients were used to. And confidence in the Cardiff based Assembly to deliver for our area has plummeted. There is just no delivery for us. We feel that we are off the Cardiff radar.

It wouldn't take that much. A new road improvement at Middletown or Newtown perhaps. Or the much promised satellite renal dialysis unit at Welshpool. The Assembly Government just doesn't get it. Doesn't realise how let down, and stranded we feel. It takes a fair bit to get me down, but that's how I feel about devolution tonight. But I do feel better for getting that off my chest.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

strong stuff for a wet june night glyn.
economically i'd say montgomeryshire has boomed since devolution, i work with invertek drives at times, a big local employer which is growing.
roads you can argue either way, but its not as if the Transport Agecy in england is covered in glory is it? Hereford needs a by pass more than newtown, and it would benefit welsh corridors too.
The cambrian line in montgomery has benefitted hugely since devolution too, particularly devolution of the franchise. More trains, better trains and a slowly improving perfoomance - that definately wouldn't happen from westminster. credit where its due.
Education is arguably btter and health, well we have different systems now so its hard to judge, as for Councils, well they seem to have become more of a gravy train.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

It is discouraging sometimes when one is reminded that education and the Welsh economy have gone backwards since devolution. I can't write that I am against devolution (at least not today), but it has to deliver on the basic bread and butter things like the economy and education. 10 years of Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) and Wales is definitely worse off. Yeah, sure Cardiff is doing better because of all the public sector jobs connected directly and indirectly with WAG, but for the rest of the country, and particularly for North Wales the situation is poor. 10 years of WAG and Wales as a whole is cycling backwards on the economy and education. The public sector is too dominant.

I've started to accept the situation in Wales, that it will remain a backward part of the UK in terms of its economy and education of children resident in Wales.

It has gotten too stressful thinking about how WAG is screwing things up "right Royal". So I don't think about it anymore. But in another 10 years? What then?

Glyn Davies said...

anon - Of course, opinion will vary with personal experience, and Invertek is a success story - but there are not enough of them in Montgomeryshire. The vibrancy of the 80s/90s seems to have evaporated.

I do not think you can argue roads either way. Despite the massive increase in public sector spending, there has been almost no investment in our road network, which is particularly important to us. The only reason that the Middletown Bypass has not gone ahead is that it has not been possible to agree a cross border deal.

Neither do I accept that the Cambrian Line would not have improved. There has been a general increase in traffic across Britain, and the passing loop was anticipated years ago. Because, there has been such an increase in tax/spend, the comparative position has to be considered as well.

I didn't mention education because I don't feel able to judge. I do plan to visit several scools over the next few weeks though. What I'm hearing is that there are huge financial problems facing the education service and schools are going to have to be closed to save money.

I'm sure our respective judgements are to some extent objective, but I post what I genuinely think.

Glyn Davies said...

Chris - My post shouldn't be read as 'against devolution'. What I want to see is a National Assembly that governs for all of Wales, and an end to the daft and damaging prejudice against the private sector - and an end to the constuction of a services seperation which is being constucted along Offa's Dyke.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps things will improve in Mont with a change of MP!

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn> I think most people, including myself, know you are not against devolution.

But at the end of the day it has to deliver, and devolution could deliver what Wales so badly needs, so I am not blaming devolution for Wales’ problems.

I am (per se) for devolution, but the Welsh Assembly Government has not proved worthy as evidenced by the facts on the ground. For example, the Welsh economy is at the bottom of the UK tables, and Welsh education has dropped behind our competitors (OECD stats).

As much as WAG talks things up, talking things up is not going to change anything of substance. There are so many things that WAG can do that will help build a strong vibrant economy - you know that, so I don't mean to be rude when I write this stuff. But it is plain as day that WAG is not doing the things of substance that what Wales needs done.

In fact, it is now clear that in its current form WAG is harming Wales. WAG has become insular and even when it asks for feedback it is not listening to the feedback. There was a great letter on this published recently on icWales - I thought about writing a letter in support of the author's points, but you know what, it's like that saying goes about performing a certain bodily function "into the wind".

See if I can find that letter ... here it is "Wales talks business but fails to deliver", published in the Letters section (Western Mail) on "Friday the 13th" of June - on http://www.walesonline.co.uk/ - those not familiar with icWales - just click on News and then on Letters or click-on/past/copy/goto URL:

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/letters-to-the-editor/western-mail-letters/2008/06/13/friday-13-june-2008-91466-21066844/

penlan said...

It is strange.though.Pre devolution we had rule by Cardiff based Civil Servants whose hearts and minds never ventured further than ten miles from Cathays Park.All spending was concentrated on Cardiff,cloaked in the phrase "this is the new National (whatever)".

Now we have an elected Assembly,I do believe things have improved slightly and that we in SW Wales are seeing a little more.Nevertheless there is still an element that "for Wales,see England"has been replaced by "for Wales,see Cardiff".Our AMs need more backbone as much as more powers.

Rant over.

Glyn Davies said...

anon - Perhaps I'm fooling myself, but perhaps it could. What would have made a big difference is if the Liberal Democrats hadn't scuppered the almost agreed Tory/Plaid/Lib Dem 'Rainbow Coalition' in May 2007. (I know that Peter Black always puts the blame for sinking it on Plaid, which technically it was, but the truth is that weall know where the blame lies.) Maybe next time.

Anonymous said...

The effect of devolution on health care in Wales has been quite disastrous. It is entirely wrong that people should be penalised solely because they happen to live in a particular part of the country. It is unjust.

Perhaps the answer is to pull back devolution on the issues that are crucial to people if the Assembly doesn't deliver benefits. Health and education are too vital to people to leave them to an institution that is obviously failing.

And please don't talk abot the Tories going into coalition with Plaid. Look at the mess they've made.

Glyn Davies said...

Penlan - I speak as I find, and pre-devolution, I worked a lot with the Welsh Office, and I found a good all-Wales attitude, There was certainly a lot of attention given to Mid Wales. That has all gone.

I agre that there is a bit more attention on the South West (and the North) because of the traffic corridors to Ireland.

A very damaging development as far as Mid Wales is concerned was the creation of this place called 'Mid and West Wales'. No such region exists. Just to take an example. A new renal dialysis unit in Withbush is in Mid and West Wales - but no benefit to Montgomeryshire at all. I come home from Edinburgh quicker than I can from Haverfordwest.

Anonymous said...

fair play Glyn you made a tidy living out of devolution for 8 years. Now you want to be an MP devolution suddenly seems a bad choice! funny that!

Anonymous said...

I know that there was never a Tory Government at Cardiff Bay but surley as an MP for the area for two assembly terms you have to shoulder some of the responsibility for not delivering in services to montgomeryshire? If not then you are saying that all opposition AM's are worthless when it comes to getting things for their constituents.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn> I understand that you don't feel comfortable discussing education because you don't feel able to judge, but objecting OECD stats spell a pretty dismal picture on the state of school education in Wales. Specifically, OECD "placed Welsh teenagers at the bottom of the class for reading, writing and science in the UK" (icWales/Western Mail, Dec. 13, 2007).

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/education-news/2007/12/13/scottish-education-praised-after-wales-criticised-by-oecd-91466-20244666/

I very much agree with your comment that that there should be an end to the daft and damaging prejudice against the private sector - a theme also picked up by the businessman-author of the letter, "Wales talks business but fails to deliver" published in the Western Mail (and icWales) on June 13th, 2008.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

I don't think Glyn is blaming devolution per se. Devolution can work, but it takes a worthy Welsh Assembly Government to deliver devolution. WAG is clearly not delivering and more over WAG is harming Wales with its bias against the private sector (as evidenced by the fact that after 10 years of WAG Wales is at the bottom of the economic league tables in the UK), WAG's inability to manage education (as evidenced objective OECD stats placed Welsh teenagers at the bottom of the class for reading, writing and science in the UK). WAG's confusion about energy policy, WAG's inability to harness the intellectual property potential offered by the higher education sector in Wales (as evidenced by the fact that the University of Wales has a pathetic patent rate compared to like institutes in other countries), the list goes on and on.

It used to be so stressful thinking of how devolution is being dissed by the very organization (WAG) that is supposed to deliver the benefits of devolution to Wales. Now it's not so stressful, because I have accepted that notion that Wales is doomed to remain at the bottom of the economic league tables and will remain unable to deliver the solutions that the private business sector needs to thrive in Wales.

Wales deserves better from WAG, but it isn't going to happen this year or the next or even over the next 10 years of WAG 'leadership'. So get used to it.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon-8.00 - Your suggestion of reverse devolution may be entirely logical, but its not going to happen. So we had best get used to choosing an Assembly Government which will deliver. And there is no inherent reason why an Assembly government should not deliver a better service than a Westminster government - but it will take a while to undo the disastrous regime put in place by the first Assembly Health Minister.

You also make a fair point about Plaid Cymru. Their willingness to put ideology before delivery through their prejudice against the private sector is seriously damaging to Wales. But until Labour is put into opposition, we will not have a democracy that engages with the people - so we would have to search for ways of finding a compromise programme. It was done in 2007, but didn't quite come off.

anon-9.15 - You had better read my post again. My attitude towards devolution has not changed at all from when I was an AM. I just want the Assembly Governemnt to treat my part of Wales fairly.

Anonymous said...

I notice you didnt answer my post Glyn. I dont mean it an an insult but as a question to your views on how an opposition AM can deliver for constituents and how much blame/credit they take for any benifits

I know that there was never a Tory Government at Cardiff Bay but surley as an MP for the area for two assembly terms you have to shoulder some of the responsibility for not delivering in services to montgomeryshire? If not then you are saying that all opposition AM's are worthless when it comes to getting things for their constituents.

penlan said...

I'm afraid we'll just have to differ on our view of the old Welsh Office.I still shudder at the response of one mandarin to a complaint that another thing was being taken away from us in SW Wales and given to Cardiff-"You should not be so tribal".

Anonymous said...

Well - all we have to do is to look at areas of England far from London - they all want powers to come to their areas. They might be divided on regional gvt or stronger councils - but they know that the METRO view wins each time.

Your trip to Scotland Glyn - might have shown you what a mini parliament can deliver - that an assembly cannot.

Glyn Davies said...

anon-5.35 - Sorry I'd not responded. Time constaints cause me to miss a few comments. The impact and role of opposition AMs (and MPs for that matter) is an interseting area of study. My experience was that a lot of help and advice can be given to constituents with individual concerns. It was also possible to have some impact on overall policy through the work of committees (which was why this was my favourite part of the AM role). But it was unusual to change Government decisions in favour of a constituency.

There was and is much deception perpetrated by politicians who claim to have influenced a decision that Government has taken with no input from them. Its an old trick to write piles of letters asking for everything under the sun, so that the letter can be used to claim credit at some later date. A newer trick seems to be to use Early Day Motions (at Westminster) or Statements of Opinion (in the Assembly) to pretend to have influence. Usually, they are just publicity gimmicks. Since I've been actively involved in politics I've seen the most shameful claiming of credit for Governemnt action by opposition politicians. And I'm not giving names.

And I represented Mid and West Wales, which includes most of Wales. Montgomeryshire represented about 12% of my constituency. Whether one was effective or not is a matter for the voters to judge.

penlan - Perhaps its just our differing perespective. Mine is from Montgomeryshire, which was the at the heart of the Welsh Offices attempts to promote economic and social activity in Mid Wales.

anon-8.01 - I didn't get to the Parliament on this trip, but I've been there a few times in the past. There is a very big difference in the responsibilities of the Parliament and the Assembly. I advocate that the Assembly powers should be similar, though not covering the same range of issue (notably criminal justice) - at this stage. Noted some recent calls for criminal justice to be devolved - a surefire way to sink and potential Yes vote for law making powers, on my opinion.

Ben Garland said...

Actually, opposition Assembly members have very little clout at all, so it's unfair to blame Glyn.

They have become even less relevant as a result of the 2006 Government of Wales Act. Executive responsibility is now with the Welsh Ministers and not the Welsh Assembly. This means that, efectively, the Welsh Ministers have stepped in to the shoes of the old Welsh Office. Backbench Assembly members from all parties account for sod all.

I agree that the Conservatives should never go into coalition with Plaid Cymru, though. They want to see the break-up of the UK and there is no point Tories helping them to do it.

Glyn Davies said...

Ben - you are right that Conservatives should never sign up to a government programme that they believe would promote any undermining of the union. Personally, I believe we should be willing to consider the possibility that Plaid Cymru would be willing to 'park' its 'independence' ambitions in order to avoid a position where Labour becomes the permanent governing party in Cardiff Bay.

patriot said...

Glyn,

The your love affair with private sector provision shows a remarkable misunderstanding of your own people. The profit motive has no place in the provision of campassionate humane services where collaboration, cooperation and integration is the key to safe high quality services for the vulnerable. The Welsh people will never put shareholders, profit and income flow before this and you fundamentally misunderstand the Welsh electorate if you think you and your right wing ilk can ever persuade them that this is a better way. If we are to fight the next campaign on a platform of privatisation versus public services ethos then bring it on. You are at least bringing the true Tory perspective to the fray which is more than can be said for the rest of your party at UK level.You are wrong, you will lose in Wales, but at least your are honest.

Glyn Davies said...

Patriot - Not sure whats inspired this comment, but you correctly identify an opinion of mine. I do not believe that the public sector can deliver on its own. In many areas I believe the most effective arrangement is private sector delivery and public sector regulation. The price of not taking this route (or in the case of residential, nursing and dementia care, staying with it) the price of misguided ideology will be paid by the pain and suffering of vulnerable people. Its not any love of the private sector that informs my opinion - just a desire to deliver the best posssible service. Its also what the Assembly Governmnet will actually do.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Patriot> I think the general consensus is that Devolution can work for Wales, but the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has to deliver, and that includes delivering a thriving private sector.

Yes the phrase "private sector" covers private health service providers, but also small and medium and large size businesses of all types, including non-public contractors and public-works contractors, export orientated and domestic orientated businesses, high-tech and low tech, manufacturing and non-manufacturing, service and non-service, professional services as well as regular services - the list is endless.