30/10/2013 The Wales Report


Huw Edwards asks if education policy in Wales is making the grade. And with energy prices on the rise, is there a Welsh solution to keeping bills down?

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Zbl tonight on the Walesor, does education policy in Wales make


sense? How can a school class that's excellent be set for closure? Gas


and electricity prices on rise again, but could Wales take the lead


in tackling the big six companies. And, fighting the fight against


payday loans, we meet the vicar who backs everyone to -- urges everyone


to back Welsh credit unions Zbl zbl zbl good evening. Welcome to the


Wales report where we examine the issues that affect lives in Wales


and question some of those making the decisions Zbl tonight, we start


with the challenges facing Welsh schools. It's been three years since


the worldwide ranking of education systems known as PISA found that


Welsh attainment levels in reading, maths and science were the worst in


the UK and needed urgent attention. Local education authorities have


been under huge pressure to up their game. Six are currently in special


measures, including Torvine. Pontnewynydd Primary School is the


only school to get an sxel lent rating by inspectors, but it's been


selected for closure -- excellent rating. Helen's been listening to


the concerns of parent who is seem to need a lot of convincing that


Wales has the coherent strategy that it needs Zbl colour Pontnewynydd


Primary lives up to its school motto - only the best is good enough. It's


the only school dein this area described as excellent


across-the-board Zbl it's sector leading in some areas Zbl while the


school gets top marks, the local education authority is failing. One


of six LEAs are currently in special measures. Many are exasperated that


instead of getting the school to share its best practice,


Pontnewynydd has been selected for closure Zbl nchts thank you very


much for coming today... Zbl the governors have called a special


meeting to voice their dismay Zbl ncht I really think they should


rethink about the closure of Pontnewynydd school because it's an


excellent school. The only excellent school in the borough. We can't


believe they are coming out with this proposal when it's the best


performing school. Gives this emthe right to shut it or propose to shut


it? Because the pupil numbers here are down, it doesn't comply with a


different education policy designed to reduce surplus places. Parents


and governors here think that Pontnewynydd and other schools like


it are falling victim to conflicting education policies. They say that


strategy is muddled and that trying to find out who's responsible for


different aspects of education is utterly baffling It doesn't seem to


add up at the moment. There's no commune caution between the


education authority, the council, the school, the governors. Who is


responsible for education services in Wales and who is making these


crucial decisions? At the moment, Welsh Government policy is filtered


down through 22 local education authorities. Democratically


accountable to you. If those authorities fail to make the grade,


then they are subject to intervention by one of four


Government-appointed bodies, tasked with driving up school standards,


otherwise known as the regional consortia. On top of that, Education


Minister Hugh Lewis recently announced a national model to


improve schools. Confused? The man in charge of the body brought in to


prop up the area act nones that current arrangements can appear


mystifying. It must be confusing. Even coming together as a country


deciding on national model so looking across four regional models


that were different up to now would cause even greater confusion. We


recognise that. Adding to the confusion, the Williams Review. This


changing picture of, are they going to be 22 local authorities builds


further complexities into what the future will look like For the pupils


at Pontnewynydd and the other 73,000 children across Wales currently


being schooled in areas under special measures, it's now that


counts. The battle to keep this school open goes on They face an


uncertain future until a final is made -- decision is made next year.


Someone needs to decide quickly. Everyone keeps saying 22 authorities


is too much, but nobody seems to be actually saying what the solution is


or what some of the proposed solutions are. According to the


parents here, only when the system itself is clear, coherent and puts


excellence first will children in Wales get the education they


deserve. I don't think people know who is running what and I think from


a personal perspective, so long as it runs well, and my child's happy


that,'s what's important to me. If they practise joined up writing in


school but they don't practise joined up thinking, why don't they


sit round the table and discuss education properly? Some forthright


views from the parents there in Pontnewynydd. Naturally, we asked


the Education Minister, Hugh Lewis to appear on the programme to answer


some of those points, but he was unavailable. We received a written


statement from the Welch Government saying: It cannot comment on a


specific proposal from an individual local authority. It goes on to say


that the interests of learners should be paramount. With that in


mind, joining me now is the Director of The Association of teech rs and


lecturers in Wales, Phillip Dixon. Do you blame parents for being


concerned? Not at all. It's a very confusing situation and the


commentator who said they need to do joined up thinking is spot on.


What's gone wrong? A lot of it rests with the local authority. There was


a lot of drift and Duncan Smither in Government policy, we weren't clear


what should be the top Brightonties. Those things are getting better but


there's still confusion for teachers and for pupils. How soon should they


reduce the local authorities? Much fewer than 22 and as soon as


possible. The frustration the parents that got there, I share


that, we have been talking about there for over a decade. Let's do


something about it and reduce the number and get to it a sensible


number. Is that to do with confusion in terms of the number or to do with


confusion about the quality of work and the quality of supervision from


the local authorities themselves? Are they underperforming?


Definitely. We see six have been put into special measures. We are a


small country, about three million people live here, we have 22 local


authorities when really if you look across the border to England, we


should have three or four at most. When there is a battle, we are in


that climate, does what is happening in Pontnewynydd make sense? Not


initially because you have an excellent school there. Up to see


that practice spread out and amalling plated. -- amalgamated.


There is a confusion about the key priorities and what the Government


needs be setting to do that and policing and enforcing it and making


sure the 22 authorities are following the line. What would you


like the Education Minister to do? How clear and coherent could the


strategy be and something that is not ten years in the making? It's to


reiterate what we have seen before, the key priorities are literacy and


numeracy and insisting that's filtered through all policies, so


when schools are judged on whether they are failing or not, when we see


proposals of school closures that is the criteria that are used. Do your


colleagues accept some responsibility for underperformance


where it happens? Is there an issue with standards of teaching in Ways


which is possibly a bigger problem than say in Scotland or England --


Wales? I don't think there's a difference in standard of teaching.


There's always one or two teachers that shouldn't perhaps be in the


profession, we accept that. The real problem has been the confusion


created by having 22 local authorities, createded from the top


by the Government over the last ten years, where it's not given the


clear message. That's the problem. I remember talking to a head teach er


who said he's had a different priority and he's been ahead for


eight years. Which can't go on like that. We need a clear direction that


these are the things that matter for the next ten years I'm asking the


question because we are facing a new set of PISA report results. Let us


hope they are improved. Even if they are, there's still a gap that Wales


has to make up. I'm wondering again, is it very easy for teachers to say


it's nothing to do with us, it's all to do with strategy and the bigger


picture, shouldn't the politicians be accepting more of the


responsibility for the fact that numeracy, literacy is such a big


problem in Wales? I share your hope but I fear the PISA results will be


worse this time around. Teachers are very concerned because they want the


best possible outcomelets -- outcomes. The vast majority of


teachers want to deliver for pupils, but they need the resources to do


that. We have seen chronic underfunding and we have had this


drift and dither in policy until very recently. Perve- you -- thank


you very much. British Gas agonised over the issue of rising prices How


can the profits be fair when people can't afford to pay for their


energy? The reason it's fair is because if I don't make a 5% profit


in my business, I can't afford to continue employing my 20,000 people


who're equally members of society in Britain and I can't afford top


operate the company. It's a fraction of what mobile phone companies make


and not as much as supermarkets make. Some of the evidence in


Parliament yesterday. In Wales, we have the distinction of having the


highest average electricity prices in the UK despite producing more


than we use. The average dual fuel bill is ?14 100 and -- ?1400. Is


there a specifically Welsh solution to the problem? An our ya that


supplies to some businesses and homes is a nonprofit company. Some


politicians sthawingt a version of this model could be the future for


electricity generation in Wales. Here is how the model works. Since


the water industry was privatised in 1989, Welsh Water existed in a Faw


guise and forms -- few guises and forms. Chris Jones, the current


Chief Executive, went away and decided to set up a company set up


to own, manage and finance Welsh Water essentially as we deliver


water and waste water services to around three million customers


across most of Wales and the adjoining parts of England. The


company itself is a company limited by guarantee. It's unique in that we


don't have any shareholders, any financial surpluses that we have can


be directed back into the company for the benefit of customers. That's


obviously evidence not only in reduced bills, and we are looking to


reduce bills in real terms by around 6% between 2010 and 2015. The model


works because we have the best credit ratings across the utility


sector in the UK. It delivers for customers Could Wales take the lead


therefore in changing the energy market? Joining me now from


Westminster, the former Welsh Secretary, former Energy Minister,


Peter Hain and in Bangor, there's the newly elected assembly member.


Peter, to you first of all is. The problem that the power to change


energy policy is not here in Wales? At the present time, the problem is,


this is a cartel of big energy companies, international ones, that


are rigging the markets, and we saw MPs told yesterday by a small energy


supplier who's head, Steven Fitzpatrick, said he's buying


electricity at a lower wholesale price than two years ago. Yet we


have seen 10% increases over the last year on top of increases in


previous years and actually, to consumers and wholesale prices have


been going down. Wholesale prices fell last year by under 2%. Yet


energy prices have shot up by nearly 10%. This is, in a market that's


wrong, Wales is suffering from it, my constituents, some of them can't


heat their homes any more because otherwise they wouldn't be able to


feed themselves. So there is an issue about a Welsh dimension, but


frankly this is a UK-wide problem that needs to be fixed at a UK


level? Do you buy that I don't. Because what we have seen in the


face of this cartel is a complete failure by successive UK Governments


to deal with the issue which is that people are being forced to pay over


the odds because the big six are being allowed to get away with it.


We are saying that within the powers that we have already in Wales, we


can set up a not for dividend company, such as the model that's


current that would work in the interests of the people of Wales


that should be allowed to get the energy at a fair price that. Can't


happen under the current system. You look at the broad picture though,


both of you, you have specific interests given what you represent


and your policy interests in the pasts. Peter where renewable energy


is concerned, are we at the position where if the Welsh Government had


the power to do it, we could push ahead with some renewable energy? I


would like to think so. Some of the decisions made in Wales, not just by


the Welsh Government, but by local authorities, have been negative as


far as renewable energy's concerned. Such as? Objections to windfarms for


example. I'm not in favour of them carpeting the whole of Wales'


countryside and hills, but I'm in favour of combatting climate change.


In the recent turmoil in our weather, that's wreaking havoc and


imposing huge costs. You need more clean green energy. The Severn


Barrage is my favourite option. But the problem is what you do about the


rigged electricity market and beyond that, I would like to see Wales


leading the way. Within that picture, you didn't mention plans


for nuclear energy which are important in Wales as well. Do you


welcome the plans, Peter, or not? I welcome nuclear as a way of


replacing key power stations, including nuclear ones reaching the


end of their life and we have a problem about keeping the lights on.


Actually, the Hinkley nuclear power stations, enormously more costly


than the Severn Barrage for instance, and you could build a


Severn Barrage at a much cheaper price, privately financed and


produce electricity over its lime time that's half or three quarters


cheaper. That's what I think we should do. Give than cost, what


would you say to the voters that says to you, why are you seemingly


happenty to accept that on your doorstep which it's incredibly


expensive? It's interesting to hear Peter's comments. There's not much


difference in our opinions and it shows that every political party is


having to deal with the pros and cons of the near power. I won't


stand in the way of Peter Hain eats comments. There is an issue there in


that we have spent decades trying to find a consix on that. Perhaps what


we'd like to do is concentrate on things we can do now. Remind us,


because you side stepped the nuclear issue there, what is your policy


there? Our policy is clear, because we have real concerns within the


party, buttel I'll tell you one thing -- but I'll tell you one


thing, people are concerned about issues of cost, safety. On the other


hand, you have issues of economy. We come to different balances. I say,


for my constituents on Anglesey excited about the prospect of jobs,


that is something we can work with as part of, as we remember, UK


energy policy, whilst telling the other people on the other sides of


the argument yes, of course, your concerns are valid. I agree with, as


Peter Hain does, agreez with many of the concerns. -- agrees. He's made a


good point there. I want to add one other thing directed at David


Cameron. He's trying, as is the Chancellor, to cut the subsidy for


renewable energy. It amounts, together with social subsidies, to


insulate poor people's houses and pensioner's homes and so on, which


is absolutely vital with sky high bills that. Accounts, greej energy,


plus the social cost, for under 10% of our bills. The big companies have


put up prices by 10%, so the Prime Minister, in seeking to attack green


energy is barking up entirely the wrong tree.- both very much The


rising price of energy is one of the main reasons given by people for


falling into debt. No surprise, say experts, that more and more people


are turning to day day loans, the controversial form of lending which


often carries sky high interest rates. The Archbishop of Canterbury


has already declared war on the payday loan companies. One of his


colleagues, Brian Pippin, says the answer is clear, there are 70,000


members of credit unions in Wales, that number is expected to double by


2020. He chairs the Gateway community and says it's a model for


Paul of Wales. -- model for all of Wales. The church for some of us is


a moral compass, our Sunday mornings, our sense of being, our


financial guide. Back in 1999, the church in Wales made four annual


grants of ?15,000 to part fund the credit union officer working out of


the Cooperative centre. That money helped to kick start many of the


credit unions in Wales Three years earlier in 19let 6, myself and other


church members and members of other congregations in Pontypool and of


this community, helped set up gateway credit union here in


Pontypool. We started with just 22 members and now we have 2,500


members. We have 12 collection points and three offices in the high


streets around the counties During that time, we have lent millions of


pounds to the financially vulnerable.


It was started to have some means of offering an alternative to the


doorstep lenders and loan sharks that were very prevalent in the


early 90s. Morning... Many, many years ago, we did go to one of these


companies that would come and collect the money with high interest


rates. I'd never go back to that and I never want to I'm here for my son


today. Basically, he's only 21, he's finding it very difficult to get


credit. Really, I'm just trying to instil into him basically being able


to manage his money. When people are desperate to pay the money, to pay a


bill, tax the car or to cover an emergency, the signs in this window


seem to give the simple and quick answer. A A beinger attraction is


the bead at which you can get the money. You can go online, 15-20


minutes, the money can be in your account. -- a big attraction is that


the speed at which you can get the money. It can become a fabric of


society. Payday loans depend on desperation. Isn't it time we


inVoyced in our -- invested in our credit unions so they survive and


thrive to kill off this exploitive industry?


Joining me now is Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales, mentioned in


that report. And Russell Hamblin-Boon. Welcome to you both


and thank you for joining us. Archbishop, credit unions are a sign


of desperation? Not at all. Payday loan companies are a sign of


desperation because people go to them because they need money


desperately. Either for food or for some essential equipment for the


house, or to pay off other loans. Consequently, that's the desperate


default point. It seems to me that credit unions provide an alternative


because they don't charge anything like the rate. It's 2% at the


minute, it will go up to 3% next year. If you take out loans from


payday company, you can be paying 3, 4, 5,000% interest and very often,


people just go to the wall. What is the place, Russell, as you see it,


of payday loan companies in the role of financial services? I don't


disagree with the Archbishop that things are difficult for people.


Prices are going up, salaries are not rising. People are financially


stressed. A short-term loan from a reputable lender, the type of


businesses that I represent that belong to my trade association, may


be able to help people this that situation. Equally, they may be able


to get. Help from a credit union. The difference, I would say, is that


with a short-term loan, while you have to go through all of the checks


and measures, as if you were applying for a credit card or


looking for finance for a sew far for -- sofa for Christmas or


something, they may be able to get the money to you more conveniently


and quickly. We don't charge thousands of percent interest. The


cost is explained in paoundz pence and it's on average ?25 per ?100


that you borrow. Which is still pretty significant? It's a more


expensive way of financing, but for many people, it isn't an option. For


many people, it's a convenient and safe way of them managing their


wider budgetary expenses. That is a point, isn't it, that if the company


are clear about the charges, if they are very open about the way they


bring in their money and given the fact that they are in the


profit-making business, what is wrong with it? When you are


desperate, you don't think of the implications. 25%, to begin with, is


a huge rate of interest. The trouble is, of course, people can't pay back


the capital sum to they are paying interest on interest and on the


capital sum. Why I'm in favour of credit union is, that although it


may be complicated to join it, if it became more respectable in this


country, as it is in Ireland and America, where they are part of the


fabric of society in a way thatter in not in mainland Britain, then I


think more people would pay into them and we'd be able to help more


people to get short-term loans at a vastly reduced rate of progress. The


Archbishop of Canterbury famously said he wanted to put one of these


firms out of business, the firms that you represent. Given the fact


that we are talk competition here, credit unions would be competing for


business. Would you not see them as a threat? I met with the


Archbishop's team of staff to talk through the campaign to see if there


was anything that we can do to help. They immediate it very clear that


the campaign is not an anti-payday lender cam Pape, and we fully


support that. One way perhaps we might be able to move the campaign


forward is to talk to the businesses I represent, talk to me, rather than


attack us, to ask us, how could we do this better, what are you doing


that we could replicate in order to improve our business. Part of your


case is attacking snell These are the positive advantages of joining


the union, rather than borrowing money from payday companies. I


recognise that perhaps some of the companies represented by our friend


are very respectable ones, but there are lots of payday loan sharks out


there who charge interest rates of 4-5,000% and they are grossly


immoral. You are say you don't represent those? Certainly not


disreputable businesses and scrupulous lenders. A lot of people


whoer turned down by reputable lenders might actually end up in the


hands of those people, rathered than going to a dread union and perhaps


there's something we can do to work together to make sure the right


people are using the credit unions, as well as not having the option if


they want to of taking out a short-term loan through a payday


lender. That would be wonderful. If that were to happen and we could


help more people, no-one would be more pleased than I Thank you both


very much That is it for this week. Any comments or questions, please


get in touch. You can e-mail us and we are on Twitter too. We'll be back


next Wednesday. Until then, thanks for watching. Good night.


Tonight on the Wales Report with Huw Edwards - is education policy in Wales making the grade? And with energy prices on the rise - is there a Welsh solution to keeping bills down?

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