Tuesday, 29 September 2009


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 26 September 2009


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


Friday, 25 September 2009


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

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

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

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

Thursday, 24 September 2009


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 September 2009


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

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

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

How did we end up in this mess?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 20 September 2009


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 18 September 2009


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

I wonder where is the next Norman Borlag is?

Thursday, 17 September 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


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

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

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


Tuesday, 8 September 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 5 September 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


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

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