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?