Tuesday, 29 December 2009


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, 21 December 2009


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

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

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

Check this out for more information on the Taxpayers Alliance

Thursday, 17 December 2009


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


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

Monday, 14 December 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 12 December 2009


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

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

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

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

Friday, 11 December 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

Roll on Poling Day...

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


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

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

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

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

Thursday, 3 December 2009


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

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

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

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

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