Budget talks - and other matters

Yesterday 'dontblameme' - a regular commentator on this blog - was blaming me instead.

"The way that the Welsh Assembly cabinet wants to spend their block grant has reached an impasse and question on the constitutional position of Wales with in the United Kingdom are somehow more important...NOT".

Dontblameme, givemeabreak.

'Impasse?' Not yet. The government is saying that talks are "ongoing and positive" (this morning) or "calm, collected and good natured" (yesterday morning) - take your pick. More significantly the mood music coming from the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru is of trying to reach a deal, not of voting down the government's spending plans in three weeks time. I haven't talked to a single figure involved in the whole process who does not believe a deal will be struck.

Secondly: 'somehow more important?' How come? Because it appeared in the blog at all? We knew no more yesterday on the budget talks than we'd known on Tuesday. The top line was that Labour had ruled out striking a deal with the Tories - never! I thought I'd give you a break, blog about something else. Why not. It's not as though there's an army of journalists out there who'd otherwise have taken a look at a side, perhaps, but interesting issue all the same.

I'll come back to that in a moment... but first:

A quick budget update: government sources simply say both sets of talks are ongoing and there is no deal favoured at the moment.

There is a theory that a deal with the Lib Dems would mean less unpicking of the government's spending plans as a whole. Kirsty Williams suggested in Tuesday's media briefing that their demand (more money for less well off pupils) could be delivered by re-jigging education spending alone, though her "preference" would be that more money was found for education.

But what would Labour group leaders on councils around the country make of a political bail-out for the Lib Dems six months before the local elections? Carwyn Jones giving Kirsty Williams a grateful handshake on the front page of the Western Mail? You suspect her smile would be broader than his.

But so far, we know no more. Parties report 'nothing to report'.

What about yesterday's unemployment statistics? Bad news for Wales that hasn't gone unnoticed in Scotland - and a comment from Holyrood that neither Labour, nor the Welsh Goverment, will fail to notice. It came from Alex Salmond in response to Labour's Iain Gray who used First Minister's Questions to ask about the SNP's record on steering the Scottish economy. Mr Salmond looked to Wales for ammunition:

"Iain Gray would have to acknowledge that unemployment is down in Scotland and employment is up - uniquely in the United Kingdom. Labour is in power in the UK - in one place - Wales. I'm not going to criticise the Government of Wales, because they're under the same strictures of Westminster cutbacks as we are at the present moment. But, if Labour had the answer to economic problems and unemployment then why is unemployment in Wales higher than it is in Scotland? Why is youth unemployment higher than it is in Scotland? If Labour had magic solutions why aren't they implementing them in the one place in these islands where they're still in government?".

We'll await a response, if any, from the Welsh government.

And now, I'll venture to mention something else - evidence that will be heard this afternoon by the Task and Finish Group on the future outlook for the media in Wales.

Whether you've read a newspaper today or not, whether it was a Welsh newspaper or not, whether you read blogs about Wales or not - read the submissions listed here.

Realistic? Yes. Bleak? Yes. Significant? Absolutely.

I'll quote from the first and last papers but in reverse order:

Here's Dr Andy Williams from the Cardiff School of Journalism on the dwindling circulation of the Western Mail:

"Not many people are buying the national newspaper of Wales, either: since 2000 circulation has fallen by more than half, from 55,273 to 26,931. If sales fall in similar numbers over the next 10 years there will not be anyone left reading the Western Mail by 2021.

"But advertisers pay newspapers for access to readers' eyeballs, and if we are not reading they have no reason to stick around. Commercial advertisers do not subsidise coverage of Welsh politics, Welsh corruption, Welsh crime, Welsh Rugby, or even Catherine Zeta's summer holidays out of the goodness of their hearts. There will surely come a time before long when it is no longer worth advertisers sticking around ... How far away is this point?"

The NUJ's Martin Shipton offers an answer to that one:

"Within Media Wales, the widespread view of our members is that the newspapers have a limited remaining lifespan. There is speculation that within a relatively short space of time the Western Mail will cease to be published as a daily and will become a weekly paper. If that happens, many more jobs will be lost, and Wales will lose its only daily paper that seeks to take a national view of the country".

Who will step forward to take the blame for that?

17.35 UPDATE

A Welsh Government source says of Mr Salmond's comments, "It's a widely accepted that Scotland is generously overfunded when it comes to the Barnett formula. This built-in advantage over the other devolved nations, is obviously not shouted about loudly by the Scottish Government, for very obvious reasons."