Monthly Archives: Ionawr 2014

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

Coastal Glamorgan

This is my name for a new local authority that encompasses what is currently Neath Port-Talbot, Bridgend and Vale of Glamorgan. And if we don’t adopt it – or something like it – then Penarth can kiss goodbye to the remotest influence in any decisions of significance for the long-term future.

Sounds dramatic?

That’s because the implications of Penarth, and the rest of the Vale, being sucked into Cardiff (that’s what the new authority will be called – let’s not be under any misapprehension of the name of the new Vale plus Cardiff authority) are fairly dire.

Consider, if you will, this new metropolitan mega-authority. On current figures, it will have a population of 475,324 (348,493 +126,831). The Vale’s contribution is a paltry 26.7%.

Cardiff currently maintains 75 councillors. That’s 1 councillor for every 4,650 electors. The Vale has 47, or 1 per 2,700.

Now I’m not going to defend our generous comparative representation. In fact I’m in broad agreement with Electoral Reform Society Cymru, which wants to reduce the number of local authority councillors and increase the number of Assembly Members. But anyone who thinks that Penarth’s needs – or indeed those anywhere in the Vale – are going to be represented to any significant degree in the new super-authority is seriously misguided.

There are also implications for planning and new housing. Cardiff’s councillors will be licking their lips at the prospect of the Vale’s green fields absorbing much larger proportions of Cardiff’s proposed growth in the coming decades. Why should they risk electoral unpopularity in the few remaining undeveloped parts of Cardiff when they can direct new developments to the Vale? Let’s not forget that the Vale’s representation in the new authority is going to be one-quarter of the total.

And poor old Penarth. With our 30,000 population we’re going to become an insignificant part of the new uber-authority, equivalent in size to Ely plus Llanishen.

So how will Coastal Glamorgan solve these ailments?

The population of this authority will be 406,679 (139,740 + 140,108 + 126,831). The Vale’s contribution in population terms would be 31.2% of the total – but will be a shade under one-third of a triple-authority.  Pulling equal weight in this new authority with former neighbours from Bridgend and Neath Port-Talbot would mean no part having an overbearing influence. Equal representation, not becoming smothered by the city slickers.

But the population of Coastal Glamorgan would be greater than Cardiff. And that could be of economic benefit, because according to some economists, the size of an area’s population (agglomeration) is important in generating added productivity. And why shouldn’t Cardiff go it alone? After all, it’s apparently good enough for Swansea, Powys, and Carmarthenshire.

In terms of new housing, the Vale would be partnered with two authorities that are not experiencing rapid population growth. The housing allocation would be fit for the needs of the Vale plus these two other authorities, not made to fit the needs of a fast-growing capital city.

And as for Penarth. Wouldn’t it be better to be Coastal Glamorgan’s eastern gateway town to the capital city, rather than a nameless, faceless suburb of Cardiffshire?

5 Sylw

Filed under Democracy, Equality, Housing, Vale of Glamorgan Council, Welsh Government