Every so often, the murky world of government throws up an issue where competing priorities between departments either overlap or run into conflict.
Politicians tend to have a short way of dealing with such abstracts. In fact there seldom seems to be a problem on the planet that can’t be managed by appointing a ‘czar’ to untangle the tricky stuff.
In the US city of Houston, they’ve appointed a ‘flooding czar’ to coordinate regional agency work in limiting the damage from severe storms. The newspapers are making heavy weather of earlier, but inaccurate, suggestions that his name is Canute.
The UK government has a ‘behaviour czar’ dedicated to sorting out school absenteeism. Media reports however claim the individual has not been seen at his post for several months.
Margrethe Vestager may not be a household name, but the EU’s ‘competition czar’ is well known to the guys at Google, having served them with an antitrust notice targeting Android. She also recently landed Apple with a massive tax bill.
Obviously the reference to “czar” is a piece of journalistic shorthand. Much easier also to suggest that someone has a single-handed remit rather than admit that the setup is a lot more complex – and accountability possibly a more obscure than intended.
We don’t go in much for czars here in Wales. The delegated role of fixing things - even if they aren’t actually broken - goes to Commissioners. They foster the interests of groups and issues which straddle departmental divides such as Older People, Children and Welsh language.
We’ve also recently seen the appointment of a Future Generations Commissioner with the challenging responsibility of “improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales”.
The idea of having focused attention on areas that fall outside traditional boundaries is laudable. Where I get a little fuzzy is over the question of who authorises implementation.
On the surface, the current arrangement relies on one person’s perspective and, very often, one person’s agenda. Although we mortals get consulted on proposals, things tend to happen because an unelected official says so.
It’s not too long ago that the big beef in Wales was over a democratic deficit whereby a Welsh Secretary appointed by Westminster hived off powers to a range of non-accountable quangos.
The advent of the Welsh Assembly was supposed to change all that.
I know it’s not a popular refrain, but is it really any less expensive to appoint these Commissioners plus the cost of their staff, accommodation, facilities, etc. than to have 20 more AMs in the Senedd?
My instinct is that we should ‘de-commission’ Wales before non-elected governance on key service areas becomes the irrevocable norm. I suspect that I might not be alone in that view.
I was kind of hoping that once the dust had settled after May’s election, then we would get some clarity on who actually runs Wales – elected and otherwise.
It’s probably wise if I don’t hold my breath.
Zero benefit from contracts
An associate of mine was talking about employment trends at a recent presentation. She’s concerned that a rise in zero-hours contracts could be a threat to economic stability– but not for the reasons you might think.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) about 903,000 people – 2.9% of the working population - currently have a main job that does not guarantee a minimum number of hours. That's up 21% from same period last year.
Zero-hours contracts are most prevalent in retail, accommodation and social care sectors.
What was said at the presentation is that not only are such contracts one step away from a kind of social exclusion, they also inhibit people’s ability to secure loans or obtain hire-purchase.
The UK government claims that 70% of workers on zero-hours contracts are happy with the number of hours they work. Pity that they aren’t thinking about how a 3% increase in consumer spending is being missed.
This stuff used to be simpler
I need to change my mobile phone or my provider (or maybe both) but planning for the big switch has been fraught.
I’ve done the online chat review with my current network. Yet as helpful as ‘Matt’ seemed throughout our exchange, I kept expecting him to ask: “do you want fries with that?”
My phone tends to double up as my office, which means an erratic signal can be a business disaster.
Things weren’t helped by my decision a couple of years ago to try to mostly work from home. The move reduced my carbon footprint but left me unreachable in parts of the house.
It’s not just the Lower Swansea Valley that has its problems either. I’ve joined Mal Pope before now in standing on a coffee table to get a signal in the Swansea BBC offices.
Regulator Ofcom say they’re making progress in getting better phone network sharing. Maybe so, but personally speaking I just don’t see it.