WM education in Cardiff: alarm bells ringing

 
I've just received this press relaease from RhAG. Hopefully, the story will also be reported the mainstream media.

 

 
Serious concerns that a starter class for Grangetown and Butetown will not open as promised this September is an indication of wider failures by Cardiff Council in the planning of Welsh-medium education provision across the city.

This is RhAG’s response to concerns of local parents that the Council will not keep their promise to open the starter class hosted at Ninian Park School, as a seedling of the new school which is proposed to open on a permanent site in 2017.

On the basis of Council figures for July, RhAG is aware that 105 pupils were refused first choice applications for a place in the city’s Welsh-medium primary schools. It is unclear how many children have been lost to the English-medium sector, nor how many are still in the appeals system. This represents a loss of 13% of all applications for the Welsh-medium September 2015 Reception intake. The loss for September 2014 was approximately 5%.

Michael Jones for Cardiff RhAG said, "Warning bells should now be ringing as many problems can be found throughout the city. In the East, between Bro Eirwg and Penypil 13 children have been unable to obtain a place without another nearby school a practical possibility. Glan Morfa has been turning pupils away for 3 years and more, and the same situation has arisen this year with 5 application refused. In the North, the situation at Mynydd Bychan (19 refused) is unacceptable and the Wern, at 75 applications cannot meet the demand with 3 pupils not being offered a place. The applications for Melin Gruffydd is 7 over their Standard Admission Number and Pencae at 21 applications over their SAN. In the West there is an urgent need to do something for Nant Caerau and Treganna is packed with 16 applications above their statutory number.

"We need immediate action by extending current provision as an interim solution and to open new schools to meet the demand. Honouring the commitment to open a starter class to serve Grangetown and Butetown is an indispensable part of the Council's plans to develop Welsh-medium education in the city, as has been incorporated into Cardiff Council’s statutory Welsh in Education Strategic Plan, which has been approved by the Minister of Education. Although the council had announced their intention to proceed with the class, the fact that parents were not made known of this until May and arrangements not confirmed until August, meant it was all far too late; so the current crisis is the result of a lack of acting early enough which has weakened parents’ trust and confidence. The current administration needs to restore this by taking control of the situation and providing firm and proactive action as a matter of urgency.

"In addition, we call on the Council to conduct an urgent city-wide review of the catchment areas for Welsh-medium schools and a thorough review of the school admissions process in order to provide greater fairness, clarity and certainty for parents in applying for places in Welsh-medium schools."

 
Ceri Owen
Cyfarwyddwr Datblygu / Director of Development
Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg
Parents for Welsh Medium Education

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Recalculating the Living Wage

I very much welcome the increase in the minimum wage to £7.20 an hour announced by George Osborne in his budget a few weeks ago, and that it would be set to rise to over £9 an hour by 2020. On the face of it, this 2020 figure would probably be in line with the Living Wage as calculated by the Living Wage Foundation.

When first introduced in 2011 the Living Wage was £7.20, and since then has risen by 25p in 2012 and by 20p in both 2013 and 2014 to now stand at £7.85. If that same annual increase were maintained for the next six years, then it would indeed be just over £9 an hour by 2020. Although, to be more precise, the Low Pay Commission (who recommend the minimum wage rate to the government) have been asked to ensure that the minimum wage reaches at least 60% of median earnings by 2020 ... which will probably be more than £9 an hour.

As a target sum, this would comfortably beat Labour's manifesto promise of £8 an hour by 2020, and be equal to what Plaid Cymru and the SNP had proposed. The LibDems didn't make any commitment. Only the Greens proposed something better: that the minimum wage would rise to £10 an hour by 2020.

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The problem, as everybody realizes, is that the Tory increase in the minimum wage is going to be offset by cuts in tax credits. In some cases families will be worse off, although not in every case. There is a good article on this here by the Social Market Foundation. They assume that 60% of the median wage will result in a minimum wage of £9.35 an hour, and on that basis this is the worst case graphic from it:

     

But it is better for others, as this graphic shows:

     

The question I asked myself was to what extent the proper Living Wage, as calculated on behalf of the Living Wage Foundation, would need to be adjusted to take account of the fact that tax credits would now be cut. But in doing this I discovered something which surprised me, which I think most people will be unaware of, and which is the main reason for me writing this post.

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The way that the Living Wage is calculated is set out in detail in this document. When the calculation was first made in 2011 the £7.20 rate it set was accurate, but the increases in the Living Wage since then have been limited by a formula which states that it should not increase by more than 2% above any rise in average earnings.

The effect of applying this cap is quite startling. This is from the conclusion at the end of the 2014 calculation:

Based on the above calculations, the ‘reference’ level of the Living Wage, reflecting actual minimum living costs, is £9.20 in 2014, but the applied Living Wage, resulting from the capped increase, is £7.85.

The difference is a huge £1.35 an hour.

I suppose I can understand the rationale behind the cap. The aim of the LWF is to get employers to become accredited Living Wage Employers; and in order to make a long-term commitment, it was helpful for there to be some method of cushioning large increases. Back in 2011 it was probably reasonable to assume that wages would rise following the worse ravages of the recession caused by the 2008 financial crisis, but wages haven't gone up by very much at all. So it's proved to be a false assumption. Whatever good intentions lay behind imposing this cap, the end result is that the current Living Wage of £7.85 is now way below what it should be in order to meet actual minimum living costs. Instead of rising by about 65p or 70p each year, the Living Wage has only risen by 20p or 25p each year.

Now consider what will happen over the next five years. It seems pretty obvious that the calculated Living Wage is going to rise further. In part this will be because of the effect of reductions in tax credits, but on top of that there will be the usual cost of living increases. What is currently calculated at £9.20 will certainly be over £10 an hour and probably closer to £11 an hour by 2020.

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The definition of the Living Wage, as taken from calculation document, is "the wage that produces enough income after taxes, benefits and tax credits to cover [a family's] expenses." So it is clear that the next calculation of the Living Wage will need to take the reduction in tax credits into account. This will be a major change, and therefore will provide a perfect opportunity to reset the calculation without the cap imposed in previous years.

I'm sure this will result in a large rise which will make some accredited Living Wage employers think twice. But I think it's a bullet that needs to be bitten. If the Living Wage doesn't actually reflect what minimum income is needed to cover expenses, it is meaningless.

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Complete rubbish about energy from David Davies

I've spoken to David TC Davies on a few occasions, and I have to say that he's a rather pleasant and affable person face to face ... the problem is that quite a lot of what he says in public is stark raving bonkers.

He's just provided us with another example in this article in the Western Mail:

Scrap the climate change levy, says Tory MP David Davies
as Wales exceeds renewables target

Apparently, we are being asked to believe that:

Official statistics show that by August 2013, the amount of renewable energy produced in Wales was already running at 9.7 TWh.

The official figures for electricity generation are published by DECC, and are available from this page.

The figure for the whole of 2013 was in fact 2.664 TWh ... less than a third of what David Davies quotes.

Now it might just be that he is thinking of the total energy, rather than just electricity, produced from renewable sources. But he probably isn't, for two reasons. First, the figure of 7 TWh/y he quotes comes from paragraph 1.4 of TAN 8, and is specifically for renewable electricity. And second, because the DECC tends to measure total energy in TOE (tonnes of oil equivalent) and as we can see from table 6.6 of these figures, over 70% of energy from renewable sources is used to generate electricity. Therefore even if he tried to claim that he was talking about total energy, rather than just electricity, he'd still be talking complete rubbish.

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So, to be clear, we in Wales have definitely not "exceeded" our renewable targets. Paragraph 1.4 of TAN 8 sets two of them: 4 TWh/y of electricity from renewables by 2010, and 7 TWh/y of electricity from renewables by 2020. In 2013 we produced less than 2.7 TWh, in other words we were still a long way short of the 2010 target.

In fact, the picture is quite bleak, because the two large offshore windfarms that would have significantly boosted the amount of renewable electricity generated in Wales—the Atlantic Array in the Bristol Channel and the Celtic Array in the Irish Sea—have both been cancelled.

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A pig in a poke

During the campaign for the Westminster election in May, the Tories promised that they would deliver £12bn of welfare cuts ... but refused point-blank to tell us what, exactly, they were going to cut. Of course nobody doubted that they could make this level of cuts, but if they'd been specific about what they were going to cut, a lot of people might have had second thoughts about voting for them.

Yesterday, Plaid Cymru took a leaf directly out of that Tory book. They made a promise that, if elected next May, they would generate all Wales' electricity from renewable sources within 20 years ... but refused point-blank to tell us how they intended to do it.

     

     BBC report | Wales Online report

As with the Tories and their welfare cuts, nobody doubts that Wales can produce more electricity from renewable sources than we consume. Although, to be precise, this isn't the same as saying that all Wales' electricity would come from renewables, but is probably what Plaid would have said if they'd thought more clearly about it. That in itself should give people a good idea of how seriously Plaid have thought this through.

But, to make that point more forcibly, we need to ask why Plaid only intend to produce this "route map" after they've been elected. What new information will be available next summer that isn't available right now? It's not as if there is some "secret" information that will only be available to Plaid Cymru if they form the next government.

In short, this policy announcement, as it stands, is nothing more than a confidence trick.

     

So what are Plaid Cymru playing at?

As I see it, there are two factors at play.

The first is blunt, but honest. There is no way that Plaid Cymru have a hope in hell of forming the next government of Wales. Plaid Cymru might, if they're very lucky, win one or two more seats next May, but (especially with the rise of UKIP) it is actually far more likely that they will lose one or two seats. In other words, they're pretty sure that they will never be called upon to deliver this "route map". It's the luxury of being in opposition.

The second is that if they were clear about how they intended to achieve it, they think (wrongly, in my opinion) they would alienate people and therefore stand even less chance of winning any new seats. However they formulate the renewable energy generating mix, it will mean many more wind farms and/or solar parks and/or tidal lagoons in Wales ... and will also mean new grid connexions to link these to the gird. Remember that only about 10% of our electricity is currently generated from renewables. We have a very long way to go.

From my time as a Plaid Cymru insider, I know that the party is all over the place when it comes to energy. Their policies in this area are hopelessly contradictory, and no-one is strong enough to unite the various factions and narrow interest groups within the leadership.

So, as it stands, this announcement should be, and will be, seen as nothing more than a joke. If Plaid Cymru want to be taken seriously, the answer is simple. Produce this "route map" now—before the election, not after it—and, if it's any good, they might be pleasantly surprised at how many people vote for Plaid because of it.

That's the way honest politics is meant to work. Only a party of charlatans could expect the public to buy a pig in a poke.

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Crisis for WM school places in Cardiff

 
A couple of days ago I received a copy of a letter from RhAG, the group campaigning for more Welsh-medium education, that has been sent to the Director of Education at Cardiff Council. It goes into some detail about the impending crisis in providing sufficient Welsh-medium places in Cardiff, demonstrated by the surprisingly large number of parents whose children have been refused places at the Welsh-medium school of their choice. As it was also copied to the Education Correspondent of the Western Mail the intention was clearly for it to be made public, but as the Western Mail haven't—or haven't yet—run the story, I thought it would be a good idea to publish it on Syniadau.

 

 
RhAG has expressed its concern generally at the level of refusals on first allocation in relation to September 2015 primary admissions for WM schools, which is at an unprecedentedly high level and which must be attributed to the failure to plan proactively for growth. However RhAG does appreciate that the LA now have to cater for EM growth which was absent from 1995 onwards until about 2 or 3 years ago.

On first allocation, 685 places were given at WM schools to applicants and 110 were refused.

The total number of available WM reception places was a potential of 787 places which realistically would probably cover the 795 who gave a WM school as their first choice having regard to the various events that can change the demand over the 3-4 months between application and allocation. There were therefore probably enough places to meet the demand if one treats the demand and places on a city-wide basis. However it is apparent that there were not enough places to satisfy parental demand for WM primary places as parents want a school which is reasonably close to home, and it is not reasonable to expect a child in Trowbridge to have to travel to Pentwyn, for example.

In fact the first allocation of places was actually lower in number at 685 this year than the 693 allocated at the same stage last year. The number of refusals at 110 is the highest ever and it is more than likely that of those 110 only a small percentage, probably less than 25%, will ultimately find a WM place because the parents will have reluctantly taken an EM place which has the merit of being local even though the child will in 90% of the cases have started in a WM setting in nursery for 1 or 2 years. This is a loss wholly unacceptable to those who have worked hard to persuade parents of the benefits of WM education and have succeeded, only to be frustrated by the inadequacy of the provision, particularly as the increase of the percentage in WM education is Welsh Government policy to which the LA has subscribed by preparing its Welsh in Education Strategic Plan.

RhAG suggest that the city and county of Cardiff must do better next year, by increasing the accessible provision and altering the method of application for and consequent allocation of places.

 
1. INCREASE OF ACCESSIBLE PROVISION

It is apparent that the shortage of places and consequent high level of refusals is localised. In 7 out of 16 catchments there were no refusals or only one. In 4 schools there were refusals above or close to 20 and in another 3 refusals of 8 or 6. To some extent those refused were applicants resident outside the catchment but there were a total of 23 refused who were resident in catchment, and we suspect that some out of catchment applications were made by parents who had every reason to believe that they had no hope of a place in their catchment school.

The following is a review of the schools area by area, suggesting the remedies advocated by RhAG.

a. Far East

In this area the 2 schools are Bro Eirwg and Pen-y-pil, where respectively 8 and 2 children were refused places. We believe that the 2 unsuccessful out-of-catchment pupils at Pen-y-pil were Glan Morfa pupils whose parents believed, correctly, that they would not get in to Glan Morfa after 2 years of 10+ children being refused there. We cannot guess the origin of parents from out of catchment seeking places at Bro Eirwg unless, yet again they lived in the Glan Morfa catchment. Clearly both schools are full and the growing need can only be met by expanding Pen-y-pil to 2 streams.

b. South East

Glan Morfa is overcrowded with demand for the third year exceeding provision. The LA has a plan to meet this need which is for publication at the end of this month which must include a proposal to make additional provision at Reception level in September 2016

c. East Central

Between them Y Berllan Deg and Pen-y-groes can cope with the demand in this area. It would be helpful if the availability of places at Pen-y-groes could be widely advertised.

d. North and North Central

In this area 3 of the 4 schools are under pressure, namely Y Wern, Mynydd Bychan and Melin Gruffydd and the one with spare accommodation Glan Ceubal is really convenient to take overspill only from the southern part of the Melin Gruffydd catchment. The buildings of Melin Gruffydd and Mynydd Bychan are not capable of extension. We suspect that the out-of-catchment demand for Melin Gruffydd comes from parents in the area of Heath south of Heathwood Road who are in the Mynydd Bychan catchment but who have no hope of a place at Mynydd Bychan due to pressure for places from pupils living nearer the school site. As RhAG has repeatedly urged the only sensible thing to do for Mynydd Bychan school is to reduce its catchment so that it serves only Cathays and Little Heath (Y Waun Ddyfal). The rest of Great Heath (MYNYDDBYCHAN i.e. south of Heathwood Rd) should be transferred into the catchment of Y Wern which can be extended to a full 3 FE which will be immediately taken up. The pressure to overspill Heath children into Melin Gruffydd may then be relieved. Glan Ceubal can take overspill from Whitchurch village as well as from the Pencae catchment. We understand why the LA was reluctant to see unfilled places at Y Wern and thus refused RhAG's urging that it be made 3 FE at once but taking this step is the only way of relieving pressure on both MG and Mb which is evident from this year's figures.

e. Far North West

Creigiau and Gwaelod-y-garth are both just full. Further growth can be expected and we urge the LA to close the small EM provision at Gwaelod-y-garth and transfer it to Pentyrch which used to have spare capacity.

f. West

Two of the three schools here (Pencae and Nant Caerau) are oversubscribed but cannot be expanded on their sites. Pencae suffers from being adjacent to a major place of Welsh employment and is a convenient place to take out-of-catchment children (20 refusals of out-of-catchment children; a repetition of last year). However the LA should have regard to the proposal for housing to take the place of the BBC studios which will further increase the demand at Pencae. The developers will need to provide a 2 stream WM school to replace Pencae. Nant Caerau serves an area with a different demographic. Last year 10 children were refused places at NC; this year 21 of which 7 were in catchment (we imagine that the other 14 were from Ely also very local for whom there are only 11 places at Coed-y-gof, the catchment school). Something must be done to expand the buildings available to Nant Caerau. RhAG accepts that expansion cannot be on site. The possibilities are:

     1. Part of Glyn Derw
     2. New build on Ely Mill where the county has s106 rights
     3. At Michaelston when Michaelston moves out onto the Glyn Derw site.

There are currently 11 vacant places at Coed-y-gof which are likely to be filled by:

     1. Ely children refused at Nant Caerau
     2. 20 out of catchment children at Pencae
     3. The usual late applicants.

The total of the above is more than the number of vacant places. Does Coed-y-gof need a third stream?

g. South Central

Here we have 2 existing schools and the new Grangetown/Butetown school for which starter provision is to be made in the buildings formerly occupied by Tan-yr-Eos. At Treganna 16 have been refused who can be offered places at Tan-y-Eos. The total of applications in the Four Wards so far this year seems to be 161 but we would expect some of those refused at Pencae to opt for Pwll Coch. (We are aware of one child resident on the east of Cathedral Road and thus in the Pencae catchment who is likely to do this) We would urge that there be provision to accept 60 at Tan-yr-Eos in 2016 next year, having regard to the magnetic effect of a new Welsh-medium school which the new school will be.

 
2. APPLICATION METHOD

RhAG would urge that the LA in its literature for new parents highlight the difficulty of matching schools to children precisely, warning parents that if they want to choose WM education and have started a child in a Nursery class then it would be wise not only to choose one WM school but also a second to enable the council to meet demand with some flexibility. An effort should be made to avoid presenting a parent with a choice of one local WM school or a local EM school. If a WM school has been the first choice the LA should not couple a refusal of a WM place with the offer of an EM place but rather should indicate that another WM place is available which should not be an impossible journey away. Only in this way will the council fulfil its duty to promote the growth of WM education.

RhAG has expressed its concern at one aspect in particular of the admissions this year, which is its failure to honour the sibling link priority for admission to primary school.

The aspect of particular concern is the total of 8 applications refused in spite of the existence of a sibling link, a link which normally gives a high priority to the applicant which derives from the county's own rules, dating back to 1985 after the case of R v South Glamorgan County Council, ex p Evans 1984.

RhAG fails to understand why the sibling link now been ignored in 8 cases, 5 in Nant Caerau, 2 in Mynydd Bychan and 1 in Glan Morfa. RhAG has been made aware of a serious consequence of these refusals of places to children who were in the Nursery Class with parents having already been in touch with some schools to say that they will be withdrawing the elder children as they cannot face the complications of having children in 2 different schools, a consequence which the LA should have foreseen. RhAG is yet to receive explanation for the authority's failure to comply with its own long-standing rules and offer a proposal to rectify what has been done by offering places to all 8 children in the near future.

 
Ceri Owen
Cyfarwyddwr Datblygu / Director of Development
Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg
Parents for Welsh Medium Education

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Parity with Scotland?

There are many things to criticize Plaid Cymru for, but the one thing that has disturbed me most is in fact the central plank of their election campaign: namely that they want parity with Scotland both in terms of devolved powers and in terms of funding.

I don't have a particular problem with parity of devolved powers because, as things stand, our National Assembly has fewer powers than the Scottish Parliament, and therefore parity would be a practical first step. I would only qualify this by saying that I wouldn't want the powers of the Scottish Parliament to act as a limit. To give one example: it looks likely that powers to set the rate of Corporation Tax will be devolved to the Six Counties, but not to Scotland. Therefore I would want Wales to have this power too, irrespective of whether or not Scotland gets it.

For me, the principle is that I want everything that is currently decided at Westminster to be decided by our National Assembly ... in other words, independence.

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But I do have a very big problem with the idea that Wales should get parity of funding with Scotland. And I am frankly amazed that Plaid Cymru has abandoned its previous position of wanting fair funding for Wales, and now wants something that is patently unfair.

Of course I understand why and how it happened, but that doesn't excuse Plaid's behaviour. The Holtham Commission did a good piece of work, demonstrating that Wales was underfunded relative to need on the basis of an objective formula. At that time, the block grant to the National Assembly fell short of what we would get by applying this needs-based formula by roughly £300m a year. This was set to get worse because of the Barnett Squeeze, but in fact has not got worse because cuts in public expenditure have put the Squeeze into reverse. However the shortfall will increase again when public expenditure starts to rise over the next few years.

Because of this shortfall, coupled with general discontent with the way Barnett worked anyway with regard to Scotland, there seemed to be consensus among all the parties in the Assembly (the Tories, Labour and LibDems as well as Plaid Cymru) that Barnett had reached the end of its working life and needed to be replaced. The problem is that just before the Scottish independence referendum, those three Unionist parties panicked in the face of closer than expected opinion polls, and made a vow to retain Barnett.

It was at this point that Plaid Cymru panicked ... with the result that they came up with a policy to demand the same amount of funding per head as Scotland gets. Of course not all public spending in Scotland is channelled through the Scottish Parliament (for example most benefits and pensions are paid directly to individuals and families) but if the same "block grant per head" were paid to our National Assembly as is paid to the Scottish Parliament it would indeed, after making allowance for different devolved functions, result in Wales getting something like an additional £1.2bn in block grant.

Now what's wrong with that? Well, to put it bluntly, any child could see what's wrong with it. Why pick Scotland? Why not pick England instead and demand that Wales gets a block grant equivalent to the same level of funding per head as England? Simple, because if Plaid Cymru picked England, Wales would get much less of a block grant than we do now. In other words, picking Scotland is a blatantly biased choice. If the principle you adopt is equal spending per head, then that has to apply across the whole of the United Kingdom—which, by the way, is UKIP's policy—it cannot be applied selectively.

In effect what Plaid Cymru are doing is asking English taxpayers to give Wales much more than we need on any objective basis, and very much more than they give themselves. It is a wicked and stupid idea, and I have to say I'm very glad that I am no longer associated with a party that can come up with something that can only be described as a total perversion of any concept of either fairness or reason.

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In principle there are some very basic rules about how to redistribute funding between different parts of a state. We need to consider two things: how much each part of the state produces in terms of tax revenue, and how much each part of the state needs. One sum will be usually be higher than the other, and an equitable funding formula must be somewhere between the two. It cannot be outside that range.

A needs-based formula on its own will not work because, as the Holtham Commission noted, if it were applied to Scotland, it would result in Scotland getting maybe £4bn a year less in block grant than it does now. However that does not mean that Scotland is over-funded, because Scotland provides more per head in tax revenue to the Treasury than most other parts of the UK. In Scotland's case, the proportion of tax revenue it contributes to the Treasury is more than its relative needs, therefore it is right that Scotland gets more than it needs.

But in the case of Wales, what we produce in tax revenue per head is quite a bit lower than other parts of the UK, and the sum is also lower than what we objectively need, based on the formula used by Holtham (which, by the way, is based on the way money is distributed by departments within England). It is therefore reasonable and justified to say that Wales deserves more money, but only as much as will bring us up towards what we objectively need ... not more than that. To ask for or expect more is nothing but greed. Yet this is what Plaid Cymru have sunk to. It's sickening and shameful.

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It's also deceitful, because it is undeliverable. As I showed in the last post, even if the SNP win upwards of 50 seats on Thursday, they will not get to determine the direction of government. The same would be just as true if Plaid Cymru won 35 seats in Wales. 533 English MPs will never vote to give Wales more than it either contributes to the Treasury or needs.

That's not to say that there are other aspects of the way Wales is funded that can't be improved. In addition to the £300m shortfall in the block grant (or whatever it now is when the Holtham formula is applied) we can rightly call for our fair share of infrastructure investment so that, for example, Wales gets a pro-rata share of rail infrastructure investment or research funding relative to the rest of the UK. But we must make a reasoned and rational case for this, and we weaken any case we make if we, at the same time, are making unreasonable and irrational demands.

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In closing, I would also ask people to consider, in practical terms, what the result of getting more money from England than we either need or contribute to the Treasury would be. How on earth would it help us stand on our own two feet as a nation? It would simply tie us closer into dependency on England. Yet this is party policy ... from a party that supposedly wants independence! Perhaps, under better leadership, Plaid Cymru might become a party that is worth voting for again ... but it certainly isn't worth voting for them now.

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Cockroaches, Kingmakers

The LibDems are rightly, though not flatteringly, characterized as the cockroaches of UK politics. Very hard to eradicate. Even when we might think we've got rid of them, they survive. Their overall share of the vote will certainly fall in this election, but I do not think the LibDems will do as badly as the pundits suggest in terms of seats. The average prediction at the moment is in the high 20s, but I think they'll get more than 30.

In Wales, I think Mark Williams will hold on to Ceredigion. The number one reason not to vote for the LibDems has always been tuition fees, but in any fight between the LibDems and Plaid Cymru (and Ceredigion is the only such fight) I don't think people will have forgotten that the Plaid Cymru leadership, against the wishes of the membership, broke exactly the same election promise when they introduced tuition fees in Wales after going into coalition with Labour in 2007. The details are here. I am fairly sure that the LibDems will lose Cardiff Central to Labour, but am less sure about the Tories being able to take Brecon and Radnorshire. However that is a side issue, in this post I want to concentrate on the UK-wide picture.

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The other thing that marks out the LibDems is that they are prepared get into bed with either the Tories or with Labour. Indeed they have made this central to their campaign with their rather self-important idea of acting as the Tories' heart or Labour's brain. This will make them pivotal in determining who forms the next Westminster government. As I hope to show in this post, it is actually quite irrelevant how well other parties perform, because even though the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru might win twice as many seats as the LibDems, these parties have sidelined themselves by refusing to have anything to do with the Tories.

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Who the LibDems get into bed with will depend on the electoral arithmetic. But I think the number of seats the other parties get will work out in such a way that they will have a choice about who they support ... and I think they will choose to do a deal with Labour.

A coalition with the Tories would mean we get a continuation of what we've had for the past five years. But a coalition with Labour would be better for the LibDems in several ways: it would help remove the toxicity of the past five years and might lead to them re-gaining previous left-leaning LibDem supporters; it would show the public at large that they can be in government (and therefore be relevant) in a tight election irrespective of which main party gets the most seats; and, most importantly, it would mean that there won't be a referendum on leaving the EU.

The problem, however, is one of perceived legitimacy. Will they be able to get away with doing a deal with Labour, especially if the Tories get more seats than Labour? This will depend on the arithmetic.

Assuming no abstentions, any potential government would need to get about 322 to survive a vote of confidence, because of the Speaker and Sinn Fein. So if the Tories got 290 and came to a coalition agreement with the LibDems on 35, that 325 would just be sufficient. On these numbers, it would actually be very difficult for the LibDems to avoid this, because they have said that they consider themselves duty-bound to talk to the party that gets the most seats first. But I don't think the Tories (or Tories and LibDems together) will get that many seats.

If the LibDems really wanted to go into coalition with the Tories, their combined total could, at a pinch, go down to 315, bolstered by an agreement (not a coalition) with the DUP (say 8 seats) and the fact that UKIP (say 3 seats) would not vote against it, because a Tory-led government is the only way they would get the referendum on EU membership they want more than anything else. But because the LibDems don't really want another coalition with the Tories, they should be able to shy away from such an arrangement, claiming that it would be unstable.

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In contrast, the electoral arithmetic for a coalition between Labour and the LibDems is quite different. This is because any potential opposition to such a coalition would be divided. It is all but impossible to imagine the Tories, UKIP and the DUP voting in the same way as the so-called "progressive alliance" of the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru. The opposition on the left would always cancel out the opposition on the right. The Tories would, on principle and as we would expect, always vote against a Labour/LibDem coalition government in any vote of confidence; but, more critically, the SNP and Plaid Cymru could not vote against it because the only alternative would be a Tory-led government. The numbers mean they would probably be able to abstain, but I'm sure they would hold their noses and vote for the Labour/LibDem coalition if they had to.

For this reason, a Labour/LibDem coalition would not need to get 322 seats between them. They could govern as a minority with a surprisingly low number of seats. Indeed the more seats the SNP, Greens and Plaid win, the smaller the combined total of Labour and LibDem MPs would need to be. The only problem is one of perceived legitimacy, for it would be very hard to avoid an outcry if the combined total of Labour and LibDem MPs were less than the number of Tory MPs.

I think the Tories will be the largest party in the Commons with between 280 and 285 seats. But if the combined number of Labour and LibDem seats is more than this, they will form the next government. This means that Labour only need to get 255 or so seats on Thursday ... something that I think they'll manage quite comfortably. In fact I think they'll get about 270.

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The hard truth for those who support the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru is that they will, in effect, get no say in who forms the next Westminster government. Labour and the LibDems will be able to ignore them, because the only way they could have any influence would be by siding with the Tories ... and it would be electoral suicide for them to do so.

Perhaps they will be able to exercise some influence on some individual issues over the next five years, but it will be a game of brinkmanship that they will have to play very carefully if they are to avoid accusations from Labour that they are siding with the Tories.

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The big question is what the LibDems are going to demand in return for choosing Labour. As I see it, there's hardly any difference between Labour and the LibDems in terms of austerity, and therefore the only thing that really matters in the long term is changing the electoral system. It is worth remembering that Labour offered changing to the Alternative Vote without a referendum in the negotiations following the 2010 election55. I think the LibDems made a huge mistake by not taking up this offer, for even if that government were to have proved unstable, the following election would be that much fairer.

That offer cannot be made now because AV was overwhelmingly rejected in the 2011 referendum and that decision cannot be ignored. But, paradoxically, that defeat might help. We need to remember that AV is not a proportional system, and an element of proportionality is what we need. My preference will always be for STV, largely because it puts choice of who is elected in the hands of voters rather than parties; but the additional member system is not such a bad second best. What matters is the number of additional members compared with the number of constituency members. If, as in our National Assembly, the number is low (20 additional members and 40 constituency members) there is still a considerable degree of first-past-the-post bias. But if, as in the Scottish Parliament, the number is higher (56 additional members and 73 constituency members) the number of seats more closely reflects the number of votes cast ... although not completely, for in the 2011 election the SNP achieved an absolute majority of seats with only 44% of the vote.

More by luck than judgement the LibDems are now going to be given a second chance to introduce the electoral reform they have always claimed to stand for. It would be unforgivable for them to squander it again.

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