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.

Thursday, 27 August 2009


In relation to the recent elections in Afghanistan one of Winston Churchill’s quote’s about democracy comes to mind – he said that “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”. There may be some truth in this especially in an Afghan context, but freedom and democracy should not just be clichés or spin, they are actually worth fighting for and are worth protecting and in view of the price being paid in the British soldiers lives at the moment, this is worth remembering even if it is off scant comfort to those who have lost loved ones and comrades.

As the death toll rises, so understandably do the calls for a withdrawal, as someone who has relatives who have (and will again) serve in Afghanistan I understand the heart felt calls for a withdrawal of UK troops. Yet, if there is a lesson from history we would do well to learn it is that dismissing, ignoring or abandoning Afghanistan is not an option – that choice is one that has ended up proving expense in the long term the last time we tried it and led to 9-11. Over the last few decades until 2001, Afghans lived through periods of horrific violence and destruction, with each successive questionable regime bringing greater deprivation and misery than the last.

Yet, despite this, a percentage of the Afghan people braved rockets, bombs and intimidation and came out to vote. In these last elections, despite legitimate concerns about the low turnout in the insurgency wracked south, the Afghans were effectively asked to choose ballots or bullets; to a greater extent when given the choice they chose ballots.

Although Taliban and Warlord intimidation kept a significant percentage of voters home, international observers while noting some voting irregularities and the low turnout were ready to say that turnout, was probably sufficient enough to reflect national sentiment. While there is significant room for improvement in the Governance of Afghanistan and in the quality of the lives of ordinary Afghans, this has to be step in the right direction towards progress and peace in this troubled region and it should be welcomed by the international community.

If we and the Afghan people are lucky, then these elections could reinvigorate and improve Afghan governance and civic society, something that is an absolute necessity for the success of counter-insurgency, stabilisation and reconstruction programmes. Whenever the election results come in and whatever the result, it needs to be made entirely clear to the incoming President that ongoing aid and assistance to the Afghan government to defeat the Taliban insurgency and to provide security and development is entirely conditional on improved and accountable governance, civil rights and further reform – there are no more blank cheques.

The real danger is that any lasting legacy of Western intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 will be transitory unless there are more reforms, more efficient targeted and monitored use of international aid programmes (this is a necessity not a luxury), corruption must be curbed and reduced, the Taliban effectively dealt with and there must be and end to Pakistani political and military interference inside Afghanistan.

Unless these things occur to some degree quite quickly then we will fail no matter how generous international aid has been donated and no matter how many lives have been lost. If that happens then our efforts will have been insufficient to achieve the necessary security aims which must include an eventual withdrawal of foreign troops and a lasting stable sovereign Afghanistan – and the precious lives of our service personnel will have been lost in vain.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009


There are a couple of key issues surrounding the release of the convicted Lockerbie /Pam AM flight bomber – one of which is whether of not he was even involved in perpetrating the atrocity. Syrian / Iranian involvement in the Lockerbie bombing has long been mooted – but the focus shifted to Libya during the run up to the First Gulf War – as the US and its Allies needed the Syrian’s on board - as well as Syrian troops on the ground with the Allied Armies - to swing the UN vote and liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation as well as passivity on the part of the Iranian’s who were no friend of Saddam’s Iraq.

What makes this relevant is that during the planned debate in the Scottish Parliament next week Christine Grahame, the SNP MSP for South of Scotland, is aiming to name a Syrian exile currently living under US protection in Washington DC as the true mastermind of the Lockerbie bombing, under parliamentary privilege. Grahame said the man had been named in Megrahi's appeal documents as a relative of one of the first leading suspects for the attack, the Syrian terrorist Ahmed Jibril of the pro-Palestinian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command.

Even when you dismiss the cheap point scoring attempts being made by New / Old Labour and their Lib Dem coat holders next week’s debate could be interesting…

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Libya supplied guns and explosives to the IRA, and the families of their victims want the country to face up to its responsibilities. Now Relatives of IRA terrorist victims have once again renewed their calls for compensation from Libya following the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

The relatives are calling on the Libyan leader to demonstrate the same compassion shown to Abdelbaset Ali Al Megrahi; the terminally-ill bomber was released from a Scottish prison last week. Families of victims killed by Libyan weapons believe their hand has been strengthened by Megrahi's release, which has caused a political and diplomatic row on both sides of the Atlantic.

Relatives have called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to support the families in their quest. Libya was once a sponsor of worldwide terrorism, including support for the IRA, but its leaders and the country and has come in from the cold. Back in 2003, Libya took responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which claimed 270 lives, mostly American. It also abandoned efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. Five years later, Col Gaddafi reached a final compensation agreement with the US over Lockerbie and other bombings.

What was that Gordon? The sound of silence perhaps…would not want to upset the lucrative trade and energy deals would we…

Monday, 24 August 2009


There are times when you wonder what particular planet some people live on or at least wonder where they have been for the last few months. The latest news that a senior Conservative MP, Sir Patrick Cormack, has threatened to reignite the row over MPs' expenses with a call for their pay to be doubled – may be proof that Planet Tory is a truly strange place.

The call for MP’s to receive the massive increase in salary, from £64,766 to more than £130,000, in return for scrapping the controversial second homes allowance, which has been made in a submission to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is conducting an inquiry into the allowances system may shock some people who life outside the Westminster village.

The fact that this suggestion was made because it was the best way to restore public confidence in Parliament – should shock everyone else. In fairness to Sir Patrick he did say that he accepted that the time was not right for such a big pay rise and he had urged the committee to consider a number of alternative recommendations.

Yet another old Tory, Douglas Hogg, whose expenses submission included the cost of clearing the moat at his country home, has also called for MPs to be given a six-figure salary - plus expenses. His justification was that the current MP's salary was "so low in absolute and relative terms" that members of the professional and business classes would be deterred from entering Parliament.

You really have to wonder, especially about the significant silence from the Tory front benches…

Saturday, 22 August 2009


The Westminster Government (especially) and the Plaid driven One Wales Government’s need to get more serious about developing integrated public transport for Monmouth constituency and beyond. Plaid in Monmouth has long called for improvements to existing services and facilities and a series of feasibility studies to investigate re-opening previously closed railways as has happened in Scotland.

As we face up to a future where cheap fuel will become a thing of the past, we need to ensure that all our communities have access to a reliable system of integrated public transport, at the heart of which should lie our long neglected rail network. The old excuses about a lack of funding are no longer acceptable; with Wales making up 5% of the population of the UK, and having made significant contributions to the exchequer over the years - we need 5% of the UK transport spend, and fully devolved control of our transport planning and our transport budget.

Some sort of half way house devolution is no longer acceptable, it will not work and it will not deliver (or even give us the chance to deliver) the changes and reforms that are necessary to fix the problems in our country. The botched and over complicated LCO system for creating legislation won't work even with a nominally Labour Government - whats going to happen when we face a Conservative Government that's hostile to any concept of devolution. The half devolved limbo state of governance, with all the best will in the world just will not work; Governance can no more be half devolved anymore than someone can be half free.

We need the appropriate powers to do the job as is the case in Scotland, where significant strides have been made to reopen, redevelop and build a coherent and integrated public transport system that will serve the people of Scotland well long into the future. If we are serious about integrated public transport then we are going to have to get serious about how we are going to develop and redevelop our public transport infrastructure. To make it work in Monmouth constituency we will need to develop real cross border partnerships with Local Authorities and interested groups in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, South Herefordshire and with neighbouring Local Authorities in the South East, and the Plaid driven One Wales Government.

Plaid Cymru, in Monmouth constituency has called for:

  • The transformation of Abergavenny and Chepstow railway stations into a true gateway to the towns, and the integration of local bus services with train arrivals.
  • A significant improvement in the facilities at Severn Tunnel Junction and Caldicot railway stations and the provision of secure parking facilities.
  • A feasibility study into the development of a Parkway Station at Little Mill - with secure parking facilities.
  • A feasibility study into the possibilities of re-opening the railway line from Little Mill to Usk and the development of a new railway station at Usk.
  • A feasibility study into the re-opening of the Wye Valley railway line to Monmouth. Such a development would provide a regular rail service to local residents and tourists removing the ever increasing traffic burden from already overcrowded roads.
  • The re-opening of Pontrilas Railway station (in south Herefordshire) for passenger traffic (and timber shipments).
  • A feasibility study into developing regional rail freight services, removing heavy Lorries from local roads as per the experimental transport of timber by rail.

The Transport (Wales) Act which came into effect in February 2006 gave the National Assembly powers to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system, some concrete steps have been taken with the reopening of the Ebbw Vale and Vale of Glamorgan lines, and other improvements are in the pipeline but more needs to done. In the meantime the rail companies have been busy increasing rail fares and attempting to reduce rail services, all with the tacit co-operation of the New Labour Government and the Department of transport (in London).

Such duplicity is no longer acceptable - it’s time for our government in Cardiff to take the long term view, to bite the bullet and actually put its money where its mouth is and work to redevelop our rail services, boost the development of rail freight and to co-ordinate rail and bus services across the whole of Wales. To do this effectively Wales needs to have full control of it's transport policy and transport budget devolved as quickly as possible.

Monday, 10 August 2009


The New Labour Government (which is doing it's best to keep on the good side of the bankers) needs to regulate ATM charges which hit some of the most vulnerable people in our communities by charging people to withdraw their own money. The recent rapid growth in ATM's which charge users for their services - hits all of us, but, particularly hits those on low incomes - it's yet another tidy little earner for the banks at our expense.

Some of the amounts being charged to use these ATMs are ridiculous, to make matters worse there have been some rapid increases in charges recently. Some are now charging as much as £2.50 for every withdrawal - for anybody withdrawing £10 that’s an extra 25%! This is a cost that many users can ill afford. To make matters worse it would appear that more deprived wards with no free cash withdrawal options are being targeted by these companies, this is disgraceful and unscrupulous behaviour by these ATM companies.

From a standard £1.99 charge, about 60p will go to the owner of the site where the cashpoint is, roughly 60p is taken by the firm that owns the machine and another 40p goes to Link. What little is left over - about 39p in this case - pays towards installing and maintaining the cashpoint. An industry insider said: "The breakdown is roughly the same for all companies, but the charge differs depending on where the cash machine is.”

Very often people living in these communities that have seen the loss of local branches of banks and do not have the luxury of being able to travel to withdraw cash. Their options have been further limited by the New Labour Post Office closure programme. Even in those communities that are lucky enough to still have a post office, the days of withdrawing benefits and pensions directly and over the counter are long gone.

Since 1995 banks have closed 22% of their branch network, 15% of post office branches have been closed, 5% of building society branches have been closed. Machines which charge now account for over 40% of the 53,000 machines in the LINK network. In 2001 only 7,000 cash machines charged to get money out but by last year that figure had rocketed to 25,000 (Jul 2009).

Last year, the Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) group, sold more than 800 of its cash machines to an independent operator. This company is now free to introduce fees on the machines. HBOS won't directly benefit if charges are introduced - and it will be able to continue saying its own machines are free - but it made £75m from the sale of the network. Abbey has also sold part of its cash-machine network. NatWest has even bought one of the fee-charging ATM operators, whose profits will now feed into the banking giant's bottom line.

It is high time that action is taken to protect our communities, it is wrong that unscrupulous companies should profit most from those who can afford it least. The New Labour Westminster government needs to take immediate action to regulate the proliferation and charges of these ATMs. In Wales, the social justice Minister needs to step in and work with local public service providers to provide free alternatives and we must see if there is anything else that can be done to protect our communities from this unfair practice and protect our communities from unfair charges.

Saturday, 8 August 2009


The Energy companies have reaped a 500% increase in profits over the last five years have been quick to blame rising oil and gas prices, and quick to rake in the profits, as the average annual dual fuel bill has risen from £662 a year in 2005 to 1,048 in 2007. The New Labour Government has been happy to rake in the extra tax revenues and the Energy companies have been slow to pass on reductions in energy costs to their customers – the only real losers are the energy customers.

While Crude oil has fallen from $147 a barrel in July last year to about $70 a barrel and no one is disputing that the six main energy suppliers have not cut their prices since the beginning of the year, energy bills are still too high. Consumer Focus research suggests that current gas bills should be at least 7.4% cheaper (£60.10 annually) and electricity bills at least 3.1% cheaper (£13.80 annually). Customer Focus’s new research for the first time shows the reality, that the energy companies are pocketing £1.6bn extra, while millions of households struggle to make ends meet.

Lets be brutally honest here, what we have here is an effective monopoly on energy supply in the UK. This is a direct result over the last ten years of the number of energy supply companies falling from twenty two to six - that's the way the market works we have been told don't worry about it. Now 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, so what we have is an energy cartel which brings minimal benefit to hard pressed energy customers and maximises it's profits and which feeds the government impressive amounts of tax.

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 Government's perverse decision to half-heartedly 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.

Friday, 7 August 2009


Looks like the BBC have found an interesting story that may shine a little light on the way the MoD operates...

Fascinating stuff... wonder how long it takes for the spin and denials to emerge from New Labour.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


Now don't get me wrong I warmly welcome the plans to electrify the Swansea to London rail line - this is long overdue and down to some exceptionally hard negotiating by Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones (AM). The multi-million pound upgrade and electrification of the rail line between London and Swansea, which should be completed by 2017 and should also cut 20 minutes off the existing journey time is to be warmly welcomed.

However, when the Severn Tunnel is closed for maintenance rail traffic from South Wales is diverted via a single-track 12-mile section of line between Swindon and Kemble (in Gloucestershire) any plans to upgrade this section to double track as it is the only diversionary route between Wales and London were conspicuous by their absence from network Rail’s plans last November.

The aging Severn Tunnel requires more maintenance as time passes, it remains a vital transport link, but ranks pretty low on Network Rails list of priorities. Last November, the Office of Rail Regulation’s settlement for Network Rail allocated some £26 billion pounds some 2.4 billion less than requested; this is disappointing as it has forced Network Rail to drop a number of projects. One project to restore the 12 miles of single track to double from Kemble to Swindon was dropped, the reduced capacity of this line adds an hour to passenger journeys as trains to and from Wales have to wait for services coming in the opposite direction.

We need some original thinking to solve this potential block on our rail links; one of the options being considered as part of the review of proposals for generating energy from the Severn Estuary; is the construction of a smaller barrage or tidal fence close to the Second Severn Crossing. This could relatively easily carry the main rail link from South Wales, this is the kind of joined up original thinking we need to solve the problem of the Severn Tunnel and to generate sustainable energy, both of which we will need in the near future.

Monday, 3 August 2009


Demand for allotments continues to grow across Wales, by a strange coincidence, a significant number of my friends and acquittance's (in Newport, Torfaen and Monmouthshire) have allotments (A quick plea: please no more courgettes!). Apart from providing a ready source of veg and saving money, raising and looking after your own crops actually provides a degree of necessary exercise and is a good excuse to get stuck in.

At the beginning of 2009, Plaid AM Leanne Wood did some research which showed that there were some 2,500 people on waiting lists for an allotment in Wales and that some people may well have to wait for nearly nine years before they get a sniff of a plot or pitch.

What's really amazing is that the whole business of allotments is still largely regulated by legislation from the early years of the 20th Century. The 1908 Small Holdings and Allotment Act says the council has a duty to provide land if they are satisfied there is demand and if six electors petition that council, their representations have to be taken into consideration.

There are enough examples across Wales, where groups of interested people have petitioned their local council only to be told that the council has considered their request, but there is no land available. A summit (organised by Plaid AM Leanne Wood) to discuss the situation regarding allotment availability took place in Cardiff on Friday 30th July 2009.

Saturday, 1 August 2009


The last ruling old style ruling Communist Party has just been defeated it the polls in Moldova, where the four main opposition parties won just over half the votes and seats in parliamentary elections, with the Communists gaining 45 per cent. This former Soviet republic has been in political stalemate since questionable elections in April. Now a pro-EU coalition government is likely to emerge in Moldova and hopefully

Communist Party - 45.1%

Liberal Democratic Party - 16.4%

Liberal Party - 14.4%

Democratic Party - 12.5%

Our Moldova Alliance - 7.4%

Official turnout was 58.8%, up from 54% in April.

Based on 97% of votes counted (Source: Central Election Commission).

With 97% of ballots counted, the four main opposition parties have 50.7% compared with 45.1% for the Communists. Opposition leaders say they will form an alliance if the result is confirmed. The election last Wednesday was a re-run of the election in April, which was followed by days of violent demonstrations because of allegations of vote-rigging.

The Communist Party has been in government in Moldova since 2001, and the county remains one of Europe's poorest countries. It is ironic that the last country in Europe to reject the rule of a Communist party via the ballot box is one of Europe’s poorest states, a former Soviet republic with a population close to the size of Denmark although somewhat far from Denmark’s living standards.

Once again in a relatively straight fight the Communists’ lose out at the polls. Which leaves us with the remaining Communist Dictatorships in Cuba and the People’s Republic of China? The question is for how much longer can the remaining Communist Dictatorships hold sway and cling onto power?