Saint David’s Day is the feast day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, and falls on 1 March, the date of Saint David’s death in 589. The feast has been regularly celebrated since the canonisation of David in the 12th century, though it is not a national holiday in the UK.
Traditional festivities include wearing daffodils and leeks, recognised symbols of Wales and Saint David respectively, eating traditional Welsh food including cawl ,Welsh rarebit, and Welsh Cakes and women wearing traditional Welsh dress. An increasing number of cities and towns across Wales including Cardiff, Swansea and Aberystwyth also put on parades throughout the day.
The day also marked some interminable display of the Welsh Language going on in schools, suffering through that was always a hellish experience. I actually make quite a quick study in languages, speaking about four conversationally and being able to spout the basics in 7 more, but Welsh is something I’ve never been able to get my tongue around, you need both a lisp and severe throat infection to really get it and I lack both. Being a Welshman who doesn’t speak Welsh is actually a pretty common thing, about 85% of Welsh residents report having no ability to speak Welsh, and yet over 99% report speaking English. Yet every official sign and form (from the public sector only thankfully) has to be in both English and Welsh, which is ridiculous, how many trees have died just to preserve a dying language. It’s also worth mentioning that the number of Polish speakers in the UK is almost double that of Welsh speakers, but we don’t see council tax bills in Polskie do we?
This is the first of a series of posts trying to de-mystify politics for everyday people.
Wales is one of the countries that makes up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, it is bordered to the east by England, the south by the Bristol Chanel and north and west by the Irish Sea. It has a population of just over three million people, English is the main language, although Welsh is commonly used (if not spoken), the currency is pound sterling and the capital city is Cardiff.
When it comes to the governance of Wales there are 5 levels of government (four after brexit finally transpires and Britain leaves the European Union) and they are:
Community: The over 800 Town, Parish and Community Councils throughout Wales.
Local: Unitary authorities comprising of County, City and Borough Councils (Of which there are 22) [another blog about this will be forthcoming].
Regional: The National Assembly for Wales is the directly elected parliament for Wales with 60 directly elected assembly members with responsibility for, healthcare, education, transport, business, tourism and agriculture and various devolved monetary policies.
National: The UK government in Westminster which influences Wales by controlling aspects of foreign policy, defence policy and some aspects of tax policy. [another blog about this will be forthcoming]
European: Governs 28 nations including the UK, with directly elected members of the European Parliament, European Commissioners and Councillors appointed by each of the member states. Handles regulatory matters and Human Rights. [find more here]
Wales finally got its own government as a result of a referendum held in 1997. 60 Assembly members were elected to the first term of the National Assembly For Wales in 1999, 40 members elected from first past the post style constituency elections and 20 members elected from five proportionally represented regions.
As of 2011 the Welsh Government is responsible for making policy and laws for the following areas:
Agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development
Ancient monuments and historical buildings
Education and training
Fire and rescue services and promotion of fire safety
Health and health services
Highways and transport
National Assembly for Wales
Sport and recreation
Town and country planning
Water and flood defences
The way laws are made in the Welsh Assembly is as follows:
Hopefully that helps to shed a little light on how the governance of Wales works (or works in theory).
One of the things that the Welsh Government has within its remit is a degree of control over local government organisation. So naturally not content with just getting their own house in order, the Welsh Government has decided to take the axe to local government. They have plans to more than half the number of local authorities in Wales from 22 to anywhere between 8-10.
This reorganisation will supposedly save the Welsh taxpayer £650 million over 10 years. This sounds like a considerable saving and would be welcome… If it were true. Council reorganisations don’t actually mean significant savings (beyond maybe £2 million a year in chief executive salaries) it’ll still mean a similar number of councillors, officers and other employees all doing the same job for the same pay. In many cases councils will be out money having to spend hard won funds on rebranding. I can’t see where these savings are coming from as I sincerely doubt central government is going to cough up more money so it seems local government is spending less.
It is my opinion that the Welsh Labour Government is putting this policy in place just so it appears to be doing something about the excesses of Local Government, but if the WAG really wanted to do something about local government why not take a wrecking ball to the 800+ community councils in Wales?