Sunday, May 30, 2010

WALES AND THE GOOD UNIVERSITY GUIDE

Given the speech by the Welsh Education Minister earlier this week, it may be worth examining the latest league tables from the Times Good University Guide.

The Times Good University Guide is the most authoritative and widely respected guide to universities in the UK and is an essential and comprehensive tool for students and parents at home and abroad.

It ranks 113 UK universities according to eight criteria, including student satisfaction, research quality and degree results.

So what are the results for Wales?

Cardiff 34 (-8)
Aberystwyth 40 (+6)
Swansea 49 (+1)
Bangor 54 (+1)
UWIC 67 (+9)
Lampeter 85 (-6)
Glynd┼Ár 93 (+4)
Glamorgan 94 (0)
UWCN, Newport 96 (+11)

As the ranking above, Cardiff remains the best university in Wales, although it continues to lose ground on its rivals within the elite Russell Group, dropping a further eight places to 34th.

It is followed by Aberystwyth, whose ranking has increased to 40th. Bangor and Swansea have moved up one place.

The major winners in this year's league table seem to be mainly the new universities within Wales, with UWIC climbing nine places, Glyndwr four places, and the University of Wales Newport eleven places.

The only exception to this group is Glamorgan, which has stayed still since last year and slipped behind Glyndwr in the rankings.

I would expect the Minister will be looking very closely at this data over the next few weeks as he reflects on the financial support that Government will give to the university sector over the next few years.

Certainly, the improvements in the new institution sector should make him pause for thought at the potential this part of the higher education sector can offer the Welsh economy.

Friday, May 28, 2010

THE QUEEN'S SPEECH AND THE WELSH ECONOMY

As expected, the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has made an immediate impact, with twenty two new bills introduced during the Queen’s speech.

I have already discussed the potential impact of one of most significant bills, namely the promise to raise income tax allowances so that “low and middle income employees’ will pay less than they do now. The long-term goal, over the course of this Parliament, is to take the first £10,000 of all individuals’ income out of tax.

What about the others?

As a result of devolution, some of the bills apply only to England. For example, the Academies Bill will only allow English schools to apply to become academies and gain independence from Whitehall control, whilst the Health Bill will only give increased power and responsibility to doctors and nurses in England.

However, there are also those bills that will apply across the whole of the UK and it is worth considering which of these will have an effect on the wellbeing of Wales and its economy.

For example, the Welfare Reform Bill aims to get more than five million people off benefits and back into work by simplifying the benefits system and introducing better incentives.

With recent studies showing that half of the top ten areas for claiming incapacity benefit in the UK are to be found in Wales – Merthyr Tydfil, Blaenau Gwent, Neath Port Talbot, Rhondda Cynon Taff and Caerphilly – this bill will have a significant impact in Wales. Indeed, as “A Change of Personnel” notes, any reform must take into focus on these in high benefit dependency areas to create real jobs and improves people’s skills in order to fully tackle the benefit trap that many individuals and families find themselves in.

Given that hundreds of millions of pounds are already being spent via initiatives such as Communities First and other Convergence Funded programmes, there must be greater co-operation between the Department of Work and Pensions and the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) to ensure joined up thinking over this critical issue.

Wales also has the potential to benefit from the energy bill and the creation of a £2 billion green investment fund but only if we get our act together over renewable energy, particularly in supporting businesses that are developing micro-generation products.

To date (and excuse the pun) there has been a lot of hot air about supporting green businesses in Wales, despite the presence of excellent exemplars such as G24 Innovations in Cardiff and Dulas in Machynlleth. If WAG is serious about exploiting the potential of a green investment fund, then it must begin to put some significant amounts of support behind the activities of companies within the low carbon sector.

The promise to ensure that high speed broadband is to be made available to millions of people living in remote parts of the country should also ensure that many parts of rural Wales become more accessible to businesses, especially those operating in the digital and low carbon economy. The question is how Wales can lobby within Westminster to ensure that we become one of the first areas in which this new programme is rolled out across the UK?

Certainly, there should be an advantage in having the MPs for the two main constituencies of Mid-Wales currently sitting on the government benches.

Therefore, after only two weeks, the new Government has already developed legislation that can have a real effect on Wales.

However, for those bills related to welfare, broadband and green technologies, it is critical that there is greater joined up thinking between Cardiff Bay and Westminster to ensure that these work for the benefit of Wales.

If there is not and WAG continues to focus on petty political point scoring against the new Secretary of State, then it will be a real wasted opportunity for this nation.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

CUTTING THE DEFICIT - PART 4

A hat tip, of sorts, to Vaughan Roderick.

Late last year, Vaughan made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Welsh Assembly Government to determine the criteria for Strategic Investment Capital Fund (SCIF) projects and whether approved projects met the criteria (or not).

As part of the FOI request, a list was provided of the 31 projects that had received £467.3 million of capital funding from the Government during the period 2008-2011.

Looking at the first tranche of projects, it would seem that some still have considerable spending allocated for 2010-2011. Indeed, what is noteworthy is that two of the projects will not, because of various circumstances, be drawing down any funding for this year.

According to press reports, the All Wales Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Programme and the South East Wales Shared Services Centre – HR, Payroll & Training will not be needing this capital expenditure in 2010-2011.

For example, the cost of swine flu in Wales was estimated by WAG to be £35 million for 2009-2010 (against a budget of £40 million). However, with danger having passed, that means that the £7.7 million earmarked for 2010-2011 will not be needed. If so, what will happen to the money?

In addition, given that the South East Wales Shared Services Centre project, which was to bring together HR, Payroll & Training across 10 councils failed when Cardiff, Newport and Caerphilly failed to agree participation, why is the £9.5 million allocated to this scheme still in the SCIF budget?

Therefore, across these two projects alone, there is a saving of £16.2 million – nearly ten per cent of the reduction in expenditure that Wales will have to find for 2010-2011.

Given that the Finance Minister has said that no cuts could be made in this financial year, that is somewhat of an odd finding. What is going to happen to this money?

More relevantly, if large capital projects earmarked for 2010-2011, such as the refurbishment of the students union in Bangor or the Taff Ely Learning Campus, can be postponed or reduced in size then, with a will, there is a way for Wales to find further savings almost immediately.

If there is, then isn't the job of the opposition parties to scrutinise the budget and point this out to Ministers?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

MAN OF THE WEEK

No, I didn't write Leighton Andrews' speech last night but if I had, it wouldn't have been too different to that delivered at Cardiff University.

Politically, Leighton and I have major differences on a range of issues but on this one, we agree completely.

As someone who has fought against the system throughout his career to try and do something innovative and enterprising within the university sector in Wales, I have nothing but admiration for a man who can make the statement that

"those running Wales’ universities are an out of touch elite whose poor leadership is hampering attempts to improve the country’s prosperity".

The touchpaper has been lit.

One can only hope, if the Minister, as the Mexicans would say, the cojones to drive through reforms that finally see the development of a Welsh university sector that puts Wales, and the Welsh economy, first.

PH FOR PR?

Another day and another confused utterance from the former Secretary of State for Wales which, as usual, is reported unchallenged by the Welsh media.

This time, Peter Hain attacked a plan that “could” see the number of Welsh constituencies reduced from 40 to 28.

He said:

“Reducing the number of Welsh constituencies will greatly reduce Wales’ voice in Westminster. The ConDem government is not only trying to gerrymander votes in Parliament with a new 55% bar in no confidence votes, but also trying to gerrymander constituency boundaries in their favour.

“Their plans will mean already large Mid Wales constituencies of Ceredigion, Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Brecon and Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire will become even bigger, making it hard for voters to hold their MPs accountable, and for MPs to get around their constituencies.

“There will be a damaging knock-on to the Assembly by reducing constituency Assembly members who are linked to numbers of MPs in the same constituencies and reducing the size of the Assembly”.


Of course, that is simply not the case, as I argued back in November last year.

Whilst it is true that the 2006 Government of Wales Act requires that the constituencies from which the directly-elected AMs are chosen are identical to the ones used to send MPs to Westminster, and that "the total number of seats for the Assembly electoral regions must be one half of the total number of the Assembly constituencies", that presupposes that new legislation would not change that link.

Indeed, it is clear any incoming Conservative Government, in changing the number of MPs across the UK, would make legislative provision for changes to the Government of Wales Act to enable the regional list calculation to change accordingly i.e. this would allow for the reduction in the number of MPs whilst maintaining the current number of AMs, as has happened in Scotland.

Of course, if the reductions in MPs were to be made to 30 (as I expect) rather than the 28 mooted by Mr Hain, and the link maintained between Westminster and Cardiff Bay constituencies, this could mean that there would be 30 first past the post AMs elected and a further 30 from the regional lists.

Interestingly, no journalist has ever challenged Mr Hain to explain himself on this issue.

That is a great shame, as the main loser from this move towards greater proportional representation in Wales would be Mr Hain’s Labour Party, which gained 65 per cent of the Welsh seats in the UK general election with only 36 per cent of the popular vote.

Indeed, given Mr Hain’s recent Damascean conversion to proportional representation during the general election campaign, perhaps he would like to suggest that all 60 Assembly seats are fought on this basis?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

WALES THE WINNER FROM LOW TAX PLEDGE?

The key taxation policy in the Queen’s speech is a promise for a ''significant increase'' in personal allowances for income tax in next month's Budget, with a long-term goal of taking the first £10,000 of an individual’s income out of tax.

What effect would this have in Wales?

To find out, we would have to rely on the latest “Survey of Personal Incomes, HM Revenue and Customs”, which estimates the distribution of personal incomes across the regions of the UK.

This suggests that Wales will benefit the most of the four nations from this policy i.e. an additional 16.5 per cent of those working in Wales would no longer be paying tax on their incomes as compared to 15.9 per cent for Northern Ireland, and 15.2 per cent for Scotland and England.

This would mean that a quarter of a million additional people in Wales would no longer be liable for tax on their incomes.

Only two English regions would get a greater benefit than Wales from the implementation of this policy, namely Yorkshire and Humberside and the North East of England, where an additional 17.2 per cent of the population of each region would now pay no taxes. The regions that receive the least benefit from this policy in proportionate terms are the South East of England and London.

More importantly, if this tax cut is applied across the whole of the taxpaying population (utilising the data in the HMRC survey), this could mean a saving of around a billion pounds for Welsh taxpayers i.e. an additional billion pounds of spending power into the Welsh economy.

Most importantly, those benefiting the most are those with lower salaries - 20.4 per cent of the savings in tax are for those earning less than £10,000 in Wales as compared to 16.0 per cent for London and the South East of England.

Of course, there are those who will say that Wales is bound to do better than the other parts of the UK because we have lower salaries than the rest of the UK.

However, let's not forget that this is down to thirteen years of a Labour Government which has largely ignored the growing disparities in income between Wales and the rest of the UK.

For example, since 1997, Wales has experienced the lowest increase in average full time weekly earnings of any UK region.

Whilst UK workers have had an increase in their earnings of 58 per cent, it has only grown by 51 per cent in Wales. As a result, the gap between earnings in Wales and the rest of the UK has actually increased. In 1997, Welsh workers were earning approximately £1800 per year less than the average for the UK in 1997 but by 2009, this gap had grown to £4200 per year.

After only two weeks of a new government, we can at least take some comfort that this policy will start to address some of the inequalities in takehome pay amongst the lower paid.

Given today's negative headlines in the Daily Post, Western Mail and the BBC on the reduction in public expenditure, I wonder if anyone will be leading with this positive story tomorrow morning?

Monday, May 24, 2010

RWANDA REVISITED

One of the real political gaffes so far this year was when Peter Hain compared Wales' economy to that of Rwanda, stating that Wales was a wealthy country in comparison to the African nation, one of the poorest countries on the continent.

As he said back in February,

"Do you not agree, that compared with Rwanda and most countries in the rest of the world - most countries in the rest of the world is the point I was making if you'd not chosen to take that quote out of context - that Wales is indeed still a wealthy country?"

That is why I read a recent article from Harvard Business Review with a slightly ironic smile on my face.

Written by Daniel Isenberg, a Professor at Babson College in Massachusetts (the leading entrepreneurship college in the World), it makes an interesting observation about how the Rwandan economy has developed rapidly in recent times:

“In the latest Ease of Doing Business ranking from the World Bank, one country made a spectacular leap—from 143rd on the list to 67th. It was Rwanda, whose population and institutions had been decimated by genocide in the 1990s.

On the World Bank list, Rwanda catapulted out of the neighborhood of Haiti, Liberia, and the West Bank and Gaza, and sailed past Italy, the Czech Republic, Turkey, and Poland. On one subindex in the study, the ease of opening a new business, Rwanda ranked 11th worldwide.

“You can see and even smell the signs of Rwanda’s business revolution at Costco, one of the retail world’s most demanding trade customers, where pungent coffee grown by the nation’s small farmer-entrepreneurs is stocked on the shelves. And in Rwanda itself the evidence is dramatic—per capita GDP has almost quadrupled since 1995".

A SAVING OF £1.20 IN EVERY £100

After being given the frontpage by the Western Mail today to warn of ‘savage cuts’ to frontline services, it would seem that Peter Hain was wrong yet again.

According to the Treasury, the Welsh Assembly Government will have to find £162.5 million of savings during the next financial year.

This amounts to 2.6 per cent of the £6.2 billion expenditure reduction across all UK Government departments and is considerably below the £220-£300 million of cuts suggested by both Labour and Plaid in the aftermath of the general election.

No-one is ever happy at reductions in spending but as was pointed out over the weekend, this is solely a result of the last Labour Government running up an ‘official’ debt of nearly £900 billion pounds.

Certainly, these savings can be made without affecting frontline services in health and education.

For example, the total savings necessary are equivalent to a 12 per cent saving in the administration column of WAG’s education budget, as pointed out last week.

Indeed, if applied across the whole of the Assembly, this could probably mean that the savings could be made by a reduction in administration of around four per cent this year.

Alternatively, WAG could look to delay some of the ten projects given a £120 million grants package from the Welsh Assembly Government last October. Certainly, the funding for the Children’s Hospital should go ahead but providing a new students union at Bangor University hardly seems a priority to me, especially if it can be built in a couple of years time when the economy is recovering.

There are, as pointed out last week, also better ways in which WAG could begin to procure more locally, with a potential to save tens of millions of pounds whilst protecting local jobs.

Of course, the decision on where to reduce expenditure is up to the Labour-Plaid coalition not the UK Government, but I believe that there can be reductions in expenditure made without hitting frontline services.

Essentially, this reduction in WAG’s budget means that for every £100 currently spent by the Welsh Assembly Government, it will have to save £1.20 over the next ten months

This is something that tens of thousands of families and businesses across Wales have had to do during the last two years as a result of the recession.

If they have been able to do it, then surely WAG could, and should, be able do the same.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

THE REALITY OF NATIONAL DEBT

With the new UK Coalition government setting out its manifesto for the next five years, many political commentators seem to have conveniently forgotten the financial mess left by Labour after thirteen years in power.

According to official statistics, the UK’s total public sector net debt climbed in April to a new high of £893 billion, or 62.1 per cent of GDP, from £755 billion in April last year.

In other words, the money borrowed by the UK government in the last twelve months alone went up by SIX times the annual budget of the Welsh Assembly Government.

This current official national debt is equivalent to £13,000 for every man woman and child in the country.

However, others have argued that the ‘official’ national debt is not the real situation and hides other major problems, including public pension liabilities (£1200 billion), PFI borrowing (£130 billion) and Network Rail (£22 billion).

This could mean that the real public debt could be as much as £1.8 trillion – over £25,000 for every person in this country.

That is the scale of the economic tsunami facing this nation, a fact that seems to have been conveniently forgotten amongst the froth that makes up the commentariat following the release of the coalition manifesto.

More importantly, it is a tsunami that has been generated due to the Labour Party's economic policies during the last thirteen years.

The Conservative-Liberal coalition should, every day, remind the people of this country of that fact as they try and deal with this poisonous legacy over the next five years.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

PROACT REVISITED

According to the Welsh Assembly Government,

Proact provides training for employees who are on short time working, and helps companies retain skilled staff who may otherwise be made redundant. It is only available to businesses which have introduced short time working and face the threat of redundancies”.

If “threat of redundancy” is the key measure for triggering ProAct support, then surely the majority of companies would have been required, by law, to notify the Redundancy Payments Service of a proposal to dismiss 20 or more employees as redundant at one establishment within a period of 90 days or less.

The important term here is that the term "proposing to dismiss" does not mean that an employer has to have formulated definite plans for redundancies.

Even where an employer is considering two options (which would be the case when considering Pro-Act), and only one of which involves redundancies, then the obligation to consult still applies. Consultation commences once the employer has adopted a specific proposal involving redundancies. It is not enough to wait until the proposals reach the stage where they could be implemented.

Therefore, I would assume that every company which has more than 20 employees and which was applying for ProAct would have had to have triggered this consultation process before applying for the grant and that would be a matter of public record.

With ministers continuing to make statements such as "through ProAct alone we have helped more than 10,000 people gain new skills and retain their jobs", is WAG now happy to show us clear evidence that most of the jobs it has allegedly saved via this scheme were under threat of redundancy?

ProAct has clearly been a great tool for upskilling employees during the recession. However, politicians need to be careful when they claim that the scheme has “saved” all of the 10,000 employees supported during the scheme from redundancy during the recession, especially if it can be proven otherwise.

I cannot find any evidence that any of the companies publicised as receiving Pro-Act have previously made a press releases stating that jobs were under threat of redundancy prior to receipt of funding. Indeed, Corus - the largest recipient of ProAct funding - made it clear when receiving over £1.1. million of taxpayers funding that "it was not planning to make any further redundancies".

Given that ProAct is the only major tool utilised by WAG during the recession to support businesses, it would be enormously embarrassing to find that the vast majority of workers supported weren't under threat of redundancy after all, and businesses have used this to merely reskill and retrain their employees.

Perhaps one of the journalists who read this blog would like to find out how many firms did actually trigger redundancy consultation prior to receiving ProAct support and, as a result, how many jobs were genuinely 'saved' by this scheme?

I would guess that the total will be very different to that currently being quoted by politicians.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

CUTTING THE DEFICIT - PART 3

Following Monday's entry on how better procurement could help cut the deficit, I have just picked up on another report in the Guardian which also suggests a similar approach.

The article "Food can help cut the fiscal deficit" suggests that sustainably increasing food production in the UK makes both financial and environmental sense and that the case for better procurement in the health sector can be equally applied to the schools budget.

As the authors note,

"In opposition, the Tories created an ambitious public sector procurement working party, chaired by Zac Goldsmith, now MP for Richmond Park. This had David Cameron's blessing. Public procurement, worth £2.2bn a year, can lead the way in linking better health standards for schools with UK production. The nutrient standards which began in 2008 for primary and 2009 in secondary and special schools need further nurturing.

A number of blocks to raising UK food production loom. First is the skills shortage. Try getting a pruner or grafter for an orchard. The UK can easily grow more of the vegetables and fruit, which nutritionists advise us to consume more of, yet only half of our veg and a 10th of our fruit consumption is grown here. This is folly but one pointing to a great opportunity. And look at the country of origin of catering staff. The food chain employs more than 3.2 million people. The last government's council of food policy advisers ended its second report on that note. Jobs, training and skills ought to be on the agenda of the new education secretary Michael Gove and business secretary Vince Cable, not just Caroline Spelman and Jim Paice at Defra .

The second block is vision. Ironically, the Labour government got there with its Food 2030 document, which was good in aspiration but silent on delivery mechanisms. Working out who needs to do what is the key priority. Getting the public and private sector to agree that sustainability ticks lots of boxes simultaneously: jobs, fiscal deficit, the environment and climate change."


Yet again, there seems to be ways to cut the UK deficit without affecting frontline services.

Hopefully, the new UK Government will adopt this radical approach and develop a cross-departmental approach to dealing with the deficit. And I am sure there are many other similar solutions to making government spending more efficient and effective whilst keeping the funding intact for frontline services.

Indeed, you have to wonder whether the culture of splurge and spending that seems to have infected the last UK Government since Gordon Brown took the brakes off in 2001 has led to a discouragement of any programme that would actually save money for the taxpayer.

Tax Law and the American Tax Flaw

No taxation with out representation. This is a wonderful and essential principle of the United States tax system. This principle is at the core of tax law, as well as its relation to government representation, and part of the foundation of the current governing system. Despite this founding principle deeply woven into the structure of America, there is a flaw.





The flaw is not in the no taxation with out representation the flaw comes in the form of a missing component to that same principle.





What is the American Flaw of Tax Law?




Equal representation with no consideration to taxation is what I claim to be The Great American Financial Flaw of Tax Law.



This principle is a silent, unspoken, and unconsidered principle of the US tax system. Ironically enough the principle was recognized as a flaw in our governing system and was fixed by the legislative branch by having both a House of Representatives and a Senate. We will come back to this point soon.



Providing representation with out any consideration to taxation is a problem because it leaves the majorities and minorities vulnerable and unprotected.



This, as mentioned before, was addressed and fixed in a like situation involving the legislative branch. The protection of both the majority, as well as the minority, of state representation replace "taxation".

The problem was that states with large populations wanted to have more say then states with lower populations. States with low populations wanted equal and fixed representation. Both sides had a valid point.

  • Larger states were vulnerable to unbalanced representation from smaller states in the senate representation system. This is because the there are only two senators elected per state with no consideration to the size of the state population.
  • Smaller states were vulnerable to a system purely based on population for the inverse principle of the senate system

The solution was simple and elegant; just create both.




The same considerations need to be given to taxation.



My argument is simple. If the government came up with tax laws that are fair and sustainable, but then a large like majority group of tax payers object and demand to pay less they can and will. See how below.

Those tax payers can vote in representation that agree to make the minority over pay to allow for a tax break to the majority. This imbalance can be sustained in our representation system because no matter who pays the taxes everyone is given representation.


Our founding fathers were so fixated on their problem with the British (collecting taxes but not giving political representation in return) that they overlooked the possibility of abuse coming from the other end of the spectrum.


Can this problem be fixed?


Related Articles

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How to Make Sure Your Tax Guy Knows Taxes

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CUTTING THE DEFICIT - PART 2

Has Leighton Andrews inadvertedly made the job of cutting the Welsh Assembly’s budget easier over the next couple of years?

His review of education spending within Wales, published yesterday, found that almost a third of expenditure in the sector was spent on administration.

Clearly, the aim of the review was to put the case for moving funding away from administration and towards frontline services.

Mr Andrews himself says that :

"The review is not about cuts in funding, but freeing up resources by changing the balance in funding between front line and support services."

Yet, by suggesting that cuts in administration can be made without directly affecting the current frontline provision in Wales, some would argue that he has helped to make the case that there are efficiency savings that can be made by reducing administration and bureaucracy.

Hardly the type of proposed cuts which, according to Betsan Powys, had "absolutely terrified" some Labour members in the Chamber yesterday.

It also begs a number of serious questions on the management of government funding within Wales?

For example if over a billion pounds is being spent on administration within education, what of the other departments within the Assembly Government?

Also, why has the Labour Party allowed such a situation to develop during the last decade? It can hardly blame anyone else for this situation?

More importantly, given Mr Andrews' forensic conclusions, shouldn’t the First Minister be ordering a similar review of expenditure to be undertaken within all other Assembly departments?

Indeed, given the new spirit of co-operation between Cardiff Bay and Westminster, perhaps the WAG civil servants who carried out the education review can be loaned to the new Government as they begin their review of government spending.

Monday, May 17, 2010

CALLING ALL GOGS

I received a text late last night telling me to get onto YouTube to hear Alicia Keys' new version of of her latest hit song, entitled "Empire State of North Wales".



I think we gogs have finally got our own 'anthem'.

p.s. The Druid has had a similar epiphany on hearing it, except my hiraeth did actually bring a tear to my eye and I can't wait to go back later this month.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

CUTTING THE DEFICIT - PART 1

One of the policies that was suggested by the Conservative Party during the election campaign was an “Honest Food Campaign” which, amongst other things, would ensure that local councils and NHS organisations would have to publish details of the food they buy so that people can see if meals served in schools and hospitals are locally sourced.

As regular readers of this blog will know, this is something I have been banging on about for years and I am glad that we finally have a government that is going to do more about getting the public sector to purchase food locally.

Of course, I fully expect that there will be those who will suggest that purchasing from local firms will be more expensive and may lead to problems with sourcing, although evidence from one NHS Trust in England suggests that hundreds of millions of pounds could actually be saved as a result of a more locally-based buying strategy.

Last week, it emerged that by cooking hospital food using fresh local ingredients rather than sourcing from abroad, catering managers at Nottingham City Hospital and the Queen's Medical Centre have already saved more than £6 million per year.

By working with a network of local farmers, their new “farm-to-plate” scheme has generated a million pounds for the local economy, a figure that is likely to double over the next year, and has saved a number of small businesses from closure.

In addition, their sensible approach to purchasing also has a direct environmental impact, especially as the food served within the hospitals travels a shorter distance to get there than the majority of patients.

As a result, it is estimated that the hospital is saving over 150,000 food miles per year which is not surprising given that a lamb chop produced in New Zealand travels around 10,500 miles to get here.

Therefore, encouraging people to buy local produce not only supports local businesses and communities but can help to save the environment by cutting down, drastically, on the amount of miles the food has to travel to get to its point of sale.

So not only is the taxpayer getting value for money and hospitals can implement cost savings without hitting frontline services, but the local agricultural sector is gaining direct benefit as well.

Clearly, there could be benefits across North Wales if we adopted a similar scheme for all public bodies based in the region.
For example, under the last government, the economic contribution of agriculture across North Wales declined by 67 per cent as compared to an overall UK decline of 7 per cent. In 1997, agriculture was producing £175 million for the North Wales economy but this had dropped to £57 million a decade later.

If local farmers are being starved of their market by the purchasing decisions of large buyers such as the public sector, then there is little wonder that their contribution to the economy has fallen so dramatically.

But why stop at food purchasing only?

Few would disagree that the public sector in Wales should, where possible, look to buy locally first, especially if it can save money in the long run.

At the very least, I would expect that every public body in Wales, including the Welsh Assembly Government, should be happy to publish full details of the amounts they spend on buying from local companies every year.

With an estimated £5 billion spent annually by the Welsh taxpayer, we need to ensure that not only is this money spent on supporting local jobs and businesses but that, through intelligent purchasing, we can also reduce public expenditure at a time of economic hardship.

Snoopy and Charlie Brown Sold Out - 175 Million Peanuts

Charles Schulz the creator of Peanuts and the lovable Charlie Brown and his dog Snoopy has managed to make waves across the branding and advertising world despite being dead.

Forgive the blunt language, I love the cartoon classic, I even contribute to the 2 billion a year in retail sales the trade mark and brand pump out on an annual basis (not for me my pops can not get enough of them {teachers}).







The brass tax of the deal boils down to the following:



  • The Charles Schulz Family and EW Scrips have sold the lovable bunch for 175 million dollars.
  • The Buyers of Peanuts is a firm known as Iconix Brand Group..Iconix Brand Group will only have a 80% share and the schulz family will keep a 20% stake plus some royalties.
  • The Iconix Brand Group is saying that they expect 75 million a year in royalties. This would thus seem like a pretty good deal. In three years they should actually profit from the deal.
  • The deal however gets better they are also getting Dilbert and Fancy Nancy in the deal. Not sure on all the details or implications but that can't hurt.


Well I can't say I am surprised by the news. Don't get me wrong two years ago I would have been flabbergasted but it seems that selling off quality Brand names is the trend. This is apparently a symptom of financial hardship and economic crisis.

If you are not familiar with the new trend deal making involving the selling of brands for reasonably cheap prices then you may want to read up on the Marvel Comics Sale to Disney. Another great one that was for sale but no one purchased was the DOW Jones Industrial Average. I still can't believe they were considering that though really the buyer would have lost out because the index was for sale not the name but how do you reverse brand something like that?

PLAID CYMRU AND THE GENERAL ELECTION

There seems to be a lot of soul searching by supporters of the “Party of Wales” at the moment, with some trying to spin the fact that the party made "significant gains" across Wales.

However, the reality is somewhat different to the political spin and it is worth examining what actually happened to Plaid Cymru when the country voted last week.

On May 6th, Plaid won three seats with only Arfon increasing its percentage share of the vote.

In Dwyfor Meirionydd, Elfyn Llwyd’s share of the vote went down by 6.4 per cent whilst Jonathan Edwards polled 10.2 per cent less than Adam Price in 2005.

However, it is outside of their three seats that they had the biggest disappointments of the night, failing in its key target seats of Ceredigion and Ynys Mon, and coming fourth in Aberconwy.

To be fair, Llanelli, with a fairer wind, could have been won on the night, but that was an outside shot given that resources had been poured into the other three target seats.

More embarrassingly for a party that now claims to be able to win a seat anywhere in Wales, Plaid Cymru were in 4th position in 24 seats, 5th position in two seats and 6th in Newport West behind UKIP and the BNP.

Deposits were lost by Plaid Cymru candidates in ten seats across Wales, including Alun and Deeside, Brecon and Radnorshire, Cardiff Central, Cardiff North, Cardiff South and Penarth, Monmouth, Swansea West, Blaenau Gwent, Newport East and Newport West.

Therefore, for some to claim that Plaid's poor showing was down to Ieuan Wyn Jones not appearing on the three Prime Ministerial debates is slightly far fetched, given the performance across individual constituencies.

If Plaid really believes that to be the only reason for its failure to make any advances on the night of the election, then the party is in deeper trouble than some of its supporters think.

It is worth noting that Plaid has some seriously impressive candidates for the future, including Heledd Fychan and Myfanwy Davies. Politics aside, one can only hope, for the future of a stronger legislature in Cardiff Bay that they both will be given a fair crack of the whip when it comes to allocating seats for the next Assembly election.

With less than twelve months to go before the next Assembly elections, the question is whether Plaid Cymru will recover sufficiently before May 2011.

More relevantly, as their main challenges in seats such as the Rhondda and Cynon Valley seem to be in seats where Labour currently hold the seat, will voters switch from one coalition partner to another?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

GROWING THE ECONOMY

In the week that we had only the second change of government in three decades, the economic challenge facing the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration was made stark when unemployment data showed that the number out of work in the UK had risen by 53,000 to 2.51 million, a level last seen in 1994.

In Wales, we now have 133,000 people who are officially unemployed, an increase of 57,000 since 2008.

So what is to be done to turn around this recession?

Not surprisingly, reducing the budget deficit is to be given priority, there seems to be very little detail in the agreement between the two parties on what the Government will do to promote growth within the economy, although there was plenty of potential policies on entrepreneurship, financing of businesses, innovation and the development of the green economy in both parties’ manifestos.

This may suggest that there is scope for further policy development, especially when many are asking what can be done to support job creation in this country, particularly within the private sector.

During the next month, the Western Mail will be launching the twelfth Wales Fast Growth 50 competition. The aim of the project, yet again, will be to identify those businesses that have demonstrated growth in sales and employment and have the greatest potential for further growth in the future.

Since launching the Fast Growth 50 in 1999 I have emphasised, time and time again, the need for policymakers to focus on supporting such companies if we are to grow the Welsh economy, a plea that has largely fallen on deaf ears within the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG).

Yet, a recent report suggests that fast growing entrepreneurial companies are those that have the greatest potential for job creation. A study released last week by Ernst and Young’s Item Club (hat-tip A Change of Personnel) concluded that it was vital that public policy is geared up to tap into the employment and GDP growth potential of the UK’s fastest growing companies.

The special report, “Entrepreneurs: powering job creation in the UK”, showed that fast growth businesses – those that start with a workforce of at least ten people and increased this by over 20 per cent per year for at least three years – created over 1.3 million jobs in the last economic upturn between 2005 and 2008.

Indeed, as the authors emphasise, whilst the case for increasing greater entrepreneurship in the economy in undeniable, there is a strong case for supporting those companies that have grown after several years of consolidation, and that are able to achieve the levels of sustained fast growth that disproportionately contributes to output and employment and ultimately the growth of the UK economy.

To a large extent, it will be a stable tax policy coupled with a more benign regulatory environment that will allow such companies to grow quickly as we move out of recession.

The commitment of the Conservatives, within their manifesto, to create the most competitive tax system amongst G20 nations within five years by cutting the rate of corporation tax and simplifying the tax system will be welcomed by all businesses.

However, that is just one step in the right direction.

If we are to encourage those small businesses with the highest potential to grow further, then funding must be made available to those mid-sized businesses to get the finance required for further expansion.

That is why it was encouraging to see the Liberal Democrat support for financial mechanisms such as Regional Stock Exchanges, which could be a route for high potential businesses to access equity funding critical for growth without the heavy regulatory requirements of a London listing.

Does the development of such policies at a UK level call into question the effect of devolved administration on the growth of the economy?

Given that there was a stark commitment from the Conservative Party to “increase the private sector’s share of the economy in all regions of the country, especially outside London and the South East”, will it only be policies from Westminster, rather than Cardiff Bay, that will really begin to make the difference to the Welsh economy?

I sincerely hope not, as I am a strong believer that devolution could, and should, lead to the development of more innovative local solutions that can help drive forward the Welsh economy. The problem is that there is little evidence of this happening on the ground, especially given the fact that Wales seems to have been hit hardest when it comes to job losses during the recent economic downturn, suggesting that many of the policies developed during the last decade were largely unsustainable.

Certainly, the case can be made that, during the last three years, there has been a clear policy vacuum when it comes to growing the business sector in Wales.

With the exception of ProAct, which has focused largely on supporting jobs within large companies, there seems to be have been little attention in supporting those businesses with the greatest growth potential, especially at a time when they needed that support.

Rather than targeting ways in which to grow the economy, our government has instead put its energies into developing a bureaucratic nightmare for businesses to access support.

Despite the warm words of politicians, any “economic renewal programme” will, unfortunately, not change the fundamental philosophy of business support in Wales where process comes before potential, form filling takes precedent over innovation, and avoidance of risk is the overwhelming mantra of policymakers.

Clearly, macroeconomic policies at a UK level will play a large part in securing the future recovery of Wales, but there could and should be a major role for WAG if it finally realises that helping the private sector to grow is not about the administration and bureaucracy of the business support process, but about releasing and realising the entrepreneurial potential of our growth businesses across Wales.

Friday, May 14, 2010

FOR WALES, READ SCOTLAND?

David Cameron made good his promise to visit Scotland within a week of becoming Prime Minister today and seems to have forged a good relationship with Alex Salmond.

According to Sky News,

“Cameron, clearly, came here on a charm offensive. Salmond welcomed his pledge to appear before the Scottish Parliament once a year, answering questions from MSPs, and for ministers from Edinburgh to be quizzed by MPs at Westminster"

So, whilst David Cameron is welcome in Scotland, the same cannot be true of Wales.

Back in 2009, it was reported that, for Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas,

“The prospect of a UK Prime Minister fielding questions in the Senedd’s debating chamber alarms him…not only does he believe it would result in constitutional confusion, he fears it would encourage the type of party political fire-fights for which Westminster is famed".

Such a critique is not limited to Plaid Cymru's senior politicians.

On Wednesday, in an article in the Western Mail, First Minister Carwyn Jones suggested that the new Prime Minister would not be welcome in the Senedd’s debating chamber.

“I don’t think that would be appropriate. He’s answerable to the House of Commons. He’s not answerable to the National Assembly…”

Sometimes, the petty tribalism of politics in Wales defies belief.

If Scottish MEPs are happy to have the Prime Minister appear before them in Edinburgh, then surely our leading politicians in the Assembly will not be so churlish as to refuse to extend the same courtesy when he visits Cardiff?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WALES

Given the expected hysterical outbursts from the usual quarters regarding Cheryl Gillan's appointment as Secretary of State for Wales, I was going to post a robust piece to burst some of the hypocritical bubbles that have emerged from those who should know better.

However, it would seem that one of the Dewis from the excellent Politics Cymru website has done the job for me and I hope he doesn't mind that I post his comment here.

"The appointment of an MP from an English constituency as Welsh Secretary does indeed lack the “sensitivity” Peter Hain refers to. But is there actually any more to it than that? In practice, does the fact Cheryl Gillan got the job over her 8 Welsh Tory colleagues or 3 Welsh Lib Dem colleagues make any difference?

Firstly, if one wanted to start an argument about Ms Gillan’s Welsh credentials they might start by pointing out that the fact she was born in Cardiff, has Welsh ancestry and has (apparently) sung the national anthem on the radio puts her in a far better position than her Conservative predecessors (and indeed Nairobi-born Peter Hain who was parachuted into the safe seat of Neath for a by-election in 1991). But I for one actually think this argument is largely irrelevant.

Cheryl Gillan will ultimately be judged on the job she will do not where she lives or where she comes from. What the Conservative party were really judged on in Wales in the 1980s and 1990s was record unemployment and little regard for Wales as a nation. Things have changed. The Conservative party has certainly changed – from a party that was vehemently against a Welsh Assembly in 1997 to a party at least divided on the issue (with, I think it’s safe to say, the majority of Tory AMs being largely in favour of devolving more powers).

So down to work for Cheryl Gillan then! I reckon there’ll be 2 jobs (entirely within her control) that will determine her success or failure:

1. Giving Wales a referendum on further devolution to the Welsh Assembly. Peter Hain has had this one in his in-tray for a couple of months now and there’s been little movement. Cheryl Gillan said she would get it done and if she gets the wheels in motion quickly, fulfilling her promise, there could be a referendum in the autumn (the successful passage of which does, to some extent, reduce the role of the SoS)

2. Relationship with the Assembly – a much tougher needle to thread! It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the two parties in Government in Westminster are the two parties in opposition in the Assembly – laying the foundations for a name-calling, buck-passing and fractious relationship. If the new Secretary of State can manoeuvre that minefield with any degree of success it will bode very well for her amongst her colleagues at the very least. I should point out that in our time around Cardiff Bay Cheryl Gillan has been a far more familiar face around the place than Peter Hain or Paul Murphy

Cheryl Gillan will also undoubtedly be judged on how successful the British government are in boosting the Welsh economy and tackling any number of other national issues so you really have to ask: what difference will the location of Ms Gillan’s constituency have? Probably not a lot."


I couldn't agree more.

Update: David Jones has been announced as Minister in the Welsh Office

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

NEW GOVERNMENT'S POLICIES - THE EFFECT ON WALES?

Some of the policies of the new Conservative-Liberal coalition government have been broadly outlined in the press today.

Whilst waiting for further details, a number of these could have a significant impact on Wales

THE ECONOMY

Substantial rise in income tax thresholds for lowest paid from April 2011 – as Wales has a higher proportion of lower paid workers than any other region of the UK, this will have a major effect on take-home pay with hopefully knock on effect for the economy.

Departmental spending review this autumn – will the Welsh budget be ‘protected’ from any reductions in expenditure?

EDUCATION

Investment to reduce class sizes for children from poorer backgrounds – whilst this will be an Assembly decision on implementation, there will be pressure on the Labour-Plaid coalition to use the additional funding passed down for this purpose

New independent schools in state sector - "free schools" - to be set up – unlikely that the Labour-Plaid coalition will follow this lead but given the pressures to establish Welsh language schools across Wales, this could be a popular vote winner if included in the next manifesto for the Conservatives and/or Liberal Democrats in 2011

POLITICAL REFORM

Referendum of devolution of further powers to Welsh Assembly – this will silence those critics who have believed that a Conservative led administration would never do this

Cut in number of MPs and equal size constituencies – this will probably reduce the number of Welsh MPs to 30 if implemented by the next election, especially given the likely further transfer of powers to Wales

Review of Scottish MPs voting on England-only legislation – I assume this will apply to Welsh MPs as well in areas of devolved responsibility.

HEALTH

NHS spending to rise in real terms every year of the Parliament – as 40 per cent of WAG’s budget goes on health, this will mean an increase of around £190 million in April 2011 in this area of the Welsh budget

ENVIRONMENT

New nuclear power plants (Lib Dems able to abstain on issue) – Good news for Anglesey if this development is passed (and Labour unlikely to vote against this)

High-speed rail network to be built – the timing of the link to Cardiff could be accelerated under this option

Increased target for share of energy from renewable sources – Wales could be at the forefront of this development if WAG manages to get the business department to focus some of these developments in Wales.

All in all, there is potentially some good news for Wales in this initial list of policies but the devil, as they say, is in the detail, so more comment soon.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

DAVID CAMERON - PRIME MINISTER

So there we have it.

David Cameron is Prime Minister after several days of detailed negotiations between the two major parties that actually gained votes during the general election last Thursday.

Any other outcome, despite the political punditry, would have been a travesty of the overall result, regardless of the fact that not one party gained an overall majority.

I wouldn't say that some of my best friends are Liberal Democrats but a number of their policies on low taxation and civil liberties would be on my list of urgent matters for this country to deal with immediately if we are to mend a broken economy and a broken society.

Could this new government end up being the most radical and progressive of recent years?

I suppose it depends what you define as progressive but David Cameron's political instincts are ones that could, and should, make a real and positive difference to this country's future. It certainly will be more progressive than the last Labour government.

Whilst there is this impression amongst the press that the Conservative Party has not changed during the last thirteen years I, and many others, know differently and I believe that this new government will surprise many people during the next four years.

p.s. There is one additional delight this evening. Hopefully, no-one in Wales will have to listen to Peter Hain's pious pontifications for a very long time. Thank the Lord.

Monday, May 10, 2010

ENTERPRISE AMONGST YOUNG PEOPLE COULD LEAD TO ECONOMIC SUCCESS

Last week, I was honoured to be able to host the Young Enterprise North Wales finals at Venue Cymru in Llandudno.

Young Enterprise is a national programme within schools that aims to inspire young people through enterprise, with students setting up and running their own real company for a year.

The winners of the North Wales competition go on to represent the region in the Welsh finals in Cardiff later this year.

It was a marvellous experience to meet such a group of energised and enterprising young people who had developed new business ideas and, more importantly, had created a profitable business in the space of less than a year.

Of course, many will say that entrepreneurship is something that you are born with and that it cannot be taught to anyone, but enterprise education is more than about just starting a business.

Done properly, enterprise education can provide young people with new career choices and helps to change their mindset towards staring and even working within small businesses.

It teaches them to recognise and implement good ideas and generate new opportunities, as well as assisting them in goal setting and future planning.

Young Enterprise is a successful example of this type of intervention because it helps with personal development, self-esteem and developing enhancing communication, interpersonal relationship, marketing and interviewing skills.

Through becoming involved in their own business and “learning by doing”, entrepreneurship students can understand how to respond to challenges, crises, and adversity in a flexible and opportunistic manner.

More importantly, it works but, believe it or not, gets little support from the Welsh Assembly Government, which may not be a bad thing in itself as it is not constrained by targets and focuses simply on providing the enterprise experience for its young participants

Programmes such as Young Enterprise are critical because academic research demonstrates that young people aged between 18 and 24 are the least likely of any age group to be starting a business. This is despite the fact that they are those most likely to feel that the population views entrepreneurship as a good career choice and that being an entrepreneur gives an individual a high status in society.

The key problem seems to be that of confidence in their own abilities, with a far lower proportion of young people believing they possess the skills to start a new business successfully. That is why programmes such as Young Enterprise are critically important in that they give school pupils the opportunity to learn such skills by starting and managing their own business.

Not surprisingly, academics have found that enterprise education has a positive influence, not only on motivation but on the propensity to start and manage a new business.

Most importantly, enterprise education such as Young Enterprise not only prepares prospective entrepreneurs for the challenges they will face in running a business, it also increases overall awareness of entrepreneurship across the population of school children, thereby widening the pool of future entrepreneurs.

And we need more young people to consider entrepreneurship in the near future.

With the latest statistics showing that there are now 929,000 young people out of work in the UK, we need to explore all avenues to ensure that the vast majority of this group becomes economically active, otherwise we could be left with a lost generation of talent within the country.

Enterprise education, if utilised properly, could be part of that solution, especially as it has become generally accepted that it will be entrepreneurs and new businesses that will be the driving force behind the growth out of recession.

As Mike Moritz, one of the most influential business exports Wales has ever produced, said in my interview with him back in March, if we nurture, develop and attract young talent within this country and surely as day follows night, then that talent will create the industries of the future.

That is the real challenge for those policymakers both in Westminster and Cardiff bay over the next two years.