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Badger and the appliance of science



badger84imageECONOMICS, readers, was described by Thomas Carlyle as “the dismal science”. Of course, the fact he coined the phrase in the context of a pamphlet supporting the reintroduction of slavery in the Caribbean demonstrates that one has to have an eye on the context in which they were originally offered up to posterity when considering the wisdom of aphorisms. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” is often handed down as though it was an immortal truth: one carved in stone; one to be heeded at all times and in all circumstances. Its appeal to authority is often followed by a nod to its origin in Shakespeare. Polonius, the character who offers the advice in Hamlet, is generally regarded as being as thick as mince and his counsel of as little use as a chocolate fireguard. So, readers, bear in mind t h a t wh e n e v e r you hear someone q u o t e t h a t line; their advice should be given as much weight as Hamlet ends up giving to Polonius’. By the way, and while Badger does not want to spoil the surprise, Hamlet stabs poor old Polonius by way of a farcical mistake resulting from Polonius own idiocy.

But it is of economics that Badger wants to write this week readers. In a way, it is inevitable that Carlyle, who subscribed to the dictum above. He believed in the “great man” theory of history which persisted for a surprisingly long time in scholarship. Economics, and more particularly economic history, is less about the individual poised at the moment of decision than about demography and long term trends. Badger is prepared to concede a great deal to those who think that the answer to the questions of the past can be divined from financial history and the study of markets and the masses. Much can be learned about the way in which some countries rise to positions of pre-eminence less because of the individual genius of its inhabitants than by their ability to exploit and more efficiently organize resources.

But when it comes down to it, readers, there are far fewer artworks devoted to the heroism of Keynes, Friedman and Galbraith t h a n there are to Napoleon, Frederick the Great or Churchill. Badger prefers to consider that there is a form of synthesis between the approaches of the different schools of thought. Otherwise how can one go about explaining the economic illiteracy, foolishness and pig-headed ignorance of Pembrokeshire’s county councillors – and more particularly the IPPG – when it came to Bryn Parry-Jones. Badger had hoped that the Brynmeister had made his last appearance in his column, but the eagerness of the national media to suddenly discover details of Bryn’s work car revealed in this paper over six months ago, thrust him and Pembrokeshire County Council’s profligate pay policy for senior officers into pin sharp focus.

That, combined with the news that the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales wants to cut his successor’s pay by a third to a measly £130K all in, behoves Badger to once more return to the longest running punchline to the longest running joke in Welsh local government. £195K readers. Toy with that fi gure. Roll it around in your head. £195,000 of our council tax paying pounds is what was bunged to Bryn by way of an annual remuneration package. How did anyone, let alone people charged with custody of public money, come to believe that one man was worth so much? Badger has a theory. It is only a notion borne out of Badger’s observations of the way you lot behave up there on the surface, but he offers it for your consideration. Hard as it might be to believe, readers, Bryn was regarded as a bit of whizz kid in his past.

He had been the youngest chief executive of a council in Wales (Llanelli) before the great local government shake-up that returned unitary authority status to our county eliminated Llanelli Borough Council and merged it with Carmarthenshire. So it was to Pembrokeshire – pretty much the last resort – to which Bryn turned. One fl ashy presentation later and Bryn jumped on the gravy train and rode it right up until it ran into the buffers. Thereafter, all Bryn had to do was to consolidate his grip on power and then play up to councillors’ vanity and insecurity to ensure that his pay escalated from the merely very comfortable to the stratospherically lunatic. Councillors, it has been written elsewhere by this newspaper’s deputy editor, were encouraged to believe that they were clever because they had appointed Bryn, who appeared clever.

Councillors, particularly those from the so-called Independent Group, liked feeling clever – or at least possessed of the secret knowledge of their own cleverness. But their misplaced self-confi dence was accompanied by insecurity. If Bryn left, their cleverness would evaporate; worse, their brilliance would be revealed to be as illusory as the emperor’s new clothes. So it was, readers, that slowly but surely Bryn was put into a position where he could apply the screws and chisel more money out of his employers. The vanity and insecurity of a few councillors, over time allowed Bryn to grab more and more. But it is worse than that, readers. The corollary of paying the Grand Panjandrum a large sum of money, means that all his subordinate mandarins’ pay becomes inflated simply to stay in step.

They are all worth more, because the Grand Panjandrum is worth more. The senior offi cers – heads of service – become less likely to proactively act on problems. There are two pressures at play here. There is the risk of killing the goose that has laid golden eggs. And, of course, if the Chief is clever they must also be clever. That is the species of thought that allows heads of service to re-write care home fees without reference to rational external criteria and allow the use of punishment cells in our county’s schools. They cannot be wrong, because they are clever. They can show how clever they are by reference to their pay cheques. Readers, what we have there is a perfect storm of wilful ignorance and self-interest fuelling grotesque pay infl ation. Every chief officer and senior officer in Wales wanted Pembrokeshire’s gravy train to keep on running to maintain the South Sea Bubble of senior staff’s pay.

But no more: the Remuneration Panel has decreed that Pembrokeshire’s size and staff complement cannot support a wage more outrageous than the £130,000 a year it proposes. Such is the infl ated pay that the Council pays to its individual heads of service, a new chief executive could end up being paid less than those notionally their underlings. So, Jamie Adams has a problem, readers. Whether he settles for what the Panel proposes or insists that £145,000 is the minimum to attract someone who will make his friends on the “Independent” benches feel clever again, he will be acknowledging that it was under the “Independent” group’s stewardship that this council (our council, readers!!) not only threw away hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money on overpaying its chief offi cer and his lackeys, but continues to do so. The economic science the “Independent” group understands, readers, is the economics of the madhouse. It’s dismal, indeed.

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Oxfam shop in faces closure over asbestos removal costs



HAVERFORDWEST’S popular Oxfam shop, a feature on the high street since 1987, is threatened with closure due to the prohibitive costs of asbestos removal. The shop, known for its extensive range of quality donated items and as the largest second-hand bookshop in Pembrokeshire, may no longer be able to serve the local community.

Rosamund Aubrey, an Oxfam volunteer explained that the asbestos, found in the upper floors of the building, requires removal, estimated to cost over £60,000.

She added: “This expense, to be charged to the shop’s account within a single year, could render the operation unprofitable. Oxfam GB’s policy mandates each of its shops to generate a minimum profit of £25,000 annually, a target that the Haverfordwest shop, despite its success, will struggle to meet under these circumstances.”

It is well known in Haverfordwest that Derrick and Mark, the managers of the Haverfordwest shop, along with their dedicated team of volunteers, have been instrumental in creating an inviting atmosphere that extends beyond retail.

The shop offers valuable work experience and training opportunities, making it a vital community resource, especially for those on low incomes.

Rosamund Aubrey says that the decision to potentially close the shop has sparked criticism of Oxfam GB’s management, especially in light of comments made by Sarah Rees, Head of Oxfam Cymru, who has described Wales’ child poverty rate as a “national disgrace”.

Ms Aubrey said: “The juxtaposition of the charity’s mission to alleviate poverty and its willingness to close a shop that contributes significantly to this cause has raised questions about its priorities.”

Oxfam GB has been accused of neglecting a critical community asset in favour of financial metrics, without considering the broader impact of the shop’s closure on Haverfordwest and beyond. The shop not only raises funds for Oxfam’s global initiatives but also plays a key role in the local community by providing affordable goods, social networking opportunities, and support for those seeking to move into paid work.

As the deadline approaches for Derrick and Mark to submit a business plan demonstrating the shop’s viability, the community awaits a decision with bated breath. The potential closure of the Haverfordwest Oxfam shop underscores a critical debate on the balance between financial viability and social responsibility, challenging the charity to reassess its values and commitment to fighting poverty in Wales.

Oxfam GB has been contact by The Herald for a comment.

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More trouble for Vaughan Gething in Labour leadership race



PRESSURE continues to build on Labour leadership contender Vaughan Gething as more revelations emerge about his campaign’s funding.

As The Herald reported on Friday, Mr Gething’s campaign got £200,000 of funding from a company linked to the Withyhedge landfill site.

In addition, Mr Gething received £3,000 in a non-cash donation from Cardiff-based Tramshed Tech.

While the £200,000 donation has raised eyebrows, the timing of the £3,000 donation from Tramshed Tech has done the same.

Mr Gething, Mark Drakeford’s Economy Minister, announced Welsh Government funding for Tramshed Tech to host their Soft Landing Programme.

No wrongdoing by either Tramshed Tech or Mr Gething is suggested. However, a cynic might regard the donation as an example of how the Welsh Government’s plans to create a circular economy will work in practice.

Spending limit is £44k

The unusual feature of Mr Gething’s funding is just how much there is.

Each candidate’s leadership campaign has a spending limit of £44,000. That sum is based on the number of Labour members in Wales multiplied by £2.50.

Mr Gething’s leadership campaign has received over £290,000 in donations.

The £44,000 cap covers leafleting and campaign costs, including social media advertisements.

Unprecedented donations

Mr Gething’s well-funded campaign will not break the rules provided his campaign’s expenditure remains at £44,000 or less. The question arises about the purposes for which all the other money will be put.

The £200,000 from the Dauson group of companies has caused anger among Mr Gething’s Senedd colleagues.

The Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS, commented on Twitter: “I’m sorry, but £200k on an internal election in a cost of living crisis is completely unjustifiable.

“I don’t want this to become a negative campaign, but I am genuinely shocked and angry by this. It’s wrong.”

Mr Waters supports Mr Gething’s rival, Jeremy Miles – along with well over half of Labour MSs.

Mr Gething’s lack of support among those who work with him closest is striking.

Equally striking is the number of unions who have hustled in behind the Penarth MSs campaign.

While Labour has around 20,000 actual party members, the Trade Union bloc vote controls 100,000 possible votes. The largest unions have not bothered balloting their members before coming out to support Mr Gething.

Where hustings took place, the Unite union seemed likely to back Jeremy Miles. However, an intervention from that union’s “regional secretary” fortuitously unearthed a rule that meant Mr Miles could not get the union’s backing after Mr Gething – equally fortuitously – joined Unite shortly before Mark Drakeford announced his retirement.

Speaking to Wales Online’s Will Hayward, the Director of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, Professor Richard Wyn Jones, said: “The sum involved is eye-wateringly large.
“There’s simply no precedent for it in the context of Welsh devolved politics.
“Indeed, I can’t think of a Welsh politicians who’s been able to access such large sums since the days of David Lloyd George – which isn’t a comparison that I can imagine anyone being comfortable with.”

Writing for Nation Cymru, the doyen of Welsh political journalists -Martin Shipton – reported a Labour councillor as saying: “This is so bad that in my view Vaughan Gething is not fit to be a Member of the Senedd, let alone First Minister. The only honourable thing for him to do is to withdraw from the contest, but he won’t do that.

“If he wins the election, I will not be able to accept him as the leader of Welsh Labour, and I think many others in the party may take the same view.”

For comparison, when Mark Drakeford defeated Vaughan Gething in the race to replace former First Minister Carwyn Jones, he got £25,000 in campaign donations. Jeremy Miles’s declared level of donations is £32,000.

As bad as the current situation looks, the final level of each candidate’s donations is yet to be declared – and things could get far more embarrassing for Mr Gething and the Labour Party before they get better.

The worst-case scenario is that the result of a tainted campaign overshadows the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay and places a politically damaged First Minister in place during a General Election year.

The consequences of a negatively perceived Labour leader in Wales cannot be underestimated during a UK election.

The Conservatives are knocking lumps off the Labour Government on the NHS, transport, and rural policy.

Mr Gething’s fundraising efforts could give the Conservatives another target and Plaid Cymru a pretext for dumping the Cooperation Agreement.

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Extra funding to upgrade NHS Wales digital services and equipment



THE NHS will benefit from £10m in additional capital funding to upgrade scanning equipment and digital infrastructure.

The funding package includes:

  • £5m for digital services to modernise elements of the IT infrastructure and support the provision of modernised and efficient patient care.
  • £1m to upgrade MRI scanners.
  • £1.3m for ultrasound scanning equipment.

The extra funding is being made available today as the Welsh Government publishes its second supplementary budget – an annual, end-of-year budget, which formalises changes made during 2023-24.

This year, the second supplementary budget includes changes the Finance Minister announced in October 2023 to provide additional support to the NHS and Transport for Wales.

The Welsh Government provided additional in-year support of £425m to the NHS and £125m to Transport for Wales to help meet increased cost pressures and, in the case of health boards, rising demand.

The second supplementary budget also details some of the additional funding made available to Wales as a result of decisions made by the UK Government to increase spending in devolved areas.

But notification of the additional consequential funding has come too late to be spent in this financial year. The additional revenue and capital funding will be put into the Wales Reserve for use in 2024-25 and 2025-26.

As the figures were published, Rebecca Evans, Minister for Finance and Local Government said:

“The UK Government confirmed the final sums last week, leaving us only one week to allocate additional funds.
“I’m pleased that we have been able to direct much-needed funding to maintain the fabric of our NHS.

“But at a time when public sector budgets have been squeezed so tightly, this is another example of why we need greater borrowing powers to be able to respond quickly to emerging needs.

“Unlike the UK Government, we cannot borrow to fund day-to-day spending so we are dependent on Barnett consequentials which often come late in the year and with little or no notice.

“As it is, we have been forced to plan based on best guesses about what we will receive from the UK Treasury – this is simply not acceptable.”

Eluned Morgan, Minister for Health and Social Services added:

“This additional capital funding, together with the in-year revenue funding is welcome.

“But the NHS is facing the toughest financial pressures in recent history due to inflation and increased demand in both planned and emergency care. Health boards have had to make some very difficult decisions despite the additional injection of funding over and above their allocated budgets.”

The supplementary budget is due to be debated on Tuesday 12 March, after the Welsh Government’s Final Budget 2024-25 on Tuesday 27 February

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