Friday, 30 December 2011

Squeezed: the connection between Ynys Môn farm incomes and wind turbines

This post is intended as a short addition to my last post, a critique Ynys Môn's Energy Island strategy. In it I mentioned that a squeeze in farm profitability was pushing farmers towards various farm diversification schemes, including — controversially — the erection of wind turbines. Figures just released by Aberystwyth University's annual Farm Business Wales Survey show just how steeply farm incomes (with the exception of dairy, of which there is relatively little on Ynys Môn) have dropped over the past 12 months:

"Upland cattle and sheep farms recorded a decrease in the value of outputs of almost 1 per cent between 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, while inputs rose by 7 per cent – resulting in an income decrease of 18 per cent. 
"The value of outputs on lowland cattle and sheep farms in the identical sample rose by 3 per cent, while inputs increased by just over 12 per cent, leading to a similar 18 per cent fall back."

After a difficult decade including the Foot and Mouth disaster and continued government dithering over tackling Bovine TB, and now with such a considerable reduction in farm profitability due to the rising outgoing costs of feed and fertiliser, there is little wonder that additional income from the currently massively over-generous Feed In Tarifs are becoming so attractive.

The pressure on farmers is unlikely to ease up anytime soon. The Eurozone crisis adds huge amounts of uncertainty as both livestock prices and CAP payments are very sensitive to the Sterling-Euro exchange rate. CAP reform will see income support payments reduced whilst also requiring farmers to be be "greener", meaning they will need to protect "habitat" and take land out of production further squeezing income. Furthermore farmers in Less Favoured Areas (LFAs; roughly half of Ynys Môn is classified as LFA) will no longer receive higher levels of support. The list goes on and on.

Accordingly, with all this going on and its controversial side-effects on our landscape, it is both ironic and inexplicable that the Welsh Government decided to do away with a Rural Affairs Minister at cabinet level and downgrade and split its rural affairs department.

For those interested, the relevant sections comparing upland and lowland farm incomes over the past twelve months are below. Farm Survey

Thursday, 22 December 2011

An ill wind blowing across Ynys Môn

Wind Turbine locations on Ynys Môn
(source: AAWT)

Considering that Ynys Môn has been promoting itself as an 'Energy Island' for a few years now (and will soon become an Welsh Government sponsored Energy Enterprise Zone), the council itself seems remarkably ill-prepared and lacking in direction when it comes to any forms of energy other than Nuclear.

For example, the proposed 25,000 tonne Anaerobic Digestion plant in Mona has been criticised as being far, far too large. With only 35,000 tonnes of appropriate biodegradable industrial and abattoir waste in the whole of North Wales, the plant would need to ship in source materials from as far away as Mid Wales according to Friends of the Earth (a body which normally supports AD plants!). The Welsh Government enshrined a 'Proximity Principle' in TAN21, which states that waste should be treated or disposed of as near to the source of origin as possible. What therefore is the logic of placing an AD plant of that size in Mona? Indeed, in what appears to be a tacit acceptance of this fact, the developer has since hired several hundred acres of land in Valley to grow silage to feed the plant when it is approved. Not only is this pushing up the price of silage on the Island for farmers who need it to feed livestock, the application was originally given planning approval on the grounds that it would divert waste from landfill; now we learn that he is going to have to grow a crop to feed it. Thats the equivalent of erecting a wind turbine and then placing a enormous electric fan opposite to blow air at it!

The Biomass Plant proposed on the Peboc site in Llangefni is a remarkably similar story. It will apparently burn up to 180,000 tonnes of "locally sourced" timber every year. Seen any huge forests around Ynys Môn lately? Me neither. Instead the developer will be shipping it from Scotland and, amazingly, Nova Scotia in Canada. What's green about that?

Considering where the source materials are coming from, neither of these plants seem to have any logical reason whatsoever to be located on Ynys Môn — other than because Anglesey is promoting itself as an Energy Island and is possibly being thought of as a soft touch by grant-seeking developers. Furthermore the benefits of having them here are also not entirely clear — especially when you consider how few local jobs they will produce. For example, the developer of the Peboc biomass plant claims it will create 250 temporary jobs and 150 permanent jobs. Curiously their own Transportation Assessment mentions that the plant will only require 25-30 staff... furthermore there is no analysis of what effect building a massive incinerator (because that's what a 'biomass plant' actually is) will have on present and future employment in Llangefni — let alone on the tourism industry. What will be the net effect on jobs?

Then we come to the recent proliferation of planning applications for Wind Turbines on the Island. Personally I am yet to be convinced of their effectiveness as a means of reducing carbon emissions — especially when they anyway require fossil-fuel plants running on permanent standby to produce energy when the wind doesn't blow.

More than any other 'energy' development on Ynys Môn, wind turbines have created the largest popular opposition movement in the shape of Anglesey Against Wind Turbines. Around 200 people attended a stormy Penmynnydd Community Council meeting last week to object to an application to build some 100m-tall wind turbines in the area. Significant numbers also attended a similar meeting of the Llanfair-Mathafarn-Eithaf community council this week when a similar application was discussed in Brynteg. CAP reform and the 'greening' agenda will see farmer's incomes squeezed so they legitimately need to diversify and find other revenue streams, but it is difficult to argue that 100m-tall turbines will not be a massive blot on the landscape, are hugely unwelcome to those who live near them, and could potentially effect the wider tourism industry.

The Council has now announced a public consultation into Supplementary Planning Guidelines governing Onshore Wind Energy applications — but it seems a little late in day considering there are currently already over 50 planning applications for turbines on the Island, each of them being considered independently of the rest. It seems to me that the Council needs a clear strategy for wind farms. Like Conwy, which only allows extremely tall turbines to be erected in one defined area and has imposed a fairly low height restriction on them elsewhere, Anglesey council needs to do some serious thinking rather than letting them proliferate throughout the island on an ad-hoc case-by-case basis.

So in my view, apart from the preparations for Wylfa B, the council has got itself into a real mess with its Energy Island 'strategy'. With the exception of the underwater turbines off the Skerries, the developments being proposed so far:

  • deliver no discernible green benefits considering the long distances the source materials need to travel
  • ultimately provide relatively few low-skilled, manual jobs without a proper assessment of the overall net effect on jobs
  • require the shipping into Anglesey of large amounts of unpleasant waste (the Peboc biomass plant alone estimates 78 daily deliveries of wood; 5 daily deliveries of tallow and vegetable oil, and 88 trips related to the shipping of pellets. Thats a helluva lot of HGVs everyday)
  • do not lead to Ynys Môn becoming a 'Centre of Excellence' in any of these technologies
  • potentially have a dubious effect on tourism and other businesses

So what is the point being an 'Energy Island' if we don't gain anything from it? Surely the vision behind the Energy Island strategy originally was to promote Anglesey as a Centre of Excellence in energy technology, not a dumping ground for dubious, grant-seeking, "dirty" developments. The same is true of wind turbines: they are not a new technology, the community as a whole does not benefit from them, and we can't compete with the Danes or Germans in the development and manufacturing of them as they already have the expertise, experience and economies of scale.

Ynys Môn needs to be looking to utilising its unique Island resources and promoting renewable technologies in their infancy — as with the Skerries underwater turbines. In other words we need some vison, better strategic long-term thinking, and higher aspirations.

UPDATE: You can now register your objection to the Peboc biomass plant here.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Commissioners: agreeing 5% council tax hike crucial for returning democratic control to Ynys Môn

The Anglesey Commissioners roadmap to recovery

The Anglesey Commissioners released their second quarterly report to the Minister yesterday, covering the period July to September this year. Below are the key passages (emphasis mine):

4.1 During the Quarter, whilst Commissioners have continued to exercise the responsibilities previously reserved to the Executive, they have followed a process of gradual re-engagement of the Shadow Executive and Elected Members in the work of the Council. Relationships with Commissioners are good, and Elected Members have adopted a much more positive approach. 
4.2 Commissioners have involved Shadow Portfolio Holders in regular meetings with Officers and this has been received well, allowing constructive relationships to develop and providing mentoring for Officers and Executive Members. In this way the Executive has been re-engaged to work alongside Commissioners to observe the way in which they are operating. 
4.3 Members have also contributed effectively to building a consensus around the Corporate Plan and Budget Planning process. [...]
4.5 The experience to date is that the majority of Councillors have been supportive and have demonstrated a willingness to work with Commissioners and Officers to put the Council on a more business like footing for the future. Re- engagement will progress during Quarter 3 in order to test sustainability. 
6.0 The issues to be addressed during the next Quarter (September to December) and the longer term prospects up to May 2012 and Beyond 
6.2 The milestones for Quarter 3 will be to:- 
  • Prepare the budget strategy for 2012/2013;
  • Agree the strengthened corporate management arrangements; Establish the Improvement Board and implement the Performance
  • Management Framework;
  • Make substantial progress to improve poor performing services; Progress citizen engagement;
  • Make further progress in economic renewal;
  • Strengthen the Constitution;
  • Establish constructive relationships with Regulators;
  • Develop an agreed plan to develop the Corporate Centre; Implement risk reporting for the Council.
7.2 At this stage there are positive signs that the improvement process has commenced, but there is still a great deal of work to be done to deliver against the recommendations of inspection reports, as well as further developing the fundamental strategic issues.
7.3 The most urgent issues have been addressed and a stable platform for improvement has been created. However, the limited capacity of the corporate centre has meant that some important developments have taken longer than the Commissioners consider ideal and action has been taken to secure additional capacity. 
7.5 The Commissioners are satisfied that their 10 Key Themes will address the concerns of regulators and the perceived weaknesses identified by Commissioners, in order to secure improved services to the people of Anglesey. It is too early to say when sustainability will be achieved, but Commissioners will continue to work with Officers and Elected Members in developing their capacity and capability to resume control of the Council. 
7.6 Progress against the tasks agreed for Quarter 3 will be an indicator of when the Council is likely to be ready to return to democratic control. 
59.0 It is too early to say when sustainability will be achieved, but Commissioners will continue to work with Officers and Elected Members in developing their capacity and capability to resume control of the Council. Progress with the tasks agreed for Quarter 3 will be an indicator of whether the Council is likely to be ready to return to democratic control in the Spring of 2012.
For me two key points come out of this document:

1. There are continued references throughout the report to the weakness of the 'corporate centre' and how this has delayed improvements. The report enlarges on this point in the following section.
"The limited capacity of the corporate centre has been a factor in delaying progress in key areas. There have been continuing issues in ICT and HR and the need to make a number of interim appointments in Finance at short notice have delayed important milestones The improvement process in Children‟s Services was slowed down by the need to make interim appointments and to obtain external advice. These risks have been mitigated to some extent by the excellent quality of those inputs but this highlights the need to create a staffing structure for the future which will attract suitably skilled employees, able to met the challenges of the improvement agenda."
So this is not a problem with the councillors but with weaknesses in the permanent corporate functions themselves. Which begs the question what on earth was achieved by the two whole years of Welsh Government intervention in Ynys Môn prior to the introduction of the Commissioners — including the highest paid civil servant in Wales, David Bowles, and a whole 'Recovery Board' staffed by the Great and the Good?

2. The Commissioners will not make a recommendation as to whether the improvements are sustainable and the council is ready to return to democratic control until the end of the third quarter (i.e. after the period from October - December 2011). Furthermore, the decision will be based on councillors accepting without too much fuss the Commissioners recommended budget for 2012/13 which will controversially see council tax on Ynys Môn increasing by 5% — very likely the highest percentage rise in Wales. By witholding their decision until after December (and by making it contingent on Councillors agreeing to large council tax rises) the Commissioners seem to be purposely making a May 2012 election extremely unlikely. The lack of certainty means that with just five months until the local government polling day in May (remember Carl Sargeant hasn't yet said that the election on Ynys Môn will definitely be postponed), possible candidates aren't able to prepare properly. Indeed just this week I received an email from a someone who wants to stand as an Independent candidate at the next election. She said:
"...uncertainty about the date would make it more difficult for new people who did not have party political back-up, as they will need to start their campaigns early but they could not be certain as to the area they needed to canvass, and could not make plans to ensure that they timed their door-to-door campaign to best effect. As there are currently few women elected to the Council that would also discriminate against women being elected for the next term."
So, even if the Commissioners do decide in January that the council can be returned to democratic control, it seems likely that the very fact there will be so little time between that point and the official Wales local election date in May, it will be used as an excuse to force a very unsatisfactory postponement. 

The full report and annex are attached below.
Quarter 2 Report to Minister Appendix 3 Corporate Governance Priorities (Q2 Position)

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Schism: Ieuan Wyn Jones and Ynys Môn's Plaid Councillors

IWJ: deliberately avoiding
the question
As reported in yesterday's Daily Post, Ieuan Wyn Jones has sought to completely sidestep the question of the whether he supports the postponement of local elections in Ynys Môn or not. This is what he is quoted as saying:

"Plaid Cymru’s Constituency Committee for Ynys Môn is carefully considering the plans for local government electoral changes on Anglesey. The document presented by the Boundary Commission needs to be thoroughly evaluated in view of the far-reaching proposals contained within it.
"We will not give a knee-jerk reaction like some other parties but give the proposals the consideration they deserve. We will be presenting our response before the deadline early in the New Year."

There is no question that the proposed boundary changes need to be considered carefully and in detail — nobody disputes that. However the issue is why is Ynys Môn only being given four weeks (over the Christmas period too) to consult on them whereas the rest of Wales will have four years? If Ieuan Wyn Jones considers that they should not be responded to in a "knee-jerk" manner and, indeed, that they will lead to "far-reaching" changes then why would he accept that we are only being given four weeks to consult on them? 

The fact remains that these boundary changes are being rushed through by the Minster in order to facilitate a postponed election in 2013 under new electoral arrangements designed purposefully to eliminate Independent councillors. This is not how proper, sustainable, organic "democratic renewal" should be brought about. Even Plaid Cymru's Ynys Môn councillors — those who notionally will gain the most from the proposed changes — have taken a principled stand against them. Furthermore Plaid Cymru's former Party Chair, John Dixon, has said unequivocally that he thinks the proposals amount to "rigging the electoral system" and has spoke out against them. Yet it seems clear from Ieuan Wyn Jones' side-stepping response to the Daily Post that he is prepared support a postponement and in so doing is ignoring both his own local Plaid Cymru councillors, and the best interests of Ynys Môn, in favour or securing narrow party advantage at a rigged and postponed local election in 2013.

In the meantime, certain commentators on this blog and elsewhere continue to support the proposed boundary changes and delayed elections on Ynys Môn. Below are the reasons why I feel they are wrong:

  • The proposed reduction down to 30 councillors leaves too few for the council to operate effectively. Although a smaller reduction in numbers is warranted, a council of just 30 members will require that, on top of their duties to constituents, virtually all of them will need to take executive and portfolio positions, staff the various committees, attend to statutory obligations on police and fire associations, etc. This will mean in the short-term that being a councillor will become a full-time job; and in the long-term it will simply pave the way for rolling Anglesey up into Greater Gwynedd — something that is not in the best interests of Ynys Môn residents.
  • For the above reason, younger people with jobs, mothers with small children etc. will not find it possible time-wise to fulfil their obligations as councillors and will thus be discouraged from standing for election. Reducing the amount of people able to stand for election is not conducive to 'democratic renewal'.
  • A reduction down to just 11 new multi-member 'super-wards', spanning both urban and rural areas, could mean that all the elected members in one ward could come from just one small part of the ward (likely the urban parts) and thus be unfamiliar with the rest of their ward. This is not in the best interests of constituents.
  • Similarly, these larger wards make it impossible for Independent councillors without Party backing to get elected. For example, the proposed ward of Central Anglesey has 5,829 electors and therefore approximately up to 3,000 households. Independent members will have no chance to canvass all of these households and sending out a leaflet would could cost upwards of £2,000 in printing and postage charges. Again reducing the pool of people able to stand for election is not conducive to 'democratic renewal'.
  • As already discussed, why are these proposals being rushed through? The rest of Wales will get four years to consult on their boundary changes, Ynys Môn is getting just four weeks (over the Xmas period too thus effectively making it shorter). 
  • Postponed elections will not allow issues like next year's council tax rises, cuts to services etc to be discussed and debated, nor will it allow all the Parties and candidates to set out their policy stalls in an election.
  • Finally, as the WLGA says, all Welsh counties should be treated equally. The Minister is attempting to introduce an electoral system unique in Wales to achieve his own desired election result. That is wrong.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Anglesey's "il Sorpasso"

Back in 1987 there was much jubilation in Italy when, for the first time, the size of the Italian economy overtook that of the UK. The Italians nicknamed it "il Sorpasso" ('the surpass'). Unfortunately for them it didn't last long and the UK economy has now been consistently larger since the mid 1990s. However today marks Ynys Môn's own "il sorpasso" moment as it finally overtakes Gwent Valleys to become officially the second poorest region in Wales, and the third poorest in the UK. 

The 'il sorpasso' moment: Ynys Môn no longer bottom of this table.
Top five and bottom five GVA per head regions, 2009. Source: ONS

We know this from the latest regional GVA per head figures released by the Office for National Statistics this morning, and reproduced above. As it happens, it appears that our "il sorpasso" moment may have actually came and passed unnoticed in 2004 — historical GVA data revised in line with new EU standards which were also released by the ONS today show that Ynys Môn actually overtook Gwent Valleys back in 2004. The Telegraph has the full story.

Unlike Italy in 1987, these figures do not really provide much cause for celebration on Anglesey: being the third poorest region out of 133 sub-regions in the UK is not much of an improvement. But at least we are no longer last.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Decision time for Ieuan Wyn Jones

At an Extraordinary Meeting of Ynys Môn council this morning councillors unanimously agreed to resist both the proposed boundary changes and mooted postponement of next year's local elections on the Island. Significantly the two Labour councillors present, J Arwel Roberts and Raymond Jones, went against both Senedd colleague Carl Sargeant and their (absent) Labour leader on the Council, John Chorlton, in supporting the motion to reject the proposals.

Most importantly however for Carl Sargeant's chances of pushing his measure through the Senedd, Plaid Cymru's Ynys Môn Leader Bob Parry, and members of his group, also spoke passionately against the Welsh Government's proposals. Ieuan Wyn Jones told the Daily Post today in response to the news that both the Welsh Conservatives and Lib Dems will oppose the move, that he was "in discussions with Plaid councillors on Anglesey to consider a response". Now that his local councillors have clearly shown on which side they are on, will Ieuan Wyn Jones listen? And if so will he join the Welsh Conservatives and Lib-dems in blocking these proposals in the Senedd?

So, to help Ieuan Wyn Jones make up his mind, here is a ready reckoner of who is now for and against Carl Sargeant's proposals:


  • The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA)
  • The Welsh Conservative Party
  • The Welsh Liberal Democrats
  • All Independent councillors on Ynys Môn council
  • All Plaid Cymru councillors on Ynys Môn council
  • At least two of the five Labour councillors on Ynys Môn council
  • A clear majority of Ynys Môn's town and community councils
  • The former Plaid Cymru National Chair, John Dixon


  • Carl Sargeant
  • The Welsh Labour Party (presumably, though Labour members in the WLGA unanimously voted against the proposals, as did at least two Labour councillors on Ynys Môn)
  • Holyhead Town Council

Those who apparently can't make up their mind even three weeks after Carl Sargeant made his announcement:

  • Ieuan Wyn Jones

Monday, 12 December 2011

Crushed: Ynys Môn and Carl Sargeant

Carl Sargeant crushes local democracy on Ynys Môn

Welsh Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant, will be in Ynys Môn tomorrow to meet with his Commissioners — no doubt to "consult" with them on whether he should do what he has already decided to do anyway, i.e. postpone the Island's local elections for 12 months. This will allow him to ensure that when Ynys Môn residents are finally entrusted to once again exercise their right to vote — a full year after everyone else in Wales — they will vote within rushed through but entirely new boundaries and according to an electoral system which uniquely throughout Wales will be made up of only multi member wards. You see, Mr Sargeant does not like who Anglesey residents have been voting for in the past, therefore his solution for "democratic renewal" is to simply rig the electoral system on Ynys Môn so as to make it exponentially more difficult for those he doesn't like, the Independents, to get elected.

Some defend Mr Sargeant's questionable methods by arguing that it is a price worth paying to get rid of the "rot", forgetting that there are some hard-working, excellent Independent Councillors on one side and some awful Party-affiliated Councillors on the other. Unfortunately the new system will see the former punished and the latter prosper. Mr Sargeant's defenders also forget that the Island's political problems were exponentially exacerbated by the Welsh Government's previous attempt at intervention through the forced appointment of 'local government troubleshooter' David Bowles, who unfortunately did far more harm than good — indeed his highly-paid two year reign as Interim MD led directly to the appointment of the Commissioners themselves. Though to be fair to Mr Bowles at least he only said that the Commissioners should stay until 2012:

"I recommended commissioners should be appointed until elections in 2012, together with investment in democratic renewal."                                                                                     — David Bowles in March, 2011

Accordingly, the genius idea of pursuing "democratic renewal" through (a) postponing actual elections, and (b) reducing the pool of people who will find it possible to get elected is Mr Sargeant's alone. 

In the meantime, between now and when we are eventually allowed to vote again, too many important and irreversible decisions affecting everyone on Anglesey will be made by Commissioners with no democratic legitimacy or accountability. For example, successive administrations on the Island, mindful that Ynys Môn is the poorest region in the UK, have successfully managed to keep Anglesey's council tax amongst the lowest in Wales — now we discover that the Commissioners want to impose a 5% rise in our Council tax next year, quite likely the largest rise in all of Wales. Similarly, Anglesey residents will have no democratic say in what services will be cut next year, or on controversial plans to erect a rash of wind turbines across the Island, and so on and so on until May 2013.

Is this really a price worth paying in order to achieve a sham "democratic renewal" achieved through the dubious means of purposefully manipulating the Island's electoral system?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Explosive Wind Turbines

On the day that a Scottish windturbine exploded in spectacular fashion in today's gales, a reader writes:

I attended the public meeting held last night by Penmynydd and Star Community Council. Between 150-200 people attended, some were unable to squeeze into the hall. The Community Council Chair did a good job as almost to a man (and certainly every woman and child) was opposed to the plans being discussed for an industrial size wind turbine development in the community.  
About half the people were from the community and they spoke with passion about their worries about the noise and flicker that are known to cause health problems; and about the loss of jobs that will result from the destruction of the landscape that is the main attraction for tourists and visitors; and their fear that high quality businesess will not be attracted to come to the island when they can't offer skilled staff a good quality of life; and the worry that homeowners will not be able to sell their houses as no one will want to come here to live in the shadow of the turbines. 
Despite the strength of public feeling and genuine concerns, the Councillors voted 3 to 2 in favour of building the first of what could be many turbines - a 71 meter high turbine that will be seen for miles around.

Update: One Ynys Môn County Councillor comes out completely against the approval of any further wind turbines on the Island:
No to Wind Turbines

Monday, 5 December 2011

Commissioners behind closed doors. (Updated)

In the newly delivered December edition of Anglesey Council's "Môn News" propaganda sheet, in a section entitled "Anglesey's Commissioners — making good progress", one of their top three priorities is listed as:

"fully engaging with the people of Anglesey to reflect their views and priorities".

Furthermore, one of the Commissioners is then specifically quoted as saying:

"Improving the way we engage with people is vital. In time, we hope to see community engagement play a key role in the way Anglesey develops and provides future services".

Meanwhile, we discover from the published agenda of this Thursday's Full Council meeting that item 15, "Commissioners 2nd Quarterly Progress Report" will be made only after the "exclusion of the press and public".

"Community engagement" in action? "Democratic renewal"? Hmmmm.

UPDATE: The Council gets in touch to say:
"The draft Q2 progress report has been forwarded to the Minister for consideration and he will be meeting with Commissioners next week to discuss its contents.

Subject to the Minister's views, we anticipate that the report will be published on our website within the next fortnight.

Members will be provided with a verbal briefing on what is contained within the draft report during Full Council on Thursday.

The verbal briefing will take place in the closed session because the report is still in its draft form and has not been agreed with the Minister."
Which is all well and good. However I'm afraid that at a time when the Minister is both (a) directing the Local Government Boundaries Commission for Wales to exclusively introduce multi member wards throughout Ynys Môn with the sole aim of achieving a certain election result (i.e. the elimination of Independents), and (b) is "minded" to postpone Ynys Môn's local elections until 2013, things are beginning to appear more and more anti-democratic.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A curious form of 'Democratic Renewal' (updated)

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has come out against Carl Sargeant's proposed postponement of Ynys Môn's local elections in May next year. Despite the specific circumstances of the Welsh Government's intervention in Anglesey County Council, the 22 Welsh local authority leaders who attended the WLGA's Co-ordinating Committee last Friday felt it vital that ALL electors throughout Wales, without exception, should have the right to exercise their right to vote. The WLGA will be writing to the Minister accordingly.

Quite right too — it is a curious form of 'democratic renewal' which denies people the right to vote in a timely and normal manner.

UPDATE: Apparently even the Labour group within the WLGA voted against postponing the poll on Ynys Môn  — which is fairly substantial vote of no confidence in Carl Sargeant's actions from within his own Party.

UPDATE 2: The WLGA's letter to Carl Sargeant AM opposing the postponement of local elections on Ynys Môn:
WLGA letter to Carl Sargeant

Monday, 28 November 2011

The 2013 Ynys Môn Local Election results today

After some weekend number-crunching, here are my predictions for the 2013 local elections on Ynys Môn, assuming that the proposed new boundaries are accepted:

     Plaid Cymru:     11 seats
     Independents:     7 seats
     Labour:              6 seats
     Conservative:     5 seats
     Lib Dems:          1 seat

This would most probably result in a Plaid / Labour coalition, and the installation of Plaid's Bob Parry as Leader and Labour's John Chorlton as Deputy Leader.

Clearly the big winners would be Plaid Cymru, which would explain why Ieuan Wyn Jones promoted multi-member wards as the solution to Ynys Môn's local government problems during the Assembly election hustings. As far as I can see, Labour will not gain as many new seats as they suppose, and will in all probability only win two of the three seats on offer in the new 'Holy Island Port' super-ward.

A closer look at the new proposed boundaries throws up some interesting facts. Below is a map of the current electoral boundaries and the parties which hold them:

Anglesey's current local electoral map
Red: LAB, Green: PC, Blue: CON, Yellow: LD, Grey: IND
Click to enlarge

And this is a map of the new proposed boundaries overlaid on the above current map:

Yellow lines indicate the new proposed boundaries.
Number of Councillors returned by each new ward in brackets.
Click to enlarge

Although a number of current wards are cut into two, including Bodorgan, Llanfihangel Ysgeifiog, Llanfair-Yn-Neubwll and Pentraeth, only one of the current wards is to be split across three of the new wards: Bodffordd. Its almost as if the Boundary Commission was trying to ensure that somebody with a powerbase in Bodffordd could never get elected again...

Friday, 25 November 2011

An electoral enigma.

A little summary of Welsh Labour's position on various electoral issues:

AGAINST: reducing number of Welsh MPs from 40 to 30 in order to achieve a consistent MP to voter ratio of around 1:76,000 voters.

FOR: reducing number of Ynys Môn Councillors from 40 to 30 in order to achieve a consistent Councillor to voter ratio of around 1:1,750 voters.

AGAINST: any top-down changes to Wales's electoral system without the "agreement of Welsh people".

FOR: top-down changes to Ynys Môn's local government electoral system from single member wards to exclusively multi-member wards without the agreement of Ynys Môn residents.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Why local democracy should be restored in Ynys Môn sooner rather than later

After having already leaked over the weekend his intention to postpone the local elections in Ynys Môn to 2013, the Minister for Local Government Carl Sargeant now officially announces that he is "minded" to do so. His full statement is below.

Some have argued that this is no bad thing; the Commissioners are doing such a good job, they say, lets have another year of them.

I'm afraid I'm not so sure and would instinctively prefer to see local democracy restored on Ynys Môn as soon as is feasible. 

Why? Becasue although the Commissioners have undoubtedly brought about some improvements, there is one important area where they are clearly not making headway and that is in finding the savings mandated in the council's Affordable Priorities programme. Ynys Môn must find £10 million savings over four years, and the Affordable Priorities plan — pushed through by our own councillors before the introduction of Commissioners — was an entirely sensible programme to find £3 million in savings this year in a way which avoided cuts to popular services such as leisure centres, swimming pools, libraries and so on. We now know that the council is £1 million behind in finding these savings, which will almost certainly mean deeper cuts affecting popular services will need to be made next year. And now, seeing how the the local elections will be delayed until May 2013, the decisions on what to cut will be made by unelected Commissioners leaving Islanders with no democratic involvement in the process.

By contrast, were the local elections to proceed in Ynys Môn next May (or shortly thereafter), it would have presented the various candidates and parties the ideal opportunity to set out their stall with regards to what they would cut if elected, thus giving the electorate a powerful say in how the cuts are directed. As it stands, however, there will be no opportunity at all for the public to effectively engage until May 2013 and whatever cuts are made in the intrim will not only be deeper because the Commissioners have failed to deliver the necessary savings this year, but will also be decided upon solely by these same unelected 'technocrats' who are answerable to nobody.

(Tangentially, its instructive to learn that one of this year's largest overspends,  £344,000 in the Education budget reportedly relating to supply staff costs during the senseless dispute at Ysgol Goronwy Owen in Benllech, was another episode in which the Commissioners failed to cover themselves in glory as the sorry saga dragged on un-resolved for months.)
Sargeant statement on YM elections

Follow me on Twitter: @Y_Druid

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Anglesey's new electoral map? (Updated)

40 single member wards replaced with 30 multi-member wards, returning 30 councillors
Click to enlarge

The Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales has released their "further review" (after their first effort was scrapped by the Minister) into carving up Ynys Môn — this time into eleven multi-member wards returning a total of 30 councillors. An illustration of how this will change Anglesey's council election map is above. The details are below:

Detailed summary of the proposals
Click to enlarge

These proposals will lead to a reduction in the number of councillors from 40 to 30, resulting in a councillor to electorate ratio of 1:1,649 (up from the current 1:1,237). Considering that seven current councillors (20% of the total) were returned unopposed at the last local elections I am not against a reduction in numbers as this can only improve democracy on the Island, however I would note that a Local Authority of just 30 members would become very vulnerable to being rolled-up within a larger super-authority at some point in the future (e.g. Greater Gwynedd).

What does concern me greatly however is the fact that if these proposals are accepted in their entirety, then Ynys Môn will be the only Local Authority in Wales who's members will be entirely returned by multi-member wards. Why should this be so? Well, because in his direction to the LGBCW, the Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant specifically told them to do so:

Carl Sargeant's specific directions to the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales

The charitable explanation would be to suppose that Carl Sargeant believes that introducing multi-member wards might help shake certain incumbents out of what could be termed 'rotten boroughs'. The more cynical explanation is to note the eerie similarity between the above direction to the LGBCW for Anglesey, and Welsh Labour's proposals to replace the current arrangements for electing Assembly Members throughout Wales with 30 two-member (i.e. multi-member) constituencies, with all AMs elected first-past-the-post. The Electoral Reform Society had this to say today of those proposals:

...under the system proposed by Labour, the party would have won 11 more seats - 41 instead of 30, giving Labour 70% of the Senedd on 42% of the vote.
 Steve Brooks, Wales director of the Electoral Reform Society, said: "While this may be good news for aspiring Labour candidates, it's bad news for Welsh voters.
  "Two member first-fast-the-post would rob thousands of voters of a choice and voice." 
He said the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats would have less than a third of seats, despite getting more than half the votes in May.
"That would be damaging for democracy and damaging for devolution"

Anyway, the full report from the Local Government Boundary Commission is below. Members of the public have up until January 3rd to have their say, and can do so by emailing:

UPDATE: John Dixon, respected former Chair of Plaid Cymru, has just written the following regarding Carl Sargeant's decision to force an entirely new and different electoral system on just Ynys Môn:

"But is it right to have a different approach in one council area from that being implemente deverywhere else, where the main reason for that difference appears to be to facilitate the election of different people? There is no doubt in my mind that the Minister has acted in accordance with the powers conferred upon him, because those powers don’t seem to require that he provides any reason or argument for adopting a different approach in one area, or place any constraints on what considerations he might apply.
And that’s where my concern lies.  There is a dangerous precedent here, under which the Minister has directly interfered in the work of the boundary commission to instruct them to take a particular approach in Ynys Môn,largely because he doesn’t like the result of the elections there.  I don’t like them either – but I’m simply not convinced that rigging the electoral system is the right way to deal with that problem. "

Isle of Anglesey Further Draft Proposals e

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Local Democracy on Ynys Môn to be denied for another year

BBC Wales are reporting that next May's local elections to Anglesey Council may be postponed for a year. The BBC merely says it is a possibility, but the fact that someone has decided to sneakily leak the story to the media on a Sunday makes it fairly clear that this has actually been decided.

When the Commissioners were first sent into Ynys Môn back in March this year, the Local Government Minister, Carl Sergeant, floated the possibility that Anglesey wouldn't go to the polls until May 2013 (instead of May 2012 like all other Welsh Councils) in order to allow the Commissioners to complete their work and for new electoral boundaries to be put in place on Ynys Môn. However, since then there has been precious little information about whether to not next year's local elections would go ahead or not. In fact, at a Commissioners Board Meeting held in Llangefni on September 5th (which I attended), the assembled Councillors asked the Commissioners present whether the elections would go ahead on May 3rd, 2012 or not — however farcically none of the Commissioners or Senior Officers knew and the Chief Executive was consequently asked to write to Carl Sergeant to find out.

Since then, nothing had been heard… until now. And instead of having an official announcement that local democracy on Ynys Môn is to be suspended for a further 12 months, we are instead informed through the backdoor thanks to a sneaky leak to the BBC on a Sunday.

Friday, 14 October 2011

++ Serco wins RAF Valley contract ++

RAF Valley staff learned today that Babcock International has lost the Supply, Motor Transport, Workshop and Fire Services contract for the Hawks at Valley. Government services outsourcing firm, Serco Group — which, amongst other things runs hospitals, prisons and local authority education services — will take over Babcock's responsibilities from April 2012 after a six month handover period. Babcock will retain the Aircraft maintenance part of the contract until it comes up again for tender in a couple of years time.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Problems on the HORIZON?

Its being reported today that RWE N.power — one half of Horizon Nuclear Power, the joint venture company behind Wylfa B — is looking to pull out of the UK new nuclear programme because of the huge costs it is having to bear due to the forced closure of nuclear plants in their home market of Germany. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster the German government, under pressure from Germany's historically strong Green Party, decided to close down all of its 17 nuclear reactors by 2022.

It was always clear after the German decision to scrap nuclear power that the sums for Wylfa might begin to look decidedly shaky if the potential to duplicate similar new nuclear plants elsewhere was diminished — especially when you also add into the mix the deteriorating European economic situation. Indeed, this is not the first time that rumours about the demise of Horizon have appeared in the press — back in July the Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that both RWE and their other partner, E.On, were on the verge of shelving their UK nuclear projects. More recently there have been further rumours that Horizon had been looking for a third energy company to join the joint venture in order to both generate more investment and spread the risks further.

So, will this stop Wylfa B? My guess is probably not. Why? See the below diagram:

Source: The Economist

The fact is that most nuclear plants (including the current Wylfa reactor) and half of UK's coal plants are due to close over the coming decade meaning that of a total of around 75GW in generating capacity in the UK, 20GW will disappear by 2015. And as the current peak demand is around 65GW and growing, that means that the UK could be facing energy blackouts by as soon as 2015.

So ultimately the fact is that the UK Government needs Wylfa B far more than Horizon needs to build it. Lights will start to go off within a few years so there is no option but for the UK Government to ensure that plants like Wylfa are built, by hook or by crook… 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Anglesey Aluminium: Credit where credit is due

Following yesterday's announcement by Anglesey Aluminium of the preferred bidder for the final parcel of their land in Holyhead, we now know that the Penrhos site, which shed 450 jobs in 2009 when the Aluminium smelter closed, will soon provide for well over double that number of jobs.

This did not happen by accident. The credit for it lies not with the various politicians now queuing up to claim some of the kudos, but with Anglesey Aluminium's Works Director, Brian King. He persuaded the Rio Tinto Board not to take the easy option of a quick land sale to developers and instead resolved to only sell the site on to companies with concerete business plans to create sustainable jobs. 

So just two years on from when Anglesey Aluminium was forced to close, we now know that the site will soon provide work for over 1,000 people. This is a far better 'legacy' for Ynys Môn than Anglesey Labour Party's shortsighted demands that the site be gifted to the Island like the old Shell works at Rhosgoch — a site which incidentally still lies empty more than 20 years later. 

So hats off to Brian King for his vision and resolve to do the right thing by both Holyhead and Ynys Môn.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Wales v Africa

Clearly we would all rather be on Ynys Môn: the Indian Ocean paradise
of the Seychelles islands has an economy the same size as ours.

Last February Peter Hain made waves and was accused of considerable complacency when he stated that Wales was wealthier than Rwanda. Seeing as we are in the dog days of the summer and there isn't much else happening on Ynys Môn (today's Daily Post top Anglesey story: "Amlwch hotel boss told to travel 25 miles to pay off 1p bill"), I thought I would take a look to see how the Welsh economy does compare to those in Africa. As it turns out Peter Hain is right: Wales is wealthier than Rwanda: some 8x more wealthy. With a GVA of approx. £45,514m Wales's economy is actually somewhere between that of Ethiopia (£39,517m) and Tunisia (£49,332m).

The size of Ynys Môn's economy (£780m) compares almost exactly to that of the Republic of Seychelles (£770m), the Island paradise in the Indian Ocean. Gwynedd (£1,620m) is the equivalent of Eritrea (£1,668m) and Conwy and Denbighshire (£2,543) on a parr with Sierra Leone (£2,566m). Wales's largest regional economy, that of Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan (£10,108), is somewhere in-between Equatorial Guinea (£10,007m) and Chad (£10,200m).

For benchmarking purposes, you may be interested to learn that Scotland's economy (£103,532m) is more than double the size of Wales's, and is somewhere between Morocco (£81,471m) and Algeria (£172,500m). Northern Ireland's (£28,827m) is just slightly larger than Cameroon's (£25,275m).

England's economy is off the scale (£1,083,289m) and in fact the entire economy of the UK (£1,295,663) is only slightly smaller than the GDP of all of Africa combined (£1,411,370).

The full figures are below.

For stats bods, I used the 2009 PPP-basis GDP figures for African countries (and converted to £ using the average USDGBP conversion rate for the same year). For UK and Wales regional economies, I have used the 2008 Headline GVA figures which are a useful comparator to GDP.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

If you build it, they will come.

Many, many congratulations to the fabulous organisers of the Llangefni Carnival, which this weekend made its triumphant return to the town after almost twenty years of absence.

The Seven grass-skirted organisers take a lap of honour
(Click to enlarge)

And the band played on... amongst the huge crowds in Llangefni town centre
(Click to enlarge)

The organisers were all volunteers, but between them they managed to breathe more fresh life into Llangefni in just one day than several other bodies I could mention have managed in years... Let us all hope it returns to being an annual event from now on.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Sense, Prudence, and Assassination Threats

Last week I attended the Adjudication Panel for Wales tribunal held at Tre-ysgawen Hall examining whether Cllr Peter Rogers had transgressed the respective codes of conduct of both the North Wales Police Authority (of which he is a member) and Anglesey County Council in light of his alleged behaviour at Holyhead Police Station in January 2010. Cllr Rogers had attended the station in support of a Rhosyr constituent of his who had been accused of threatening to assassinate another county councillor following a failed planning application. It was alleged that Cllr Rogers had sought to use his influence as a member of the Police Authority to gain an advantage for himself or others; and also that through having raised his voice at a Detective Constable, Cllr Rogers had behaved in a bullying or harassing manner. He was eventually cleared of all the above charges, and instead found guilty of the far lesser charge of having brought Anglesey Council and the office of councillor into disrepute and given the least consequential punishment possible: a slap on the wrist.

Although the tribunal itself was conducted in the very model of good sense and judgement, the same cannot be said in this instance of either the Police or the North Wales Police Authority which brought the original complaint against Cllr Rogers to the Ombudsman. The Police took over three months to investigate an obviously far-fetched claim then behaved in an unnecessarily heavy-handed manner in arresting, finger-printing, photographing, then keeping in the holding cells for several hours the man who had supposedly made the 'assassination' threat – even thought he presented himself at Holyhead Police Station willingly (Indeed this man suffered greatly because during the investigation he had also been prevented from continuing his job of teaching children with special needs how to play musical instruments). It was only when Cllr Rogers discovered that the Police had no corroborating evidence other than the original allegation that he is supposed to have shouted in exasperation, "you have no evidence", at the detective constable and said he wished to make an official complaint. The chairman of the tribunal in his summing-up pointedly remarked that the investigation "could and should have been brought to a close much earlier".

None of the Police Officers who gave evidence claimed that Cllr Rogers had explicitly stated he was a member of the Police Authority whilst speaking with them. The Police Authority's complaint to the Ombudsman was therefore entirely based on inference, i.e. as some of the Police Officers were aware that Cllr Rogers was a member of the Police Authority, they may have assumed that he was possibly acting on Police Authority business rather than as a councillor representing his constituent. It was on such a flimsy basis that North Wales Police Authority brought the original complaint to the Ombudsman's Office. So flimsy in fact that Mr Tal Michael, the Chief Executive of North Wales Police Authority (and known to readers of this blog from this episode), no doubt sensing which way the tribunal was likely to find, sought unprofessionally to introduce new evidence to the Tribunal at the very last moment to the evident disconcerture of Mr Peter Davies, the Tribunal Chairman. For his efforts, Mr Michael was gently but firmly "put in [his] place" by Mr Davies. The Tribunal found conclusively (and embarrassingly for the North Wales Police Authority) that the Police Authority code of conduct was not even engaged as Cllr Rogers was not present on Police Authority business nor did he give the impression that he was.

There were so many opportunities throughout this entire unhappy saga for sensible people to have shown some intelligence and discretion and thus avoided a huge and unnecessary waste of public money. The Police could indeed have brought their investigations into the ridiculous assassination allegations to a close much earlier with less disruption for everyone; the North Wales Police Authority could have discussed and resolved the 'shouting' issue with Cllr Rogers informally, rather than seeking to "throw the book at him" and thus triggering an expensive eighteen month investigation by the Ombudsman's Office and three day tribunal. The costs of everything, including the time of the Police Officers, barristers, clerks, Ombudsman's staff, various monitoring officers, rooms at Tre-ysgawen Hall etc. must be well into the hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money – money paid by all of us in tax. Unfortunately sense and prudence with public money was sadly lacking from all involved.

Declaration of Interest: Cllr Peter Rogers is a family friend and also endorsed my candidacy in this May's Welsh Assembly Elections.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Ysgol Goronwy Owen and Commissioner Gareth Jones

Where are you Commissioner Jones?
Following a serious and unprofessional falling out between the Headteacher and staff at Ysgol Goronwy Owen in Benllech, five teachers have now been on 'sick leave' for six weeks. In consequence only one full time teacher has remained at the school and the majority of lessons for its 150 pupils have been performed by supply staff.

As this unhappy situation seemingly rumbles on and on endlessly, and with parents now threatening to withdraw their children from the school, one would be entirely justified in asking why Anglesey County Council has not acted quicker and more decisively to end the dispute. Afterall the Welsh Assembly withdrew executive power from our elected County Councillors back in March and replaced them with five Commissioners who are able to act with unfettered executive power. Each is paid handsomely at £500 a day for their services to the Island and have a hotline direct to Cardiff Bay. Yet despite this, the shambles in Benllech continues with no resolution in sight before the Summer holidays.

Interestingly the Commissioner who holds the portfolio for Education and is therefore responsible for sorting out the problems at Ysgol Goronwy Owen, former AM Gareth Jones, is also the Commissioner who is apparently least frequently seen at the Council... Is there a connection?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

What Plaid's Assembly opening boycott stunt really shows us.

The boycotting of yesterday's official opening of the Assembly by a rump of Plaid AMs has provoked a great deal of media comment. As far as I'm concerned the most interesting aspect of the whole affair is that it highlights the extraordinary disjoint between what Plaid Cymru claims it stands for – and what it actually does. Here is my contribution to the debate as per my letter in today's Daily Post:

On Tuesday four Plaid Cymru AMs boycotted the official opening of the Welsh Assembly on the grounds that their desire for an independent republic of Wales was incompatible with attending a ceremony presided over by the Queen. Strangely this idealism hasn't prevented any of the four from taking the oath of alleigence to the same Queen — a pre-requisite to taking up their positions (and, more importantly I suspect, their taxpayer-funded salaries); neither has it prevented Senior Plaid Cymru politicians such as Baron Wigley of Caernarfon or Lord Elis-Thomas from accepting life peerages from the Crown (in fact Dafydd Elis-Thomas is even a member of the Privy Council, a body which directly advises the Monarch herself). 
So is Plaid Cymru really, truly for an independent Wales or not? Their latest manifesto doesn't mention the 'I' word except in relation to the 'operational independence' of S4C. Furthermore many of the party's stated policies actually make Welsh Independence less rather than more attainable. A party which was serious about seeking further devolution from the UK (as exemplified by the SNP in Scotland) would surely seek to pragmatically boost the private sector whist at the same time creating a lean, mean Welsh public sector which could be adequately funded with taxation raised within Wales's borders alone. Instead Plaid Cymru advocates ever more regulation of the struggling Welsh private sector whilst at the same time building an ever larger Welsh public sector, all funded by ever larger block grants from Westminster.  
Isn't the truth that Plaid Cymru has become nothing more than a party well to the left of Labour which wraps itself in the Ddraig Goch for electoral advantage? The boycotting of the official Assembly opening is a publicity stunt designed to reassure activists and traditional supporters that Plaid Cymru really does believe in Welsh Independence, even though their every action makes it less rather than more likely. 

As to Ieuan Wyn Jones's no-show on the grounds that he was "on holiday", it reminds me greatly of the contortions Gordon Brown wrapped himself in when he decided not to attend the official signing ceremony of the EU Lisbon treaty (because he didn't want to be seen to be too pro-Europe) but then did so several hours later by himself. IWJ seems to want the nationalist kudos for not attending, whilst at the same time avoiding the jeers.

UPDATE: Betsan Powys has some more on IWJ's French holiday here.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Auto suggesting WAG.

How Google auto-suggest sees the Welsh Assembly:

Try it for yourself.

Google's mission statement: " organise and collect all the world's knowledge..."

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

More on those Welsh GCSE results

Over the weekend I discovered that BBC Wales had also acquired the data for the average spend per pupil for each Local Authority — which, following on from my last post, means it is possible to see what effect increased or decreased education spending had on actual GCSE results in each Welsh county (the updated rankings with average spend is here). The results are very interesting:

GCSE results compared to Average spend per pupil
(click to enlarge)

As the above chart shows, outside the clump in the centre, there appears to be very little correlation between increased spending and better GCSE results. The county which achieved the highest average GCSE results (Vale of Glamorgan) actually spent the least (£5,001 per pupil), whereas one of the highest spending counties (Blaenau Gwent) achieved some of the poorest general results. Clearly there is a great deal of difference between the general prosperity of those two particular counties, which led me to plot the results versus the average percentage uptake of free school meals in each county:

GCSE results compared to uptake of Free School Dinners
(click to enlarge)

This chart shows a very clear negative correlation between the 2010 GCSE results and the uptake of Free School Meals. As Free School Meals are offered to children from low income families, it is therefore no surprise that these GCSE results also correlate to the total out of work claimant rate in each county too:

GCSE results compared to total out-of-work benefit claimants
(Click to enlarge)

Of course it has long been accepted that academic performance is a function of relative prosperity therefore these results are not surprising, but it is informative to test the actual Welsh GCSE results in this way. If you are so inclined you can see how the Welsh GCSE results correlate to several other factors here.

So what does this mean?

  • A lack of correlation between spend and academic performance seems to suggest that as long as education spending is above a certain threshold, additional spending will not necessarily yield better results.
  • The clear negative correlation between prosperity and results indicates that unless something is done to break this link, it could lead to a downward spiral of ever poorer educational attainment linked to ever decreasing prosperity levels (education levels being one of the major functions of economic performance).

So what can be done? As I suggested in my previous post, clearly radical changes are needed to our education system in Wales if we are to break the link between prosperity and school performance. As not all children are academically minded, my personal preference would be to stream pupils earlier into either academic or vocational schools as per the German model. It is pointless to enforce an academic one-size-fits-all approach when clearly not all children have an equal aptitude for academic subjects — in fact this turns the more vocationally-minded children off school altogether, meaning they can't wait to leave school at 16 rather than move on to doing vocational courses.

Education is of critical importance to Wales if we want to turn around our economic prospects. Will this new Assembly show any boldness in its policy making? I for one will not be holding my breath.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Those "crude" school league tables Leighton Andrews doesn't think you should have.

League tables comparing the academic results of secondary schools in Wales were abolished ten years ago in 2001 by Jane Davidson. Recently, in response to a number of FOI requests by BBC Wales, WAG has revealed the GCSE results of all Welsh schools in 2010 — however as Education Minister Leighton Andrews still believes that league tables are "crude" these results were banded into twenty "families" of 10 schools where pupils have similar levels of family income and special needs. Separately WAG has also released 'value added' scores for schools which show whether each pupil's GCSE results are better or worse than was predicted for them at the age of eleven — thus showing to what extent a secondary school has contributed to a pupil's progress either positively or negatively.

So, how did Ynys Môn's secondary schools perform? See below:

It appears that Menai Bridge's Ysgol David Hughes and Llangefni's Ysgol Gyfun deliver the best academic results on the Island, with pupils also passing crucial English/Welsh and Maths GCSEs – the key performance indicator for GCSEs. The results for the Amlwch and Holyhead schools are some way behind. Holyhead however has a very high Value Added score meaning that despite these poor results it is apparently delivering better results for its pupils than they were predicted to receive at age 11. With a value added score of -7 it appears that the opposite is true of Ysgol Syr Thomas Jones in Amlwch.

How do these results compare with the rest of Wales though? See below to see how each Ynys Môn school performed in terms of % pupils achieving a A*-C GCSE including English/Welsh and Maths against the average attainment in each Wales county:

% 5 A*-C GCSEs inc. English/Welsh and Maths
Ynys Môn schools (in black) compared to average results in each Welsh County
Click to enlarge

When put into context like this, it is clear that pupils in Menai Bridge and Llangefni are on average achieving some of the best results in Wales. However the performance of some of the other schools on Ynys Môn clearly demonstrate cause for considerable concern — even taking into account the fact that schools in poorer catchment areas tend to under-attain academically.

If interested, you can see the complete "crude" league table of the GCSE results of each of Wales's 222 schools used to generate the above chart here.

Of course these results are only a snapshot in time of just a single measure — performance in one set of exams. As these figures are not produced annually it is impossible to see if schools are on average improving or declining — as I noted at the beginning these figures were only obtained this time due to FOI requests from BBC Wales. However, thanks to the OECD's PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) programme which compares 10,000 15-year-old students worldwide in reading, maths and science, we are able to see how Welsh pupils compare internationally over time. Conducted every five years the 2009 results for Wales were the lowest in the United Kingdom and clearly shows that a considerable gap has opened up between the attainment of Welsh students and those from other regions in the UK, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland:

2009 Rankings in the PISA tests

As Education is one of the key functions of economic performance, the above poor PISA results show that we are just storing up further economic problems in the future for ourselves here in Wales. In order to compete as a small country on the periphery of Western Europe, educational levels are one of the most important tools in our armoury to attract new businesses here. Why would any company want to set up in a region which not only is further away from the major markets, has higher business rates than the rest of the UK, but also has lower average levels of educational attainment? Education is absolutely crucial to both Ynys Môn and Wales if we are to create and sustain better, well paying jobs in the future

My personal view is that our current education system needs to be radically overhauled in Wales — merely tinkering around the edges will not produce the vast improvements necessary to ensure future economic success. Our school system, throughout the UK, is one-size-fits-all and overly focussed on academic subjects and funnelling more and more students into a university education. The problem is that not all children are necessarily academically minded. In my view Wales would be far better served by introducing an education system more similar to that in Germany where pupils are streamed around ages 10-11 based on their aptitude into either academic-based schools (called Gymnasiums in Germany) which will prepare them for university, or into more vocational-based schools (Hauptschules and Realschules) which lead to full apprenticeships or further vocation training.

The German Education System

It is not by accident that Germany has the largest manufacturing base in Europe and is home to some of the largest and most successful engineering and manufacturing companies in the world. There is clearly a lot that we can learn from the German eduction system (amongst others) if we want to transform our future economy — but unfortunately that requires our Welsh Government to be bold...  But what is the point of devolution if we are merely going to continue doing the same as the rest of the UK?