February 20 2013

Falsie start

It seems I may have jumped the gun regarding the formation of the Pembrokeshire Alliance Party (PAP) (Trying to keep up)
My information came from what I thought were impeccable sources but when I was in the members' tea room this afternoon all those who had been pencilled in as founder-members denied any knowledge.
So, I suppose you could say that the question on everyone's lips is: Has PAP gone tits up?

Highway robbery

The Western Telegraph has hit its diminishing band of readers with a 33% increase in the cover price - ten times the rate of inflation.
This has brought forth some choice comments on the paper's Facebook page, including:

1 pound for a local newspaper,
Rather read Pembrokeshire's Best at least that news ain't biased and its free!

£ 1 for a newspaper that's full of adverts , Dick Turpin wore a mask.

£1 for a load of rubbish, no thanks daylight robbery.

Unfortunately, like most newspapers, the Western Telegraph is up against competition from bloggers and the excellent Pembrokeshire's Best, which is both free and informative.
Many newspapers have tried to counter this cyber-threat by publishing websites of their own but that is a dubious strategy because they find they are competing with themselves.
The WT no longer appears to publish its ABC circulation figures but the last time I saw them they were heading down towards 20,000 compared to almost 30,000 twenty years ago.
The usual reaction when demand falls off is to reduce prices, but I suspect that the men in grey suits who control the WT have calculated that elasticity of demand for local newspapers is such that the increase in price will more than compensate for any loss of sales.
The other consideration is that advertising rates depend on circulation, so any drop in readership could have a dramatic effect on revenue from that source.
Then again, they probably calculate that estate agents and motor traders have to advertise somewhere and with the WT group having a virtual monopoly in Pembrokeshire they have a captive audience.
That is certainly the case with PCC's public notices which they have a statutory duty to publish and for which the WT is the only outlet.
This market dominance allows the WT to charge PCC 50% more for public notices that other similar adverts.
But it is not all bad news because, after telling us that: "Quality journalism comes with a cost", a page two article by the editor goes on to list planned improvements in the paper's output.
It is not clear whether the quality journalists required to deliver these benefits will also be paid more, or whether the extra money raised will disappear down the gullet of Gannet Inc the American media giant that owns the WT.

All change

WAG education minister Leighton Andrews AM has given the clearest possible indication that a shake up in Wales' education system is in the offing.
Speaking on BBC Wales, Mr Andrews said that the 1995 local government reorganisation, which resulted in the replacement of the eight super counties with the present 22 unitary authorities, had led to ". . . a dissipation of resources" which meant, "we don't have sufficiently strong school improvement services as the older counties had, we don't have expertise in human resource support for head teachers".
So we'd better steel ourselves for the return of Dyfed, or something very similar.
To what extent this is political activism dressed up as reform is a moot point, but it is possible to detect a roughly 20-year cycle with the former PCC being replaced by Dyfed in 1976, Dyfed by PCC in 1995 and . . .
I suppose WAG ministers have to be seen to be doing something.
There may be also be an element of "getting your retaliation in first" as the great Welsh rugby coach Carwyn James advised, because the OECD is shortly to produce its report on international comparisons in education performance and Wales is not thought likely to emerge smelling of roses.
Mr Andrews holds some strong cards in the form of adverse Estyn reports on the education systems of Pembrokeshire, Anglesey, Blainau Gwent and, more recently, Monmouthshire and Merthyr Tydfil: all of which are, or soon will be, in some form of special measures.
Given that almost a quarter of Welsh education authorities are judged to be failing, Mr Andrews proposed reforms will be hard to resist.
Whether this rearrangement of the deck chairs is merely a displacement activity designed to distract attention from the real problems facing the education system.
At a recent members' seminar on PCC's educational failings it was said that, while most of us have had little or no contact with social services, we have all been to school and, therefore, have some experience, if not expertise, in education.
And what that experience teaches us is that the the principle drivers of educational outcomes are the quality of teaching and pupils' willingness to learn.
Nice new buildings and individual learning accounts are all well and good, but, if teachers are not up to the mark, or some children are intent on disruption, they are all to no avail.
Of course, these are difficult issues and the temptation is always to take the easy way out, but unless they are tackled head on no amount of action plans will do the trick.
At bottom this a matter of culture.
To give a topical example, Wales doesn't punch above its weight as a rugby playing nation because of some genetic advantage.
That flows from a culture where everyone you meet has an opinion about who should be wearing the No 10 shirt - if it is not in the genes, it is certainly in the blood.
And there was a time when educational aspiration was strong influence among the Welsh working classes.
When I went to university in 1959 it seemed that every other person I met was a miner's son from the Welsh valleys.
Certainly half the college rugby team was made up of people called Bryn, Aled, Tudor and Lyn.
Indeed it was on the bus coming back from away matches that I learned the words of Sospan Fach.
And, shades of John Redwood here, a song about colours which I always thought began Oy Scarberetto, but having lived here for almost half a century I now know is titled Oes gafr eto.
At least I knew the tune

Showdown

It is not easy to find a happy face when Wales have just lost their eighth test match in a row.
And the other day I was in the members' tea room when a gloomy looking Welshman engaged me in a conversation about his and my favourite subject: rugby.
I felt genuinely sorry for him, so I offered encouragement with the words: "Wales are a much better team that their recent record would suggest".
He thanked me effusively and when I told him I thought they would beat France the following Saturday he was almost ecstatic.
Obviously not someone who is aware of my disastrous record in forecasting Six-Nations matches over the years.
Indeed, at one time things got so bad that I suggested to my accountant that my gambling losses might be tax deductible.
Anyway, Wales went to Paris and did the business and when I bumped into my fellow-councillor on the following Monday in county hall he treated me like an Old Testament prophet.
I'm afraid this entente cordiale (Welsh translation please) is not set to last because if England can roll over France on Saturday, and barring accidents against Italy and Scotland, the final match of the season at the Millennium Stadium could be the championship decider.
And, as alert readers will already have worked out, if my predictions prove to be accurate, Wales will also be in a position to deprive England of the Grand Slam.
In which case Rob Howley's pre-match pep-talk will be somewhat redundant.

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