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Welsh Government triples PR spend

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MORE than £10.7m has been spent by the Welsh Government on the services of PR and Marketing agencies over a three-year period.

Figures obtained via a freedom of information request submitted by the Welsh Conservatives show that spending on marketing more than doubled (+109%) between 2014 and 2016, while PR spend more than tripled (+326%) over the same period.

Whereas the majority of agencies listed are based in Wales, it is a company in England which received the most public money over the three-year period.

Between 2013-14 and 2015- 16, Northamptonshire-based Event Exhibitions received £2,495,045, having grossed £970,549 in 2015/16 alone.

Other big earners include Golley Slater (£495,549), Fernleigh Design (£514,825), JM Creative (£640,023), Equinox Comms (£729,068), and Puri-Evans (£784,985).

Welsh Conservative Shadow Finance Secretary, Nick Ramsay AM, said: “When you consider the hundreds of the thousands of pounds spent by the Welsh Government on its own in-house spin machine, this strikes me as a truly profligate use of public money.

“Of course, any good government has a responsibility to keep the public informed about its activities, public health initiatives and new laws.

“But given that the Labour administration’s spend on PR and Marketing agencies is marked by a meteoric rise in the same year as the Assembly election, it does suggest a government desperately trying to disguise its appalling record at any cost.

“The best kind of PR is free, which is to deliver good public services and a strong economy – something which Welsh Labour has singularly failed to do after nearly two decades in government.

“Instead of spending millions of pounds outsourcing their spin, the Welsh Government would do better to redirect this money at our struggling schools and overstretched hospitals where it is desperately needed.”

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Politics

Communities First had impossible task

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THE WELSH Government should ensure councils identify all programmes currently being delivered by Communities First that should be delivered by other public services and that they are transferred across to the relevant public service as soon as possible, according to a National Assembly Committee.

The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee also found it has been difficult to make an overall assessment of the success of the 15-year, £432m Communities First tackling poverty programme because of insufficient performance management.

Communities First was the Welsh Government’s flagship tackling poverty programme. The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children Carl Sargeant AM announced that the programme would be wound down in February this year.

The report also highlights that uncertainty for staff caused by the way in which the announcement was made has had a detrimental impact on their work, and affected the people using the services.

The Committee also recommend that the Welsh Government outline how long legacy funding will be available for as soon as possible.

Committee Chair John Griffiths AM said: “For many people, Communities First has had a life-changing impact, and we know it has done great work in communities across Wales.

“We are concerned that the Welsh Government must learn lessons for future tackling poverty activities, ensuring progress is measurable, based on evidence of what works, and that the successful elements of Communities First, which could be delivered by other public bodies and are valued locally, are transferred to other public services to deliver.

“The need for these services hasn’t disappeared, but faced with uncertainty, we have heard that Communities First staff are already leaving for other jobs. Their expertise and relationships cannot easily be replaced.”

A key criticism in the report is that the Welsh Government had no baseline from which to assess success and without such a measure, it was impossible for Communities First’s successes – if any – to be adequately measured as delivering anything like value for the money invested in the scheme.

Evidence from Carmarthenshire County Council not only makes that criticism express, but continues: ‘Measuring the long term impact that the programme had on the individuals was not carried out in the initial years of the programme. As a result, there was limited recording of statistics and outcomes achieved during this period’.

Indeed, the committee states that its own work was hampered by lack of transparency by the Welsh Government. ‘On the day that it was announced the programme would definitely be ending (14 February 2017), all performance measurement data was removed from the Welsh Government’s website’.

The report mordantly notes that: ‘However, we were told in very stark times by a witness that having 102 performance indicators means in practice you have no performance indicators’. It goes on to warn that new indicators put in place by the Welsh Government are so broad as to be almost meaningless and recommends that the Welsh Government adopt the approach recommended by the Bevan Foundation, a social welfare think-tank.

The report notes that the Communities First programme was set the ‘near impossible task’ of reducing poverty, which could never be achieved through one single programme.

In written evidence to the Committee, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargeant said that “….the underlying premise of the programme that it was possible to improve area characteristics by influencing individual-level outcomes – was (and remains) untested.”

In addition to the broad aims of the programme, it remains unclear and un-evidenced as to whether interventions to improve individual circumstances lead to changes in a geographical area’s characteristics. This was accepted by the Cabinet Secretary in his written evidence.

Although it is unclear how well a place based approach works and it remains the approach for some other programmes such as Communities for Work, Flying Start, Lift, and others. The committee recommends review of these programmes ‘to ensure they are working to optimum benefit’.

The Committee expresses concern that Communities First programmes were used to deliver services that statutory bodies should have delivered, noting that Communities First schemes ‘were delivering projects and support in important areas, including health and education’.

As Herald readers in Carmarthenshire will recall, it is almost impossible to conceive that a local authority would misuse funds for a targeted project to subsidise delivery of its own services.

Other recommendations include:

• That the Welsh Government considers removing postcode barriers to families accessing Flying Start where there is an identified need and capacity to support them

• That the Welsh Government ensures that all advice and guidance to local authorities is available in written form to supplement information that is provided in person or orally

• That the Welsh Government That the Welsh Government makes it clear in guidance to local authorities that employability support should encompass all stages of the employment journey, including support to a person once they are in employment

Mark Isherwood, the Conservative spokesperson for Communities, joined in the Committee’s criticism.

“Despite repeated warnings, the Welsh Government has failed to deliver what the Communities First programme originally intended, which was to deliver community ownership and empowerment to drive positive change.

“An article by the Bevan Foundation achieved a far more perspicacious insight into why Communities First achieved such little success, by stating that community buy-in is essential and that if people feel that policies are imposed on them, then policies simply don’t work. The Cabinet Secretary should take note.

“However, it is not too late to do things differently. We can still unlock human capital in our communities and places to develop solutions to local issues, improve wellbeing, raise aspirations and create stronger communities.”

The Bevan Foundation has welcomed the recommendations of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee’s report.

In particular, it welcomes the Committee’s inclusion of the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s proposals to reduce poverty through a whole government strategy for reducing costs and raising incomes, rather than its current focus on employability, early years and empowerment.

The Bevan Foundation also welcome’s the Committee’s adoption of other Bevan Foundation proposals including:

• The recommendation that the Welsh Government work with the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation on a dashboard of indicators,

• The recommendation that the Welsh Government explore further the role of assets in generating income and wealth

• The comment that the Welsh Government needs to provide a robust framework for local action

Director of the Bevan Foundation, Victoria Winckler, said: “We were delighted that the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has listened carefully to our written and oral evidence and included so many of ideas in its recommendations. The Committee’s inquiries into poverty are vitally important, and we hope that the Welsh Government heed the Committee’s recommendations. We look forward to working with the Welsh Government and the Committee in taking them forward.”

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Politics

Aber academic to advise on Brexit

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Professor Nicholas Perdikis: Advising on Brexit

A LEADING expert on international trade policy from Aberystwyth University is providing specialist research advice to the National Assembly for Wales on how Brexit is likely to impact the Welsh economy.

Professor Nicholas Perdikis has taken up a five month Academic Fellowship with the National Assembly for Wales Research Service to explore the potential implications of the UK’s departure from the EU on key sectors of the economy.

His appointment is part of a pilot Fellowship scheme that enables senior academics at Welsh universities to spend time at the Assembly Commission working on a project of mutual benefit.

Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales, Elin Jones AM, said: “I am very pleased that the considerable expertise and experience of Aberystwyth University has joined the fellowship programme. This will help Assembly Members to gain a better understanding of the implications of Brexit for key sectors of the Welsh economy, which will be vitally important so that they can scrutinise the policies of the Welsh and UK Governments.”

From August 2017 until January 2018, Professor Perdikis will divide his time between the National Assembly’s home in Cardiff Bay and Aberystwyth University.

As part of his brief, he will examine how a range of scenarios could impact on trade in Wales, including no deal or trading on World Trade Organisation terms as well as membership of the European Economic Area as a transitional arrangement.

Professor Nicholas Perdikis, who is Professor of International Business and a specialist in International Trade and Trade Policy at Aberystwyth Business School, said: “Nobody yet knows how leaving the EU will affect trade in Wales or the UK as a whole and Brexit remains the focus of political debate and discussion. This fellowship is a fantastic opportunity to work in an advisory capacity to the National Assembly for Wales at a time of significant change to Wales’ international economic environment.”

In addition to his academic research on trade, integration and the European Union’s trade policy, Professor Perdikis has acted as a consultant to international and national organisations.

These include the United Nations Committee on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and British High Commission in India.

Professor Perdikis is also co-author of a report on the proposed EU-India Free Trade Agreement.

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Politics

Calls to suspend ‘racist’ UKIP member

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A UKIP Assembly Member has been heavily criticised after a recording of a phone call in which she called a prominent Labour MP ‘a coconut’ was released.

A Labour Assembly Group spokesperson called for Michelle Brown, who represents the North Wales region, to be suspended immediately after the tape was released by her former senior adviser Nigel Williams.

During the course of the conversation, in which she also referred to former Labour MP and current Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum Tristram Hunt as a ‘t**t’, Ms Brown said: “Chuka Umunna is a f***ing coconut.

“He’s got as much understanding of an ordinary black man’s experience as I have.

“He may be black but his mother or his father was British from a very, very influential family.

“He is a coconut – black on the outside, white on the inside, and Barack Obama’s exactly the same.”

Former detective Nigel Williams, who was sacked by Ms Brown in May this year after working for her since her election, told the Daily Post that he had been ‘appalled’ by the recording, which he discovered in his records a year after the conversation took place.

“It’s bad enough coming from anybody, but to come from a newly appointed Assembly Member is absolutely appalling,” he added.

“I’ve seen swearing and I’ve been called all sorts of names myself, but I’ve actually never seen it from somebody in such a position.

“This wasn’t a meltdown. This was just a conversation that Michelle Brown was having, which she thought was OK.”

Labour and Plaid Cymru AMs led criticism of Ms Brown. A spokesperson for the Labour group said: “This is absolutely outrageous language and lays bare the disgusting racism at the heart of UKIP.

“Anything less than immediate suspension would be a clear endorsement of Michelle Brown’s racist slur.”

Plaid leader Leanne Wood said: “This racism reflects poorly on our parliament – the National Assembly for Wales – and that’s why her party should take action on this.”

Speaking to the BBC, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies said: “The language is completely unacceptable and it’s regrettable in the second decade of the 21st Century that that type of language is held by people who hold public appointment.

“From my view, if that person was in the Conservative Party – they would be suspended.

“As I said – it is completely unacceptable language.”

UKIP Chair Paul Oakden said UKIP ‘obviously does not condone the personal views expressed by Michelle Brown’.

“We will conduct an investigation into this matter, the findings of which will be passed through to our National Executive Committee so that they might consider disciplinary action,” he added.

However, Mr Oakden also noted that the party would also be investigating ‘whether a UKIP member and official surreptitiously recorded a private telephone conversation with Michelle Brown and then disseminated it without her consent, more than a year after the event’.

In the meantime, two of UKIP’s remaining five AMs criticised Ms Brown’s language.

Caroline Jones said that ‘inappropriate language is not condoned by myself or anyone else in the party,’ while David Rowlands ‘thought we’d put that racist language behind us as a party’.

Responding, Ms Brown said: “The point I was making is that, because of his considerable wealth and privilege, Chukka Umunna cannot possibly understand the difficulties and issues that the average black person faces in this country any more than I can, and I stand by that assertion.

“I do however accept that the language I used in the private conversation was inappropriate and I apologise to anyone that has been offended by it.”

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