Monday, 26 January 2015

STRENGTHEN OUR NHS

Welsh patients deserve a health service which can respond when they need it. Welsh doctors and nurses deserve to work in a world-class service that values and reflects their skills.That is the message of Plaid Cymru as it launched its plans to save and strengthen our NHS.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

PARITY WITH SCOTLAND

It’s not difficult to come to the conclusion; that since the advent of devolution, that the package of powers we have been given in Wales is second rate when compared to both Scotland and Northern Ireland. With the publication of new legislative proposals (Thursday 22nd January) for further Scottish devolution, a new going-rate for powers has been set and Wales should settle for nothing less that parity with Scotland.

This is a simple matter of basic fairness. Wales is every bit as much a nation as Scotland and we should expect to be treated on the basis of equality. If we settle for second best, then there are also significant consequences for Wales. Scotland will have powers to block fracking for example; Welsh communities will be left to the tender mercy of Westminster. Scotland will have a greater say on how the money it raises is spent while in Wales we will continue to lack the levers to turn around our economy and create jobs.

A recent poll suggested a clear majority agree with Plaid Cymru that our nation should have parity of powers with Scotland. All the other party leaders should join Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru’s Leader to work to secure the will of the people and a devolution package that respects Wales and gives our people the tools that other nations take for granted.

The status quo or doing nothing is not an option. If we choose that course then the gulf between the strength of our self-government and that of other countries within these islands will only continue to widen and to undermine Wales' position and hindering our ability to act in Wales' interests on a wide range of issues.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

THE REAL PRICE OF A PINT

Milk prices have crashed under pressure from a combination of rising supply and falling demand, particularly as a result of lower-than-expected demand from China and Russia's ban on food imports. One factor that few people saw coming was Moscow's decision to ban EU dairy products, taken in response to sanctions over the Ukraine conflict, this has led to some 2.5 billion litres of milk not being sold in Russia.

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has revealed that Dairy farmers are being forced out of business every week by factors beyond their control. The Committee has called for the powers of the government's groceries watchdog to be expanded to cover dairy suppliers; The Westminster government has said that it was doing all it could to help farmers cope with the "volatility of the global market".

Despite all the rhetoric, I don’t expect the current or successive Westminster UK Governments to take any meaningful action to help our dairy farmers (or any of our farmers for that matter). Previous failures to act, I suspect are due to a combination of nice financial inducements from large Supermarkets and a more marked indifference to the agricultural sector.

At the end of the day if we want quality milk and dairy products (produced from UK milk or better made in Wales) then we will have to change the way we buy, then our farmers will get a better deal and we will get a quality product. One consequence of how we buy and how our milk is produced for us and how it is sold to us is that the number of dairy farmers in Wales dropped by a third in five years (up to December 2009) and this was despite repeated warnings that more needed to be done to save the industry.  

Before our farmers, dairy or otherwise, are driven out of business entirely they need action not words. If our governments at all levels (including the as far as agriculture is concerned apparently indifferent Labour in Wales run Welsh Government) do nothing then the future for agriculture may be grim, semi industrial and serviced by cheap (and probably exploited) migrant workers. Industrial milk production much trumpeted by some as the saviour of the dairy industry but it is not without its problems

There are waste issues, slurry production being one of them, which can be enormously toxic and environmentally damaging. There are also likely to be animal welfare issues when it comes to industrial farming. Modern cows to produce large amounts of cheap milk, a modern Frisian may produce as much 4 times as much milk as equivalent cows did 50 years but it only has three (milking years) in which to do this.

Historically the old answer to low milk prices or a surplus was to turn excess milk into other dairy products, like butter, cream, cheese and yoghurt's. The problem we in Wales face is that many local Welsh dairies serving our urban centres are no longer in business – some around Cardiff were bought up and sold off for housing and diary operations in some areas relocated outside of Wales. This means that we in Wales miss out, as Dairy products are potentially big business as some of our more successful smaller organic producers have proved.

The development of railway communications during the industrial revolution provided the means for rapid delivery of farmer’s milk to towns and cities and lead to a growth of diary production. The milkman delivered direct to our doorsteps, his near demise came later as a direct result of super market price-cutting which has now, more or less, effectively killed him off. The decimation of rural railways following a Conservative Government (questionably motivated) decision to favour road transport weakened the very infrastructure that had driven an expansion of the dairy industry. 

A 29 or 30 pence (gate price) litre of milk may end up being sold for 15 times as much, people pay good money for ‘health yogurt’ – which with the addition of bacteria, flavouring and a marketing campaign produce healthy profits for the companies that produce them. We have some excellent and very successful companies and producers doing just that, but, this potentially profitable sector of the agricultural economy in Wales is undeveloped. 

As for buying local - around 40 per cent of our yogurt is made in France and Belgium, in 2009 more than 40 per cent of all Cheddar sold in the UK was actually produced outside of the UK. Yogurt and cheese aside; its a pretty similar story when it comes to butter. The bulk of our butter comes from Denmark and Ireland, and this is despite the fact that farm gate prices for milk remain consistently higher in Europe than here in the UK.

We (in the UK) when compared with eleven years ago now import almost half of our butter from abroad, cheese imports are also up, some 60 per cent over the last eleven years (up to 2012). We are importing products that have added-value and are busy exporting the low-value milk products which are then ironically turned into butter, yogurt, etc and sold right back to us. 

This is madness; this is what happens in the developing or third world, not in the first world. In the developing world many countries have little choice but to export their raw commodities cheaply and then have little or no choice other than to buy back manufactured products made from their own raw materials.

Over the last 10 years Supermarkets’ margins (e.g. the amount of the price they take) on milk have doubled. Now with a trend for both the processor and retailer to be the same, we have a situation where they take over three quarters of the price of a pint. We have now reached the situation where in a land once renowned for Dairy farming and with cheap milk, we are becoming a net importer of milk. There is little point in hoping that the Con Dem Government (or a future New Labour one) will get its act together because they just won't.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

STANDING UP FOR WALES… NOT

Fracking? On our doorstep or perhaps under it

It may literally be a case of talking the talk but not walking the walk when it comes to the Labour in Wales Welsh governments claim to be standing up for Wales. A recent Parliamentary Question by Jonathan Edwards MP has revealed that the Labour in Wales Welsh Government has failed to press the Westminster Government on devolving powers over fracking to Wales.

Plaid Cymru tabled amendments to devolve powers over fracking to Wales and our country’s Labour in Wales elected representatives in Westminster sat on their hands or like the old News of the World made their excuses and left.  Perhaps it is simply a case of talking the talk at home and then hopping than no one will notice when their colleagues continue to do little for Wales at Westminster.

There are real and serious concerns about the environmental impact of fracking, which is why a number of countries in Europe and several US states have introduced moratoriums on fracking. The way things are at present; Wales will have no power to do so, with the Westminster Government yet again dominating Wales in relation to the licensing or prohibition of fracking.

Now what is interesting is that Scotland is set to have full powers over licensing fracking as set out in the Smith Commission proposals which all Westminster parties support following Gordo’s Vow made to the people of Scotland during the independence referendum campaign, the Labour Government in Cardiff has not been pushing for Wales to have the same powers.

Last Tuesday the UK Westminster government agreed to exclude Scotland from laws making it easier for fracking firms to drill for shale gas. The Infrastructure Bill, which is currently passing through Westminster, is set to allow underground access in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but not Scotland.

In Scotland, the SNP Scottish government, the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Green Party have all opposed the bill provisions of which would apply to residential areas. Scottish MP’s in Westminster had lodged amendments to the bill – the question might be asked is where were our Labour in Westminster elected representatives?

Jonathan Edwards MP said:

“It is absolutely astonishing that despite constantly claiming to be standing up for Wales, and that Wales should have the same powers as Scotland, Labour have yet again revealed that they talk a good game but do precious little to make it happen.

“As part of the devolution of powers promised to the people as part of the vow in the independence referendum, Scotland will have full powers over the planning and licensing of fracking. What is good enough for Scotland is also good enough for Wales, and we should also have the same powers.

“Yet Labour has been shambolic in its approach to delivering this for Wales. Last year, the Labour First Minister said that Wales should have the same powers as Scotland, yet parliamentary questions reveal that away from the press headlines, Labour are not even pushing for those powers, perhaps obeying the commands of their London masters. They are just rolling over and allowing Welsh resources to be plundered for Westminster and City of London profit.

“Wales should have full powers over the licensing of fracking. Plaid Cymru tabled amendments to the Infrastructure Bill in Parliament towards the end of last year seeking to enable Wales to have those powers, yet Labour refused to vote in favour.  

"Plaid Cymru consistently works for Wales in Westminster, pushing for more powers, investment and control over natural resources, and against damaging austerity cuts.”

Saturday, 17 January 2015

ED HAS SPOKEN…

Ed has spoken out about the failure of the energy companies to pass on cuts in their domestic retails bills to customers after the falls in the price of wholesale gas and the energy companies have trembled. All well and good, it is more than reasonable for the energy regulator Ofgem to be given new powers to force firms to cut gas and electricity bills - to reflect falls in wholesale energy prices.

Since June last year, oil prices have gone down by 50% and wholesale energy prices have dipped by 30%. But the prices being paid by households to heat their homes have not fallen at anything like that speed. 


While EON is the first of the big 6 energy cartel members to cut their domestic energy bills, it is probably fair to say that this was not driven by an Ed inspired pre panic. Energy UK – the energy supplier’s trade body’s pronouncement that they (the energy companies) are already passing on price cuts to customers. Ofgem at present does not have the power to force a reduction in prices. It is worth noting that Wholesale energy costs have been dropping in recent months, with the price of a barrel of Brent Crude oil falling to below $49 dollars this week.

The Labour leader has said that he would demand fast-track legislation on energy in a House of Commons debate next week. When he served as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change from 3rd October 2008 until 11thMay 2010, he showed no great desire to regulate the unscrupulous activities of the energy cartel on our behalf. We have been here before with mumbled words of condemnation from the former New Labour energy minister calling for the energy cartels to pass on the benefits of wholesale energy price falls to its customers. 

Warm words aside, Westminster is incapable or unwilling to deal with this problem, so perhaps it’s time for a home grown solution to the problem. We need a new Welsh national energy company, an Ynni Cymru to break the stranglehold of the Big Six energy cartel members on the energy market.

We in Wales, need a ‘not for dividend profit’ company, as with Glas Cymru works within our water industry. This would firmly ensure that customers come before shareholders dividends and the City of London and that all the profits would be reinvested back into the energy sector in our country, ensuring that Welsh families, households and small and larger businesses get a good deal on their energy and our country will end up with secure sustainable energy supplies. 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

FOR OR AGAINST AUSTERITY?


Wayne David (Lab)
Caerphilly
FOR
David Davies (Con)
Monmouth
FOR
Chris Evans (Lab)
Islwyn
FOR
Paul Flynn (Lab)
Newport West
FOR
Dai Havard (Lab)
Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney
FOR
Jessica Morden (Lab)
Newport East
FOR
Paul Murphy (Lab)
Torfaen
FOR
Nick Smith (Lab)
Blaenau Gwent
FOR

(Source: Hansard Parliamentary Record)  

On Tuesday Plaid Cymru MPs stood up against the Conservative and Labour party shared austerity agenda by voting against proposals for tens of billions more cuts as part of the Westminster Government's Charter for Budget Responsibility. Jonathan Edwards MP, the party's Treasury spokesperson, branded the vote "judgement day" for Labour and warned that the people of Wales will not look kindly on this decision to back Tory cuts when they go to the polls on May 7th. He added that ending austerity lies at the heart of Plaid Cymru's General Election campaign and that it was time to put a stop to Westminster's failed and deeply flawed economic plan.

Speaking soon after the vote in the Commons, Mr Edwards said:

 "We have now had five years of pain under Westminster's austerity agenda with ordinary people paying the price for the collapse of the banks.

 "Over a billion pounds has been wiped from the Welsh economy due to welfare cuts alone. This simply cannot go on.

 "It beggars belief that the Labour party was willing to follow the Tories through the lobbies and back another five years of cuts that amount to tens of billions of pounds.

 "Plaid Cymru is absolutely committed to ending austerity and providing the people of Wales with a positive alternative.

 "Through investing in infrastructure, scrapping Trident, and tackling the scandal of tax avoidance and evasion, we can secure strong, sustainable economic growth rather than leave the lives of ordinary Welsh people at the mercy of London bankers. 

 "In May, the people of Wales have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make their vote truly count. With the anti-austerity parties likely to hold the balance of power, a strong group of Plaid Cymru MPs would mean a strong voice for Wales.

 "The Westminster parties offer nothing but the same cuts in a different colour. With clear plans to recruit a thousand extra doctors, deliver a living wage and secure fair funding, only a vote for Plaid Cymru will make Wales matter in May."