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Politics

Hammond springs into inaction

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Philip Hammond: A bouncing Exchequer

P​HILIP HAMMOND, Chancellor of the Exchequer, told the Commons that he was like Tigger when delivering his Spring Statement on Tuesday, March 13.

Depicting his opposite number, Labour’s John McDonnell as like Eeyore for his constant predictions of doom and gloom, Mr Hammond alighted upon a spring-tailed pest as the best way to describe himself.

Wikipedia defines Tigger’s personality rather well.

​”​He is very confident and has quite an ego, he often thinks of himself as being handsome, and some of his other comments suggest he has a high opinion of himself… [C]an also be mischievous, and his actions have sometimes led to chaos and trouble for himself and his friends. Also, he often undertakes tasks with gusto, only to later realize they were not as easy as he had originally imagined​.”​

That Mr Hammond has some of those attributes – especially the last – is well-attested by his track record as a government minister. Often, bold announcements and new policies have withered and died under scrutiny and disappeared never to appear again. Upping self-employed National Insurance rates being a case in point.

There was not intended to be a lot of meat in the Chancellor’s statement; that will have to wait until autumn and the budget. The key point of all the statistics at the moment is that they are provisional and can be no more than provisional until the EU and UK finalise the terms of the latter’s departure from the former.

The uncertainty is reflected in the report of the Office of Budget Responsibility, which provides independent analyses to the UK government on public finances. It says that the impact on public finances of Brexit on public finances cannot be quantified at the present time.

That position is likely to change by this autumn’s budget, when the Government will have – or should have – a very clear idea of what the shape of the Brexit deal will actually be. We should certainly know whether we are exiting on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms or with a bespoke deal on trade, tariffs, and borders.

Whether or not the Prime Minister gets to that point with her current Cabinet intact is a matter of conjecture, with Liam Fox laying down a series of personal red lines that suggest the more ‘committed’ Brexiteers in the Conservative Party could cut up rough if there is a sniff of any sort of deal that falls short of their expectations.

An alternative view might have it that the Spring Statement celebrated continuing low economic growth, a dramatic fall in the value of wages, a continuing squeeze on public services, and the increasing inability of the UK economy to meet internal demand.

But Tuesday was Philip Hammond’s day to be Tigger. Everything was good news. The Government was doing well. All was right with the economy. The UK was on track. All the indicators suggested we were bouncing to glory.

Brexit remains, however, the Eeyore-ish donkey in the room and the Chancellor will be mindful that the economy could find itself in Pooh Corner sooner rather than later.

Politics

WG ends right to buy

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HOUSING association and local authority tenants in some parts of Wales have until January 26 to use the Right to Buy and associated Schemes after which they will be abolished in Wales.

People who are eligible and wish to buy their own home must have completed an application form available from their landlord or the Welsh Government website and submitted it to their landlord before the upcoming deadline of 26 January 2019.

Housing and Local Government Minister Julie James said: “We passed the Abolition of the Right to Buy and Associated Rights Act to protect the stock of social housing in Wales from further reduction, so it is available to provide affordable housing for people who need it. This legislation is one of a range of actions we are taking to increase the supply of housing in Wales.

“Between 1981 and 2016, over 139,000 local authority and housing association homes were sold under the Right to Buy. This has led to many people, many of whom are vulnerable, waiting longer to access a home they can afford. Abolishing the Right to Buy is also giving social landlords more confidence to invest in building new social housing by removing the risk of these homes being sold after only a few years.

“We are committed to creating 20,000 more affordable homes by 2021 and we are supporting social landlords to help us to achieve this.”

Right to Buy has already been suspended in Anglesey, Carmarthenshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Powys, Swansea and Cardiff. Following the one year allowed under the Act to exercise their rights, the Right to Buy and associated rights will finally be abolished throughout Wales on the 26 January 2019.

Further information is available from housing associations and local authority housing teams. Information on the legislation and how it will affect tenants is available on the Welsh Government website

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Politics

Brexit bots increased division

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A RESEARCH collaboration from academics at Swansea University and the University of California, Berkeley suggests that information automated software agents or ‘bots’ were used to spread either ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ social media stories during and after the Brexit referendum which drove the two sides of the debate further apart.

Research by Professor Talavera Professor, and PhD student Tho Pham from the School of Management, in collaboration with Professor Yuriy Gorodnichenko, at University of California, Berkeley, focused on information diffusion on Twitter in the run-up to the EU Referendum.

Professor Talavera said: “With the development of technology, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are often used as tools to express and spread feelings and opinions. During high-impact events like Brexit, public engagement through social media platforms quickly becomes overwhelming. However, not all social media users are real. Some, if not many, are actually automated agents, so-called bots. And more often, real users, or humans, are deceived by bots.

TWITTER ANALYSIS
Using a sample of 28.6 million #Brexit-related tweets collected from 24 May 2016 to 17 August 2016, researchers observed the presence of Twitter bots that accounted for approximately 20 per cent of total users in the sample. Given the preponderance of re-tweets from bots by humans, a key question is whether human users’ opinions about Brexit were manipulated by bots.

Empirical analysis shows that information about Brexit is spread quickly among users. Most of the reaction happened within 10 minutes, suggesting that for issues critically important to people or issues widely covered in the media, informational rigidity is very small. Beyond information spread, an important finding is that bots seem to affect humans.

However, the degree of influence depends on whether a bot provides information consistent with that provided by a human. More specifically, a bot supporting leaving the EU has a stronger effect on a “leaver” human than a “remain” human.

‘ECHO CHAMBER’
Further investigation shows that “leavers” were more likely to be influenced by bots compared to “remainers”. These results suggest that dissemination of information is consistent with what is frequently referred to as an ‘echo chamber’ – a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system, revealing that the outcome is that information is more fragmented rather than uniform across people.”

Professor Talavera said: “Social bots spread and amplify the misinformation, thus influencing what humans think about a given issue. Moreover, social media users are more likely to believe (or even embrace) fake news that is in line their opinions. At the same time, these users distance themselves from reliable information sources reporting news that contradicts their beliefs. As a result, information polarisation is increased, which makes reaching consensus on important public issues more difficult.”

“It is now vital that policymakers and social media should seriously consider mechanisms to discourage the use of social bots to manipulate public opinion.”

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Politics

WG gets help on regional development

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THE ORGANISATION for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will lead a new project to support the development of regional economic development policy in Wales, Economy Minister Ken Skates and Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles have announced.

The Paris-based experts will use their extensive international experience of regional economic development to provide rigorous challenge and advice to the Welsh Government as it implements its new Economic Action Plan and develops new plans for Regional Investment in Wales after Brexit.

As world leaders in their field, the OECD’s input will help ensure that Wales’ future regional economic development model embeds international best practice.

The internationally-renowned body has provided advice to the Welsh Government before. In 2014, it produced a major report to help improve schools in Wales. In subsequent years it has also supported Welsh Government work on schools reform.

This new project will see international experts visit Wales and discuss regional economic challenges and opportunities with partners. This, in turn, will help the Welsh Government to develop a new toolkit for action as well as clear international benchmarks to monitor performance.

Minister for Economy and Transport Ken Skates said: “Our new Economic Action Plan is a major public policy reform and I want to ensure we receive the very best advice and strongest international challenge to help us achieve our economic ambitions.

“The changes we have outlined through the Economic Action Plan to boost regional economies across Wales are profound, as is our ambition for stronger regional partnership working in Wales to boost inclusive and sustainable growth. There is no-one better to help us deliver this than the OECD.

“We have asked the OECD to advise us on ways to strengthen regional economic governance, build capacity, and support more joined up economic policymaking, including through developing a practical toolkit for both us and our partners to use to support those changes.
“We must ensure Wales remains competitive and that we benchmark ourselves against the best and learn from great ideas and new innovation across the world.”

Minister for Brexit Jeremy Miles said: “EU regional investment has helped improve our economy, but Wales needs further investment to address the structural economic challenges we continue to face. We continue to press the UK Government for the £370m annually we receive for our European Structural and Investment funds in Wales in keeping with promises made during the referendum campaign that Wales would not be worse off and for regional economic development in Wales to remain with the Welsh Government after we leave the EU.

“Our project with the OECD will play an important part in Wales’ development of the right policy and structures for a successor regional investment approach to replace EU regional funds, closely aligned to our Economic Action Plan. We are not looking to simply replicate the EU model in Wales, and are committed to creating a new, made in Wales approach that reflects international best practice, builds on Wales’ distinctive legislative and policy landscape, and delivers for our people, businesses and communities.

“This partnership with the OECD will help strengthen that work and give confidence to our partners that new and dynamic partnerships can be formed to innovate and link policies in fresh and imaginative ways.”

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