Sunday, 29 November 2009


The news that the Plaid driven One Wales Government has asked Network Rail to conduct feasibility studies into the possibilities of reopening to old railway lines (between Llangefni on Anglesey and Bangor, and between Aberdare and Hirwaun in the Cynon valley) to passenger traffic is to be welcomed.

Similar feasibility studies should be undertaken on the old railway lines between Usk via Little Mill to the main line and in the Wye Valley between Chepstow and Monmouth. If we are serious about delivering reliable, effective and sustainable all weather communications to our communities then reopening old railway lines initially to passenger and then to rail freight is the way to go.

The lines to Usk and to Monmouth via Chepstow which were originally closed by the then Conservative Government which initiated significant and damaging cuts to rail services via the Beeching review of rail transport.

If Government in both London and Cardiff is really serious about cutting carbon emissions and road congestion then reopening these lines to rail and fright traffic could provide serious economic stimulation to the local economies and provide a real opportunity for people to make use of public transport which would reduce road congestion.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


It has been estimated that two women die every day in the UK - within North and South Wales and Gwent Police force areas there were eight deaths last year as a result of domestic violence.

In the last four years South Wales Police received almost 64,000 complaints with 2,862 prosecutions during 2008-09. Around three-quarters of the 12,322 domestic abuse victims in the last year were women.

In Wales, each year 100 children spend Christmas in emergency refuge accommodation. Many arrive with nothing but the clothes they were wearing when left the house.

Please help bring some comfort and Christmas cheer to children in refuge by donating to the Welsh Women's Aid Christmas Appeal and ensure that children who spend Christmas in refuge have some happy memories to take away when they leave.

The Children Matter - Christmas Appeal 2009. Please donate here

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


The small towns of Monmouth constituency and elsewhere have suffered in the past from ill-thought out developments and questionable short term economic thinking; local small to medium retailers and businesses and local consumers have suffered accordingly and ultimately we the consumers have paid the price with a loss of local services and choice.

The continuing campaign to retain the livestock market in Abergavenny shows that many people have serious concerns about the economic future and the character of their communities. Now we have to ask ourselves and Monmouthshire County Council some serious questions about who these decisions in relation to redevelopment are being made for? And why? And who really benefits, locally or otherwise?

Over recent years in the small towns across Monmouthshire, the rich mix of local shops, small businesses and local suppliers have come under pressure as the usual suspects in the shape of “identikit” chain stores have aggressively replicated themselves across our nation's high streets. Anyone who walks around with their eyes open can see that the individual character of many of our towns are not so slowly evaporating as we watch.

Our high streets which were once filled with a rich mix of interdependent butchers, newsagents, tobacconists, pubs, bookshops, greengrocers and family owned general stores, who also traded with each other as well as with their customers, are now rapidly filling with supermarket stores, fast food chains, global fashion outlets and charity shops.

What can best be described as an abject failure or indifference of local and central government to develop realistic local economic plans and the failure to create a level playing field for local businesses and suppliers, when combined with some very questionable planning decisions over the last thirty years, has directly lead to many of our town centre's being "regenerated" to death.

The end result is that our small and larger towns have lost their character as the traditional look and feel has disappeared, as facades made with local building materials have been replaced by identical branded glass, steel and concrete storefronts.

There is a real danger that this loss of economic diversity with ultimately lead to a loss of any real choice for consumers as well as a loss of local character. The replacement of locally owned outlets by retail multiples further damages the local economy as profits drain out of the area to remote corporate headquarters and local employment opportunities are destroyed.

It is now recognised that ten pound spent in a local business circulates in the local economy three times longer than if it is spent in a non local business. The side effect of these developments is a loss of a sense of community, with this loss of local character as our high streets have lost their distinctive local shops which have been replaced by “micro-format” supermarket or chain store branches.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


The news that the Police investigation into the allegations of abuse of parliamentary expenses (by both MPs and Peers) will soon be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service is welcome news. Hopefully the 3 MPs and 3 Peers who may be charged are only the start of the investigation, especially as some 27 members of Parliament were allegedly under investigation.

The Police investigation follows the exposure of MPs (and Peers) questionable claims in The Daily Telegraph which exposed the fact that MPs had claims (which covered everything from a duck house to cleaning the moat at a country home etc) stoked public fury.

At the end of the day or even the Parliamentary session - the bottom line in all of this is that fraud is fraud is fraud and anyone who has made fraudulent claims should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and any monies fraudulently obtained should duly reclaimed - failure to pursue this will result in a further potentially damaging loss of confidence in our democratic system.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


The news that Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) is continuing to push ahead with its School Closure Programme with Llanover and Govilon Primary Schools being in the firing line will surprise few people in the county. MCC might well make much reference to the consultation process and the need to save money but this is being driven by their own agenda, which will result in the county council gaining financially in the short term but the pupils, parents, teachers and their local communities losing out in the long term.

MCC has made much of the financial savings that may be made in respect of Llanover (£121,000) and Govilon (£134,000) but little has been mentioned about any windfalls that will come MCC’s way when it comes to disposing of the sites, and even less about the County Council’s role in any future planning applications on the sites of the schools if they are closed.

There is a degree of irony in that if MCC pursues its goal of disposing of former school sites for housing then one result will be a rise of the number of children eligible to attend local schools that will have little option but to join their fellow pupils on the ever longer school run.

The local community loses out doubly, as what has been described as the focus for the community disappears and also any access to local facilities in the shape of the school building and its grounds are gone forever. The small school closure programme the effects of which are being felt across all of Wales means that in the event of a growth in pupil numbers that the costs of a new build programme, as opposed to a refurbishment programme will be far more substantial over the longer term than any exceptionally short term gains.

Monmouth County Council and many other County Council’s across Wales are busy making questionable short term decisions about closing small schools which will have long term consequences for many of our communities for many of our communities. Whether or not our County Council’s (MCC included) make these decisions is one matter, another which should cause even more concern is whether or not the National Assembly rubber stamps such closures with the bare minimum of concern for the consequences of small school closures on the pupils, parents and teachers and our communities.

It is time for Monmouthshire County (MCC) (and the other County Councils across Wales) and the National Assembly to suspend the small school closures programme, to take the medium to long term view and actually to work to support pupils, parents, teachers and our communities.

Monday, 16 November 2009


Much needs to be done to protect victims of domestic violence and members of the public from people who are serial violent offenders. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has just presented the UK Government with the results of a six month review which has looked at potential new measures that could be taken to tackle serial perpetrators of violence against women. The review which was lead by Chief Constable Brian Moore (who is the ACPO lead on domestic abuse) was made at the request of the then former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

Proposals which have come under consideration in the ACPO review include:

• Persons at risk of violence have the ‘right to know’ about relevant information;

• consideration of a new criminal offence whereby a prosecution may be brought on the basis of evidence of repeated violent behaviour (known as a ‘Course of Conduct’) against different victims of violence; and

• that the law should be changed to enable the police to issue a Domestic Violence Protection Order of up to 14 days duration, to prevent a suspected perpetrator of this form of violence from entering the address of the victim and/or to prevent contact with the victim.

ACPO says that it wants ‘to go after those serial perpetrators who go from relationship to relationship, growing in confidence and menace’. This review should be warmly welcomed and hopefully will be a first step towards a fresh approach which will actively deal with domestic violence and its perpetrators.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


The news that Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) plans to sell Park Street School by auction to the highest bidder for new housing is to put it politely disappointingly short sighted. The current locally developed proposals to redevelop Park Street School as a community centre are an excellent example of a community focused project that actually aims to benefit local people and the community, but, of course people are beginning to suspect that MCC don’t actually believe in the concept of the community – merely the opportunity to line their own ill managed coffers.

MCC needs to actively work with (rather than against) community groups to explore ways of tapping potential funding streams like the newly launched Community Assets Transfer Programme (November 4th 2009) so that Park Street School can provide long term benefits to the community rather than short term financial gain to MCC and any developers. There is a real opportunity to transform the former School into a Community Centre, which could provide real opportunities for local people and community groups and make a real contribution to the community with a day nursery, the provision of holiday play schemes and clubs.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


There are some sad people out there, some of whom actually worry about the disruption caused to the traffic by remembrance parades. I think that they would do well to remember that as well as remembering the actions of the veterans and survivors who served in Two World Wars, Korea, The Falklands and the Gulf Wars, and other conflicts, on Remembrance Sunday, we are also remembering those who never came back.

Those people, who as Lincoln said gave their last full measure of devotion, to comrades and country, for whom there is literally only some corner of a foreign field, a name on a war memorial, fading photographs and fading memories and sometimes no grave at all. The disruption of traffic for a few hours on a Sunday morning once a year for a remembrance parade or the wearing of poppies in remembrance is the least we the living can do to honour our veterans and the fallen.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


With the twentieth anniversary (9th November 1989) of the fall of the Wall rapidly approaching it is worth remembering a few things about the then East Germany and the East German Government. The nominally Communist (but fully Totalitarian) Government maintained its hold on power by subjecting its own citizens to the full weight of fear and intimidation via its own secret police.

Ordinary people were turned into informers or collaborators to remain “safe” from the attentions of the Stasi: estimates as to the numbers who turned informer vary between one for every 50 people to one in seven (in Ceausescu’s Romania it may have been one in three). The secret police happily ruined the lives of anyone it decided to: men, women, teenagers and children. During the really dark days this meant the murder, or “liquidation”, of their opponents.

As East Germany mellowed in the 1970s and 1980s the regime opted to destroy its opponents psychologically — spreading rumours, ruining careers, destroying marriages, taking peoples children away, wrecking peoples chances of higher education, or exiling them. The East Germany State (and the Stasi) was effectively at war with its own people, if you kept your head down, did not rock the boat, towed the party line, and parroted that the current line in ideological claptrap; then you might get by. The Stasi (at the behest of the East German State) demonstrated a degree of viciousness and utterly disregarded basic human rights and cast aside any trace of human dignity.

As had been well documented elsewhere the Stasi broke into people’s flats and bugged them; they actually irradiated objects and people (with some pretty lethal consequences) so they could track “suspects” with Geiger counters; and also used drugs to wreck people’s lives, literally drugging the East German States opponents whilst detaining them under house arrest. The East German State waged a brutal and vicious war upon its own people, who could with a literal stroke of a pen became “traitors”, “asocials” or “negative-enemy elements”.

As has been well documented elsewhere, there is a trend in totalitarian states towards excessive bureaucracy and record keeping; East Germany was pretty typical in that respect to other equally unpleasant totalitarian repressive regimes. Since the fall of the wall historians and archivists have revealed that between 1949 and 1989 the East German party Bureaucrats managed to accumulate more paperwork (mostly relating to their own people) than the whole of Germany throughout the Middle Ages.

Ironically some twenty years after the fall of the wall, a heated debate is taking place in Germany as to how East Germany should be remembered! Some of the former Communists (many of whom shrugged of their inconvenient outdated and irrelevant ideology) would no doubt like East Germany to be remembered as some sort of idealistic, left wing utopian well intentioned but failed socialist experiment – within which they had hoped to look after the people from literal cradle to grave - the non rose tinted reality was sadly very different.

Many former human rights activists, political prisoners and most historians would have East Germany remembered exactly the way it was. It is worth remembering that few people defected to East Germany (save for at least one former NUM deputy leader and he rapidly changed his mind and quietly came back to the West) to embrace its nominally Communist values.

Nostalgia can be a powerful thing, but, it won’t bring back those people who were murdered by the East German state and it won’t heal the damage done to people’s lives. It is also worth remembering that many thousands of ordinary East German’s risked life and limb to escape to the West over the years and that some paid the ultimate price in the attempt. As we remember the events of twenty years ago (in the winter of 1989) we should also remember that thousands of East Germans rose in courageous and peaceful revolt to topple the tyrannical East Germany Government and cast their rulers deservedly into the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009


The news that a number of Police stations in Gwent could be closed by the end of March 2012; under the Police Authority’s “reprovision programme” which is under consideration by the police authority is shocking and may prove to be unacceptable to most reasonably minded people.

Equally unacceptable is the ludicrous suggestion, which proposes the replacement of the Police Stations in Caldicot, Usk and Monmouth with ‘mobile’ police stations. This is, I suspect a clear case of Gwent Police and Gwent Police Authority dancing to a Ministry of Justice budget reducing tune.

The people of Gwent are already receiving a patchy service in places, with some Police stations only being open for limited hours during the day. Such a proposal is ludicrous - people need to feel secure in their communities and closing these Police stations will not help at all - far from it , it will merely send the wrong message.

This will not help the fight against crime and is a very short-term short sighted decision that the people of Gwent and Gwent Police Authority may come to regret sooner rather than later.

Monday, 2 November 2009


Now there is losing the plot and there is losing the plot!

There is disgraced Conservative MP, David Wilshire, who has compared the treatment of MP's over their expense claims to the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany. Mr Wilshire, the man who resigned after having to repay more than £100,000 in expenses to his own company, went on to suggest that the "witch hunt" against MPs "will undermine democracy" - clearly he has lost the plot as well as his seat!

And there is Harriet Harman's who's reassurance to worried MP's that any proposed reforms of the MPs' system of expenses will probably be watered down before they are implemented - clearly she has lost the plot - the loss of the seat may come later!

Now with Sir Christopher Kelly's report, which is expected to recommend draconian curbs on allowances and a ban on employing relatives, pending and it is worth noting that the Kelly recommendations will be only one of several submissions to the new independent parliamentary standards watchdog.

Digging ever, deeper, Ms Harman, the Leader of the Commons, when asked whether the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) could reject Sir Christopher's proposals, Ms Harman, the Leader of the Commons, said: "It is entirely a matter for them, but they will, I'm sure, want to draw on his important work. It is a matter for them to decide, not for Sir Christopher Kelly." That's all very reassuring, but the question is reassuring for who? - that minority of MP's who milked the system to line their pockets or the rest of us who paid for it.

Now by way of quiet comparison, in Wales, a system for expenses for Welsh Assembly Members has come into force, specifically designed to prevent any future abuses. The changes include the abolition of flat rate allowances and in future all claims will have to be backed up receipts. Well done the National Assembly - maybe Westminster should look to Wales for a practical and workable way of putting elected members expenses into the public domain.

However, Conservative AM's have said that they will not support the idea of an independent board to set AM's pay and allowances. Obviously there would not be enough of a change of slipping through receipts for a large comfy sofa or big TV on expenses then! Same old Tories...