Friday, 31 July 2009


The recent collapse (for whatever reason) of the multi-million pound deal between Monmouthshire County Council (MCC), developer Henry Boot Ltd and Asda to redevelop the Livestock Market site has now given Monmouthshire County Council the opportunity to think again when it comes to its plans to redevelop the site of Abergavenny Livestock market. There is now a real opportunity to work with local residents, farmers and other interest parties and an opportunity to take a long view in relation to any proposed redevelopment of the cattle market.

Any future consultations on the future of the Livestock market must include the full participation of the people of Abergavenny and the surrounding farming community and no more secret behind closed doors deals. MCC now has as an opportunity to retain and modernise the livestock market, to keep it in Abergavenny and has a fresh an opportunity to take a longer view about the economic consequences for Abergavenny and the surrounding area.

The questions is will MCC have the intelligence to grasp this opportunity to work with local residents and local farmers for the benefit of Abergavenny and the surrounding area or will they keep trying to repeat the mistakes of the past and pull some dull ill-thought out redevelopment scheme out of the hat?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


Robert E Lee said "Duty is the most sublime word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less." Our soldiers in Afghanistan are doing their duty and they are sadly paying a high price in yet another distant foreign field – it’s a pity the same cannot be said of the Government.

At home, the New Labour Westminster Government is to launch an appeal over two soldiers who won significant increases in their compensation paid for injuries received in line with their duties. The test case revolves around two soldiers who had their compensation increased on appeal; one who now walks with crutches after being shot while on patrol in Iraq, who was originally awarded £9,250 but this was increased to £46,000 and another who fractured his thigh in a military exercise and who was awarded £8,250, but this was increased to £28,750.

The High Court previously upholding the higher awards, ruled that the Ministry of Defence argument that there should be a distinction between the original injury and later complications was "absurd". Now the MoD (no doubt with the tacit blessing of the New Labour Money changers) is to take a case to the Court of Appeal, where Government lawyers are expected to claim the pair should be compensated only for the initial injuries and not subsequent health problems.

The MoD has faced repeated criticism of the way it deals with wounded personnel. In 2008 some £84million in civil compensation was paid out, but, by contrast, men and women wounded in combat have to struggle to win even modest payments. The controversial Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (established in April 2005) puts the burden of proof on claimants, who must provide evidence that they were injured doing their duty. Campaigners say many claims that would have been allowed under the old rules are now blocked. MoD figures show that around a third of all claims are now rejected.

In 2008 the MoD doubled the maximum lump-sum payment to £570,000, only the most catastrophic injuries attain that sum. Currently even the loss of both arms or total blindness would not qualify. Particular concerns have been expressed about the treatment of service personnel with mental health disorders. Compensation for psychological injury is effectively capped at £48,875.

The case will be heard as the death toll in Afghanistan continues to rise, with two more soldiers being killed bringing the total for this month to 20 fatalities. Since the start of operations in Afghanistan began in the autumn of 2001, 191 British service personnel have been killed.

Sunday, 26 July 2009


The three and a half year time lag between the National Assembly wanting to bring in a ban on smoking in public spaces and the eventual change in the law (especially if you think about how many people will have contracted health problems as a direct result of the delay), speaks volumes about the difference in priorities between Wales and London as well as providing an illustration of the need for real legislative powers in Cardiff Bay.

Despite the near incoherent mutterings from True Wales, the current proposals that have been discussed by the All Wales Convention would, should a referendum be called and subsequently won would result in the transfer of some 60% of the legislative areas that are currently administered by the Scottish parliament, even for the most sceptical anti-devolutionist this is hardly a slippery slope, but would at least go some way to enabling the National Assembly to begin to solve some of the serious problems that we face in Wales.

Friday, 24 July 2009


We should all welcome the announcement that the main railway from Swansea to London will finally be electrified – this is very good news. This announcement follows long months of hard negotiations by Plaid Leader Ieuan Wyn Jones who has put pressure on the UK government and Network Rail to change their previously announced plans to only electrify the track between London and Bristol.

Originally it had been suggested that the electrification work on the Great Western would stop at Bristol and Wales would be left out of this plan, but after an immense amount of work by Ieuan Wyn Jones as Transport minister and as Plaid’s leader, things have been turned around. Plaid has been fighting since 1977 to ensure that Wales gets its share of rail electrification – the benefits of electrification have been proven in other countries. This will truly be one of the lasting legacies of Plaid’s first term in government.

Electrified Rail in Europe

Switzerland: 100%
Sweden: 77%
Netherlands: 73%
Italy: 69%
Germany: 56%
Spain: 56%
UK: 40%

Source: UIC Website:

Electrified Rail in Wales (After 12 years of New Labour Government).

Wales: 0%

So today really is a very good day for the Welsh economy after all the hard work that has been put in by Ieuan Wyn Jones. Now it is important to focus on getting the job done, ensuring that the plan is taken forward, that any disruption to services is minimised and it is important to make sure that any new government does not back out of this commitment. It is also essential that the Welsh section of this work is begun and is carried out as soon as possible in order to provide a timely boost to the economy in the South East and elsewhere in Wales. Nice one Ieuan!

Thursday, 23 July 2009


The launch of this scheme, by Wales’ Agriculture Minister Elin Jones AM, is a significant step forward for the farming industry in Wales. The evidence suggests that there are between 100 and 200 young entrants taking over the running of farming businesses each year in Wales.

The new scheme called the Young Entrants Support Scheme (YESS) will offer business support and financial help to people under 40 get into farming for themselves. If we in Wales want a thriving agricultural sector in the future, then the farming industry in Wales needs not just to survive, but to grow, if this is to happen then this rate of younger people moving into the industry needs to increase significantly.

This new scheme is a significant and practical step in the right direction toward the creation of a dynamic and competitive farming industry that is fit for the future in Wales. As those in the farming industry know, and as with any home grown industry it is essential that young talent is nurtured, encouraged and supported.

One of our greatest resources is its people, and we are blessed by necessity with an adaptable workforce in all walks of life, and in the agricultural sector we are not short of young people who have got huge amounts of enthusiasm, ability and drive to get on. So the launch of the YESS scheme is most welcome, as it is only right that the Welsh government should be helping Welsh young people to start out in the industry.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009


A Populus survey for The Times, which took place on the weekend of 17th – 19th July found that two thirds of those polled believe that British troops should be withdrawn either now (34 per cent) or within the next year (33 per cent). Only 29 per cent say that they should stay until the situation in Afghanistan becomes stable, even if it takes many years.

Of those questioned some, 67 per cent believe that British soldiers have died or been injured because of inadequate equipment. Only 25 per cent disagree. Some 64 per cent of those questioned believe that Britain’s troops are either quite badly or very badly equipped to fight in Afghanistan.

The telephone poll shows a big gender gap in attitudes with more women favouring early withdrawal of British troops than men. Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of women favour either a firm timetable for the withdrawal of British troops within the next year or an immediate withdrawal. Less than three fifths of men (58 per cent) agree.

Only a fifth (20 per cent of women) believe that British troops should remain until “the Taliban are defeated and the situation there is stable, even if that takes many years”. But nearly two fifths of men (38 per cent) back the long haul. Almost two thirds of women (66 per cent) think that Britain’s troops are badly equipped, as do 61 per cent of men.

A previous Populus poll for ITV which took place on July 10th and 11th showed that half those asked believe that Britain’s contribution to the international forces is about right. About 30 per cent believe that Britain is contributing too much and 13 per cent said it is too little. Almost half say that the objective in Afghanistan is worthwhile but the price being paid in terms of British casualties is too high.

Slightly over one quarter back the troops’ presence, but a fifth say that the war in Afghanistan is not a worthwhile objective.

[Populus interviewed a random sample of 1,504 adults aged over 18 by telephone on July 17-19. More details of the Poll are available on ]

Now none of this is good news for the fumbling New Labour Government, for the Afghan people of for President Obama’s inherited War on Terror, but, wars are not won or lost by opinion polls, at least not directly, they are fought and won by the troops on the ground. However wobbly Gordon’s Government is, our support for the troops on the ground must remain solid and NATO should stay the course. I can say this as someone who has relatives who have (and will almost certainly again) serve on the ground in Afghanistan.

Things however, have to change; the troops on the ground need the tools to do the job, the corruption that is being inflicted on the ordinary Afghan people by their own Government needs to be curbed, as does the corrupting influence of the warlords who when they ruled (or perhaps plundered would be more apt) Afghanistan were so dreadful that the Taliban (who are mostly non Afghan) were seen as tolerable.

Additionally it’s time for Pakistan to grow up. The Pakistani Government (and it’s military) need to realise that the days of supporting the Taliban and trying to play both ends against the middle are finally over. Perhaps, ironically former President George Bush may have actually put it best, when he said ‘You are either with us or you are against us!’.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


The Plaid driven One Wales Government’s new national transport plan which will bring sustainable benefit to current residents of Wales but also many generations yet to come, is a step towards a sustainable transport policy. We should welcome the decision to make effective use of public funding, and economic and environmental needs when forming the new national plan, which includes measures to improve the use of the transport infrastructure around the Newport area in order to alleviate congestion on the M4.

Many people have long argued that the proposed M4 relief road over the Gwent levels was never going to be a sensible or sustainable option on both environmental and financial grounds. The project would have caused irreversible environmental damage and substantially increase carbon dioxide emissions.

On financial grounds, the projected cost of the scheme had soared to an estimated £1billion. Funding a billion pound project, at a time when our government is being told its budget will be cut by both of the parties which could form the next government in Westminster, would been an impossible undertaking.

The National Transport Plan is a vital step towards developing our national transport infrastructure in a sensible, sustainable and costed way , which actually takes the cost for future generations into account. It is important that environmental considerations not be sacrificed for short term gain. Careful consideration needs to be given to the fact that we don’t want to burden future generations with projects that can’t be afforded and will fail to deliver any real medium or long term benefits.

Public transport in Wales is in dire need of further investment, so news that some more funding will be going into sustainable transport is excellent news. The Assembly’s Sustainability Committee in 2007 noted that less than one-third of transport funding was being spent on sustainable and public transport in Wales, which compared with 70 per cent in Scotland.

The decision’s made today to spend more money on rail and other forms of sustainable transport will help to redress that imbalance. This is a well thought out balanced plan, not only in environmental and economic terms, but also in terms of the needs of people and business throughout the whole of Wales.

Monday, 13 July 2009


Plans to bring in ‘feed in tariffs’ which will reward households which actually contribute electricity to the National Grid are to be welcomed. This new development, is a step in the right direction, and should enable community based and community owned schemes to get off the ground developing green sustainable energy from a combination of wind, water and solar power.

The long called for 'Feed-in tariffs' will pay households and Communities which generate surplus electricity to the National Grid from April 2010. At the moment only those with smart meters or larger commercially driven companies can generate revenue from energy supply. Some 19 European Countries already operate "clean energy cash back" schemes.

Presently, in Germany, villages and towns have bought wind turbines, built biomass plants and installed solar panels on private houses. Households who participate are paid a guaranteed fixed price for every kilowatt hour of energy they produce - a higher sum than for electricity made from fossil fuels in traditional power stations.

In Germany, since "feed-in tariffs" were introduced in Germany, some 400,000 homes, particularly in the south, have installed solar panels. Three wind turbines can make £15,000 a year for a single village. Only about 2% of Britain's energy comes from renewable sources at the moment, but the UK Government is now playing a belated game of catch up as it has pledged to increase that to 15% before 2020.

A step in the right direction as well as a case of better late than never…

Friday, 10 July 2009


The One Wales National Assembly Government and our Local Authorities need to develop a long term economic view when it comes to planning policies, we need to have much better thought out and far more consistent planning policies for in, out and edge of town retail developments -before our communities are damaged beyond repair.

Our Local Authorities are often tempted by planning gain as developers offer includes, sweeteners and inducements to ease the passage of proposed developments. County Council’s fear the costs of supermarket applications being taken to appeal if initial planning permission is refused. To make matters worse Local Authorities often fail to have properly researched retailing policies within their development plans.

If retailing needs have not been assessed then it is very difficult for Local Authority planners to refuse any potentially damaging planning applications from developers, and local small businesses and consumers end up playing the price.

Every Government since the 1980’s has talked about promoting the vitality and viability of our small market towns, yet, over the last twenty years retail developments have consistently undermined this aim, as local authorities have effectively turned a blind eye to the consequences of out of town or edge of town retail developments on the edge of market towns in England and Wales. The economic reality has fallen well short of the verbal aspiration, just look at the damage that has been done to Abergavenny, Chepstow and Monmouth within Monmouth constituency and elsewhere in Wales.

Can we seriously expect our Local Authorities local regeneration schemes to work, when the once thriving commercial heart of our high streets has already been seriously damaged by an inability to compete on level terms with the increasingly aggressive tactics of supermarkets and retail chains who are chasing an ever larger market share.

More than ever, our planners need to think about the long term economic consequences of planning decisions, to take the longer term view, rather than get fixated on short term financial gains and questionable inducements (why not call them what they are "backhanders") from developers.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


The Welsh Economic Research Unit (WERU) has produced figures that show that 3,252 housing association homes have been delivered over the past two years. Plaid housing minister, Jocelyn Davies AM is on track to delivering her affordable housing targets - with the Plaid driven One Wales government reaching the halfway mark on its target of creating an additional 6,500 affordable homes.

This is actually an impressive achievement, especially if you consider the current economic climate and economic conditions. Plaid has been committed to meeting these targets and has helped to more financial support into housing. This achievement is all the more remarkable especially when you consider that Housing Associations have committed their own resources at a time when borrowing is far more expensive and quite difficult to obtain.

Back in December 2008, the Plaid driven One Wales Government announced an extra £42 million pounds worth of funding to be spent over three financial years to boost the creation of affordable housing in Wales. This will give vital stimulus to the construction industry and ensure that the ambitious target of 6,500 affordable homes is achieved within this Assembly term.

Just imagine what a Plaid Government could achieve if the National Assembly had powers similar to those of Scotland?

Monday, 6 July 2009


It would be nice to think that the eyes of much of the free world are currently focused on China’s truly appalling human rights record as a result of protests surrounding the travels of the Olympic Torch, yet Western leaders who are desperately anxious to chase Chinese markets, are largely turning a blind eye to the scale of Chinese repression.

There were some very disturbing parallels between the 2008 Olympic Games and the 1936 Olympic Games, but there was one crystal clear difference, no one today can blind themselves to the repressive nature of the Chinese state towards its own citizens and towards ethnic and religious minorities under its control in Tibet, East Turkestan and elsewhere in the People Republic of China.

It has always been utterly farcical to suggest, for some apologist Western leaders to suggest, that relative economic liberalism and the free market will lead to a more tolerant, open, free and democratic China. The real self-evident risk, if not self-fulfilling prophecy is that Beijing has been quietly using the revenue and monies generated by economic growth and trade with the rest of the world to merely to retool and rearm its forces of oppression.

A combination of the run-up to the games and China’s desire to trade with the rest of the world meant that an organised diplomatic and political boycott of the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony could have been used as an opportunity for the rest of the world to let China know how it feels human rights violations in China.

At a minimal level, an organised political and diplomatic boycott of the opening ceremony would have sent a powerful message that even the Chinese Government in the short-term would have found difficult to ignore; that repressive conduct and human rights violations in Tibet and East Turkestan and its own people are entirely unacceptable.

The clashes in China’s far west, in East Turkestan or Xinjiang depending whether or not you believe in self determination and democracy or not have briefly caught the attention of the media in the West. It is worth remembering that The PRC has ever since the 911 attacks on the USA made efforts to portray Uighur People, who are seeking independence and an end to Chinese colonisation of their land as allies of al-Qaeda.

The PRC has repeatedly accused the Uighur activists receiving training and indoctrination from Islamist militants in nearby Afghanistan. Yet the PRC has produced very little public evidence has been produced in support of these claims and none of it appears to have had any impact on the US Government. The US Military in the chaos following the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan captured more than 20 Uighurs after the invasion.

Although some of them were detained at Guantanamo Bay for six years, none were charged with any offence and the US Authorities went to great lengths to make sure they were not returned to China where they might had faced harsh punishment. Five settled in Albania in 2006, Bermuda took 4 in June, 2009, and the Pacific island nation of Palau has agreed to help the others.

Last century the Uighurs were able to briefly declared independence, but, the region was brought under communist control in 1949 following the communist victory in the civil war. Xinjiang as it is named by the PRC is referred to as an autonomous region, as is neighbouring Tibet. Efforts in recent years by the Uighurs to gain greater freedom have been repeatedly quashed.

In recent years the PRC has been accused of cracking down on the Uighurs – there were street demonstrations and protests in the 1990s - and a further crackdown during the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. In the last ten years a number of prominent Uighurs have been imprisoned or been forced to seek asylum abroad after being accused of terrorism. Outside observers have noted that Uighurs complain of religious, commercial and cultural activities restrictions imposed by the PRC.

The PRC has pursued a policy of attempting to reduce Uighur numbers in Xinjiang by encouraging immigration of Han Chinese (who are the PRC’s majority ethnic group) to settle in the West, encouraged by economic inducements and other benefits. The Uighur are on the way to becoming a minority in their own country, as Han Chinese make up approximately 40% of Xinjiang's population, with 45% being ethnic Uighurs.

Sunday, 5 July 2009


As Lady K sales off into the sunset retirement home for former politicians, aka the House of Lords it worth noting (The Western Mail (Monday 15th June 2009)) that Neil and Glenys Kinnock were the recipients of more than £10million in pay, allowances and pension entitlements accrued during their time working at the European Union in Brussels. Lady Kinnock (who as a Labour MEP may have mentioned Wales twice in 10 years) was appointed as Europe Minister by Gordon Brown this month, was a MEP for 15 years. Her other half who failed to win a General Election as Labour leader, made a mint as an EU Commissioner for ten years until 2004 and blocked investigations into allegations of fraud.

Lord and Lady K – with a total of £775,000 in wages for Lady Kinnock and £1.85 million for her husband clocked up £2,625,000. A £64,564 ‘entertainment allowance’ for Lord Kinnock. Allowances for Lady Kinnock’s staff and office costs of £2.9million. A total of five publicly-funded pensions, worth £4.4million, allowing them to retire on £183,000 a year. A housing allowance that allowed them both to claim accommodation costs although, as a married couple, they lived in the same house in the Belgian capital between 1995 and 2004.

We now can see why Lord and Lady Kinnock remain loyal servants to the Labour party; loyalty will always be rewarded to the few at the expense of the many. With Lord Kinnock in the House of Lords and Lady Kinnock in Gordon’s cabinet you could say they are both members of the greatest un-elected quango of them all - over seeing what go's on in Wales. May be this is Gordon Brown’s New Labour redefining "Champagne Socialism"?

Thursday, 2 July 2009


News that Gazprom (the Kremlin controlled Gas company and an effective arm of the Russian State) has signed a big new natural gas deal with Azerbaijan, may seem of little importance as we in the UK temporarily swelter in hot weather. What it does though is strike a severe blow to European efforts to reduce energy dependence on Russia (and Russian controlled Gas supplies).

The news that Moscow will buy 500 million cubic metres of gas annually from next year is not good news from a Western European perspective and should be a spur to developing alternative sustainable energy supplies. At the moment Europe gets around 20% of its gas supplies from Russia via pipelines that cross the Ukraine, through last winter a series of increasingly bitter rows between Kiev and Moscow saw supplies being cut or reduced.

The fact that Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller was more than happy to say that that the firm had also been promised priority in buying gas from the second phase of the Shakh Deniz Caspian Sea field, is not good news for the rest of Europe. The Shakh Deniz Caspian Sea field has been seen as a potential key source of gas for the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline, which is free from Russian control.

Back in the spring, Vladimir Putin's decision to reduce further gas exported into Ukraine, through which 80 per cent of Russian gas exports to the EU flows, should 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 insured themselves against external shocks to their energy needs; the UK’s market driven approach has been entirely inadequate. France can store 122 days of gas and Germany 99. Yet the UK has storage capacity to last only 15 days (there is a quiet but frantic effort to change this); the New Labour Government took almost a decade to recognise the need to increase storage capacity. The consequence is that UK sells 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 greed driven insanity of the Conservatives 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 Government's perverse decision to half-hearted look at developing diverse reliable alternative energy sources. This 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 create jobs, useful skills and help to bootstrap the economy out of the developing recession as well as helping consumers.

In the meantime, lets all hope we have a mild winter...


New Labour is planning to step in to run a failing private rail franchise - the East Coast Rail Service - which is a polite way to say that it's nationalising it, because National Express is in difficulty. Now National Express also runs the Stanstead Express, East Anglia and c2c - but is walking away from running the East Coast Service (which it operates as stand alone company, NXEC) yet gets to carry on running those bits of the network it can squeeze a profit from? And all at our expense?

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


The threat to the Forensic Science Service (FSS) Laboratory in Chepstow, which is the only facility of it’s kind in Wales, does little to help with the fight against crime and threatens 168 well paid very skilled jobs.

Every effort must be made in the National Assembly and at Westminster to fight to retain the unique services and skills and the jobs in Wales. The jobs loses at the FSS Laboratory on Usk Road, in Chepstow would be a real blow to Chepstow and the surrounding area, as would the loss of FSS services be to Wales.

The restructured new service would be based in London, Cambridgeshire, the Midlands and North Yorkshire, which may benefit the FSS in the short term it, will not bring any extra degree of efficiency or savings to the fight against crime in Wales.

The changes to the FSS have been driven and justified by the introduction of competitive tendering for forensic services within the UK, which is madness especially at a time when it makes more sense to retain the skills in house.