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  • Lawrence Bailey

Winter of discontent in Cardiff Bay

Last month, an expert panel concluded that the Welsh Assembly needs an extra 20 to 30 members to cope with its growing workload.

Ironically, that recommendation comes at a time when rifts within the political groups are regular headline news.

The UKIP contingent, hardly a cohesive force to begin with, looks to be copying the national model of self-destruction. Disaffection over Neil Hamilton’s leadership has prompted successive departures through the ‘independent’ exit while a potential replacement is barred from joining up altogether.

Meanwhile, Labour are caught up in their own barely contained turmoil. Official attempts to maintain a ‘business as usual’ façade are undermined by bursts of off-stage vitriol linked to ad-hoc succession planning. Things are predicted by the pundits to get messy in next few weeks.

Plaid Cymru’s blood-letting has been no less marked. Things were awkward enough when former leader Dafydd Elis Thomas crossed the floor to assume cabinet office under Labour. Now party maverick Neil McEvoy has been expelled due to “an irrevocable breakdown of trust”.

This latest unhappy event overshadowed a recent keynote speech by leader Leanne Wood in which she shared a vision of a prosperous Wales underpinned by community socialism, co-operative values and the decentralisation of power.

All this, she stated, is predicated on a need for change. He problems is that detractors are using the latest slip-ups to suggest it's change of leadership that's first needed.

Assorted gurus have been offering up several creative scenarios as to how the recent strife will affect voting patterns and committee entitlements. The truth though is that no-one is quite sure.

That's not too surprising given that its getting harder to work out who pulls the strings.

What may appear odd to those who exist outside the Cardiff Bay bubble is that cross-party relations have been mostly untouched by all the internal discord.

Indeed, Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies has even attempted reaching out across the chamber in search of common ground in an effort to wrest Labour’s long-standing grip on government.

He slightly scuppered his chances by also declaring that a devolution referendum would not reproduce a majority vote if held today.

As you’d expect, this assertion is robustly disputed by academics. Even so, I can’t help thinking that with the public perception of current squabbles and a general disenchantment with politicians, any outcome might well be a close run thing.


Borrowing and bad business don’t mix

The story of inept corporate governance behind the Carillion collapse is sadly not a new one. It's not the first time that weak regulation has allowed a conglomerate to virtually print its own money - with the inevitable consequences

That said, there are inconvenient truths among the bad management mantra and anti-capitalist rhetoric.

Whatever your ideological take on the approach, Private Finance Initiative (PFI) funding is a workable means of getting around Treasury borrowing rules without giving money markets the jitters over increased capital commitments.

Without it, the 1997-2010 public spending programmes, for which Labour are justly proud, would never have happened. Millions of people would still be putting up with life in the damp and derelict Victorian-era schools and hospitals that were replaced.

I agree that there is undeniably a debate to be had about the extent of private sector’s role in providing public services. Outsourcing in particular needs to be revisited.

But what’s also needed is objective recognition of what both has to offer.


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