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Taking out the Christmas trash

If you’re a ‘West Wing’ fan (like me and Peter Black) then you will undoubtedly have heard of “take out the trash day”.

This is when a government releases loads of potentially embarrassing news in a barrage of documents, just as everyone is heading off on their holiday break.

Labour were incensed last week at the publication of a total of 36 written ministerial statements and 424 government documents in one day - as if they had never pulled such stunts during their own term in office

In case you’re interested, among the items that consequently didn’t make the headlines is how the Home Office has lost track of 10,000 asylum seekers. A spokesman described a reluctance to keep searching as it "was not a priority and considered a drain on resources".

The badger cull in England was also quietly extended. The announcement from Environment Secretary Liz Truss comes despite the success of vaccine trials that could make further killing unnecessary.

Elsewhere, a Home Office statement revealed funding for Britain’s 43 police forces is being trimmed by 2.3 per cent a year – around £41m. This contradicts George Osborne’s commitment in last month’s Spending Review to stop cuts altogther.

Maybe the wheeze of hiding the nasty stuff under seasonal wrapping came from the cadre of special advisers (Spads) that David Cameron had pledged to reduce. Funnily enough, information released late last week confirms that he now has 32 helpers - up from 26 last year.

A further quietly disclosed revelation was that Whitehall can’t say how much it spends on ministerial car services. Transport Minister Robert Goodwill said: "Charges do not necessarily reflect the total spend on car services for ministers as some departments have arrangements with other providers." Outside estimates have put the cost of shuttling cabinet members around at close to £4 million.

Another statement came clean on high earners in arms-length public bodies. Top of the heap is Simon Kirby, chief executive of High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) who is on £750,000 a year. He's responsible for "safety, cost, time and quality standards". The project is delayed by several years and overspent to treble the original estimate in some instances.

Lin Homer, head of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and who recently had to explain to MPs how her outfit failed to take action against UK citizens hiding money Swiss HSBC accounts, earns £185,000 a year.

Against this backdrop of official salaries, a government commissioned report into the impact of the "bedroom tax" admitted two-thirds of people affected by the benefit cuts had needed to cut back on food and 78% often ran out of money before the end of the week.

Only a third successfully accessed a hardship fund to ease the impact of reduced income. Only one in 10 moved to a smaller property which is what the policy was supposed to achieve.

You can understand why Downing Street would want to keep all this quiet. What is a lot less obvious though is how this information goes unreported.

Have a Merry Christmas.


Making waves on the waterfront

Like many other people, I’ve been banging on for some time about how we don’t make enough of Swansea’s waterfront. For example, we must be one of the worst coastal cities in the UK when it comes to restaurants and cafés with an actual sea view.

I’m hoping all this will change when preferred redevelopment schemes for the St David’s and Civic Centre sites are revealed next month.

We have a great opportunity to transform Swansea and reaffirm the city as a visitor destination.

It’s not just about making the most of a major physical asset. The key will be in imaginative proposals that link the city centre and the sea.

I appreciate that cash-strapped Swansea Council needs a pretty decent return on these two prime sites. Nonetheless, getting the right development in place to support a 24/7 economy will be crucial.

Sources tell me that I won’t be disappointed.


Be careful what you wish for

There are normally few smiles to be had on the subject of council reorganisation – and yet the Wales Audit Office managed to provide a chuckle.

In publishing his ‘Picture of Public Services 2015’ report, Auditor General of Wales Huw Vaughan Thomas reckoned all the current talk about mergers was distracting local authorities from improving current performance.

Welsh councils should be looking at innovative ways of delivering services, said the Wales Audit Office head. He cited Stoke-On-Trent as a potential role model for its use of co-operative measures to offset spending cuts from above.

Local government chiefs and a few pundits were quick to point out however that the Midlands council is also among the worst sixteen education authorities in England, according to standards watchdog Ofsted.

The WAO claim their comments were taken out of context. Even so, it does raise the question as to whether someone should be auditing the auditors.

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