Friday, 13 May 2016

SONS OF BANKERS

An all to familiar sight - a bank closure notice
Bank closures, often by stealth, are a fact of life for many communities across much of rural and urban Wales – back on January 11th HSBC announced that branches in Ruabon, Chirk, Amlwch and Menai Bridge will close in April. Back in June 2015 Natwest announced its plans to close 11 branches in north Wales in September (St Asaph, Denbigh, Corwen and Llangollen in Denbighshire, as will the branches in Abersoch, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Tywyn in Gwynedd and those in Abergele and Rhos-on-Sea in Conwy, Buckley in Flintshire and Rossett in Wrexham).

The BBC noted that more than 600 bank branches have closed across Britain over the past year, with rural areas worst affected and that parts of Wales, Scotland and south west England lost the most per population between April 2015 and April 2016. The figures obtained revealed that five of the top 10 areas losing banks are in Wales: Powys, Denbighshire, Gwynedd, Conwy, and Carmarthenshire. The data revealed by BBC Breakfast - came from the big six High Street banks: Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), HSBC, Santander, Barclays and the Co-operative.

Now sadly this is nothing new, at the end of October 2014 Lloyd’s announced that it would close 150 branches (7% of its 2,250 branches) and shed some 9,000 jobs (the bank has incidentally already shed 43,000 jobs since the largely bank driven financial crash back in 2008).  In October 2014, Vince Cable, the then Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills was apparently going to write to UK banks to demanding that the banks commit to keeping ‘the last branch in town’ open. Sadly was probably a little late as a growing number of communities in Wales, which already have no bank (28 as of December 2015), and the forty-seven which only have one bank, as noted bthe Campaign for Community Banking Services.

The problem of closing banks affects all parts of Wales, while it is more readily identifiable in rural communities; but it also affects our urban areas as well – inconveniencing both personal and business customers. Bank closures proportionally hit older people harder as they may have problems with access to regular public transport. Age Cymru also noted that having a local bank that was convenient for older people was "vital" for ensuring they did not become socially isolated and that older people were at increased risk of financial abuse because of the branch closures.

More locally in Newport there has been a stealth-like closure of local high street banks -Caerleon’s HSBC branch in Backhall Street (closed on 2nd November 2012) – despite a campaign to save the small town’s only bank from closure, which had gained the support of hundreds of people who signed a petition against the closure.  HSBC had already closed the next nearest branch to Caerleon, on Caerleon Road, in St Julian’s (which was closed June 2011) – so much of listening to their customers. 

While Lloyds in 2011/2012 was in the frame for a raft of closures, HSBC had already systematically closed branches across much of Wales - Presteigne, (which closed on Friday 9th March 2012) despite over 500 people signing a petition against the closure), and Blaenafon, in Torfaen (which closed on the 11th May 2012) despite over a 1,000 people signed a petition against the closure of what was literally the last bank in the town). The excuse was that both banks had seen a significant decline in the numbers of customers using their services and the branches were no longer commercially viable.

Campaigners against bank closures rightly claim that businesses in an area where a bank closes suffer and that residents (especially the elderly) who are reliant on public transport to bank in a nearby town are disadvantaged. Just for the record HSBC had closed six branches in Wales between September 2010 and December 2011, including Llandysul, Ceredigion, and Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in Powys.

The company has closed 17 "under-used" banks in Wales (since 2009) in both urban and rural areas. HSBC, Barclays and the rest have been quietly closing small rural banks in recent years, and NatWest and Barclays have also reduced bank-opening hours. The British Bankers' Association says more customers now go on-line and banks must examine branch-running costs. 

Despite the spin (about the growth in on-line banking and it’s use – if you have no choice what else are people going to do) this is about nothing more than cutting running costs, the banks have little (or no concern) for their relatively unprofitable personal customers or the concerns of their local business customers or our smaller communities. As has been noted by the US Senate, some banks have other more pressing interests than those of their domestic customers like helping to launder money for drug dealers, dictators and terroristsso much for being a local bank. 

Local banks are good for the high street and local communities, they help to promote vitality and vibrancy and make it easier for local businesses to operate.  Local businesses to a degree benefit from the existence of local high street branches by picking up passing trade from bank customers. Once local bank branches close, the impact will be felt locally especially by older residents and local business owners who have to trek further and further to pay in their taking and the subsequent drop in passing trade – this situation has been aggravated by the demise of many building societies.  It is of course important to remember that one result of the demise of the regional banks was the rise of the big 4 banks which led to the growth of the reckless casino banking and cheap credit that brought about the financial crash. 

When you factor in the ruthless Post Office closure programme that has been pushed through by the then Labour Government, and the Con - Dem coalition government prior to it’s privatisation of the Post Office which in turn was preceded by the rapid floatation and rapid demise of most of our building societies you can clearly see how we got here - sorting the mess out is not going to be easy. It is perhaps a pity that we don’t have some sort of risk free Post Office Savings bank – save for the fact that it was recklessly sold of by a previous Conservative government.

Friday, 6 May 2016

THE AFTERNOON AFTER THE NIGHT BEFORE...

On the stump in 2010 
Well there we are then, the voters have spoken those who turned out to vote that is. It’s now the early afternoon after the night before and I am still awake after some three and bit hours of sleep. It was has a long day and night (27.5 hours of wakefulness). Perhaps it's time to get civilised and count the votes the following morning rather than on the night - we managed to do this in 1999 and life as we know it did not come to an end. 

Firstly a massive thank you to my agent and my campaign team and the electors of Monmouth / Mynwy for their support. Elections are not just about the voters and the candidates, a whole host of people work very hard behind the scenes to make things work smoothly, including the Retuning Officers, their staff, the council staff who man the polling booths and count the votes and the other council staff and our Police who work tirelessly to make the count function flawlessly.  

It has been as always, an interesting campaign, sadly overshadowed by the illness and passing of my already much missed father. As always the election campaign has given me the opportunity to talk to, to listen to and to meet with many and varied constituents during the course of my prolonged walking tour of (in my opinion) one of the more beautiful, interesting and varied of constituencies in Wales.

Transition towns hustings back in 2015
Now that the sound and the fury have faded, and the hustings blended into one former candidates can take stock. This is no glory in this, any dreams of political immortality should be doused with cold realism - a couple of election campaigns ago - having been featured on the front page of a local newspaper in relation to the campaign to Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market I had the surreal experience of going to buy some chips in a local chip shop with a friend only to find myself literally being wrapped around them (Sic transit gloria mundi - or "Thus passes the glory of the world”.

In Monmouth constituency and across the rest of Wales for former candidates and the successfully elected life can return to a form of normality. For the next few days catching up on sleep will be a priority, that and resisting the strange desire to knock on the doors of perfect strangers and push leaflets through complete strangers letter boxes. 

Across Wales we now have to work with the new Plaid National Assembly members, and prepare the ground for future campaigns and future elections. The National Assembly is now an established fact, it is not going to go away, it needs a fully balanced portfolio of powers to shape our economy and sustainably develop our country and must become a proper parliament. 

Addressing a KALM rally back in 2009 - the revolutionary's leather overcoat did not survive the campaign.
I have fought Monmouth constituency five / six times - three for Westminster, twice for the National Assembly constituency and once on the list and it has been interesting and challenging every single time. 

Frozen at Severn Tunnel Junction back in 2010A.
All in all since 2005 it has been interesting and enjoyable with hustings, canvassing, leafleting and even the doorstepping of prospective voters on freezing mornings at various railway stations. That said, I have  reached the stage when I can recognise when the adrenaline is running out, and the point where coffee is no longer required or having any effect and the sleep of a seriously tired former National Assembly prospective candidate is more than beckoning. 

I wonder how Newport County AFC and the Dragons will do in Satiurday...

Thursday, 5 May 2016

3 Votes for Plaid



Today's Welsh national election is our chance to help change our country for the better. In these challenging times Wales needs a strong and ambitious party in government, not more managed decline as offered by the other political parties. Plaid has shown what needs to be done to protect Wales and it’s now time to do more. Raising standards in schools, allowing teachers to teach, creating new jobs, improving our hospitals and protecting our environment are priorities. Reducing and then abolishing the Severn Bridge tolls and redeveloping and reopening our railways as part of the SE Wales Metro are a necessity. If we want an ambitious Welsh Government to get on with the job, then vote for it. So today vote for Wales - an ambitious Wales, a well-educated Wales, a healthier Wales. Remember to vote Plaid three times - for a better Wales.  The Polls open until 10pm tonight! We can change things for the better.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

MANAGED DECLINE OR PROSPERITY?


Plaid Cymru Shadow Economy Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth has vowed today that a Plaid Cymru government would write Wales's economic success story by implementing a detailed National Economic Plan unrivalled by any other party in this election. Rhun ap Iorwerth said that the Party of Wales's medium-term objective was to close the economic gap between Wales and the rest of the UK, by focusing on upskilling the workforce, creating well-paid jobs and stimulating economic growth.

Shadow Economy Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth said:

"Plaid Cymru recognises that Wales needs a strong and resilient economy in order to support our vital public services.

"To achieve this, our National Economic Plan will focus on raising skill levels, implementing an active industrial strategy and bringing forward a comprehensive plan for infrastructure investment.

"By creating 50,000 new apprenticeships, boosting innovation throughout Wales and doubling the Welsh R&D budget through our National Innovation body we will create more high-skilled, well-paid jobs.

"Plaid Cymru's National Infrastructure Commission - NICW - will be the largest infrastructure investment project since devolution, designed to transform Wales's roads, railways, schools, hospitals and homes.

"Our Wales Development Agency will help home-grown businesses succeed and boost exports, and will attract investment from around the world, reviving the globally-recognised Welsh brand.

"The Party of Wales's economic vision is unrivalled in its ambition and scope. If we are to close the economic gap between Wales and the rest of the UK it is vital that we inject new vigour into the Welsh economy.

"While Labour and the Tories are content to use our nation's poverty as a tool for political point-scoring, Plaid Cymru refuses to accept that this is as good as it gets for Wales."

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

INVESTING IN OUR INFRASTRUCTURE

A Plaid Cymru government will embark upon the biggest programme of reconstruction our nation has seen since devolution. We will establish a new body, the National Infrastructure Commission Wales, (NICW), an independent public corporation that will be responsible for planning, funding and delivering the aspirations set out in the National Infrastructure Investment Plan.

NICW will develop as a centre of specialist knowledge in the procurement and project management of major infrastructure projects to achieve best value for money while maximizing opportunities for Welsh firms in partnership with the National Procurement Service together with sector-specific non-profit distributing organisations.

Projects in transport, for example, will involve substantial investment in new rolling stock, creating new economic opportunities for local manufacturers for innovation and collaboration. Similarly in energy generation we will seek to maximise the proportion of the new technology that is manufactured in Wales. In housing we will support the manufacture of public rental housing in German-style house factories.

NICW will seek to arrange for the funding of these projects in a variety of different ways, including from the European Investment Bank and other European institutions, UK sources like the Green Investment bank and Infrastructure UK, working with local authorities, pension funds and other institutional investors and using long term leasing arrangements to raise funds independently of the UK Government’s balance sheet, enabling it to borrow additional funding at historically low interest rates to invest in vital Welsh infrastructure projects, creating jobs in the Welsh economy.

Investing using these sources of finance, together with those of the Welsh Government will enable us to double the current capital investment totals with an additional £1.5 billion of investment per year. The borrowing would be for long periods (e.g. 25 years) and we anticipate that the debt service ratio would be some 2.2% after five years at the end of the first Senedd term, and it is not intended that the debt service for all outstanding debt would rise above 4.5% under a long term rolling investment programme.

Our broad priorities for investment, beyond those contained in current spending plans, would include:
  • housing where it would be possible for an additional 10,000 homes to be built beyond current targets, for local and affordable housing needs throughout Wales

  • a comprehensive programme to improve the energy efficiency of housing in Wales with a sustained programme over the next twenty years o creating a network of local energy grids for Wales. 

  • creating the south-east Metro as well as a similar Metro-style network for both north Wales and Swansea and the western valleys 

  • creating a national rail link from north to south along the west Wales coast.
The Party of Wales will also expand capital investment in health to include investing in new NHS medical care homes and patient hotels, plus modern residential care facilities to be leased by local SMEs and social enterprises and education, with universal upgrading of existing facilities, new school-community hubs, together with the development of new Welsh medium schools and 3-14 and 3-19 through-schools where there is local demand.

Monday, 2 May 2016

OUR RAILWAYS

Plaid Cymru supports public ownership of the railway, and so we will continue to seek full and unrestricted control over the awarding of future rail franchises. In the meantime, under the current Westminster legislation, we will investigate alternative models for the next Welsh franchise that deliver as much public control as possible.

The Party of Wales will ensure that dividends and profits are reinvested and redistributed back into Welsh rail services through the most appropriate model that can be implemented. Plaid will work to protect all current routes which start or terminate in Wales as part of the Welsh franchise area. Transport for Wales will specify and procure a rail franchise that the public can be proud of.

The rail operator we establish through this process will:
  • provide capacity for expected growth in passenger numbers
  • benefit from profits and surpluses being reinvested back into the railway
  • adopt one national visual brand
  • integrate with bus service timetables, with community rail, the new proposed light rail networks and with active travel (walking and cycling)
  • introduce measures to make rail fares more affordable, including a simplified fare structure with the option of an annual fee, paid via the National Smart Card, to cover all journeys throughout Wales
  • have passenger and workforce representatives in its governance structure
  • have a duty to improve communication with passengers through social media and station announcements.

 A Plaid Cymru government will endeavour to secure new trains for our country and are committed to investigating the different options for rolling stock ownership, including owning our own trains. We will secure improvements for the safety of the public on the railway network by improving lighting, CCTV and disabled access to stations, and consulting on an alcohol ban on late-night trains.

At present, rail infrastructure is currently reserved to Westminster, but a Plaid Cymru Government would actively work towards changing this and would aim to electrify all major rail lines by 2034. We will complete the planned electrification of the South Wales Valley Lines. The next line to be electrified should be the North Wales Coast Line.

Plaid will identify locations for new stations across the network.  and will  continue to invest in developing existing rail stations as hubs for wider commercial development and urban regeneration, including retail and co-working/office space.

The Party of Wales will also look to re-open railway lines across Wales to create new links between communities. As part of this Plaid will commission a full feasibility study on the re-opening of the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth line together with a second phase linking Bangor, Caernarfon and Afon Wen near Pwllheli. Other potential lines such as Gaerwen to Amlwch, and the Amman Valley to Swansea will be studied for viability. A full report will be prepared on railway re-openings and new lines, setting the tone for a long-term expansion of the Welsh railway,

We need the urgent development of a South-East Metro, which will be sympathetic to existing communities. The aim of the Metro is to simplify travel across the region and provide regeneration in some of Wales’ most underdeveloped communities. We will work with local authorities and business to ensure that jobs are created in Valleys communities and that commuting can go in both directions. We want to see a similarly innovative and integrated transport system for the Swansea city region, and for north Wales and will publish these proposals within a year of assuming office.

A prioritised number of rail schemes will be included in the new National Transport Plan that we will consult upon and publish in our first year of government. Plaid Cymru will produce an exciting vision of a Welsh National Railway service, uniting the nation, north and south, country and city, community-to-community.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

A NATIONAL BANK OF WALES

A Plaid Cymru government will seek to establish a National Bank of Wales (NBW), a publicly-owned bank similar to the German Landeskreditbanken, providing debt finance to Welsh businesses and taking longer-term equity stakes to help plug the estimated funding gap of £500m a year faced by Welsh SMEs. Finance Wales operations will be merged into new institution.

This institution will work with Welsh Government and the new WDA to grow Welsh Mittelstand companies; it will in particular offer succession and equity release planning specialists, involving the use of management buyouts and employee ownership trusts, and the adoption of long-term equity stakes as a public bank, providing a source of patient finance on the German model in successful Welsh companies in order to maintain Welsh ownership, preventing the ownership churn that has damaged so many successful Welsh companies, and therefore safeguarding jobs.

The term Mittelstand mostly applies to small to mid-sized firms in German speaking countries. Most importantly Mittelstand companies are characterized by a common set of values and management practices. What defines the Mittelstand, is a broad set of values such as: Family-like corporate culture; long-term focus; independence; nimbleness; emotional attachment, investment into the workforce; flexibility; innovativeness; customer focus; social responsibility; strong regional ties.

The owner or owners take the business decisions largely on their own – and assume the risks and liability. In these companies, the boss usually has close ties with the business and the employees and bears a particular responsibility for ensuring job security. Mittelstand companies are often hailed for providing the backbone of the world’s fourth-largest economy. They tend to be family-owned, tucked away in small towns and familiar only to the businesses that buy their specialised machinery and components.

The Mittelstand also appears to offer a solution to some of the biggest worries of the capitalist system. One being the centralisation of wealth and the other is unemployment. The combination of medium-sized companies with deep local roots and a strong apprenticeship system means that in Germany only 7.8% of those aged 25 or under are unemployed, compared with 22.1% in Sweden and 54% in Spain. Mittelstand firms inspire extraordinary loyalty in their workers: on average only 2.7% of them leave each year, compared with the 30% turnover at some big American companies.

Over time NBW will develop into a deposit taking institution, involved in mainstream business banking, and providing banking facilities to the Welsh public sector, allowing it to use fractional reserve banking to expand its lending capacity. It will separately create a series of sector specific and independently managed seed and risk capital funds for high-growth innovation-based businesses.

Plaid Cymru will also look to build on the work of the Sector Panels, Industry Wales and other existing industry fora to support the development of sector associations to help us develop strategies in every area of the economy. We will do everything we can to support the steel industry in Wales, pressing the UK Government and EU to take radical action to protects the industry from unfair competition, procuring Welsh steel wherever possible as part of our infrastructure investment programme and actively exploring the possibility of a joint venture investment to improve the long-term competitiveness of the Port Talbot steelworks.