Tuesday, 29 December 2009


Now that Christmas is passing, we can begin to think about the possibilities of the New Year and how we are going to pay for the old one. This time of year people are under considerable pressure to spend more money than they can afford, the situation has worsened due to the current economic climate. People need to think very carefully about where they get credit from, especially during difficult economic times, people may be tempted by disreputable lenders such as doorstep lenders and loan sharks who could lead people into uncontrollable levels of debt.

Debt is a serious issue, and unmanageable debt can have far reaching consequences in terms of family life and mental health and is something that can affect people across every urban and rural community. It is important that people in serious debt don’t feel isolated as this can make them more vulnerable to the exploitation of loan sharks and other disreputable lenders. To avoid any trouble with disreputable lenders seek help immediately from the police or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau as the lender may well have behaved illegally.

The Plaid driven Welsh government is committed to the establishment and development of credit unions, as a form of social enterprise, in all parts of Wales. So far the One Wales government has achieved all-Wales coverage of Credit Unions, has established access for secondary pupils and helping credit unions to offer more Child Trust Fund accounts. Credit Unions have a hugely important role to play, offering, not just affordable credit but also valuable advice on budgeting.

The New Labour Government has not done enough to tackle doorstep lenders and loan sharks. We need to look at other ways of protecting vulnerable people in debt. Plaid Cymru has campaigned in Westminster for a cap on interest charged by lenders. This would be an invaluable tool in tackling problems with doorstep lenders and loan sharks and Plaid will continue to campaign for this and any other means of tackling the problem of disreputable lenders.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


The award of funding to help sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses to diversify and improve their Post Offices is most welcome. In Monouthshire Usk, Caldicot and Magor post offices were 3 out of the 75 post offices across Wales to be awarded grants from the Post Office Diversification Fund. Most people and most political parties recognise that Post Offices play a vital roll at the heart of their communities and are real lifelines to vulnerable people.

The Post Office Diversification Fund is planned to run for three years and has been set up to offer help and advice with advertising, marketing, business advice, training and setting up new services for customers. The fund can also help with improving access, security and upgrading computer equipment, etc. This is the One Wales Government helping to deliver improvements to important services in our communities, which makes a pleasant change by way of comparison with recent Westminster Governments.

With a Westminster election pending, it is worth remembering that while the Post Office Closure Programme has always been Westminster driven and a non devolved matter enough voices of concern were raised in Wales to make the National Assembly listen. Despite the fact that local Labour MP's in Caerphilly (Wayne David) and Newport East (Jessica Morden) said one thing about the closure programme but voted for it in Westminster and hoped that no one would notice - oops! there were a number of successful local campaigns to keep their post offices.

The cold reality is that since 1997, the New Labour Government has ensured that less and less services can be provided through the post office network and has deliberately sought to undermine these vital small businesses; by taking away important income streams such as television licence and the processing of benefits and pension entitlement. The New Labour Government merely followed the policy of its Conservative predecessor by going out of its way to systematically undermine the Post Office Network by making it practically impossible for sub postmasters to earn a living, and forcing them to close their businesses. New Labour came to power in 1997, since then some 4,000 Post offices have been closed, and some 3,000 Post offices were closed by the previous Conservative administration.

When Polling Day comes, amongst all our other concerns, the voters should neither forgive nor forget this government’s role in decimating our Post Office network, if the rundown of our rural and small town Post Offices continues and more are forced to close down then many thousands of more vulnerable older people could become more isolated from the local community in our urban and rural areas.

There is a world of difference between a need for Post Offices to modernise to make them more financially viable, and the programme of wholesale closure that has been undertaken over the last fifteen years. One final thing, it is important to remember that the New Labour Government closed the Post Offices without adequately exploring how Post Offices could expand their services and was merely following the line adopted by the previous Conservative Governments.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


Once again the Severn Bridge tolls, which are the highest in the UK, are set to rise again on 1st January 2010, upon receipt of an order from the Secretary of State, in line with the Severn Bridges Act 1992. It is worth noting that there is provision in the Act for the Secretary of State to amend the tolls, which would at least be a start in helping reduce the costs that road users in Wales are currently facing.


The Severn Bridge crossing tolls will rise on January 1st 2010, the new tolls will be:

Cars and Motor Caravans: Currently £5.40 will rise to £5.50

Small Goods Vehicles and Small Buses: Currently £10.90 will stay at £10.90

Heavy Goods Vehicles and Buses: currently £16.30 will rise to £16.40

Source Severn River Crossing Plc Website: http://www.severnbridge.co.uk/TollPrices2010.pdf


By way of comparison across the bridge so to speak, it is worth noting that in October, Sadiq Khan, the Minister of Transport, announced a grant of £6m to the Humber Bridge company, saying that, “the Government was committed to doing everything it can to protect communities and businesses from economic downturn and help the country to recover. That is why I decided not to accept the Humber Bridge board’s proposed toll increases” if that’s the case in England, then why not in Wales?

Looking beyond the immediate and irritating problem of the tolls, as has been pointed out elsewhere, there is another issue that is worth thinking about – what’s going to happen in 2014, which is not that far away, when it has been estimated that the PFI contract will have been covered by toll receipts. Who actually is going to own the bridge (or bridges) and will they stop collecting the tolls? If not then the bridge (or bridges) sit on the border - but the toll on the newer bridge is collected in Wales, so will the bridge and the tolls simply revert back to the Department of transport?

Or if it comes to the National Assembly, by default, then if the current tolls were halved then, what could be accomplished by using a percentage to cover maintenance of the bridge and using the remainder of the toll for ring fenced capital projects – such as new integrated transport systems, reopening railway lines, funding tram systems and investing in rail freight – which would be far more beneficial for all of us in Wales than the finance disappearing into the Westminster coffers or to bail out the bankers?

Monday, 21 December 2009


It looks like the Charity Commission may be looking (according to The Guardian) at the Taxpayers' Alliance (which may or may not be a Conservative front organisation) which campaigns against the misuse of public funds, has set up a charity under a different name which can secure subsidies from the taxman worth up to 40% on individuals' donations.

According to the Guardian,'The Charity Commission's records apparently show that the charitable arm was established as the Taxpayers' Alliance Research Trust in 2007, before changing its name to the Politics and Economics Research Trust. Oddly enough the charity's trustees include leading Taxpayers' Alliance supporter Patrick Barbour, the founder of Reform, a free-market thinktank which advocates lower tax and public spending and at l;east until he became leader of the UK Independence party last month, one Lord Pearson of Rannoch was also a trustee.'

The Guardian also notes that the trust was the recipient of donations worth £373,230 in 2008 and approved 29 grant proposals amounting to £278,520 with the stated aim "to advance the education of the public" and to "promote for the public benefit research into matters of public taxation, public policy, applied economics and political science". What may be more interesting is that unusually for a charitable trust, the accounts do not name the grant recipients...

Check this out for more information on the Taxpayers Alliance

Thursday, 17 December 2009


The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study which suggests that 20mph zones in residential areas on London save lives and reduce the children killed or injured in road accidents and has called for the expansion of the Home Zone scheme to residential areas across Wales.

This study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimates that 20mph zones have the potential to prevent up to 700 casualties in London alone. The study estimates that at 20 mph only one in 40 pedestrians is killed in a crash, which compares with a one in five chance for someone hit at 30mph.

The British Medical Journal noted that 20 mph zones in parts of London, have with reduced speed limits have reduced number of children killed or seriously injured has been halved over the past 15 years and cut road injuries by 40% in London. We need to revisit the Dutch idea of Home Zones – which attempt to strike a balance between road traffic and everyone else who uses the street.

Now there are those who have dismissed calls for lower speed limits as attempts to merely raise revenue or boost Police funds, but, try telling that to someone who has lost a child or seen their loved ones hurt in an accident where excessive speed played a part or telling that to any Police officer who has had to attend a road traffic accident that involves a child. At 20mph, it is estimated only one in 40 pedestrians is killed in a crash, this compares with a one in five chance for someone hit at 30mph.

If we are serious about road safety and reducing accidents then we need to serious consider developing 20mph zones around our schools and expanding them to include the streets that are around our schools, especially those streets that are residential in nature, as this will save lives and protect our children and pedestrians.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


The residents of Abergavenny who are campaigning as CASH (Community Action to Save The Hill) to save the Hill Education and Conference Centre, in Abergavenny (CASH) deserve every encouragement in their campaign to make sure the college is retained and developed for education and as a community resource. This is yet another worthwhile example of community action, by local residents who would rather than see the site lost for redevelopment as a result of potentially shady dealings by Monmouthshire County Council (MCC). It's a fight well worth fighting and the residents are not in it for the money, unlike it seems MCC…who may well be in it for the money!

Monday, 14 December 2009


The Ofgem, the UK energy regulator’s warning to energy supply companies that households must benefit from a fall in wholesale gas prices, will bring cold comfort to those families who may be forced to make a choice between putting food on the table for their family and heating their home, this winter.

That aside, I welcome the fact that the energy companies will face a further investigation into their retail prices which will be launched in the New Year, and the fact that the energy regulator says it ‘will not shy away from proposing radical reform to protect the interests of consumers’ – this is especially welcome as it has been revealed that energy company profit margins in dual fuel bills stand at a five year high and that they may rise further.

Ofgem has said that if wholesale gas prices continue to fall, then bills must come down in the New Year to avoid the customer losing out. The regulator has also said that companies must not "use investment as a shameful excuse to overcharge their consumers.

In truth what we have is not a virtual monopoly on energy supply in the UK, but an actual monopoly, as the number of energy supply companies has fallen to six in the last ten years, with less that £30 differential between all of the energy supply companies, which works out to be no more than a few pence a week difference in bills, and what we have an energy cartel which brings minimal benefit to hard pressed energy customers.

Now Energy companies have always been very quick to blame rising oil and gas prices, and equally quick to rake in the profits and the Government has been equally happy to rake in the extra tax revenues – the only loser in this happy picture is us, the energy customers.

This situation has arisen of a culture that rewards short-term financial recklessness in the city of London, which had promoted a vast increase in cheap credit on the back of an absurd house price boom – that is how we have arrived at the credit crunch which has brought real economic hardship to the many through no fault of their own and enriched the few.

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair's New Labour is entirely complicit with the energy companies, as their failure to help the people who will need help over the winter months and New Labour's failure to consider a windfall tax to curb excess profits from the utility companies speaks volumes as to how far New Labour has left behind the ordinary people in favour of courting the money men in the City.

Sadly for growing numbers of ordinary families across Wales this winter it may well come come down to a stark choice of eating or heating as the interests of big profit for big business in comes before the needs of ordinary families.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


International Human Rights Day passed in Cuba with Cuban dissidents, who were trying to hold a silent march in Havana, being confronted by organised crowds chanting pro-government slogans (perhaps a shade of the old Czechoslovak Communist Government tactic with Charter 77). Pro Government supporters screaming insults broke up two small groups of dissidents marching through Havana.

A UK diplomat was also harassed and ended up having to be protected by plain clothes police officers. On the other side of Havana, there as a second protest march, by the Ladies in White, who are the mothers and wives of prisoners - they too were surrounded and jostled.

In classic Soviet era double speak the Cuban authorities called the counter-demonstrations spontaneous outbursts by concerned citizens defending the Cuban revolution. The reality say critics of the Cuban one Party state is organised mobs aimed at intimidating any opposition. So much for Raul Castro who hinted that he would end such tactics when he took over the presidency from his brother, Fidel, but old Soviet habits, die hard.

The significant achievements in health, education and literacy are real achievements, but they are overshadowed by the continuing fact that a one party state is a one party state, a dictatorship is a dictatorship, whether nominally in the name of the proletariat or not - it's time for the long overdue democratic revolution in Cuba, its time for real democracy.

Friday, 11 December 2009


Here we go again - collective parliamentary noses in the trough. The Westminster Parliament's website has published hundreds of thousands of pages of new claims from 2008-09 totalling more than £10 million. It may come as little surprise to more cynical observers that many soon to be retiring MPs have continued to squeeze the system despite pretty vocal public displeasure at the widespread abuse of the second-home allowance.

The cream of the current crop (so far) appears to be one Quentin Davies, the Labour MP for Grantham & Stamford, who slipped in an invoice in February for repairs to a bell tower and roof at Frampton Hall, his castle / mansion in Lincolnshire. The defence minister, who previously defected from the Tories (in 2007), was only reimbursed for 25% of his claim after it was ruled that he had exceeded the £24,006 annual maximum.

The Times points out that his claim would have exceeded the average pay of an army private, which is £20,449.

Some three months later (according to the Times) he then wrote to the authorities claiming that he had never intended to use public money to maintain the bell tower. Oddly enough this letter was sent some ten days after newspapers began to print (leaked) details of expenses.

The hopefully soon to be former MP was quoted as saying that it was "unfortunate" that a single invoice was issued for repairs to both his roof, which he regarded as a legitimate claim, and the bell tower, which he now says was not.

The Times reveals that claims, for April 2008 to June 2009, showed some 60 MPs had claimed the annual maximum of £24,006, including the Shadow Chancellor (George Osborne), whose submitted claims accidentally exceeded the upper limit, with the average MPs claim under the second-home allowance was £18,270.58.

Roll on Poling Day...

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


What with the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan it is only natural that people’s thoughts over Christmas turn to our service men and women who are currently serving overseas, especially at Christmas. One thing that all of us can easily do is sign up to the British Legion ‘Time to DO Your Bit’ campaign.

I have always supported the actions of the British Legion and supported the annual Poppy appeal, so am delighted to support the Royal British Legion. They play a very important all year round in actively highlighting and supporting the needs of the whole Armed Forces family. So I have pledged to do my bit and would encourage everyone to visit the website – http://www.timetodoyourbit.org.uk so that they can find out how to get involved in and support the campaign.

The website also features the charity’s general election manifesto, which sets out priorities for the next Government to improve conditions for Service Personnel and their families, the bereaved, veterans and their dependents.

The Royal British legion (Website: http://britishlegion.org.uk) is the nation’s leading Armed forces charity providing care and support to all members of the British Armed forces past and present and their families. It is also the national Custodian of Remembrance and safeguards the Military Covenant between the nation and its Armed Forces. It is best known for the annual Poppy Appeal and its emblem is the red poppy but is active all year round working to support our Service men and women, veterans and their dependents.

Thursday, 3 December 2009


The news that some 82.5 per cent of Welsh farmers will receive Single Payments totalling more than £200million from Tuesday, 1st December, which is the first day that the European Commission allows payments to be made, is welcome good news and proof that Elin Jones AM, the hard working Minister for Rural Affairs in the Plaid driven One Wales Government is working hard for our farmers.

In times of financial difficulty, the fact that so many farmers can expect to receive their Single Payment in the first month of the seven-month payment period will help. The success of Rural Payments Wales matches last year’s achievement, in addition to processing 258 Advance payments worth about £5million in mid October to farmers affected by the demise of Dairy Farmers of Britain.

Now don't get me wrong, these are concrete steps to help our farmers, but, more needs to be done, with that in mind I welcome the National Assembly's rural development sub-committee’s call for an ombudsman to help protect and develop the dairy farming industry in Wales and support the call for more to be done to encourage demand for quality Welsh dairy products as has happened already with Welsh Beef and Welsh Lamb.

Sadly the news that the number of dairy farmers in Wales has dropped by a third in five years and the warnings that more needs to be done to save the industry along with the fact that Farmers are also not getting a fair price for the milk they produce, when compared to the price charged by retailers to consumers, will not come as a surprise to most people.

More needs to be done to give our dairy farmers a fair deal and one concrete step could be for our public bodies to increase the proportion of dairy products they procured locally in order to help safeguard milk producers and to give them a fair price for their milk.

Sunday, 29 November 2009


The news that the Plaid driven One Wales Government has asked Network Rail to conduct feasibility studies into the possibilities of reopening to old railway lines (between Llangefni on Anglesey and Bangor, and between Aberdare and Hirwaun in the Cynon valley) to passenger traffic is to be welcomed.

Similar feasibility studies should be undertaken on the old railway lines between Usk via Little Mill to the main line and in the Wye Valley between Chepstow and Monmouth. If we are serious about delivering reliable, effective and sustainable all weather communications to our communities then reopening old railway lines initially to passenger and then to rail freight is the way to go.

The lines to Usk and to Monmouth via Chepstow which were originally closed by the then Conservative Government which initiated significant and damaging cuts to rail services via the Beeching review of rail transport.

If Government in both London and Cardiff is really serious about cutting carbon emissions and road congestion then reopening these lines to rail and fright traffic could provide serious economic stimulation to the local economies and provide a real opportunity for people to make use of public transport which would reduce road congestion.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


It has been estimated that two women die every day in the UK - within North and South Wales and Gwent Police force areas there were eight deaths last year as a result of domestic violence.

In the last four years South Wales Police received almost 64,000 complaints with 2,862 prosecutions during 2008-09. Around three-quarters of the 12,322 domestic abuse victims in the last year were women.

In Wales, each year 100 children spend Christmas in emergency refuge accommodation. Many arrive with nothing but the clothes they were wearing when left the house.

Please help bring some comfort and Christmas cheer to children in refuge by donating to the Welsh Women's Aid Christmas Appeal and ensure that children who spend Christmas in refuge have some happy memories to take away when they leave.

The Children Matter - Christmas Appeal 2009. Please donate here

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


The small towns of Monmouth constituency and elsewhere have suffered in the past from ill-thought out developments and questionable short term economic thinking; local small to medium retailers and businesses and local consumers have suffered accordingly and ultimately we the consumers have paid the price with a loss of local services and choice.

The continuing campaign to retain the livestock market in Abergavenny shows that many people have serious concerns about the economic future and the character of their communities. Now we have to ask ourselves and Monmouthshire County Council some serious questions about who these decisions in relation to redevelopment are being made for? And why? And who really benefits, locally or otherwise?

Over recent years in the small towns across Monmouthshire, the rich mix of local shops, small businesses and local suppliers have come under pressure as the usual suspects in the shape of “identikit” chain stores have aggressively replicated themselves across our nation's high streets. Anyone who walks around with their eyes open can see that the individual character of many of our towns are not so slowly evaporating as we watch.

Our high streets which were once filled with a rich mix of interdependent butchers, newsagents, tobacconists, pubs, bookshops, greengrocers and family owned general stores, who also traded with each other as well as with their customers, are now rapidly filling with supermarket stores, fast food chains, global fashion outlets and charity shops.

What can best be described as an abject failure or indifference of local and central government to develop realistic local economic plans and the failure to create a level playing field for local businesses and suppliers, when combined with some very questionable planning decisions over the last thirty years, has directly lead to many of our town centre's being "regenerated" to death.

The end result is that our small and larger towns have lost their character as the traditional look and feel has disappeared, as facades made with local building materials have been replaced by identical branded glass, steel and concrete storefronts.

There is a real danger that this loss of economic diversity with ultimately lead to a loss of any real choice for consumers as well as a loss of local character. The replacement of locally owned outlets by retail multiples further damages the local economy as profits drain out of the area to remote corporate headquarters and local employment opportunities are destroyed.

It is now recognised that ten pound spent in a local business circulates in the local economy three times longer than if it is spent in a non local business. The side effect of these developments is a loss of a sense of community, with this loss of local character as our high streets have lost their distinctive local shops which have been replaced by “micro-format” supermarket or chain store branches.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


The news that the Police investigation into the allegations of abuse of parliamentary expenses (by both MPs and Peers) will soon be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service is welcome news. Hopefully the 3 MPs and 3 Peers who may be charged are only the start of the investigation, especially as some 27 members of Parliament were allegedly under investigation.

The Police investigation follows the exposure of MPs (and Peers) questionable claims in The Daily Telegraph which exposed the fact that MPs had claims (which covered everything from a duck house to cleaning the moat at a country home etc) stoked public fury.

At the end of the day or even the Parliamentary session - the bottom line in all of this is that fraud is fraud is fraud and anyone who has made fraudulent claims should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and any monies fraudulently obtained should duly reclaimed - failure to pursue this will result in a further potentially damaging loss of confidence in our democratic system.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


The news that Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) is continuing to push ahead with its School Closure Programme with Llanover and Govilon Primary Schools being in the firing line will surprise few people in the county. MCC might well make much reference to the consultation process and the need to save money but this is being driven by their own agenda, which will result in the county council gaining financially in the short term but the pupils, parents, teachers and their local communities losing out in the long term.

MCC has made much of the financial savings that may be made in respect of Llanover (£121,000) and Govilon (£134,000) but little has been mentioned about any windfalls that will come MCC’s way when it comes to disposing of the sites, and even less about the County Council’s role in any future planning applications on the sites of the schools if they are closed.

There is a degree of irony in that if MCC pursues its goal of disposing of former school sites for housing then one result will be a rise of the number of children eligible to attend local schools that will have little option but to join their fellow pupils on the ever longer school run.

The local community loses out doubly, as what has been described as the focus for the community disappears and also any access to local facilities in the shape of the school building and its grounds are gone forever. The small school closure programme the effects of which are being felt across all of Wales means that in the event of a growth in pupil numbers that the costs of a new build programme, as opposed to a refurbishment programme will be far more substantial over the longer term than any exceptionally short term gains.

Monmouth County Council and many other County Council’s across Wales are busy making questionable short term decisions about closing small schools which will have long term consequences for many of our communities for many of our communities. Whether or not our County Council’s (MCC included) make these decisions is one matter, another which should cause even more concern is whether or not the National Assembly rubber stamps such closures with the bare minimum of concern for the consequences of small school closures on the pupils, parents and teachers and our communities.

It is time for Monmouthshire County (MCC) (and the other County Councils across Wales) and the National Assembly to suspend the small school closures programme, to take the medium to long term view and actually to work to support pupils, parents, teachers and our communities.

Monday, 16 November 2009


Much needs to be done to protect victims of domestic violence and members of the public from people who are serial violent offenders. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has just presented the UK Government with the results of a six month review which has looked at potential new measures that could be taken to tackle serial perpetrators of violence against women. The review which was lead by Chief Constable Brian Moore (who is the ACPO lead on domestic abuse) was made at the request of the then former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

Proposals which have come under consideration in the ACPO review include:

• Persons at risk of violence have the ‘right to know’ about relevant information;

• consideration of a new criminal offence whereby a prosecution may be brought on the basis of evidence of repeated violent behaviour (known as a ‘Course of Conduct’) against different victims of violence; and

• that the law should be changed to enable the police to issue a Domestic Violence Protection Order of up to 14 days duration, to prevent a suspected perpetrator of this form of violence from entering the address of the victim and/or to prevent contact with the victim.

ACPO says that it wants ‘to go after those serial perpetrators who go from relationship to relationship, growing in confidence and menace’. This review should be warmly welcomed and hopefully will be a first step towards a fresh approach which will actively deal with domestic violence and its perpetrators.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


The news that Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) plans to sell Park Street School by auction to the highest bidder for new housing is to put it politely disappointingly short sighted. The current locally developed proposals to redevelop Park Street School as a community centre are an excellent example of a community focused project that actually aims to benefit local people and the community, but, of course people are beginning to suspect that MCC don’t actually believe in the concept of the community – merely the opportunity to line their own ill managed coffers.

MCC needs to actively work with (rather than against) community groups to explore ways of tapping potential funding streams like the newly launched Community Assets Transfer Programme (November 4th 2009) so that Park Street School can provide long term benefits to the community rather than short term financial gain to MCC and any developers. There is a real opportunity to transform the former School into a Community Centre, which could provide real opportunities for local people and community groups and make a real contribution to the community with a day nursery, the provision of holiday play schemes and clubs.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


There are some sad people out there, some of whom actually worry about the disruption caused to the traffic by remembrance parades. I think that they would do well to remember that as well as remembering the actions of the veterans and survivors who served in Two World Wars, Korea, The Falklands and the Gulf Wars, and other conflicts, on Remembrance Sunday, we are also remembering those who never came back.

Those people, who as Lincoln said gave their last full measure of devotion, to comrades and country, for whom there is literally only some corner of a foreign field, a name on a war memorial, fading photographs and fading memories and sometimes no grave at all. The disruption of traffic for a few hours on a Sunday morning once a year for a remembrance parade or the wearing of poppies in remembrance is the least we the living can do to honour our veterans and the fallen.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


With the twentieth anniversary (9th November 1989) of the fall of the Wall rapidly approaching it is worth remembering a few things about the then East Germany and the East German Government. The nominally Communist (but fully Totalitarian) Government maintained its hold on power by subjecting its own citizens to the full weight of fear and intimidation via its own secret police.

Ordinary people were turned into informers or collaborators to remain “safe” from the attentions of the Stasi: estimates as to the numbers who turned informer vary between one for every 50 people to one in seven (in Ceausescu’s Romania it may have been one in three). The secret police happily ruined the lives of anyone it decided to: men, women, teenagers and children. During the really dark days this meant the murder, or “liquidation”, of their opponents.

As East Germany mellowed in the 1970s and 1980s the regime opted to destroy its opponents psychologically — spreading rumours, ruining careers, destroying marriages, taking peoples children away, wrecking peoples chances of higher education, or exiling them. The East Germany State (and the Stasi) was effectively at war with its own people, if you kept your head down, did not rock the boat, towed the party line, and parroted that the current line in ideological claptrap; then you might get by. The Stasi (at the behest of the East German State) demonstrated a degree of viciousness and utterly disregarded basic human rights and cast aside any trace of human dignity.

As had been well documented elsewhere the Stasi broke into people’s flats and bugged them; they actually irradiated objects and people (with some pretty lethal consequences) so they could track “suspects” with Geiger counters; and also used drugs to wreck people’s lives, literally drugging the East German States opponents whilst detaining them under house arrest. The East German State waged a brutal and vicious war upon its own people, who could with a literal stroke of a pen became “traitors”, “asocials” or “negative-enemy elements”.

As has been well documented elsewhere, there is a trend in totalitarian states towards excessive bureaucracy and record keeping; East Germany was pretty typical in that respect to other equally unpleasant totalitarian repressive regimes. Since the fall of the wall historians and archivists have revealed that between 1949 and 1989 the East German party Bureaucrats managed to accumulate more paperwork (mostly relating to their own people) than the whole of Germany throughout the Middle Ages.

Ironically some twenty years after the fall of the wall, a heated debate is taking place in Germany as to how East Germany should be remembered! Some of the former Communists (many of whom shrugged of their inconvenient outdated and irrelevant ideology) would no doubt like East Germany to be remembered as some sort of idealistic, left wing utopian well intentioned but failed socialist experiment – within which they had hoped to look after the people from literal cradle to grave - the non rose tinted reality was sadly very different.

Many former human rights activists, political prisoners and most historians would have East Germany remembered exactly the way it was. It is worth remembering that few people defected to East Germany (save for at least one former NUM deputy leader and he rapidly changed his mind and quietly came back to the West) to embrace its nominally Communist values.

Nostalgia can be a powerful thing, but, it won’t bring back those people who were murdered by the East German state and it won’t heal the damage done to people’s lives. It is also worth remembering that many thousands of ordinary East German’s risked life and limb to escape to the West over the years and that some paid the ultimate price in the attempt. As we remember the events of twenty years ago (in the winter of 1989) we should also remember that thousands of East Germans rose in courageous and peaceful revolt to topple the tyrannical East Germany Government and cast their rulers deservedly into the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009


The news that a number of Police stations in Gwent could be closed by the end of March 2012; under the Police Authority’s “reprovision programme” which is under consideration by the police authority is shocking and may prove to be unacceptable to most reasonably minded people.

Equally unacceptable is the ludicrous suggestion, which proposes the replacement of the Police Stations in Caldicot, Usk and Monmouth with ‘mobile’ police stations. This is, I suspect a clear case of Gwent Police and Gwent Police Authority dancing to a Ministry of Justice budget reducing tune.

The people of Gwent are already receiving a patchy service in places, with some Police stations only being open for limited hours during the day. Such a proposal is ludicrous - people need to feel secure in their communities and closing these Police stations will not help at all - far from it , it will merely send the wrong message.

This will not help the fight against crime and is a very short-term short sighted decision that the people of Gwent and Gwent Police Authority may come to regret sooner rather than later.

Monday, 2 November 2009


Now there is losing the plot and there is losing the plot!

There is disgraced Conservative MP, David Wilshire, who has compared the treatment of MP's over their expense claims to the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany. Mr Wilshire, the man who resigned after having to repay more than £100,000 in expenses to his own company, went on to suggest that the "witch hunt" against MPs "will undermine democracy" - clearly he has lost the plot as well as his seat!

And there is Harriet Harman's who's reassurance to worried MP's that any proposed reforms of the MPs' system of expenses will probably be watered down before they are implemented - clearly she has lost the plot - the loss of the seat may come later!

Now with Sir Christopher Kelly's report, which is expected to recommend draconian curbs on allowances and a ban on employing relatives, pending and it is worth noting that the Kelly recommendations will be only one of several submissions to the new independent parliamentary standards watchdog.

Digging ever, deeper, Ms Harman, the Leader of the Commons, when asked whether the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) could reject Sir Christopher's proposals, Ms Harman, the Leader of the Commons, said: "It is entirely a matter for them, but they will, I'm sure, want to draw on his important work. It is a matter for them to decide, not for Sir Christopher Kelly." That's all very reassuring, but the question is reassuring for who? - that minority of MP's who milked the system to line their pockets or the rest of us who paid for it.

Now by way of quiet comparison, in Wales, a system for expenses for Welsh Assembly Members has come into force, specifically designed to prevent any future abuses. The changes include the abolition of flat rate allowances and in future all claims will have to be backed up receipts. Well done the National Assembly - maybe Westminster should look to Wales for a practical and workable way of putting elected members expenses into the public domain.

However, Conservative AM's have said that they will not support the idea of an independent board to set AM's pay and allowances. Obviously there would not be enough of a change of slipping through receipts for a large comfy sofa or big TV on expenses then! Same old Tories...

Thursday, 29 October 2009


The welcome news that the New Labour Government has entirely abandoned its plans to impose a £17.5m cut to the training budget of the Territorial Army should come as no real surprise. This U-turn came around after all party efforts to persuade the Prime Minister to intervene and reverse the cutbacks.

On Monday, the New Labour Government began to try to backtrack and the cuts were reduced in scale from £20m to £17.5m. They also changed their mind on plans to suspend all routine TA training for six months and belatedly offered a compromise of one night's training each month for personnel not due to be deployed to Afghanistan.

And finally on Tuesday it was announced that the TA training budget will remain untouched, meaning most units will continue to train one night a week, as well as one weekend a month - and any proposed cuts would no longer take place. This is good news for the TA and band news for the dying New Labour Government - if you ever wanted a simple example of how Gordon Brown is not longer in control then the TA fiasco is a good example.

We have a Government in name only, that is no longer fit for office and has lost all sense of direction and purpose. It does little or no good and is merely bumbling along from one crisis to the next. The sooner this Government is gone the better the better for all of us. Once again Labour (New or Old) has ended in tears and in this case the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. Roll on Polling Day!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


The news that the Forensic Science Service (FSS) Lab is to close in the spring of 2011 with the loss of 168 workers jobs is a bitter blow, despite an all political party campaign to retain the FSS Laboratory on Usk Road, in Chepstow. This is a bad decision in so many different ways aside from the loss of 168 well paid quality jobs which will be a bad blow to Chepstow and the surrounding area. Any new restructured Forensic Science Service will be based in London, Cambridgeshire, the Midlands and North Yorkshire, which might benefit the FSS in the short term, but will not bring any extra degree of efficiency or savings to the fight against crime in Wales.

Sadly I think that this appears to be merely the first step towards privatisation; as these changes to the FSS have been driven and justified on the grounds of improving efficiency and the introduction of competitive tendering for forensic service; this is madness especially at a time when it makes more sense to retain the skills in house. Ironically if control of Policing had been devolved to Cardiff then perhaps the National Assembly might have been able to prevent the loss of this important service, the facility and the jobs.

Monday, 26 October 2009


New Labour Ministers in the face of widespread opposition inside and outside of Parliament have reduced planned cuts to the Territorial Army (TA) and have been forced to make some concessions over planned cuts to the TA's training. Originally the MoD planned to cut £20m from the TA budget and halt all training for six months except for those due to be sent to Afghanistan.

Now following the latest New Labour U-Turn every unit will get one night's training a month while the TA budget will not be cut by as much. With more than 500 reservists serving in Afghanistan the future of the TA has has rapidly and quietly risen up the political agenda in recent months.

Despite this change of mind the TA's budget this year will be cut by £2.5m less than originally outlined, this belated change of mind is better but is still not good enough. Sadly it is fairly typical of the shoddy way that both successive New Labour and previous Conservative Governments have treated our soldiers over the years.

Saturday, 24 October 2009


One other thing that I have never worked is out how violent behaviour and assaulting Police Officers can be squared up with alleged peaceful democratic protest. If you really claim to belief in freedom of speech and democracy then that goes as far as to allow someone who holds views that you may find utterly offensive, repulsive and insulting to speak their piece.

You cannot get selective when it comes to freedom of speech. Sadly that fiasco in London and the near wall to wall media coverage before and after the event, has given the oxygen of publicity to the BNP on a scale they could never have imagined in their inbred sad little dream world - which is a real shame!

A few things struck me - Jack Straw was very weak, very tired and looked a tad punch drunk - very reminiscent of how Tory Ministers used to look like in 96/97 in the dying days of the John Major Government.

Jack Straw aside from avoiding the main issue, which is that his and successive governments (and most political parties) have failed to deal with the issue of immigration which has left the field to the extremists and allowed vulnerable people to be exploited by unscrupulous employers, is clearly representative of a government that is clearly on the way out.

The pretty basic failure to deal with immigration has been compounded by a failure to process (and this includes reject) asylum applications speedily which has left many people in limbo (often for years) neither able to work, pay their taxes, access services and to participate in and make a contribution to the economy and society.

Also thought that the panel, save for spending over half the programme attacking Griffin, largely failed to expose what a complete idiot Griffin is, not to mention his pretty obvious partial and selective grasp of both reality and history and the real dangerous insanity of his parties policies - which was a real missed opportunity!

Friday, 23 October 2009


Time to play spot the difference - here we go:

- Scotland has devolved authority over Policing

- Northern Ireland will soon have devolved power over Policing

- Wales has....oh yes, not a lot when it comes to influencing the way our streets are Policed

Now, while Tory leader, David Cameron has assured Martin McGuiness and Peter Robinson, that he will provide the Stormont Government with funds to pay for the transfer of power over policing and criminal justice from Westminster to Stormont, as per Gordo's pledge, we will hear very little about anything being promised to Wales...from the Tories save for more cuts.

Interesting stuff, especially as the matter of devolving Policing and Criminal Justice powers to Northern Ireland considering the complications of the recent past, has been a difficult one. When it comes to Policing and Justice matters Scotland pretty much looks after its own affairs, we in Wales merely get lumped in with England within the Ministry of Justice.

Hmm, what about Wales, by way of comparison with Northern Ireland, it should be a reasonably easy task to devolve the same powers to the Welsh Assembly Government (in Cardiff)....

Well New Labour (what's left of it) in the dying days of the Brown Government (and the self-serving Welsh Labour MP's in Westminster) has no real appetite to transfer further powers to Cardiff.

The problem with the Tories is that in their heart of hearts don't actually believe in the concept of Wales as a nation, a political entity or anything else and they certainly don't believe that Sovereignty or devolved decision making power in any shape or form should really reside with the people of Wales.

Here we go again, both New Labour and the Tories are relegating Wales to a shabby second class status amongst the devolved governments in the UK.

Is this how the years of Tory neglect of Wales begins? Don't say you have not been warned...

Thursday, 22 October 2009


The concept of Green Jobs and the economic contribution that they can make to our communities and to the Welsh economy is now well recognised, what we need now is action not words. Across Europe, where some countries have made clearly made more progress than others - in Germany for example some 250,000 people now work in the alternative energy industry as opposed to barely 25,000 here in the UK.

It is clear that more work needs to be done if our communities are going to reap the benefits of green energy jobs and secure energy - a Green Energy Jobs Strategy is an important component to sustainable prosperity, a stable economy and secure energy supplies. As Scotland pushes ahead with developing green energy and green energy jobs it becomes pretty clear that we in Wales are being held back by the lack of devolved powers over energy policy and by Westminster and Whitehall not by a lack of imagination or innovative ideas.

The Plaid driven One Wales Government needs to work towards improving the efficiency of business operations and production processes to reduce CO2 equivalent emissions and to cut down on waste. We need to encourage the development of new cleaner technologies and processes for businesses and promote the use of sustainable infrastructures with regard to energy and waste.

New local authority planning guidelines and feed-in tariffs to rapidly promote the incorporation of small-scale renewable energy installations in individual buildings and groups of buildings are essential. To make this happen, we needs an energy strategy that will create realistic job opportunities for our people and take full advantage of the extraordinary natural resources we have available.

We need to think different, if we can do this, if we make it happen, then there is no reason why Wales should not be amongst the most progressive countries in the field of alternative energy and green jobs. If we don't do this then we run the risk of being sat int the dark...

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


The publication of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report on service families accommodation, which reveals the scale of the ongoing mismanagement of the MoD housing stock and the lack of investment into the welfare of troops and ex-servicemen which should rate far higher then it clearly does when it comes to Government thinking, will no doubt cause a bit of stink and much muttering in the media - but none of it should come as a surprise.

Oh, it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, go away':
But it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins,' when the band begins to play -
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
Oh, it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins,' when the band begins to play.

Every now and again you honestly sit there and blink and think that nothing has changed; once again our heroes and heroines are doing battle in a distant land and their families are living quietly in sub-standard accommodation at home. They (My grandfather amongst them) were promised many years ago 'Homes fit for heroes' – I think not and clearly neither does the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee - perhaps Kipling had it right – we don’t, well successive Governments at least; don’t appreciate our soldiers one bit; with their hack the budget there and save money here.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.

Sadly it should come as now real surprise, as there is a long tradition of successive Governments (with ironically the exception being the 1945 Labour Government) of betraying it's service personnel admittedly usually after a wars conclusion rather than while it is still going on. It is deeply ironic that with the ninetieth anniversary of a UK Government betraying its promise to our soldiers to ensure that they had homes fit for heroes after the 1914 – 1918 war; that we find ourselves in a situation where soldiers families are living in sub-standard accommodation.

Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?'
But it's 'Thin red line of 'eroes' when the drums begin to roll -
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
Oh, it's 'Thin red line of 'eroes when the drums begin to roll.

This timely report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee clearly shows that resources at the MoD are being scandalously mismanaged. It is absolutely unacceptable that a third of forces families are living in poor accommodation and is equally amazing that such a large number of MoD properties remain empty at huge expense to the tax payer. It is clear that there has clearly been a long term underinvestment in service housing stock which is unacceptable.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.

It is a grave insult to our forces that while the UK Government is considering sending more troops to fight in Afghanistan, and questions are already raised as to the provision of their equipment, that their families at home are being badly let down. The families of our service men and women deserve much better than they are getting from the current Government. The Ministry of Defence must act on this report and improve the condition of service families’ accommodation.

Perhaps the last word should go to Kipling's Tommy...

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out, the brute!'
But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!

Monday, 19 October 2009


With news that the long arm of the law is continuing to investigate a handful (so far) of politician’s questionable expense claims, and other than further MP’s questionable claims yet being subject to further investigation the impression given is that this sorry story is going to run and run.

So far five politicians have been under investigation including Labour MPs David Chaytor and Elliot Morley, who claimed for "phantom'' mortgages. Sleazy MP's aside, so far we are only talking about three peers (including Baroness Uddin and Lord Hanningfield) who are also under investigation by Scotland Yard.

With another potential 27 MPs facing the possibility of investigations by the tax authorities, as some of them may have broken tax laws – there appears to be little inclination that the fat lady plans to sing anytime soon.

While justice may yet sent to be done, the damage done by greedy Labour and Conservative MP’s will only truly be measured on polling day…when a measure of electoral punishment may be dispensed by the electorate.

By now most people are probably thinking - Bring it on!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Things Can Only Get Better

A Populus Poll in The Times (6th October) notes that a large majority of voters don’t believe that the Conservative Party under David (“Dave”) Cameron has really changed merely that they are doing well because of the fact that New Labour is so chronically unpopular.

The Poll shows that only 28% of voters think that the party really seems to have changed under Mr Cameron (a man who openly admires Tony Blair in the same way that Blair openly admired Mrs. Thatcher) and “that is why they are doing so much better”. No change from one year ago.

According to the Poll some 68% believe that the party does not seem to have changed much under Mr Cameron and is only doing better “mainly just because the Labour Government has become so unpopular”. This is down two points on last year.

Despite all the spin, the ‘green tinge’ and sharp suits, the Tories are still at their core the same party that messed up the economy in the early 1990’s, the same party that privatised the energy companies and the same party that led the dash for gas.

And forget any idea that the Tories are historically good on defence, our troops were buying their own boots and rucksacks before the Falklands War took place – so nothing has changed there, even under New Labour. The Tories are still the same Party that began the rundown of the armed forces with ‘Options for Change’ in 1989 a policy followed by New Labour under Blair and Brown.

The Tories broke up and privatised British Rail, and damaged the NHS; they are still same party that destroyed the mining industry, weakened our manufacturing sector and at the same time they are the party that used the various questionable privatisations to help to line the pockets of their chums in the City, and enough of them managed to line up nice well paid jobs in the private sector for at their service in Government – all at our expense.

It’s also worth remembering that the Tories had 18 years to reform the education system (and failed), they had 18 years to rebuild the UK armed forces (and failed) and 18 years to make the NHS more efficient (and failed) – now we have had 12 years of New Labour failure on the same issues – so why on earth should we vote for more of the same…

Oh Yes - it’s also worth remembering that Tories managed to make themselves in the eyes of ordinary electors unelectable and corrupt (what with members of the governing party actually being charged, convicted and imprisoned, not to mention the brown envelopes, the insider dealing, etc) in 18 years, New Labour (under Blair and Brown) has managed it in 12 years which is in a depressing kind of way quite impressive…

Monday, 5 October 2009


A significant degree of concern should be prompted when General Stanley McChrystal, the American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan (the man in charge of the military mission to bring peace to that much troubled land) stands up and says that the campaign is in serious trouble.

The suggestion that the high price being paid by thousands of Allied personnel (it is after all a NATO supported operation) might end up being in vain, not to mention that the consequences of any resultant failure would have far reaching consequences, not just to NATO but across one of the world's most deeply troubled regions and beyond should provoke deep a degree of concern if not alarm.

Back in 2001, things started so well, with such optimism when the Taliban were overthrown, if you consider that this is a vital mission (possibly the most significant mission ever undertaken by NATO in its 60 year history) how did we get into this mess?

General McChrystal has pulled no punches, he went though a regular litany of mistakes, misjudgements and bad decisions that have taken place over the last eight years, when he spoke to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (in London) recently.

At the heart of the problem stands the basic failure to address the ordinary needs of ordinary Afghans (something which many Aid and Reconstruction Agencies have been concerned about for some years), there were also basic failures within a complex and almost byzantine military (and political) command structure.

You can add also to this the lack of clearly defined objectives and a whole series of gradual (and not so gradual) changes or "mission creep" in the 'mission' over the years and the rising NATO (and Afghan) body count - all of which has helped to understandably undermine and weaken public support for the war effort in every NATO member country.

Especially on the back of a 'flawed' election result... one question that many be increasingly asked is where do we go from here?

Sunday, 4 October 2009


The Tory Energy Spokesman, Greg Clark has said that the "cartel" of the big 6 energy firms will be referred to the Competition Commission by an incoming Conservative Government.

Said Tory Energy Spokesperson also condemned the unacceptable lag between the cost of wholesale gas prices and household energy bills - noting that customers were on average being charged some £74 pound too much for their energy per year.

An 'independent' investigation in the Energy companies refusal to pass on reductions in wholesale energy prices to customers will (if it happens) will be welcome along with an 'Energy Revolution' to overhaul the energy sector billing structure and charges

Now don't get me wrong, this all sounds great, but, if my memory serves me correctly wasn't it a Conservative Government that was responsible for starting the whole sorry mess in the first place by privatising the energy market in the first place, throwing any rational energy pricing structure upon the whims of the 'market' by allowing the newly privatised energy companies to price gouge customers in the first place?

Well that was one reason for it, that and helping to feed the fat wallets of Tory chums in the City?

Friday, 2 October 2009


One potentially scary side effect from the referendum vote in Ireland (today) that's being touted by the UK Media, is the distinct possibility that ex PM, ex MP - Tony Blair could be proclaimed Europe's first President within weeks if the Irish people decide to vote "yes" in today's referendum.

With stories in the UK Media suggesting that French President Sarkozy believes that Tony Blair is the best candidate and suggestions that Angela Merkel has changed her mind to favour Blair - the Times has suggested that, following a 'YES' vote that the former PM could be bounced into the EU's top position at a summit meeting on October 29th.

There are other consequences closer to home for the Tories, if the Irish people ratify the Lisbon treaty - the result which will be declared on Saturday (3rd October) then only the signatures of the Polish and Czech presidents will be absent preventing a full ratification of the Treaty. The Poles may be expected to jump on board quite quickly, but the Czechs may want a few more tasty sweeteners to induce them to sign up.

There's more... the Irish result also puts the Tories in a difficult position, as David Cameron remains publicly committed to holding a referendum on the treaty - but what will Cameron do if Brown signs up to the Treaty prior to the next Westminster General Election?

So once again the question is Will he hold a referendum, if the Treaty is ratified before any Westminster election, because he will then have to renegotiate the UK's relationship within the EU, and he may have to do it by negotiating with Tony Blair (who might be EU President)...

Thursday, 1 October 2009


The introduction of new laws (which came into force on Wednesday 30th September 2009) which take a tougher stance on the perpetrators of domestic abuse are to be welcomed; anything that gives greater protection to victims of abuse and may make it easier for the judges to impose restraining orders on abusers that are still considered a threat even when they have been cleared must be a good thing and is surely a step in the right direction.

The new powers will enable victims to stay in their own homes with their children rather than being forced to flee to seek refuge in a shelter. Before this change in the law came in; victims of domestic abuse had to take up a separate case through civil courts to secure a restraining order. Now Judges will be able to assess the need for a restraining order on the same evidence that would have been presented to a civil court; this will streamline and speed up the process.

This is an important step forward for the rights of victims of domestic abuse. By giving victims greater protection this means that they should no longer be forced to go through civil courts to secure an injunction. I welcome any developments that offer further protection to victims and helps work to end the cycle of violence, as domestic abuse is a cycle of violence that has a devastating impact on families and communities as a whole.

In a previous occupation I saw the tragic consequences, that could (and can) result from the situation where the victims of domestic abuse have been too terrified to take the step of co-operating with the Police and prosecuting authorities. Further progress must be made to take the onus of prosecution away from the victims of domestic abuse, while at the same time ensuring that victims and their children get the fullest levels of protection, safety and security from their abusers.

The new powers are a step forward, but, it is vitally important that once these orders are in place, they are adequately funded, properly implemented and properly enforced. To make this happen it is important that both the police and courts are adequately equipped to implement and support applied orders and injunctions.

All of us would do well to remember that this development will only help those victims who speak out (something which is a tremendously courageous step in itself) and get to court in the first place, too many victims still suffer in relative (or actual) silence and never get to court and never get protection – more needs to be done to help victims of domestic abuse speak out about what is happening to them and to help them get justice.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


With an election coming, particularly in a rural constituency, everybody (well everyone chasing votes) will appear to be the farmers friend. Our farming communities, despite this are feeling increasingly isolated and marginalised, the contempt with which the farmers have been treated by the New Labour Government (and previous Conservative Governments) in Westminster and latterly in Cardiff Bay (at least until the arrival of Plaid's Elin Jones, the Plaid driven One Wales Government Minister for Rural Affairs), used to mirror the neglect of the important agricultural sector, which still makes a significant contribution to our rural economy.

Any economic failure across the farming sector could (and did) have a massive knock on effect for dependent small businesses and suppliers across the whole rural economy, in the small towns and across the Welsh countryside itself; which is as the living landscape is a result of generations of ongoing hard work by our farming community.

In the past both Labour and Conservative Governments in Westminster (and Cardiff Bay) treated the agricultural sector with indifference. It is vitally important that this attitude at all levels of Government become a thing of the past; much more effort has to be made to market first class Welsh produce within the UK, in Europe and beyond.

Let us not forget, that in the 1980's it was a Tory Secretary of State who literally sat by and quietly did nothing when the Welsh Dairy farmers got hammered into the ground by cuts in the milk quota. Never again must any Welsh Minister fail to stand up and be counted and to fail to argue their corner on behalf of Welsh farmers. Now with Elin Jones (AM), the Plaid One Wales Government Minister for Rural Affairs we have someone who hit the ground running, who is not afraid to meet with and stand up for our farmers and their interests - this makes an immensely refreshing change from what has gone before.

Our farmers, despite mutterings to the contrary, are not merely looking for an annual brown envelope from Brussels but for a real opportunity to make a contribution (and make a living) within the agricultural sector - to do this they need a fair deal. We in Wales need to take more practical steps to give Welsh farmers a fighting chance of making a real living; securing 80% of publicly procured food locally by 2015 is a realistic and practical aim. This is something that could provide the first practical step towards helping Welsh farmers and other producers make the most of the new opportunities that will arise from higher public purchasing of local products.

Saturday, 26 September 2009


The Abergavenny Food Festival last week was exceptionally good - blessed by good weather and a bumper attendance. Even now my fridge is overloaded with far to much excellent local cheese and other produce. The food festival is a superb working example of how to showcase our local produce, local services, local businesses and our local talent to a wider world, successfully putting the town (and local produce) on the map, and successfully attracts visitors from around the world - long may it continue!


Friday, 25 September 2009


So much for David (‘Just call me Dave’) Cameron’s ‘New Politics’ – some investigative journalism by The Times has revealed that 28 prospective Conservative candidates who have reasonably good chances of becoming Tory MPs are actually working as lobbyists or public relations consultants on behalf of businesses and other interests.

The Times has revealed that over a quarter of them got their jobs after being selected to fight seats. A number have put their hands up to admit that they had set up meetings for clients with Conservative Shadow ministers, MPs and officials. Others said that they provided advice on the party’s direction and some admitted to lobbying Tory Frontbenchers on behalf of clients.

At least one fifth of his 150 parliamentary candidates who are likely to get freshly elected will have worked in the nicely lucrative field of public affairs or communications. Ironically, The Times notes, only 7 Labour and 3 Lib Dem parliamentary candidates (with a chance of being elected) will have had jobs in public relations or communications.

Concerns within the troubled depths of the Conservative Party may have prompted action from Francis Maude, the Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, who last week suggested that lobbyists may face statutory regulation if they did not volunteer more information on clients and consultants, he went on to say:’ “Greater openness and transparency is needed to help ensure high standards in public life” ‘, I think that the jury may still be out on that one…amongst the Tories, but perhaps not amongst the electorate.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


So Gordon Brown has finally come out to back a high speed rail vision for the UK, implying that New Labour in the dying days of its period of Goernance may actually back plans to build a high speed rail line to the Midlands from London. All very well and good, but, a little late, you might feel inclined to ask Gordon Brown where he has been and what he has been doing over the last few years?

Developing a High speed rail infrastructure is the norm in Germany, Spain, France, Japan and many other countries but extracting any commitment to state funding of railway development in the UK appears to almost be an impossibility, especially when Gordon is at the helm of the ship of state although at times you may wonder if there is anyone on the bridge at all?

With any commitment to significant investment facing the particularly grim prospect of a Conservative Government, hell bent on cutting the ‘public sector’ investment and spending, the real question will be, even if Gordon grasps the concept of high speed rail network and actually puts pen to paper, what will be the fate of any significant investment programme in a decent integrated (high speed) rail service be under a Conservative Government?

One really wonders, especially as that lot are some of the same clowns who broke up the chronically under invested state rail service in the first place? Its a pity that Gordon did not get around to it a little earlier...

Wednesday, 23 September 2009


You would have to try hard to come across a more desperate tragic tale than that of the mother driven by bullies to kill herself and her daughter in a burning car? A tragic situation made far worse by what may well appear to be an absolute abject failure on the part of the police to protect a vulnerable family despite repeated regular pleas for help. The local constabulary were allegedly contacted more than 20 times over a seven-year period but allegedly failed to respond because due to a there being "not enough resources".

What has emerged is that little or nothing was done to protect the victim or her family from persistent bullying and persistent abuse. Local Police have said that the mother was concerned about reprisals and so did not want to pursue any prosecutions. At the ongoing inquest (in Loughborough), an officer allegedly said it was impossible to bring charges if the victim did not wish to proceed. Yet as the coroner noted, there are supposed to be a dozen laws to deal with this sort of behaviour.

So if the mother herself did not wish to give evidence, were the police capable of basic observation? Obviously not, as little allegedly seems to have been done save to ignore or dismiss the victims concerns? And there we are mistakenly thinking that it was one of the duties of the Police to protect the vulnerable – obviously not? At least, for all the good it did in this case, they actually allegedly turned up (some of the time) in too many of our communities I have heard people say that when they call them (The Police that is) they don’t even come?

How did we end up in this mess?

The biggest transformation is a relatively recent one; that of increased centralisation and a breakdown of the basic relationship between the local community and the Police Service. Since 1979, the Police have become a far more visible enforcement arm of the state (perhaps as a direct consequence of the Miner’s strike and Poll Tax Protests), with centrally set and centrally driven targets.

Additionally part of the fact that many of the police are no longer from the communities they allegedly serve. Not that long ago a percentage, but not all, of our Police lived within our communities, some in Police Houses (which were quietly sold off under Mrs. Thatcher) it’s more as likely now that our Police live somewhere else and commute to work, just like many of us.

Now, while the police have always clung to their operational autonomy and used to claim a nominal resistance to direct political interference, they have become ‘indirectly’ political in ways that people could never have conceived twenty five years ago, before John Major and Tony Blair made increasingly centrally driven ‘politically’ inspired crime campaigns and quick fix initiatives an everyday occurrence.

So much for an independent Police service - the police may periodically bleat on about having ‘operational autonomy’ but in truth those days are long gone. One thing is true; we all pay for our Policing (one way or another) and if the Police fail us then there are usually consequences, particularly tragic ones in this case.

At a very basic level our police need to reconnect with their local communities - the lack of actual open Police stations across Wales, does not help matters much. Gwent Constabulary does pursue a very successful programme of visible community based Policing in many parts of the former county, yet there is a real danger that as our Police Service becomes increasingly specialist it becomes more distant from our communities.

Factor in the not so faint whiff of ongoing Police reorganisation, especially a reorganisation that is potentially cost savings driven after the next Westminster election; and with some senior police officers favouring the creation of larger and larger more strategic Police forces, one question we should ask is what will happen to the Police Service in Wales?

And what will be the direct and indirect consequences on the streets of our communities?

Is it possible to reverse the trend of the of the past 30 years which has seen the development of a style of policing that suits not the public but the Police?

Sunday, 20 September 2009


The hard won, hard negotiated multi-million pound upgrade and electrification of the rail line between Swansea and Severn Tunnel Junction (and to London); is to be warmly welcomed and is proof that Plaid can deliver in government. The aging Severn Tunnel may rank pretty low among Network Rails priorities, as it will require more maintenance as time passes; but it is a vital transport link for Wales.

Last November, the Office of Rail Regulation’s settlement for Network Rail allocated £26 billion pounds - 2.4 billion less than requested; forcing Network Rail to drop a number of projects. If you read the small print, one of the dropped projects would have restored of the 12 miles of single track to double from Kemble to Swindon.

When the Severn Tunnel is closed for maintenance rail traffic from South Wales is diverted via a 12-mile single-track section of line between Swindon and Kemble in Gloucestershire. This adds an hour to passenger journeys as trains to and from Wales wait for services to pass by – imagine how bad things will get if the tunnel is shut for any prolonged period of time.

We need some original thinking to solve this potential block on our rail links; the construction of a smaller barrage or tidal fence close to the Second Severn Crossing is under consideration as part of review of the energy potential of the Severn Estuary. This could carry the main rail link from South Wales, solving the problem of the Severn Tunnel and generate sustainable energy, which we will need in the near future.

If this is not a viable option then lets seriously consider a new railway bridge on the site of the old Severn railway bridge near Lydney, which could relatively easily conect the rail lines, the old approaches are still in place. We have to do something and it is time to think different - and fix our transport problems rather than merely talk around the issue.

Friday, 18 September 2009


Norman Borlaug is dead - a man who may very well have quietly saved more human lives than any other individual in human history. Described as the grandfather of the "Green Revolution" which (between 1961 and 1980), wheat crop yields doubled, tripled and sometimes quadrupled around the world. Borlag's experiments with hybrid wheat strains and nitrogenous fertiliser (he was a man of his time) thus creating strains of the staple food that were impervious to pests, poor soils and bad weather, thus enabling the world to support a far greater human population than many thought possible after the Second World War.

I wonder where is the next Norman Borlag is?

Thursday, 17 September 2009


Our small and not so small towns (in Monmouth constituency any beyond) have suffered from ill-thought out development and short term economic thinking and as our local small to medium sized businesses have suffered, so have our consumers have paid the price with a loss of local services and real choice in the marketplace.

Most people can clearly see that the rich individual character of many of our towns is evaporating before their eyes. Our High streets once filled with a rich mix of interdependent butchers, newsagents, tobacconists, pubs, bookshops, greengrocers and family owned general stores are now rapidly filling with supermarket stores, fast food chains and global fashion outlets.

This is a result of a failure by local and central government to develop local economic plans and to create a level playing field for local businesses and suppliers. When combined with some extremely questionable planning decisions over the last thirty years; this has lead to many of our town centre's being "regenerated" to the point where many of our local small businesses are clinging on by their finger tips. The loss of that sense of community is aggravated as our high streets lose their distinctive local shops which are replaced by “micro-format” supermarket or chain store branches.

This is not about nostalgia; the loss of locally owned shops and businesses damages the local economy as profits drain out of the area to remote corporate headquarters and more flexible local employment opportunities are destroyed. An economically active local network of food producers, wholesalers and local retailers help to sustain many other jobs within the local economy – far more jobs than a hypermarket and associated retail development.

Local businesses provide work for trade’s people such as electricians, builders and plumbers – whereas national chains tend to employ people from outside of the area for renovation and repair work. There other beneficial knock on effects with local employment in banking, accountancy, legal advice, insurance, etc – all of which underpin the viability of our small towns.

The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England report ‘Rural Roulette’, which focused on the area around the small town of Saxmundan (in Suffolk) revealed that 81 shops surveyed employed 548 people, with 317 employees working part-time. Local small businesses were more flexible and able to fit in odd hours, at odd times for their staff. The report also noted that many employees travelled significantly shorter distances to their place of work and the majority of employees were women.

Further research for the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England reveals that money spent in local businesses stays in the local economy three times longer than when spent in shops belonging to the larger retail chains. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) notes that the UK is losing 2,000 local shops every year and they estimate that if this rate of loss continues then by 2015 there will be no independent retailers left in business.

We need to develop more sustained long term initiatives that are designed to promote new and existing businesses in our small towns and rural areas, rather than detrimental retail developments that will help run them into the ground and damage the local economy. Our often hard pressed existing small businesses, local retailers and suppliers provide much needed jobs for local people and provide a linked network of businesses that use each other’s services and feed the local economy.

Small shops and local retailers provide a significant social network for many local people and passersby and add to the long term viability and vitality of our communities. Don’t say that you have not been warned…

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


The Abergavenny Food Festival is an exceptionally good example of how to showcase local Welsh produce, local services, local businesses and our local talent to a wider world, enriching Abergavenny and the surrounding area in the process – and adding to Abergavenny’s reputation as the ‘Gateway to Wales’.

The Food Festival has helped to put the town on the map, and attracts visitors from around the world and showcases exceptional local Welsh produce, local businesses and services and local talent.

This year’s festival promises to be even better – the festival organisers and participants have helped make a real difference to Abergavenny and have added to the towns well deserved reputation as well as giving the town an international reputation and profile.


Tuesday, 8 September 2009


For the first time full details of MPs' outside earnings have been released under new rules that now require them to reveal how much time they spend on their second jobs. Despite the raised eyebrows, there is no suggestion they have broken any rules.

It has been revealed that some former ministers are raking it in, pulling in hundreds of pounds an hour by holding down lucrative second jobs outside of the Westminster Parliament. The new House of Commons register of interests exposes the fact that dozens of MPS have nice little sidelines with private companies, and that some former cabinet members making best use of their have used their former positions, expertise and contacts are some of the biggest earners.

John Gummer, the former Tory environment secretary, who submitted parliamentary expenses for mole removal from his country estate. He has pulled in £1,666 for 20 minutes on the telephone making a contribution to a board meeting of Sovereign Reversions. That works out at some £83.33 a minute from a business that helps elderly people to refinance their homes. Citizen Gummer also earned £3,562 for two hours' work for Veolia, a waste management company, and £2,083 for three hours chairing meetings for the Association of Independent Financial Advisers. Nice if you can get it!

Patricia Hewitt, the former health secretary, earned £31,175 for 86 hours' work during July and August as an adviser to BT and Boots.

The former defence minister Adam Ingram, was paid £1,150 for three hours' work advising the International School for Security and Explosives Education.

Last month, the former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, was paid some £8,500 in payments from Beachcroft LLP, a commercial law firm for 36 hours work.

The Times has more interesting details. Snouts in troughs or what! Roll on the Westminster General Election...

Saturday, 5 September 2009


In Wales, we need to develop of an energy strategy that will deliver sustainable secure energy and energy jobs for all our communities in the 21st Century.The concept of Green Jobs and the economic contribution that they can make to our communities and to the Welsh economy is now well recognised.

Across Europe, some countries have made more progress than others - some 250,000 people work in the alternative energy industry in Germany compared as opposed to barely 25,000 here in the UK, clearly more work needs to be done if our communities are going to reap the benefits of green energy jobs and secure energy.

A Green Energy Jobs Strategy is an important component to sustainable prosperity, a stable economy and secure energy supplies. The Plaid driven One Wales Government needs to work towards improving the efficiency of business operations and production processes to reduce CO2 equivalent emissions and to cut down on waste.

We need to pursue the development of new cleaner technologies and processes for businesses and promote the use of sustainable infrastructures with regard to energy and waste.

We need new local authority planning guidelines and the introduction of feed-in tariffs to rapidly promote the incorporation of small-scale renewable energy installations in individual buildings and groups of buildings across Wales.

To make this happen, we needs an energy strategy that will create realistic job opportunities for our people and take full advantage of the extraordinary natural resources we have available.

If this happens, then there is no reason why we should not be amongst the most progressive countries in the field of alternative energy and green jobs.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


The Scottish SNP Government has hit its target of boosting police officer numbers in Scotland early. The number of Scottish police officers has increased from 16,234 in May 2007 to 17,278 officers in June 2009. The Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said there was now a record number of police on the streets. While there has been the usual muttering from the usual Unionist Opposition party suspect’s who have accused SNP ministers of political grandstanding, several Scottish Police forces have seen an increase in the last quarter, including Strathclyde Police which recruited 186 officers. The Strathclyde force currently employs 8,051 officers. The Scottish Government said the number of police officers would continue to rise as the Scottish Government invests £23bn between 2008 and 2010 to ensure that local authorities have the resources they need to deliver services.

Pity we don’t have the Ministry of Justice’s powers over policing here in Wales…

Friday, 28 August 2009


In Monmouth constituency, in Chepstow, Tesco is throwing its weight around with an ultimatum to its workers at the Tesco Distribution Centre at Newhouse Farm Industrial Estate in Chepstow – where workers have been given a stark choice of accepting pay freezes and relocation of their jobs or losing their jobs.

Tesco’s attitude towards its existing employees is appalling and unacceptable; with some staff at the Tesco Distribution Centre at Newhouse Farm Industrial Estate in Chepstow facing the possibility of redundancy or even eight year pay freezes as part of the transfer deal to a new distribution centre at Piling near Bristol.

While Tesco workers who sign up have been told that they will get their Severn Bridge tolls paid for two years but not thereafter and that the consequences of not signing up to the new deal could lead to redundancy.

The workers at Tesco would be in a better position to defend their jobs if the late Prime Minister Tony Blair or his successor Gordon Brown had actually signed the European Social Chapter, which gives workers better protection and protects their rights, sadly new labour never signed the chapter.

By strange coincidence Tesco is also listed by the Electoral Commission as a small but regular donator of cash / funds to the Labour Party, between 11th March 2003 and 30th October 2008, Tesco donated £73,664 pounds in cash to the Labour Party. In the same period the Liberal Democrats got around £28,000 from Tesco.

In view of Tesco’s behaviour and the fact that Tesco is looking to up sticks from Chepstow and relocate to Piling near Bristol, the National Assembly should explore the possibility of reclaiming or recovering any Welsh Development Agency or Assembly funding that Tesco may have received to help expand and develop their distribution centre at Chepstow over the years.

Doing a moonlight flit with if public money is involved is not an acceptable option - any Welsh Government or WDA funding should be reclaimed from Tesco, especially as they are relocating out of Wales.