Taken from the Socialist Unity blog
“Continuing the success of our 20-year relationship with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its predecessors, we are delighted to have the opportunity to work on such a strategically important initiative. With over 26 years of experience providing dynamic and innovative support to a variety of disadvantaged groups, the award of this contract reflects the significance of our work in delivering the DWP’s New Deal for Disabled Persons scheme, where we are one of the leading providers in the UK.” (Tony Garrett, Group Managing Director of Instant Muscle).
Instant Muscle was one of these much vaunted organisations contracted to deliver part of Pathways to Work scheme. They were awarded a £11m contract last November to run the scheme in Surrey and Sussex. But within the past couple of days the charity has gone into administration, making 250 people redundant. Around 60 staff across South Wales, 40 staff based in Nottingham. The charity has 30 offices based in the UK. The first the staff knew about this was when the administrators told them to leave the premises. And funny enough, not one of the directors turned up to explain the situation!
The irony of ironies is that staff will becoming the very people they were “helping” and this isn’t lost on them.
Henry Shinners, associate director of accounting firm Smith and Williamson and one of the appointed administrators said that staff weren’t paid for February. And there’s a possibility the business could be taken over. Yes, you can just see the corporate vultures hovering around in the distance waiting to swoop….
Now what happened to this flagship of “providing dynamic and innovative support to a variety of disadvantaged groups”? One former employee of Instant Muscle said that the company suffered from the Icarus complex, “it expanded too quckly and flown a bit too close to the sun”…
Whatever the reason this happened (incompetency, and/or greedy bosses…) there’s one less contracted company to carry out the Pathways to Work scheme but never fear some greedy company will take its place.
You do get the feeling that once the politicans are ideologically committed to partnerships with the private sector that the private companies involved realise that taking taxpayers money will be like taking candy from a baby. They also realise that they will not be held to account for how they spend the money .
Oh, and Tony Garrett, Group Managing Director isn’t available to comment….
Who said the following in the Assembly today?
"Supermarkets have a social responsibility to support local communities and producers"
"The relationship between supermarkets and farmers is purely a commercial one and the Assembly Government has no role to play in that."
The first quote comes from the "new look" Tory leader Nick Bourne while the second quote comes from Rhodri "no more clear red water" Morgan.
We've often joked that the Tories are now to the left of Labour in London. Now it seems the same is true in Wales.
Thought the Tories were for you? Thought they'd changed and become cuddly and centrist now tie-less (not to say clue-less) Dave was in charge.
The Tories unveiled their big new thinking at today's conference - cuts in stamp duty that will effectively cut a couple of thousand quid off the cost of buying a house for anyone - whether hard-up first-time buyer or wealthy young City slickers. There will be less of a tax take that will be made up, the Nasty Party says, by clawing back Incapacity Benefit. So that's alright then.
The second big tax giveaway is one dear to the hearts of all wealthy Tories (and Labourites these days). It concerns Inheritance Tax - a tax that only applies to estates of more than £300,000 and then only at 40% tax.
As it stands, only 6% of people who die pay Inheritance Tax - the vast majority of those in the wealthier south-east of England. It's hardly going to be a vote winner in Wales.
That hasn't stopped our Tories getting in on the act. In the running for a double gold in the Order of the Brown Nose and Long-Service Stupidity Medal was Clwyd West MP David Jones:
“Inheritance Tax will, under a Conservative government, be paid only by millionaires. The one million pound threshold will mean that people of moderate means will now be able to pass their hard earned savings and their homes on to their families, who will not have to pay a punitive 40% tax.”
Firstly, millionaires employ accountants to ensure they don't pay any tax at all. Labour and Tory governments over the past 30 years have ensured that the UK is a very welcoming place for non-domiciled residents to live tax free.
Secondly, "people of moderate means" in Clwyd West or anywhere else in Wales rarely amass more than £300,000. As the system stands, someone leaving an estate of £500,000 would only pay £80,000 in taxes. Given that the bulk of most people's estates are houses, that have risen in value untaxed, that seems like a fair deal in our glaringly unequal society.
The Barnett Formula is one of the dullest subjects in Welsh politics - it's the formula by which Wales gets 6% of whatever London government spends due to its relative population. It's attracting the usual sporadic attention as a coalition of voluntary groups led by Sustrans's Lee Waters tries to put pressure on government in London for this formula to reflect social needs rather than a basic head count.
The argument, put here, is that Wales is poorer, less healthy and has worse housing and therefore needs to reform the Barnett Formula to reflect that.
It's an argument that Ron Davies put forward in the 2004 European elections - claiming that each person in Wales was losing out to the tune of a fiver a week. This rather more catchy slogan didn't resonate with the voters and I suspect Lee's valiant attempts to revive the argument of his former political boss [Waters worked for Davies as a political researcher when Ron was a Labour AM] will fall on similar stony ground.
The Formula was devised to buy off nationlism in the 1970s and the only way more funding will reach Wales is another threat to the Union. However, the Barnett Formula is too, well, formulaic. A far better suggestion is that all taxes raised in Wales should be collected by the Assembly. That body could then allot its share of UK spending (e.g. defence, international affairs) to Westminster.
What could possibly be wrong with such a fine example of bottom-up government?
Like most BBC network programmes, Question Time has to tick the boxes in terms of visiting the Nations and Regions. This is evidently done with the minimum of effort for the programme's producers, who decided to visit Newport for their first Welsh outing in 13 months... Newport being as close to the English border (and conveniently on the mainline rail and M4 corridor from London) as is possible to get without actually being in Bristol.
How Welsh was the panel? Mmm, just the one - Lembit Opik, the member for Hello! Central. His constituency chairman has been making noises about how Lembit's Cheeky Girl escapades have undermined the Liberal Democrats' chances of holding on to their Montgomery Assembly seat in May.
Two others were due to appear but Rhodri Morgan, the famously incoherent First Minister in Wales, pulled out at the last minute and Leanne Wood, of Plaid Cymru, was bounced at the last minute in favour of Clare Short. Guests were told that there would be no Welsh interest questions.
One outraged member of the audience pointed out that the main opposition party in Wales was not represented but was ignored by Dimbleby, who said the party had been invited to appear on another panel before the election. You can bet your bottom dollar that it won't be in Wales and that they will be effectively sidelined in the debate.
The question many Welsh viewers are now asking is whether QT is even bothering to tick the boxes, given its inability to deal with devolved issues in the run-up to the Assembly elections.
Further to my posting on Jane Davidson's sudden discovery of a conscience comes news that a certain Labour politician has set up a MySpace site.
The bandwagon is certainly rolling.
But the choice of music is intriguing. No doubt Jane was a punk in her teenage years and into The Clash but is "Should I stay or should I go?" aimed at Rhodri, Tony or is she hinting that Trident could be a resignation issue. I think we should be told.
Her rivals for Rhodri's crown will be desperately scanning their dusty vinyl for some street cred to appeal to the few ageing punks that doubtless still inhabit the Labour party.
It's impossible not to agree with Lib Dem Kirsty Williams when she accuses political parties of offering freebies to the voters. But this wouldn't be the same Lib Dem party that boasts of introducing free school milk in its first term as a coalition partner with Labour then?
But she has a point. The trend in the Assembly elections is to offer small but easily identifiable trinkets - what she terms the free toy with the Happy Meal - for voters. Labour at the last election offered free school breakfasts (since exposed as a sham), Plaid is offering laptops for all 11 year olds and the Tories are about to save the planet with £20 worth of free lightbulbs.
This is in part due to the limited nature of the Assembly, with its inability to make laws or raise taxes, but also the limited horizons of the parties and the lack of faith in voters' ability to recognise an ambitious or complex policy. Headlines are created with news of a grant for first-time buyers - a welcome move to intervene in the housing market - whereas a more community-based approach to the NHS is largely ignored.
We're reduced to soundbite politics and snack-size policies.
For some politicians, May 3rd is the key election battle in Wales. But for others it seems there are longer-term considerations.
Jane Davidson will later this week come out against Trident, a brief reminder that the Labour Education minister was once on the left of the party. Why now?
Surely it couldn't be that she - like Andrew Davies - is trying to position herself for a bid for the party leadership after Rhodri goes. He's said he would quit in 2009 but all the signs point to him going earlier if Labour suffers the expected heavy losses in May.
The cynical use of an issue like Trident is fairly typical of Labour. Davidson has done nothing in radical politics since she spoke out against the poll tax back in the late 80s but has now opted to buff up her left-leaning image to try to win over activists in the post-May bloodletting.
Davies will opt for the "steady pair of hands" technocratic right-wing appeal while Carwyn Jones will win over the pie'n'pint vote.
The likelihood of Labour tearing itself apart at both UK and Welsh levels over its leadership is a pleasant thought - especially as none of the candidates in Wales offer any kind of vision for a better Wales.
One of Labour's key pledges at the last Assembly election was free school breakfasts for all primary school children. It had the feel of the back of a fag packet - the Labour Party's press officer estimating it would cost £16m a year.
So how has it gone down in the schools?
Like a bowl of cold lumpy porridge.
New figures released by the Welsh Assembly Government show that just 11,000 kids in Wales - out of 285,000 primary school children - are using the breakfast clubs. That's a pathetic 4% after four years.
Even in the schools with breakfast clubs the take-up rate is just 26% across Wales. Not surprising when the estimated spend per pupil on the food provided is just 25p a day.
By contrast, the Scottish Labour Party is being bounced into providing free school meals for a growing number of children under pressure from the SSP and now the SNP. Labour controlled Hull City Council also introduced this progressive measure, although the new Lib Dem-led council has now suspended the service.
Plaid Cymru has also adopted this measure, which has the support of nutritionists, child experts, doctors and parents. It will cost more than breakfasts but it will deliver significant improvements to children's wellbeing and parents' pockets rather than being a meaningless election pledge.
Time for Assembly election predictions... various Welsh blogateers are indulging in the ludicrous game of trying to guess how the electoral cookie will crumble in May.
Some, like Peter Black, are a bit obvious - Lib Dem predicts Lib Dem gains shock! but I'm not going to accept the established view that Labour will slip slightly.
There are a number of factors at work:
1. The UK dimension - this is a chance for voters to kick Blair over Iraq, cash for peerages and for being Tony Blair.
2. The failure of the Assembly government on key issues such as the NHS and a lame-duck government under Rhodri (I'll resist the temptation to say that lame ducks tend to swim in circles).
3. The Scottish factor, which has helped raise the idea of greater self-government.
4. The Cameron factor - does it work in Wales?
5. The Ming/Lembit factor - how bad is that for the Lib Dems?
6. An increasing sense of national identity - the few opinion polls we have in Wales point to greater support for independence and a majority in favour of Scottish-style powers.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the Labour vote is in meltdown, which raises the question of where that vote will go. Or will disillusioned Labour voters stay at home?
A low turnout may also mean that large swings are possible.
The smaller parties may have a bearing on matters - on the list, the Tory vote will be eroded by the re-branded Independence Party (that could be interesting in a Welsh context... but it's the UKIP), an anti-gay Christian Party and the BNP. Labour will have challenges from Forward Wales and People's Voice to contend with and the BNP will also hoover up some of their vote - especially on the North Wales coast.
One other factor is that Labour will not have the reserves of funding it has enjoyed in the past - remember the £100,000 it threw at the Blaenau Gwent by-election in just one constituency?
So... deep breath:
Labour lose Aberconwy, Llanelli and Caerffili to Plaid.
Labour lose Clwyd West, Preseli Pembroke and Cardiff North to the Tories.
They gain a list seat in Mid and West Wales
Plaid gain Aberconwy, Llanelli and Caerffili
Plaid gains one list seat in the North and one in South Central
Tories gain Clwyd West, Preseli Pembroke and Cardiff North from Labour
Tories lose list seats in the North, Mid and West and South Central
No change for Lib Dems, Trish Law or John Marek
Lib Dems 6
Trish Law 1
John Marek 1
Of course I'm biased but I'm also going on evidence of Labour's vote collapsing on the doorstep.
If this is the case in May, then we're in for some fun!
Devolution has been a disappointment to all radicals who want Welsh people to have the powers to decide their own future. The Assembly has been timid and toothless in dealing with key issues.
But devolution has changed the mindset of Welsh politics, albeit subtly. Ten years ago there was a substantial minority opposed to the Assembly and in favour of its abolition. Today, those voices are confined to the outer fringes of the Tory Party, the UKIP and a revolting organisation called the English Democrats. These morons are making great play of Monmouth being a part of England, concealing the fact that the English Democrats are a front for a far-right grouping called The Third Position.
Even the Tories, who led the "No" campaign, have embraced devolution - not least because the proportional nature of the voting means they get some seats.
But what of Labour? The Unionist element in Labour - think Kinnock - has always been a feature of the party, which has done as much as the Tories to cement the Union over the past century. But could the battle for Rhodri's mantle also signal a battle between the Unionist and "nationalist" wings of the party? Perhaps a more important question is whether the party is ready to take on board the latest constitutional changes.
To stand in a council election you must find 10 local people on the electoral register willing to back you. Their names and addresses are then circulated by the council as the candidate's nominators.
The forthcoming by-election in Penyffordd, Flintshire, is being contested by the BNP but the candidate, Dallus Mark Weaver, is from Pantymwyn, a small village some miles away on the other side of Mold. So who signed his nomination papers?
A quick call to some of the people who are named as his supporters reveals they are all elderly and have little or no idea what they signed up for.
This is an old BNP trick.
Steve Smith, an ex-BNP organiser in Burnley, was convicted of electoral fraud for allowing false nominations to go forward in a council election. He was de-barred from standing in elections for five years as a result.
Will the council investigate?
The BNP is prepared to lie and con in a desperate attempt to make a breakthrough in Wales, where it has had no electoral success. It will be standing candidates on the Assembly list - anti-fascists will be watching them every step of the way.
Alun Davies may be the only Labour list AM after May, but let's hope he's more active in the Assembly than he is on his blog.
For Alun is still looking forward to Christmas, while no doubt continuing "fighting for socialism in Mid and West Wales".
A turkey (no, not Alun) for anyone who can work out what exactly that hollow slogan means under New Labour.
Ron Davies's decision to stand in Caerphilly as an independent signals the end of Forward Wales as a political party.
The party's profile has been non-existent, the website has barely functioned since a number of members left in May 2005 and the membership has continued to haemorrhage.
There are rumours that John Marek, the party's lone AM, will stand on an Independent ticket as well as he fights to keep his Wrexham seat.
Davies was a key member in party's formation - the name was his idea and he formulated the 10 basic aims. The party's failure to move beyond a small group of supporters in Wrexham and Caerphilly has been documented in previous posts here.
It's surprising that none of the mainstream media seem to have realised that Forward Wales has effectively been ditched by its founders just three years after it was launched.
On Radio Wales' Good Morning Wales programme, Mr Davies said although he was standing as an independent, he was still "very much a member of Forward Wales".
The reason he was not standing under the Forward Wales banner, he said, was because of the "party political pantomime down in Cardiff Bay at the moment" and the changes to the assembly electoral system introduced last year.
"The electoral system has been rigged," he added. "The Labour Party last year introduced changes which will make it very difficult for the small parties to get a foot in."
Eh? How does standing as an independent push FW's agenda?
Labour's attack on Plaid over the new St Athan defence contract was surprising only because it took so long.
And that Enterprise Minister Andrew Davies had to invoke the spirit of anti-war arsonist Saunders Lewis in his flailing assault.
During exchanges in the Senedd, Davies said Plaid would have "hauled up the white flag" on the planned military academy for St Athan.
Davies attacked a succession of Plaid figures, including party founder Saunders Lewis who was involved in a 1936 arson attack on an RAF base in Penyberth.
He also accused Plaid’s parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd of opposing the privatisation of defence training.
Ah, so it's a privatisation that Labour supports. How novel. In fact it's a PFI project that will earn the private consortium Metrix £16 billion over 25 years - hardly the much-heralded £16b "investment" in South Wales. Little wonder that Elfyn Llwyd was opposed to more squandering of public cash for private profit.
Davies then attacked Plaid AM Owen John Thomas for daring to ask if Davies could guarantee jobs at St Athan would go to local people.
Davies replied: "I do feel it a bit rich of Owen John Thomas asking about local jobs."
How very dare he!
"We would not even be in this position had we followed Plaid Cymru and their leader in opposing the defence training academy."
The fact is that Plaid officially welcomed the announcement. That, as the above exchanges make clear, will make no difference to Labour's attempt to portray Plaid as cheese-eating surrender monkeys or whatever Labour's current insult is. Tell the big lie and eventually people believe you, eh Andrew?
Plaid should have had the courage of their convictions and said St Athan was a con - a privatisation that would do little for the Welsh economy and, taking a wider perspective, damage areas in England where bases were closing. Few local people will get the skilled jobs as trainers re-locate from the 16 bases being closed.
Plaid is an anti-war party and a firm stance here would have had Davies backpeddling as the warmonger and liar he is.