Thursday, 30 August 2012

The reality of disability - Labour's scheme, Tory's dream

OK, so the Paralympics are on... the politicians (both red and blue) will bask in every gold medal won by the disabled athletes.

But once they're over, consider this.

Politicians, both red and blue, have been looking to stitch up the disabled for a decade and more...

The rot started when Blair employed consultants from Unum Provident to reform the welfare system. Blair is no idiot - he knew Unum was a huge US firm providing health insurance. 

It was involved in scandal... 

Less than a decade ago the company, while it was an advisor to the UK government on welfare reforms, was dragged through the US courts in a massive class action where the California Department of Insurance Commissioner, John Garamendi, stated that, “Unum Provident is an outlaw company. It is a company that has operated in an illegal fashion for years”.  By 2007, the American Association for Justice identified Unum Provident as “the second worst insurance company in the US” and the company was fined over $36 million dollars for this and ordered to pay out $100’s of millions in compensation. They were even, until 2008, banned from carrying out business in over 13 US states, until agreeing to reopen and review over 300,000 claims.

 Despite this appalling track record, Unum was put in charge of changing disability benefits in the UK. As is happening now with ATOS, Unum employees were routinely denying disabled claimants their benefits - without any medical evidence.

 The same is about to hit claimants in the UK. Yes, it's being introduced by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition but the process was started by Blair's Labour government, who employed these schysters in the first place.

 To cap it all, Labour also appointed David Freud (a city banker) to reform disability benefits in 2008. Freud admits he knew nothing about disability but within three weeks had drafted a report advocating that private firms should be incentivised to get the disabled off benefits.

As reported in The Daily Telegraph:


This week, however, Mr Freud was hired by James Purnell, the new Work and Pensions Secretary, as an adviser and asked to help implement nothing less than a revolution in the welfare state.
There has, he believes, been a sea change in Labour's thinking about the benefits system. "Gordon Brown has now said they're going to do it," he says. "Peter Hain [the previous work and pensions secretary] was worried about the Left. Purnell is showing astonishing energy, there is going to be a much more single-minded ferocity."
Mr Freud's big idea is that the private sector be put in charge of the long-term unemployed. Companies taking part would receive a huge fee for getting somebody to stay in a job for more than three years but nothing if they fail.
It's little surprise that the disabled are being shafted when successive UK governments have plotted for so long to take away benefits.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Ofqual Part 2.

In my previous blog on this subject I was unable to verify (although I suspected) that WJEC the Welsh Examination body was actually regulated by Ofqual and not as you  would have expected, a body under the control of the Welsh Government. This is not in fact the case the WJEC is actually regulated by the DfES or the Department of Education and Skills in Westminster (if you believe Ofqual)  This information is not easy to find on Ofqual's website but this what it says:
The Register of Regulated Qualifications contains details of Recognised Awarding Organisations and Regulated Qualifications in England (Ofqual), Wales (DfES) and Northern Ireland (Ofqual for vocational qualifications and CCEA for all other qualifications).
So let's look at this in more detail Ofqual is responsible for regulating awarding organisations in England and vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland period. Ofqual are:
" independent of government and report directly to parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly "
Apart from NVQ's other awarding bodies in Northern Ireland are regulated by their own body the CCEA
The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) was established on 1 April 1994 and is a non-departmental public body reporting to the Department of Education in Northern Ireland.
But what happens in Wales?, our Awarding bodies are apparently regulated by the Department of Education and Skills in Westminster, but where is the transparency and independence? Northern Ireland have their own CCEA, England have Ofqual which is an independent body answerable to Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly but no mention anywhere of the DfES being answerable to the National Assembly for Wales.

If on the other hand you believe the Welsh Government the WJEC is regulated by DCELLS (Leighton Andrews' Education Department) which states:


We (DCELLS) regulate general and vocational qualifications in Wales.  To do this we:
  • Recognise and monitor awarding organisations to make sure they operate fairly and consistently, and follow our regulations. We often do this jointly with the regulators in England (Ofqual) and Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA);
  • Work with awarding organisations to maintain standards in qualifications and assessments and to ensure that the public has confidence in the qualifications system;
  • Develop qualifications frameworks;
  • Support the provision of Welsh medium qualifications;
  • Ensure access for candidates with particular needs.
There is no mention anywhere on the WG website of the  DfES being responsible for regulation of awards in Wales.

It really makes you wonder whether DCELLS have in all practical sense handed over responsibility for regulation of awards to Ofqual and that is why we have the problem of 'raised barriers' and lower grades in English GCSE, both in England and Wales?

I wish someone somewhere would clarify how this system actually works, if of course there is someone who understands it! Perhaps its one for opposition education spokespersons to unravel during questions to Leighton Andrews.
 

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Cost of Democracy.

If we cast our minds back to the building of our National Assembly and if it came to it also the Scottish Parliament we will recall the numerous cynical letter writers decrying the cost of Welsh and Scottish democracy saying the money would be better spent on health and education.

Where are these cynical letter writers now that it has been decided that the Houses of Parliament need a refurbishment at a cost of £3 billion! This is a phenomenal figure compared to the £70 million it cost to build the National Assembly and the £414 million to build the Scottish Parliament; in fact a refurbishment will cost 6 times the building costs of the Senedd and the Scottish Parliament put together and the silence is deafening!

Where is the outcry people?

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Ofqual.

I do admit to being thoroughly confused with what is going  with the GCSE results this year with concerns in England AND Wales about the grades awarded particularly in GCSE English with many pupils having been graded D when they were predicted to gain a C. If the allegations that the regulatory body Ofqual has intervened with examination boards to 'raise the bar' and to make the exam tougher then that is totally unfair on those pupils and my sympathy goes out to them and I wish them every success in their appeal.

But what really confuses me here is the constitutional issue and where is the line drawn in respect of devolved administration responsibility and Westminster. Education in Wales is devolved and is the responsibility of the Minister of Education, Leighton Andrews. Education in England is a matter for the Department of Education and Skills and the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. This then begs the question whether the English Regulatory body Ofqual has any authority over Wales and its examination body the WJEC?
Ofqual on its website describes its responsibilities as:
At Ofqual, we’re responsible for maintaining standards, improving confidence and distributing information about qualifications and examinations. We regulate general and vocational qualifications in England and vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland.

We give formal recognition to bodies and organisations that deliver qualifications and assessments. We also accredit their awards and monitor their activities (including their fees).
We’re not directly controlled by the government but report to parliament.
That would indicate that Ofqual have no responsibility for accreditating awards to the WJEC, but a report  by Westminster's Education Committee (3/7/12) on the subject of  "The administration of examinations for 15-19 year olds in England", indicates otherwise. This sentence from the report suggests that lawmakers and civil servants were fully aware that GCSE's in 2012 were to be tightened up:
There are signs, as the DfE suggested to us, that Ofqual "has begun to show a real willingness to tackle awarding bodies on the key issues of standards".[157] Since summer 2010, Ofqual has taken action to contain grade inflation at A level. This has proved effective, and it plans to do the same at GCSE from summer 2012.
 Also this recommendation from the Committee indicates that Ofqual does have strong influence if not regulatory control over the Welsh and Northern Irish Examination Board:
We recommend that Ofqual review its arrangements for ensuring comparability of standards between England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and that it continue to monitor standards in GCSE and A level examinations offered by WJEC and CCEA, as well as the English providers as part of its ongoing regulation of standards. We also believe that a debate is needed on the importance of standards comparability between the home nations, with a Ministerial conference to decide whether and what action is necessary. 
 There is no doubt in my mind that decisions made at a Westminster level do have an impact on educational standards in Wales as the GCSE English fiasco goes to prove. Pressure by Michael Gove, the Education Committee in Westminster and Ofqual  to raise the barriers in English pass rates did apply to the WJEC Examination Board despite education in Wales being devolved. The end result of this is that our Minister of Education Leighton Andrews has been undermined and the Welsh Assembly Education Committee should examine what has gone wrong here and make recommendations to the Minister.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes was never very popular amongst the Tory right as they opposed increased public spending on infrastructure projects to 'grow' the economy out of recession but to favour market liberalism of tax cuts and reduction of spending. After the recent failure to reduce borrowing as tax revenues plummet and spending increases year on year, the Treasury are having a serious re-think about the government's economic ideology and direction. Today's Guardian reports that the Treasury intend to compensate for the recent reversal in deficit reduction by increased infrastructure spending which is nothing less than a return to Keynesianism and a complete U-turn by Osborne and the Treasury.
There are further anomalies in the Government's plans
In a sign of the government's radical thinking, ministers are drawing up plans to reform the Highways Agency so it can borrow money to pay for a "horizon shift" in spending on roads to boost the economy and reduce congestion and delays.
The agency, which runs the network of motorways and A-roads, could be made more independent, most probably as a government-owned company or public trust, so it can borrow without increasing the public deficit.
One of the obvious questions arising out of this report is the fact that the government intends to grant an unelected quango like the Highways Agency borrowing powers whilst it makes no mention of granting an elected Government like the Welsh Government similar borrowing powers. Secondly the Government want to create a company to hide debt and to manipulate and reduce the public deficit in exactly the same way as Gordon Brown did as Chancellor with the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), which was partly the cause of why we find ourselves in this current double dip recession. Further evidence if we needed it that there is not a blind bit of difference between the macroeconomic policies of Labour and the Conservatives..
       

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Torri'r Dywarchen - Ysgol Gymraeg Gwersyllt.






Gwinllan a roddwyd i'm gofal yw Cymru fy ngwlad,
i'w thraddodi i'm plant, ac i blant fy mhlant,
yn dreftadaeth dragwyddol.
Ac wele'r moch yn rhuthro arni, i'w baeddu.
Minnau yn awr, galwaf ar fy nghyfeillion,
y cyffredin a'r ysgolhaig.
Deuwch ataf i'r adwy: sefwch gyda mi yn y bwlch,
fel y cedwir i'r oesoedd a ddel y glendid a fu.
Gweler hefyd adroddiad gan Wrexham dot com

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Confusion Reigns at Sainsbury's!

HT to Wings over Scotland for spotting this little gem (Click to enlarge)

So Scotch Broth is no longer Scottish?

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Local Councillor welcomes the start of building the Welsh School.

Press Release.
 
Councillor Arfon Jones, Gwersyllt West, today welcomes the start of building of the Welsh school in Delamere Avenue, Gwersyllt, Cllr Jones said,
“It was great to watch the contractors moving on site and starting the work, this has been 3 years in coming and at times it has been in the face of fierce opposition but in the end common sense prevailed and the decision was made to build to meet the enormous demand for Welsh medium education in the Gwersyllt area.”

There will be an official turf cutting ceremony at the site on Tuesday 14th August at 3pm, but it seems the Council have kept this quiet and only a select few have been invited to the official ceremony, amongst them is the Leader of the Council, Neil Rogers, and three of the four Labour local members all of whom opposed the school. Councillor Arfon Jones was the only local member NOT to be invited said,
“I am saddened that the new administration in Wrecsam are using the opening of a new school to score political points by inviting those that opposed the school to the official turf cutting but excluding those that campaigned for it. We shouldn’t use children’s education as a political football; it’s too important of that. There are others who worked hard for this school who have also been excluded including members of Gwersyllt Community Council and staff, parents and governors of Ysgol Plas Coch.”

Councillor Jones went on to say,
“I am surprised that senior Council officers allow themselves to be used in this political partisan way they are supposed to be impartial, this is hardly impartial behaviour.”

Llyr Huws Gruffydd the Plaid Cymru Assembly Member for North Wales said,
“It’s good to see the work on the new school start at last. It is a testament to the hard work of so many people in securing the school for Wrexham. However it is strange, to say the least, that the Council has been so selective in those taking part in the official ceremony. You would think that those individuals that were so instrumental in securing the school would have been invited. It looks as if this is a political points scoring exercise at the expense of recognising the efforts of those that have worked so hard in securing that this school becomes a reality"

Ysgol Gymraeg Gwersyllt

Falch iawn o weld y gwaith wedi cychwyn ar adeiladu ysgol Gymraeg newydd yn Gwersyllt, hyn yn union flwyddyn ar ol Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Wrecsam a thair blynedd ers pan grybwyll y syniad gynta yn Eisteddfod y Bala. Ffrwyth tair blynedd o waith caled wedi ei wireddu. Edrych ymlaen 'rwan i'w hagoriad ym mis Medi 2013.




Diolch i'r cannoedd o fobol ddaru ddatgan eu cefnogaeth.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Councillors In Row Over Cumulative Impact Policy For Wrexham.

 The new Labour/Indy/Tory coalition in operation in Wrecsam... the opposition are not allowed to come up with good ideas but if they do let's bin them... Partisan politics at its worst and definitely not working in the best interests of traders and businesses in the town.

Councillors In Row Over Cumulative Impact Policy For Wrexham | Wrexham.com

Monday, 6 August 2012

Gatewen housing developer tries to reduce affordable homes number

Back in March 2010, we reported  on plans to build 263 new homes on the former Gatewen colliery site just outside New Broughton.
 Plaid councillors on the planning committee at the time expressed concerns about the scale of the development, the impact on local services and infrastructure and the disappointingly low level of affordable housing - just 20% instead of the recommended 25%.
 The scheme was passed despite our opposition and now we see the developers coming back to the planning committee... to reduce the number of affordable houses even further.
 The argument is that the affordable houses aren't attracting buyers or renters. In the current economic climate this can mean just one thing - affordable housing isn't affordable for the bulk of local people.
 It's not clear from the lengthy letter of justification sent by the developer whether these were houses for rent or for purchase at a reduced rate, but it's apparent (as we've argued for some time) that the concept of "affordable housing" is fatally flawed if you have to find a £20,000 deposit to buy one.
 If you have that kind of spare cash, by definition you should not be eligible to apply for affordable housing. It's a Catch-22 situation that Joseph Heller would have approved of.
 It will be interesting to see whether the new planning authority stands up to the developer or whether it accepts the rationale that housing is there to make the maximum amount of money for large property developers and bugger the communities that have to put up with the added pressure over-sized estates like Gatewen put on roads, schools, health and social services.

High Court rules Work Capability Assessment arguably unlawful

The Public Law Project should be praised for their excellent work in persuading the High Court to allow a Judicial Review to be brought before the court against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in respect of the infamous ATOS Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The claim is being brought by two disabled people whose disability were mental health issues, on the basis that ATOS Health Care Professionals who carry out WCA have limited experience and knowledge of mental illness. Secondly, it is claimed that the WCA process is discriminatory under the 2010 Equalities Act in that it does not allow claimants with mental health issues reasonable adjustements under the Act.

The Public Law Project Press Release can be found here.

A finding against the DWP will be welcome news for many disabled welfare claimants who have been wrongly categorised as being fit for non existent work and as such have had their Incapacity Benefit/ESA stopped reducing their disposable income by as much as a half.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Disqualification from Holding Elected Office.

Section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972 as amended defines who is disqualified from holding an elected office:
Section 80(1)(a) states that 'a person shall be disqualified for being elected or being a member of a local authority….. If he holds any paid office or employment […] which are or may be made or confirmed by the local authority'. This includes those who hold a paid office on joint boards or committees on which the local authority is represented.
What this means is that anyone EMPLOYED by a local authority CANNOT be elected as a Councillor for that authority. But,  if you work for a third sector organisation, a charity or a non profit organisation which is wholly funded by a local authority and provides commissioned services on behalf of that local authority there is nothing to prevent you from being elected as a Councillor to that authority.

It cannot be right that employees directly paid by a local authority are disqualified from public office whilst those that are paid indirectly or via a third party by a local authority are not disqualified.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Plaid Cymru gain a seat from Labour.

Congratulation to Plaid Cymru's Ian James Johson who last night won the Buttrills ward on Vale of Glamorgan Council from Labour. Plaid Cymru gained the seat with a 12.3% swing from Labour (May 2012).

The result:

Plaid Cymru   541
Labour           503
Tory                90
Independent    82

This is the second by-election gain for Plaid Cymru in as many weeks.