The Cost of Dependence

We in Wales were the first ones invaded and colonised by England, then came just about everyone else in the world.

At its height, the British Empire was the largest empire in history, covering 22% of the global land area (in 1922) and incorporating 20% of the global population (in 1938).

But just as the tides flow and then ebb, such has been the history of the British Empire. It’s left as a pathetic runt of its former glory, with just Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Cornwall, the Crown Dependencies (Isle of Man and Channel Islands), and 14 Overseas Territories including such big hitters as British Antarctic Territory (population 50), the South Sandwich Islands (population nil) and ‘Akotiri and Dhekelia’ (the UK army bases on Cyprus).

There’s an intriguing list of countries that have gained independence from Britain. 59 of them, all in all (excluding the four that have since seceded from others of the 59). And not one of them has asked, begged or pleaded to be let back in. They’ve gone their own way. And even though going their own way hasn’t always been a happy tale, in every single case they’ve preferred being independent than returning to the velvety warmth of the British bosom.

Many of these countries were poor at the time they achieved independence, some staggeringly so. But that never stopped them from demanding that the best place for decisions to be taken over their people was in their country.

I’ve got a theory.

The British Empire was – and still is – an extractive empire. Many African countries were exploited for slaves, the profits from which helped fuel the industrial revolution. The same is apparently true of India – which from the second largest economy in the world at the start of British Rule grew by zero percent for 90 years until they left, which is hardly surprising because there were huge cash transfers from India to London for the entirety of that period. Malaysia was a source of rubber and tin; and so on.

That’s not altogether surprising. Every empire has done the same. It would be rather pointless colonising somewhere and then investing more in that place than you’d reap from it. That would hardly please the natives back home.

And so to Wales.

There’s absolutely no doubt that the British state used to be an extractive operation. I don’t need to remind anyone of the history of extraction in Wales. The legacy of the water, slate, coal and steel that have been extracted are drowned communities, shattered lives and poverty-stricken communities. And a wonderful array of dazzling architecture – a small proportion in Cardiff, but mostly in London – paid for by the short, nasty and brutal lives of people in Wales.

But is it still extractive? After all, plenty of politicians tell us we’ve never had it so good, that we shouldn’t be ashamed of our poverty, that British beneficence is a marvellous testament to Unionist generosity.

Let’s think who makes the rules on funding. Who decides that the London Olympics were of such benefit to Wales that we paid our full share, despite them eschewing every single Welsh venue and building a hill in Essex rather than bringing Olympic mountain biking to the Afan Valley? That would be Westminster. At a cost of £8.9 billion.

How about Crossrail, the mega-project to make Londoners’ lives easier when crossing the megalopolis from east to west? Yes, we’d still be paying our full share of that – of course, it’s for the benefit of the entire UK, silly – if only the Scots hadn’t got all uppity and started voting for the SNP. The decision in 2007 that it was expenditure for the UK? That would be Westminster. Total cost = £14.5 billion.

Any other rail projects spring to mind? What about the white elephant known as HS2, coming in at a whopping £50 billion? Even the catatonic Labour Party in Wales has sprung into action, salivating at the prospect of £2 billion in Barnett consequentials. And the news from those holding the purse strings in – you guessed it – Westminster? All together now: “this project is for the benefit of the whole of the UK”.

These are just the big projects, the ones we hear about because their expenditure is too colossal to sweep under the carpet. How many other decisions are taken against the interests of Wales because of inter-departmental jiggery-pokery?

Fancy giving £140 million to Cycling England? Sure. Does it operate in Wales? Hell no. Barnett consequential? Not on your nelly.

And to take just one more example, there’s all the highly paid civil servants in London. Now we know that civil servants are spread around the UK. But the ones at the very top of the tree?

This document is rather revealing. It tells us that in 2011 there were 3,192 Senior Civil Servants in UK, British or EnglandandWales government departments. And where are those departments all headquartered? London. The average salary of the lowest-ranking senior civil servants (pay band 1) is £73,000 (the highest-ranking (pay band 3) gross an average of £133,000). Most of the top echelons of the civil service will have been private-school educated in the Etons and Harrows of this world, raking in £100,000-plus and living in the shires. The whole system is designed to scratch the backs of the people with plenty. Who decides that these jobs are based in England? Why, that would be Westminster.

How many Senior Civil Servants are in the Welsh Government? A grand total of 123.

Let’s assume an average salary for these mandarins of £80,000. Wales’ share of those salaries (let’s not go near the bonuses, the pensions and the perks). The London salary packet is a shade over a quarter of a billion pounds per year. And Welsh Senior Civil Servants gross £10 million, or 23% less than we might expect is our entitlement if we got our Barnett share.

The list is probably endless. Every which way, the people of Wales are getting shafted.

Because these are the costs of dependence.

A series of posts is on the way. We’ll be looking at countries that have escaped from the punitive strictures of dependence to become free, independent, outward-facing countries on the world stage. I’m sure we’ll all be intrigued to find out whether or not having control over their own destiny has proven positive or negative for these vile splitters, nasty separatists and narrow-minded nationalists.

1 Sylw

Filed under Independence, Labour, SNP, Welsh Government, Westminster

English Votes English Laws – the Perfect Solution

Much is being said at the moment about this tricky predicament of English Votes for English Laws. And it must be tricky – after all, William Hague has just announced four possible options, and David Jones, another of our beloved former Secretary of States for Wales, with his usual razor-like wordplay has coined the snappy phrase “English and/or Welsh Votes for English and/or Welsh Laws”.

But here’s a revelation for you. Because all of this talk, this chatter, this debate, this Command Paper and all the rest can be put to bed. I’ve got a much simpler solution.

My attention has been drawn to this paper from the House of Commons. It tells us that in the 14 years so far this century, 99% of each and every vote there has been in the House of Commons went the way that English MPs wanted it to. So in order to ensure a fair settlement for England, with English Votes for English Laws, we need to do… precisely nothing.

How’s that working out for us here in Wales, by the way? It turns out that over the course of this Parliament, since 2010, just 26% of votes went the way MPs from Wales wanted them to. So a question for my Dependence-favouring (Unionist) followers. Wales benefits from this level of democracy how, exactly?

Gadael sylw

Filed under Independence, Westminster

A Revelation

This blog has been vociferously independent since day one. In case you need proof, here’s an extract giving ratings of some of the Penarth councillors prior to the 2012 elections:

With a fabulous 4 points – Cllr. Sophie Williams (St. Augustine’s, Conservative)

A thrilling 3 points – Cllrs. Janice Birch (Stanwell, Labour) and Anthony Ernest (Sully, Conservative)

It’s not a party political blog and has no intention of becoming one.

But I’ve got a revelation for you all.

As from now, this is a pro-independence blog.

Our reasoning is as follows:

  • Social justice, quality of life, fulfilling employment, good health, strong connections with local communities, well-being are all important goals. This isn’t just our opinion; study after study indicates that these are the things that people value most.
  • The net result of the 92 years of this Union (since the secession of the Irish Free State) is that society in the UK has become more atomised than ever before, more unequal than ever before (and one of the most unequal states in the developed world), more miserable than ever before. We’re labelled as consumers whose sole purpose is to spend, to drive growth in the economy, to funnel more cash to the 1% and their friends and colleagues in the media, politics and big business. In other words, everything we value as humans has been eroded as a result of “the most successful union in history“.
  • The Westminster machine has shown how hopelessly unable – and unwilling – it is to make meaningful change. Despite Owen Smith’s entreaties that the Union is “a living, breathing means to an end allowing us to pool risks and share rewards between us all“, all it appears to have done is to pool the risks of bankers’ profligacy amongst us all, and share the rewards among the 1%. Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. If the Union is “an embodiment of Labour values“, it doesn’t take a leap of faith to deduce just what those values are.
  • Organisations like the New Economics Foundation offer these pathetic ideas for reducing inequality. I say ‘pathetic’ because they seem to think there’s a chance that Westminster might act on any one of the five. Let’s get real, Westminster will never act to change the system.
  • Logically, if Westminster is unwilling to act, we need to search for alternatives. The only alternative that presents itself to permanent Westminster rule is self-rule. Independence.

The Scottish referendum has been a major factor in this realisation. The social media and blogs have been simply stunning. To have persuaded 45% of the population to vote for independence in the face of a ‘traditional’ media onslaught and the full might of the Union’s apparatus of spin, fear-mongering and bribes is the most significant achievement of social media in these Isles.

Some of the most influential blogs in the run-up to the independence debate include Bella Caledonia, Wings Over Scotland, Wee Ginger Dug, Lallands Peat Worrier and Newsnet Scotland. You might want to check them out.

And so it falls to Penartharbyd to join the ranks making the case for independence in Wales, alongside colleagues DailyWales.net, Syniadau, Borthlas, Dic Mortimer, Welsh Not British, Blog Menai, Jac o’ the North, Oggy Bloggy Ogwr, National Left and possibly Glyn Adda.

This is not a party political blog and has no intention of becoming one. So rest assured, we’ll be as independent and critical of the only party currently giving an outlet for independence-minded people as we will for the unionist parties.

This post has been updated to add some fellow independence bloggers

5 Sylw

Filed under Conservatives, Independence, Labour, Plaid Cymru, Welsh Government, Westminster

20mph – Societal Savings?

There are many amazing things you can find out if you look through South Wales Police’s disclosure log. Ever wondered how many bonsai trees have been registered as stolen in the South Wales Police force area? Fret no longer – the answer is revealed here.

But something even more interesting than the fate of miniature topiary grabbed my attention recently. Because someone asked for the injuries and fatalities recorded on the road network of Penarth.

I’ve dipped my toe in this issue before:

I’m no specialist in transport planning, but it turns out that Friends of the Earth  has done a bit of work on 20mph zones that makes the case pretty watertight. And that makes me think that we should go the whole hog, and make the entire communities of Penarth and Sully into 20mph zones (like you, I’m wondering why Llandough has been excluded from this report).

And the combination of injury statistics and various reports mean we can make some suggestions as to the number of injuries and fatalities that could be avoided by a 20mph limit in Penarth.

Firstly it’s as well to look at the factors that contribute to “pedestrian impacts”. The most common factor is “pedestrian entered carriageway without due care”, accounting for 73% of impacts. There are several others, but it’s clear that in not one case would injury or fatality be less likely if the car was moving more slowly. In fact, the reverse. By providing additional thinking and reaction time, injuries would be less severe, and fatalities less likely, if cars were moving more slowly.

Next, let’s see exactly what impact speed has on injuries.

www nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov pdf esv esv20 07 0440 W.pdfwww nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov W.pdf

Unsurprisingly, the faster the impact, the more severe the injuries. At 40-50km/h (that’s 25-31mph), 21% of injuries are minor, 66% are ‘non-minor’, and 13% are fatal. At 20-30km/h (12-19mph), 67% of injuries are minor, 33% non-minor and none are fatal.

If we assume that everyone driving in Penarth is law-abiding, but drives reasonably close to the limit, that means that for every collision with a pedestrian, you currently have a 66% chance of seriously injuring someone and 13% chance of killing them. In a 20mph future, you have just a 33% chance of seriously injuring someone, and no chance of killing them (bear with me, we’re dealing with statistics here!).

Ok, so I’m aware that rather a lot of traffic in Penarth doesn’t reach 30mph, but with a 20mph limit (using the assumption above), none of it would.

Back to the South Wales Police stats. It’s important to note that not all of the statistics will relate to pedestrians. But the same logic applies to any impact involving a vehicle. Some basic maths helps us clarify this. Kinetic energy (energy of motion) is defined as 1/2 (mass)*(velocity squared). So a one tonne vehicle travelling at 20mph has (roughly) 40 kJ of kinetic energy. The same vehicle travelling at 30mph has 89 kJ of kinetic energy – more than twice as much. Incidentally, the reason a motorway crash can be so devastating is that your one tonne vehicle travelling at 70mph has 490 kJ of kinetic energy.

In the 13 calendar years since this brave new century, a grand total of 1,280 people have been slightly injured on Penarth’s roads. Actually, it may be less than that number, because some people may have been slightly injured more than once. But it’s close enough. In a 20mph limit, you’re presumably much less likely to be injured at all in a collision. I’m going to assume you’re less than half as likely, because there’s less than half the kinetic energy to injure someone (45%, to be precise). That means that 704 people – people like these –  were slightly injured solely because a 20mph zone hasn’t been in place in Penarth.

How about the serious injuries? The statistics tell us that you’re half as likely to be seriously injured in a 20mph collision. That leaves 50 people who would have had slight injuries, rather than serious injuries, over the last 13 years. If you think that a 20mph zone is some esoteric idea with no concrete impacts, try talking to someone who’s suffered a broken pelvis as a result of a collision.

The title of this post is about societal savings. There are all manner of savings we make as a society when someone is reprieved from serious injury. Think of the police time, the medical time, the time spent off work or unable to care for relatives by the person injured. If you’re a hard-nosed economist, think of the reduced productivity of the workforce because people are convalescing at home instead of busy being productive at work.

But there are other societal savings, too. In a town where 20mph is the speed limit, we’re likely to see an increase in people walking and cycling. That’s because poll after poll tells us that most people don’t think it’s safe to cycle on the roads. Well, guess what? A 20mph limit just made it safe.

And people who bike to the town centre, rather than hop in their cars, cause considerably less wear and tear to the roads. Let’s take a similar car to the example above, whose weight plus driver is one tonne. Then let’s take a bike, whose weight plus rider is 100kg. The damage caused to a road surface increases to the fourth power of the axle weight. The axle weight of the car is 10 times that of the bike. That means the damage caused is 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 as much, or 10,000 times as much. A ten tonne lorry (on two axles) causes 10,000 times the damage of the car and 100 million times as much as a bike. Of course, you can’t carry a washing machine on a bike! But still, we’re now looking at real road maintenance savings for our hard-pressed, austerity-wracked Vale of Glamorgan.

And the serious footnote to this post?

Given that by and large people don’t die in collisions taking place at 20mph, if the 20mph zone had been in place since 2000, there’s a chance we’d have up to 12 people alive in Penarth, spreading love and happiness to their friends and families, who are lying in their graves right now.

Think about that next time someone canvasses your vote.

Gadael sylw

Filed under Democracy, Transport, Vale of Glamorgan Council

How Long is One Generation?

It came to light recently that the Labour Party in Wales is moving towards the devolution of further powers to Wales. The nature of the offer is covered in more detail elsewhere, but one thought on Owen Smith’s comments got me digging through the archives.

Mr Smith – Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, no less – is quoted as saying:

While devolution will evolve we are getting closer to the end game

Servini

I wonder how much he knows about the history of Labour Party activity in this area?

It was the blink of an eye in political terms when someone else – as it happens, someone mentioned in Nick Servini’s immediately preceding tweet – expressed a firm opinion about the state of devolution in Wales:

The Welsh Assembly will not need further devolution for another generation… Whatever changing circumstances we face over coming years there will be no case for a successor Government of Wales [Act] in the decades to come

The omission of the word [Act] from the quote might have been a slip of the tongue. Or he might have been quite serious that no Government of Wales other than the one in place in 2006 (Labour) has a place in Wales regardless of “changing circumstances”.

Anyway, Peter might want to try explaining the futility of his work to Paul Silk, and of course to the Liberal Democrats who wrought the Silk Commission as part of the coalition agreement with the Conservatives.

Of course, Peter Hain’s got a great track record in political fortune telling. After all, he did tell us that the 2011 referendum bestowing primary legislative powers on the National Assembly for Wales couldn’t be won under:

any [foreseeable] circumstances

I suppose in one respect Owen Smith is correct. After all, any further devolution of powers is closer to the end-game if the end is federation, independence or ‘more devolution’.

Which of these comes under Owen Smith’s definition of foreseeable circumstances?

Update: It turns out we have a new definition of the length of a generation. While Peter Hain defines a generation as 8 years, Paul Silk has defined it as 25 years. Hands up who thinks the devolution offerings in Silk will bring “stability for a generation – 25 years”?

1 Sylw

Filed under Democracy, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Welsh Government, Westminster

Cogan Inaction

Isn’t it about time I ruffled the feathers again? After all, it’s been well over a year since I last took the Vale Council to task – yet again – over their desire to poison the good people of Cogan. At that time I said:

This decision is not before time. I pointed out here that the air pollution in Cogan has been beyond European legal limits since at least 2006:

What on earth is going on here? What have the people of Windsor Road done to deserve such negligence? The Vale’s forecasting and reporting has been chronically optimistic year after year after year after year after year afteryear after year, and the pollution load – particularly at the 154 Windsor Road station – has consistently breached European limits set down in the Ambient Air Quality Directive. And the Vale Council has done absolutely nothing to remedy the situation.

I even went as far as to ask the Welsh Government why no action had been taken – you can see their response and my analysis here:

I don’t very much care for the idea of Penarth taxpayers shelling out their share of millions of pounds in European Commission fines for the Vale’s failure to take air pollution seriously. But I care even less for the idea that the residents of Cogan are being subject to illegal pollution loadings year after year after year because councillors in the Vale haven’t had the gumption to confess there’s a problem.

It turns out that some other people have been digging around in relation to the Vale’s willingness to get stuck in to declaring an Air Quality Management Area for Cogan. Because CG has sent me an email, received from the Vale on 15 March 2013. The Vale said:

Our consultation included a recommendation to declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) for the area identified as likely to exceed the NO2 annual average objective. The responses from this consultation are now being considered and over the next few months a further Report will be presented to the Council’s Cabinet recommending a way forward

Then in December CG received the following notification:

Since the declaration of the AQMA earlier this year…

Whoa! So we have official confirmation that an Air Quality Management Area exists for Windsor Road as it runs through Cogan. Well blow me down, surely that deserves trumpeting on the Vale of Glamorgan website.

But funnily enough, this is the latest news you’ll find on the Vale’s website:

The Council have identified that nitrogen dioxide emissions from road traffic are likely to exceed healthy limits set by the regulations. We are also monitoring what is known as particulate matter and our results suggest that we need to carry out more sophisticated monitoring to further check these concentrations… In the Spring of 2013 we will review the evidence and comments from the consultation and make a decision on declaring your area an AQMA.

And even more peculiarly, the Vale doesn’t show up on Defra’s map of local authorities with AQMAs, nor is it listed in their directory. And, before you ask, it doesn’t exist in the list of local authorities whose AQMAs have been revoked.

So either the Vale’s officials are lying to their own constituents and salary-payers, or the officials are withholding information from their lords and masters in Whitehall.

Well I have to confess to being slightly cheered by the discovery that the Vale isn’t lying to us, friends. Because the Cabinet minutes for the meeting of 1 July 2013 approved this report, which instigated an AQMA as from 1 June 2013, which was a full month before the meeting that approved it. Details, details.

So why doesn’t Defra know about this? There are a few possible explanations, not all of which paint the Vale in such a bleak light. They may well have told everyone all about it. For sure, you’d never know what the Welsh Government was thinking on this issue. Believe me, I’ve crawled all over their website and just about the only mention you’ll find of air quality (unless you happen to live in Port Talbot) is the helpful definition that it is “a measure of how good our air is”. Certainly you’ll find the Welsh Government barely speaks of such vulgarities as Air Quality Management Areas.

So perhaps Defra does know about it but is just that incompetent that a full eight months after the designation date has failed to update its website. It’s difficult to be more confident where the greater incompetence lies: the Vale or Defra. One thing’s for sure, by the time you read this post, an email will have winged its way to Defra asking for their side of the story.

And in the meantime, we can all relax, because the Vale had 12 months to bring forward its Air Quality Management Plan from the date of designation. I’m looking forward to delving into that tome no later than 31 May.

Finally, in case the crew down Barry Docks don’t realise, this is an election issue. Either that, or you’ll need to find an alternative psephological analysis for why the vote for the incumbents in Cornerswell ward decreased by 53% in 2012:

… could the hint of a constituency scandal – the incumbent Conservatives having been complicit in the Vale of Glamorgan choking residents of Cogan – have made erstwhile Conservative voters simply unable to bring themselves to vote for the negligent pair of Dorothy Turner and John Fraser?

If there’s even the slightest hint of truth in that, then this May has served notice that negligent or incompetent councillors can expect to pay a heavy price come election time.

3 Sylw

Filed under Cogan, Democracy, Pollution, Vale of Glamorgan Council, Welsh Government

Devolving Criminal Justice

This issue has sprung to life recently. By and large, most of us aren’t that preoccupied with constitutional affairs. It’s why there was such a low turn-out in the referendum on Part IV of the Governance of Wales Act (the one that vested certain law-making powers at the National Assembly for Wales). That’s right, the 2011 referendum the omniscient Peter Hain said couldn’t be won under “any [foreseeable] circumstances“.

So when people are asked by polling companies whether or not they would like to see criminal justice devolved to Wales, you’d hardly expect them to be gripped by fevered enthusiasm. For starters, I’m not sure I understand what’s encompassed by criminal justice, and I’m something of an anorak. Just how detailed Dai Jones Cwmbach’s knowledge of criminal justice is we can only speculate.

So it’s not a terrific surprise to see that in one of the only comprehensive polls asking the question, just 37% of people in Wales would like to see “the courts and criminal justice system” devolved.

But that may be about to change.

Because it turns out that on occasion the Home Office has decided that Wales is a good place to rehouse criminals convicted of serious offences. Criminals with no former connection to Wales, that is.

I was first alerted to this issue by Paul Flynn, who has written to the Home Secretary to complain following the news that a London gang leader at “serious risk of reoffending” has been rehoused in Newport.

And just days later, WelshNotBritish, in a blogpost titled with characteristic finesse, has uncovered the news that Gavin Benit, a convicted sex offender from Oldham, was “placed” in a flat in Colwyn Bay.

I mentioned earlier on that “on occasion” the Home Office has rehoused serious offenders in Wales. We can be reasonably confident that those occasions number no less than two.

But is there something more systemic going on here? Is the Home Office rehousing serious offenders in Wales as a matter of course? And is this one of the benefits of our criminal justice remaining a reserved matter? After all, Cheryl Gillan as Secretary of State for Wales stated:

I understand that the Welsh Government is planning a consultation on the establishment of a single legal jurisdiction for Wales. But why?

“What is the problem that needs addressing? How would such a change benefit people or business in Wales?

“The pitfalls of a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales, and consequent devolution of the entire criminal justice system, are glaringly obvious. I see no case for changing the current system for England and Wales, which has served Wales well for centuries.

Perhaps those opposing the devolution of criminal justice to Wales, such as Cheryl Gillan, would like to speak to the 15-year old girl raped by Gavin Benit to find out just how such a change would “benefit people or business in Wales”.

It’s why constitutional affairs should bother everyone in Wales, even Dai Jones Cwmbach.

4 Sylw

Filed under Conservatives, Democracy, Police, Welsh Government, Westminster