Thursday, 30 April 2009

Justice for the Gurkhas

Gordon Brown’s Government’s denial of residency to 36,000 former Gurkha's, who had served in the British Army prior to 1997, was disgraceful and unjust – so much for the moral compass. Fortunately on Wednesday (29th April) the House of Commons (with members from most Political Party’s) rightly voted in favour of a motion to allow equal rights of residency in Britain to all Gurkha's, who have served in the British Army.

While this vote cannot make the Government change its mind, it would be well advised to do so. This has been from the outset a question of moral responsibility, natural justice and basic human decency, not one of immigration or a question of costs. The Gurkha's who have fought for this country and have been prepared to die for it, have been owed a historic debt, now perhaps the UK Government will pay up and honour it.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Pondering the nature of politics

I was pondering the nature of ‘politics’ the other evening and while accepting that New Labours lies led us to ‘dodgy dossiers’ and the deserts of Iraq, I think it is important to keep a sense of cautious optimism, all is not lost. Politics is not entirely sleazy New Labour spin and quiet Conservative club backroom deals and backhanders and many ordinary motivated people do actually care a great deal about the communities where they live and other causes.

And speaking of Iraq, don’t get me wrong, I had little love for Saddam and overthrowing him was a good idea, if only a matter of being twelve years (it should have been done in 1991) and thanks to the sanctions - half a million dead Iraqi children to late for the post invasion fallout to go anywhere good. Saddam's passing should not be lamented save for the fact that it was far too hastily, denying many Iraqi's, the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds their day in court and real justice.

We in the West also missed out on an opportunity for a judicial process which could have investigated which European Governments (the UK, the then West Germany, France, etc) rushed to break the sanctions with military imports via Jordan. Many of the same Western Governments were also quite happy to supply all the necessary technology and chemicals to Saddam so he could create, and use poison gas on the battlefield and in Kurdistan.

When you have a Government (New Labour or otherwise) that can lie about the big issues so blatantly, so openly and seem to get away with it… whether over Iraq, over miner’s compensation, the NHS, the real state of our farming industry, etc …it’s no wonder people get disillusioned with ‘politics’.

When you have a Government who when defeated in the courts openly and quietly changes laws (at the 11th hour) and the rules to get its own way as it did with the Chagos Islanders (who won their right to return to home yet were denied when the Government changed the law); and the Gurkha's who have one again been denied justice ( after many years of loyal service have been betrayed by the very Government(s) they have served.

Successive governments, New Labour and Conservative have broken the soldiers covenant, they have left soldiers dependents in often sub-standard accommodation; and they know that many soldiers use their own money to buy their own kit, because the Government issue is sub-standard. When a Government betrays those very people who have often been called upon to give the last full measure of devotion in the worst of circumstances – where does that leave the rest of us?

We have a government that invaded Afghanistan to get rid of the Taliban and puts in power the very collection of murders, drug dealers, rapists, criminals and warlords who were so appalling when in power that the Afghan people were prepared to trust the Taliban. We have a government who invaded Iraq and to get out of a hole put the Iraqi equivalent of the Taliban in power, is it any wonder people are so disillusioned with ‘politics’?

All is not lost – there are many people who have said enough is enough at local level and have ‘got involved’. Ordinary people are involved in a huge number of grass roots campaigns: whether against the proposed M4 levels motorway, or the Severn barrage, or campaigning for better rail services, or preventing their communities from ending up as retail chain dominated clone town deserts, or saving their community schools from closure. The good news is that they can with persistence and organisation, win their battles and enrich our communities as a result.

Our communities need elected representatives who are on their side, who will listen, who will act on their behalf, who will help rather than hinder and who will deliver at all levels of government from European level down to community level. When the election comes the real choice will be about what sort of communities we want to live in, how we can make them better, how can we fix what’s broken rather than tinker with things for the sake of it – that’s what politics is or should be about.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Monday Night Meeting

An interesting well attended public meeting, last night (27th April 2009) in Abergavenny with Jill Evans (MEP) and Jocelyn Davies (AM), the Housing Minister in the Plaid driven One Wales Government. We covered a wide range of issues from whats going on on Europe, Westminster and the National Assembly, the consequences of the credit crunch / recession and what can be done. It's always worth listening to both the other speakers because you always learn something new and usually something interesting.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Abergavenny Livestock Market (UPDATE)

On Saturday along with some other Plaid members in Monmouth I attended and supported the Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market march and rally on Saturday 25th April 2009.

KALM aims to retain and improve the livestock market within it’s rightful place at the heart of the traditional market town that is Abergavenny.

The Cattle market is important not only to the economic well-being of the town. It's vital for the livelihood of the substantial farming community in north Gwent. Abergavenny is rightly renowned as a traditional market town.

Most people can see that Abergavenny needs to retain its unique, attractive features and not join the sterile trend towards large retail and supermarket-dominated clone town centre deserts – save for Monmouthshire County Council.

In the recent past a whole range of suppliers, traders and small businesses who sell to consumers and too each other have along with whole communities suffered from this increasingly well recognised but misguided model of retailing and economic development.
Elsewhere in Monmouthshire, the damage done to Monmouth and Chepstow by ill-thought out retail chain dominated economic redevelopment is plain to see – no one in their right mind would want to damage Abergavenny’s economy and unique character as a market town.

KALM’s strong and effective campaign, is to be welcomed, and it's supporters are to be congratulated, hopefully this should mark a turning point in the ongoing campaign to retain the Cattle Market in Abergavenny and lead to a more balanced well thought out sustainable model of economic redevelopment.
Well done to KALM and its supporters – keep up the good work.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

KALM - Keep Abergavenny livestock Market

The Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market (KALM) group in the ongoing campaign to retain the Cattle Market and to preserve the unique character of Abergavenny as a traditional market town have organised a march to Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market.


MARCH to Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market

Saturday 25th April 2009

Assemble at the Livestock Market at 11.30pm for 12 noon start

Ending Rally at the Livestock market - speakers.

Support Our Farmers
Support the town

Organised by:

Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market


Wednesday, 22 April 2009


There we are then! The New Labour's Chancellor has not recognised the real need to support businesses - these cuts should not be implemented now, particularly as we in Wales are facing difficult economic times.

What we needed was the necessary financial stimulus to protect Wales from the impact of this recession - we did not get it. With our economy facing an extremely difficult period, the Welsh Assembly Government will face a significant challenge merely to manage these funding cuts in revenue which will amount to £216 million next year not to mention further cuts to capital expenditure.

We need to support our businesses and the training needs of our companies this year and into next year, it would have been prudent for any efficiency savings to have been delayed until the recession is over, and for them to be implemented when the economy starts to grow again.

The hard working people of Wales did not land us in this economic mess, it was the failure of the UK Government to deal with unregulated and irresponsible lending over the last 10 year that has landed us where we are now.

Sadly this budget only underlines the fact that the UK Chancellor does not understand that it was New Labour's failure to regulate the financial sector that was so disastrous - the end result being that financially viable prosperous businesses are not able to access the necessary cash to survive.

Welsh Public services will now face intense pressure after the cuts announced in this Budget filter through. The UK Government has admitted in the Budget that Welsh public services will be facing huge cuts as a result of a £15bn reduction in public service spending that was confirmed today.

When taking these and other already announced cuts into account, public services in Wales will be around one billion pounds per year worse off by 2013-14. The consequences of this upon the Welsh economy are frightening and are directly attributable to Labour’s mis-management of the UK economy.

Ouch indeed!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

With one hand tied behind our back

from the BBC (19.04.2009)

Nato foils Somali pirates' attack

Pirates have intensified attacks on shipping in recent weeks.

An attempted attack by Somali pirates on a Norwegian tanker was foiled by NATO warships and helicopters after an overnight pursuit in the Gulf of Aden.

NATO said a Canadian warship caught the pirates before releasing them after the gang attacked the MV Front Ardenne.

The alliance said the pirates had been released because they could not be prosecuted under Canadian law.

On Saturday, Dutch commandos serving with the NATO anti-piracy operation freed 20 pirate captives from Yemen.

In that incident, too, the raiders were released.

To expect merchant sailors (who are just going about their ordinary jobs) to have to defend their ships with their bare hands, barbed wire and fire hoses against pirates (many of whom are former fishermen who have lost their livelihoods, due to the collapse of the fishing industry [after Somalia ceased to exist] in the face of East Asian vacuum / factory fishing) is unacceptable.

To expect NATO and it's Allies to deal with Pirates when there are no real consequences for the pirates actions (and no clear rules of engagement) is also unacceptable. Perhaps the situation will only resolve itself when maritime insurance premiums rise to unacceptably high levels.

Policing and Disorder

Nothing in this world is a simple matter of black of white; there are many shades of grey in between, especially when it comes to how large demonstrations are policed and even more so when there is resultant disorder which is splashed across the TV and the Press subsequent to the events of the G20 protests.

While you can (and should) ask searching questions about the tactics used by the Police at large demos, and I can accept that in heated situations a Police officer might be less than polite when he or she asks people to move out of the way or along. As an aside, it is worth noting that press photographers have lived with this sort of thing for years, but, there is no excuse for excessive force or violence.

One thing to remember is that there are those who attend demos, who systematically direct what can be best described as targeted hostility towards Police officers. There are those who are looking to provoke a tangible public reaction for their own purposes, and who are more than happy to hide behind more naive and inexperienced demonstrators at large demos.

Now Police officers are effectively empowered to use reasonable force providing that it is proportionate to the situation they find themselves in, if excessive force is used by either side then it should be fully investigated. Any Police officers who cross the line when it comes to acceptable standards of behavior will be dealt with; as should any demonstrators who likewise may have crossed the line of acceptable behaviour.

It is important for us to develop and retain a sense of perspective, we should remember that the vast majority of Police Officers and the vast majority of demonstrators did not cross the line when it comes to acceptable standards of behaviour at the G20 protests, only a small minority did so.

At the end of the day we are dealing with Policing by consent within a democratic society and it is important to remember that Police officers are only human and may react, as would anyone who has been subject to systematic provocation at the hands of a very small minority hell bent on inciting or causing trouble by provoking a reaction from harassed Police officers.

Now it works both ways because the public would expect overly thuggish or aggressive violent behaviour and the use of excessive force towards peaceful demonstrators and similar behaviour from demonstrators towards our Police officers, to be dealt with. Violent conduct from public servants to the public and from the public towards public servants is not, has never been and never will be acceptable and should be subject to the full penalties and rigours of the law - not trial by media.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Budget Day

As we await the budget there is one thing we really need to avoid and that is cuts in the Welsh budget which would have a significant knock-on effect for small and medium sized businesses, customers and consumers alike, it will impact on government decision making and the Arts. Simply savaging public spending to help to cover the costs of bailing out the banks and to pay for the London Olympics is not acceptable.

If New Labour wants to make a difference on Budget Day, then it’s time to:
  • Raise the tax threshold by £2,000 – this would put money in people’s pockets and take lower paid workers out of tax altogether.
  • Tax should be genuinely progressive –with those earning over £100,000 being subject to a 50% rate
  • Raise capital gains tax to match income tax levels.
  • Cap increase in energy prices, it should not be choice of heat or eat.
  • Bring in a Windfall tax on excessive energy profits.

When it comes to the banking and financial crisis, it’s time to:

  • Support and develop the Financial Services Authority banking code.
  • Deal with the banking bonus culture.
  • Democratise corporate governance by empowering shareholders.
  • Ensure that lenders are held culpable if they lend money to individuals who are clearly not in a position to service incurred debt.
  • Work to bring in an international regulatory financial framework.
  • Work to create a global register of hedge funds, and
  • Curb the ability to asset strip solvent financial organisations.

In Wales, we already receive a less than fair financial settlement, we simply cannot cope with further cuts and the UK Treasury needs to understand this, even Gordon Brown has admitted that public spending should not be cut in a time of recession. Yet, in Wales we have already received a damaging financial settlement from the New London Labour government that has already been condemned by our local authorities and other sectors.

If New Labour are serious about dealing with the financial crisis, rather than awaiting electoral oblivion, then it's time to:

  • Reverse the banking trend of the last 50 years which has centralised our financial institutions.
  • It's time to encourage regionally based banks and lending institutions.
  • We need to support the mutual model for personal finance.
  • It's time to further develop micro-finance with more support for credit unions.
  • We need to develop low interest banking networks, and
  • Work to bring an end to tax havens.

In Wales, Plaid Ministers of the Plaid driven One Wales government have been and are working to shelter the people of Wales from the developing economic storm, but if proposed budget cuts go ahead then our Ministers hands will be tied and their ability to act in the interests of the Welsh people will be significantly reduced.

Any proposed Treasury cuts could have a devastating impact on our communities and the Welsh people would rightly never forgive the New Labour London government if it slashes Wales’ budget even further at this time.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Monmouth and Forest of Dean Meeting

Attended an interesting meeting (at Monmouth Rugby Club) last night (Friday 17th April), in Monmouth of the Monmouth and Forest of Dean Morning Star Supporters group - well attended by the parties of the left and the New Labour Party. An interesting debate and some different points of view - even if some people seemed to spend much (if not most of the time) defending their party's previous (before 1997) and future (after the next election) achievements and whilst ignoring what has been done (between 1997 and now) in our name.

The highlight of the evening was Attila the Stockbroker ( was simply excellent.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

True Courage

There are many different ways for people to show courage and fortitude against oppression – in modern Afghanistan one way if you are a woman is to stand up for your rights and to openly oppose those religious zealots who are rapidly extinguishing your personal freedoms and human rights.

In Afghanistan, this is a dangerous and brave thing to do, even more so if you are a woman especially when speaking out against the rising tide of prejudice and misogyny that is now depriving women of their rights, their dignity and fundamental freedoms even in the Afghan capital Kabul.

On Wednesday 15th April 2009 there was a demo by nearly two hundred Afghan women against a new law which imposes almost Taliban-like restrictions specifically on Shia women. Yesterday carrying banners calling for “dignity in the law” and insisting that “Islam is justice”, they marched past a University, where a leading cleric has strongly backed the new law, which sits next to Kabul's largest Shia mosque.

For their troubles the women were then subject to verbal abuse, they were stoned, they were spat upon and they were jostled. An angry male mob of men encouraged by clerics then snatched their banners, screamed abuse, tried to break through the police line and denounced the women as apostates and Christians.

Just for the record, President Karzai only last month signed this new “personal status” law signed by last month. The law is sectarian, in that it applies only to the Shia, who make up around 15 per cent of the population, it returns them to the same servile status that was imposed on all Afghan women by the Sunni Taliban during their five-year rule until 2001 – which was condemned by the then First Lady Laura Bush. Under this law, no woman is allowed to work, leave her house or receive education without permission from her husband. No wife can refuse her husband sex, which, the law states; he may demand every fourth day. This law is a charter for domestic slavery, child marriage and marital rape.

So far US President Obama has called the law abhorrent and around the world Human rights bodies have condemned the law saying that it violates a number of international agreements on the dignity of women. Under pressure from his Western masters President Karzai has now hastily ordered a review of the law after the an initial outcry, yet there appears to be no sign that he will resist the religious extremists or defend the relatively limited freedoms that women have enjoyed since the overthrow of the Taliban.

What seems to be standard behaviour is for the Clerics to trundle out a standard denunciation of these freedoms as a plot against Islam by Christians and the attempt to portray institutional misogyny as the heritage of patriotic Afghans.

In modern Afghanistan the basic statistics make grim reading and show how bad the situation is:
· 87 per cent of Afghan women are illiterate.
· 30 per cent of girls have access to education.
· 5% of girls attend secondary school
· One in three women experiences psychological, physical, or sexual violence.
· 57% of Afghan brides are under 16
· Every 30 minutes an Afghan woman dies during childbirth.
· Between 70 and 80 per cent of women face forced marriages.
· A woman in Afghanistan’s average life expectancy is 44 years.

Since 2001 there has been some progress, in 2008:

· 27 per cent of Afghan MPs were women,
· 43 per cent of voters were women in 2005,
· 100,000 women have benefited from micro-finance loans to set up businesses
· 75 per cent of Afghan women said (in 2008) that they were now better off than when they had been living under Taliban rule.

It now appears that the relatively limited opportunities that were available to women post 2001 are now being rapidly reduced with fewer women daring to go out and work, with the better educated women leaving and ongoing intimidation taking a mounting grim toll. Only this week it has been widely reported that the Taliban publicly executed a young couple who had eloped and were handed over by their parents.

Just in case you thought that this sort of thing is confined to Afghanistan, across the border in Pakistan (yet another potential failed state in this troubled region), the religious zealots are on the rise, in the Swat Valley the Pakistani Taliban are busy driving women indoors and attacking and closing down girls' schools.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Abergavenny Cattle Market

The intervention of the Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market (KALM) group in the ongoing campaign to retain the Cattle Market and to preserve the unique character of Abergavenny as a traditional market town should be warmly welcomed, as it shows that both local residents and many local farmers wish to retain the Cattle Market in Abergavenny.

It’s now up to Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) to make the most of this fresh opportunity to get things right. KALM has presented MCC with a real opportunity to begin the whole process afresh, this time working hand in hand with concerned local residents, farmers and small businesses to ensure that Abergavenny retains its Cattle Market and it’s fundamentally unique character as a market town.

Across Monmouthshire (and elsewhere in England and Wales) we have to often in the past seen ill-thought out unsympathetic redevelopments that have had a detrimental effect on the local economies in both Chepstow and Monmouth and elsewhere.

The retention of the cattle market in Abergavenny presents a real opportunity to do something fundamentally different, something that should be able to address both environmental and economic concerns and contribute to the retention of the unique character of the market town that is Abergavenny.

The Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market (KALM) group, have gone to the National Assembly for Wales Petitions Committee:

P-03-205 - Keep Abergavenny Livestock Market - can be found at:

It is worth noting that National Assembly Ministers, under Section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 may call in applications for planning permission for their own determination. While there is a tendency to consider that development proposals are best dealt with by planning authorities that know their area, its needs and sensitivities, it is pretty obvious that with regard to MCC, and the redevelopment of Abergavenny and its cattle market this is clearly not the case, hence the need to call in this proposed development.

Planning applications can be called in when they raise issues of more than local importance, issues which are in conflict with national planning policies; could have wide effects beyond their immediate locality; may give rise to substantial controversy beyond the immediate locality and are likely significantly to affect sites of scientific, nature conservation or historic interest or areas of landscape importance which covers almost every aspect of the proposed redevelopment of Abergavenny cattle market.

Ending Piracy: No easy answer merely a question of consequences

Piracy off Somalia is continuing to grab the headlines and this despite the presence of increasing numbers of warships from a variety of different nations - there seems to be no end to the problem. Piracy has been around off and on and one way and another for a very long time - since the time of Pompey and Caesar - it thrives in regions where there is no effective authority and when there are no real consequences for acts of piracy.

Historically once the near incessant wars of the late 18th and early 19th century's came to an end and the various powers stopped using 'pirates' empowered by 'letters of marque' the days of the pirate were effectively over. Even before this period the consequences for Piracy were made pretty severe i.e. death at execution dock (in London) or sooner if captured by the Royal Navy.

The background to this problem is the lack of any central authority (or any authority) that the West is prepared to deal with in what used to be Somalia. Failed Western intervention in the 1990's left Somalia a political vacuum and the Somali people at the mercy of a combination of tribal militias, warlords and Islamic fundamentalists, Ethiopian military intervention has failed to improve the situation.

When it comes to dealing with the Pirates, the situation is made more complicated by problems of jurisdiction, France when it captures pirates tries them in France, Germany transports Pirates to Kenya, etc.

This may be a case of here we go again, the United States first intervened overseas to deal with Piracy in the Mediterranean. When US Commodore Stephen Decatur attacked the Barbary pirates off North Africa in 1815, Decatur simply captured the flagship of the Algerian Bey and forced a capitulation and a promise of an end to Piracy. This action was backed up by a later British and Dutch bombardment of Algiers, when the Bey later tried to repudiate the agreement.

There is no easy bloodless uncomplicated answer to the problem of Somali piracy, even though the United Nations Security Council has authorised the use of the "necessary means" to stop pirates on the high seas and even hot pursuit into Somali territorial waters, the problem will not be really addressed until the Pirates are made fearful of the consequences of their actions. Additionally the long-term consequences of the failed state that passes itself of as Somalia will also need to be addressed.

If it is at all possible to learn any lessons from History, then one thing to remember is that the payment of ransom by ship owners, much like Danegeld will merely encourage more Piracy.

If it comes down to a case of 'boots on the ground' in Somalia, then the merchant sailors of the world may well have a long wait before they can sail without peril through the horn of Africa.

Saturday, 11 April 2009


It has been said that travel broadens the mind, there may be some truth in that. You get to see new places, even if only for a few days and get to make comparisons with how things are done or function in your home country. I had a few days in Berlin (the other weekend), having caught up on sleep, have noted the following:

· The public transport system S and U Bann networks were impressive, as was the co-ordination with the cities buses – the trains and trams were very clean and provided an exceptionally efficient way of getting around, as well as running late into the Friday and Saturday evenings.

· Picked up a 3-day travel pass for Berlin, which also gave you discounted access to various museums, etc – now that is a good idea.

· Berlin – a large spread out city was seriously clean by way of comparison with South Wales, very little litter and no gum on the pavement.

· Went to see Hertha Berlin v Borussa Dortmund (at the Olympic Stadium) - 74, 422 – no segregation (and at least 10,000+ Dortmund supporters, + lots of beer, pretzels, wurst, etc – no trouble and a relatively minimal Police presence.

· The various fans were in good spirits in the spring sunshine, lots of banter and beer drinking – on the train to the ground, I was people watching – and noticed a large Herta fan (in a small shirt) and his mates who were knocking beer back (like it was going to be made illegal at midnight) and talking to Dortmund fans, cadging lights for cigarettes, etc.

· We waited a few minutes at one S-Bann station – the large fan, checked the indicator boards for the departure time, picked up all the empties (in a plastic) bag, stepped off the train, deposited the empties in a bin and stepped back on board to start a fresh beer…(10 out of 10).

· Now I for one and sadly many others cannot imagine Cardiff City v Swansea with no segregation, beer, and a minimal Police presence…

· It is also worth noting that with the match tickets (bought on-line) you also got free travel within Berlin for an hour before the game and for 3 hours afterwards (that’s also a good idea).

· Now Hertha Berlin were well and truly horsed (losing three goals to one) by Dortmund – yet there was no trouble at all.

· The biggest cheer of the afternoon was confirmation that Bayern Munich went down by five goals to one.

· You really notice the differences when you come back home, arrived at Cardiff Wales Airport, missed the once an hour connection to the railway station, killed some time in a cafe (at the airport) before going to catch the bus. It was very expensive and dirty – a definite case of could do better!

Overall think that the Germans have a much more civic minded and more functioning society and perhaps more of a sense of ownership (hence the lack of litter) – one can but ask where did we go wrong? Moreover, how can we fix it?

There were a number of small almost discreet memorials scattered about the City (along the line of the former Wall) to those who died trying to escape communist East Germany - which makes you think about how much we take for granted - especially when you remember that the last person killed trying to escape to freedom was shot by border guards in June 1989, and the wall ceased to function in November of the same year.

There were around some 5,000 successful escapes to West Berlin, and no doubt many failed escape attempts. There is an on-going argument about how many people died trying to escape to freedom - according to the Center for Contemporary Historical Research (ZZF) in Potsdam there were 136 confirmed deaths.

Much of Berlin remains a building site as the on-going costs of reunification as well as the East German economic and environmental legacy continue to trouble the finances of the reunified German state.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Supporting Small Business and Small Towns

We need a new fresh approach to supporting small town and rural businesses, the lifeblood of our small towns and the rural economy in Monmouth constituency and much of rural Wales.
Many people recognize that for some groups of people in rural areas, economic and social problems are increasing; effective Government and Local Government indifference to the rural economy and rural economic needs continues to have a damaging impact on our communities.

It is time for Gordon Brown’s Labour Government to wake up and to work with the Plaid driven One Wales National Assembly Government to actively support and encourage rural economic activity – because without a prosperous rural economy many of our smaller communities are at risk of quietly and effectively dying.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) notes that the UK is losing 2,000 local shops every year and that of this continues then by 2015 there will be no independent retailers left in business, something that will hit both consumers and our communities hard as they lose any real choice in the marketplace. Over recent years in the small towns across Monmouthshire, the once particularly rich mix of local shops, small businesses and local suppliers have come under increasing pressure as the usual suspects in the shape of “identikit” chain stores have replicated themselves across our nation's high streets.”

A few years ago The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England report ‘Rural Roulette’, which focuses 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. They discovered that local small businesses were very flexible and able to fit in odd hours, at odd times for their staff and that many employees travelled short distances to their place of work and the majority of employees were women.

The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England noted the following:
  • There was a loss of choice as it becomes harder to buy local foods. 64% of the local shops in Fakenham, Norfolk, and 75% of those in Warminster, Wiltshire, closed when new superstores were built in those towns. Most supermarkets sell very little locally sourced produce, with only 1-2% of their turnover coming from local foods, so, when local shops close, the outlet for local produce disappears with them.
  • there was a loss of jobs as local businesses close. Supermarket domination of the retail trade puts the local food infrastructure at risk threatening the viability of local abattoirs, wholesalers and small farms and the associated jobs. A study by the National Retail Planning Forum in 1998 of 93 new superstores found that each one resulted in a net loss of 270 local jobs.
  • There was a loss of character, as once distinctive lively town centre's become 'clone towns'. Local shops and services depend on each other for survival. As independent shops close, once vibrant market towns can become retail deserts (or ghost towns). Where shops are taken over by national chains, creeping homogenisation creates clone towns.
  • There was a loss of landscape when traditional farming practices are discontinued. River valley meadows, marshes, heaths and pastures need to be grazed by livestock to maintain their appearance and wildlife, but the supply of meat from such animals, often traditional breeds, is often considered too small and intermittent to suit supermarket specifications.

An economically active local network of food producers, wholesalers and local retailers help to sustain many other jobs within the local economy. 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.

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. 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 passers by and add to the long-term viability and vitality of our communities.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Energy indepedence - the only game in town!

While energy prices can go up and down in the short-term, the long term trend is always (at least for hydro-carbons) going to be upwards, this is something that is unavoidable due to increasing demands for more energy, a growing poplulation and the relative short term limit to the earth's hydro carbon fuel reserves. Anyone with half a brain should be able to plot this trend and note the medium and long-term consequences of being depdendent upon energy resources that you don't actually control.

Anyone awake in the current New Labour Westminster Government should be working with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to develop a hands on energy strategy that will lead to an end to dependency on unstable overseas energy sources and dubious suppliers and lead to energy independence.

You would have thought that Vladimir Putin's decision a few months ago to reduce further gas exported into Ukraine, through which 80 per cent of Russian gas exports to the EU flows, would have highlighted the real dangers of relying on imported energy.

While Russia has declining cash reserves and its economy is heavily reliant on its trade in gas – the risk of shortages as a consequence of Mr Putin's geopolitical games is something we can truly all do without.

While other countries have attempted to protect themselves against external shocks to their energy needs; the UK’s market driven approach has been proven to be entirely inadequate. France can store 122 days of gas and Germany 99.

Yet the UK has storage capacity to last only 15 days; the New Labour Government took almost a decade to recognise the need to increase storage capacity. The consequence is that UK has to sell gas during the summer because we cannot store it but UK energy suppliers struggle to purchase gas again when it is needed in the winter.

The complicit insanity of the Conservative’s headlong dash to gas in the 1980’s has been compounded by a real failure in basic strategic energy planning and made worse by the current Government's perverse decision to half-heartdly look at developing diverse reliable alternative energy sources. The current New Labour Government has ignored repeated warnings that it was setting the UK on a path towards higher prices and blackouts.

Over the next six years almost all of our old nuclear reactors, along with nine major coal and oil-fired power stations, will be closed, with nothing ready to replace them. We are now in the situation where we are now even more dependent upon imported gas from either unstable regions or dubious suppliers and we the customers face unnecessarily expensive bills.

As a matter of urgency the Westminster Government, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly should work with the Irish Government to make these islands entirely self sufficient via renewable non market driven energy resources.

By developing a flexible self-sufficient energy development strategy that encourages decentralised microgeneration schemes and by actually implementing it this could not only create jobs, it could create useful skills and actually help to bootstrap the economy out of the developing recession as well as helping consumers.

In Wales, we need real direction when it comes to the development of safe and secure energy resources, power generation can provide the potential for real sustainable long term job opportunities; the renewable energy sector can and should play an immensely important role in creating more green energy jobs.

We need to create a decentralised power generation system which will create sustainable long-term jobs for local people, not damage the environment and contribute to providing our local communities with a long-term viable economic energy future, that’s the real future dividend for our communities.