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Weekend Review

November 28, 2010

As part of our Weekend Review series, here are a few juicy morsels from this week’s devolved politics.

1) Another rough week for S4C

The Welsh-language channel suffered a number of blows to its commercial and political fortunes. On Tuesday Ron Jones, of independent producer Tinopolis, told MPs on the Welsh Affairs Select Committee the channel should trim its “bloated” size and move from Cardiff into a Welsh-language heartland.

This was followed by a fresh debacle when S4C Authority chairman John Walter Jones, originally expected to resign next year on turning 65, was thought to have abruptly quit the organisation after a rather stormy meeting. This was hastily denied, but failed to clear up confusion over who currently runs the channel.

None of this will be helped by Jeremy Hunt’s rejection of the Welsh party leaders’ plea for an urgent review into the broadcaster.

2) More on the budgets

In Wales councils winced at an average cut in funding of 1.4 per cent for next year. Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant also warned cash increases to the Revenue Support Grant (RSG), spent at the discretion of councils, were to be used exclusively to bolster schools and social services

Meanwhile, ministers in Northern Ireland raised concerns with UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg about the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) and its “potentially devastating effect” locally. Ministers are particularly concerned about drastic cuts to the capital spending budget, which could mean less roads, schools and hospitals being built.

Alex Salmond

3) Red faces over the tartan tax

Last week’s row over the Scottish Variable Rate (SVR), Holyrood’s power to raise a certain amount of its own tax, rumbles on. The SVR deal lapsed in 2007 when the Scottish government refused to pay HM  Revenue and Customs for an IT upgrade and now cannot be used until 2013-2014. But details of this have only recently emerged, to the chagrin of those outside government.

Because of this we saw two high profile apologies to the Scottish Parliament, when First Minister Alex Salmond (pictured) said sorry for the incident following similar comments by Finance Secretary John Swinney.

But Mr Salmond insisted the problem existed before the SNP took power on Scottish soil, so further finger pointing could be expected.

4) Old and new faces in the Welsh shadow cabinet, and other changes

Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne caused a stir with a surprise reshuffle of the Shadow Cabinet.

Darren Millar, who was Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government, is now responsible for Public Accounts. But his move is less spectacular than the story of Jonathan Morgan, who takes Millar’s old role after being ousted from Bourne’s team just a couple of years ago. A good summary of this tale can be found over at ITV Wales.

Two other AMs have been appointed to Bourne’s new team, with William Graham returning to the frontbenches as Shadow Minister for Regeneration and Mohammad Asghar taking on the Heritage portfolio while retaining responsibility for Equalities.

Meanwhile, a report by Conservative peer Lord Sanderson argues the Scottish Conservatives, who have floundered electorally since 1997, need a radical change to their leadership to improve their fortunes on ballot day.

5) Wales “hammered” again?

Welsh politicians had further cause for outcry following the CSR, when the much-coveted, much-delayed electrification of the Great Western railway line from London to Swansea was deferred once again. Suggestions Wales could fund electrification of its section of the line were dismissed by First Minister Carwyn Jones, who cited large cuts to both capital spending and the transport budget as deterrents.

This recent blow, and Mr Jones’ combative mood towards the predominantly Conservative Westminster Government, may fuel his enthusiasm for increased powers to the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG). Fittingly, he kick-started the “Yes” campaign for the referendum on such powers this week.

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