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Labour are leaving Wales behind

Overwhelmingly residents in Wales are facing an increase in Council Tax this month. Overwhelmingly in England there is a freeze or a reduction. In some places in Wales the increase is over 3.5%. In England that level of increase would require approval in a referendum. No English council has decided to chance it.

But in Wales there is no need to get such approval from residents.The Labour-run Welsh Assembly Government oppose it. Plaid Cymru's Assembly member Llyr Huws Gruffydd agrees it would be"inappropriate."

In England every council apart from Nottingham has introduced spending transparency. In Wales only the Conservative-run councils Monmouthshire, Newport and Glamorgan have done so.

Of course we can still get hold of a few figures via Freedom of Information requests. The Conservative's Shadow Local Government Minister in the Welsh Assembly Janet Finch-Saunders says:

In 2010-11, local authorities in Wales spent over £630,000 on official cars and chauffeurs. Rhondda Cynon Taf and Blaenau Gwent each spent £90,000, while Bridgend spent £75,000 and Neath Port Talbot £70,000. I wonder whether the Minister was aware of those figures until I mentioned them. Local authorities spent an average of £1.5 million on printing and paper costs, but Swansea spent £0.5 million. Given that this is public money, this kind of information should be made available through online publishing, to enable processes to be examined and efficiencies to be identified.

Labour Assembly member Jenny Rathbone opposes this, saying residents mustn't be "bombarded" with information. So it is better to keep spending secret. On Carmarthenshire Council, run by Independents and Labour, a blogger was arrested for filming a council meeting using her mobile phone, and led away in handcuffs.

Council tenants in England can exercise their right to buy taking advantage of up to £75,000 in discounts - in Wales the discounts are capped at just £16,000.

In Wales there is no chance for schools to become independent of council control by converting to be academies. There is no opportunity to set up free schools. Michael Gove's reforms to reduce red tape and make it easier to sack bad teachers and exclude disruptive pupils do not apply.

But the rigour of competition is needed more in Wales than anywhere else in the UK. In the Pisa tests we find that Wales is behind England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in terms of science, reading and maths. It is below the OECD average in all three. It has fallen behind in the international league table in all three.

The Welsh schools inspectors Estyn finds that 40% of Welsh children arriving at secondary school arrive at least six months behind in reading. But while failing schools in England are being taken over in Wales there is just talk about the possibility of closing them.

The Education Minister Leighton Andrews says he will close a school where the situation is "irredeemable." But how many of the 5% of Welsh schools officially failing have been closed? None. Where is the procedure for them to be taken over by an academy chain? What is the trigger for them to be closed or taken over? The truth is that under Labour schools in Wales are able to carry on failing. Bad teachers will keep their jobs.

In Wales the Conservatives are fighting against the establishment. They are the force of protest against the complacent vested interests. In considering how Wales has fallen behind in terms of transparency, accountability, the opportunity for home ownership, and parental choice those of us in England can see what a difference the change of Government has meant over the past two years.


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