Wednesday, 22 December 2010

SEVERN BRIDGE TOLLS

I welcome the Westminster Welsh Affairs Committee recommendation that the Severn Bridge Tolls should be slashed on the Severn Crossings to as little as £1.50, once they revert to public ownership. This proposed reduction to little less than a fifth of current tolls has been suggested by the Welsh Affairs Committee from 2017 and it wants the toll cut "at the earliest opportunity".

The Committee and many other organisation and people see the tolls, which are due to rise for cars on the M4 and M48 to £5.70 as of 1st January 2011 as a barrier to business, a tax on jobs and tax on commuters. The old Severn Bridge was opened in 1966, with the £300m second Severn crossing being opened some 30 years later. The MPs noted that the bridges cost some £15m a year to run and maintain but raise some £72m in revenue.

Back in October 2010 Professor Peter Midmore's independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls recommended that the revenues should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. The Professor's study found that Welsh businesses were unfairly penalised by the tolls and concluded that the money should be shared with the Assembly Government and used to improve Wales’ roads and public transport. Under the current stitch up (sorry set-up), once the cost of the Second Severn Crossing is paid off (by 2014 or 2016) the revenue stream will revert straight to Treasury coffers in Westminster.

The study of 122 businesses commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses also found that the tolls had a negative impact on 30% of firms in South Wales, compared with 18% in the Greater Bristol area. While noting that the economic impact was not substantial for most, the study found that transport, construction and tourism-related companies reliant on regular crossings suffered increased costs and reduced competitiveness.

As of January 1st 2011, the tolls on Severn Bridges, will rise:

The toll for Cars and vehicles with up to nine seats will rise from £5.50 to £5.70

The toll for Minibuses up to 17 seats and goods vehicles up to 3,500kg will rise from £10.90 to £11.50

And the tolls for Buses and coaches with 18 seats or more and lorries above 3,500kg will rise from £16.40 to £17.20

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SEVERN CROSSINGS REPORT
  • Introduction of an "essential" contemporary payment method
  • Reduce the cost of the toll when the government takes ownership 
  • Implement "free-flow technology" as soon as possible
  • Concessions for those who depend on the crossings for their livelihood could be introduced
  • UK government should take responsibility for the "failure" of civil servants 20 years ago to future-proof legislation which determines toll fees
  • Government learns from the "inflexibility" of the Severn Bridges Act 1992 when agreeing future contracts
  • Government "must develop urgently" a future strategy for the crossings
Source: The Severn Crossings Toll - Commons Welsh Affairs committee

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Whilst the day when the Severn Bridges come back into public ownership cannot come quick enough along with the recommendation that the tolls be cut, there are a few other things that would be worth examining. The Welsh Affairs Committee chair David Davies, MP for Monmouth, noted that due to "the inflexible provisions of the 1992 Severn Crossings Act, neither the government nor Severn Crossings Plc is able to freeze or reduce the toll without incurring significant costs." It might well be worth inquiring how come the Act was so badly written, and whether or not anyone directly benefited financially by ending up with a seat on the board or with contributions to Party funds? Just a thought?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

SURELY NOT ANOTHER U-TURN?

While in many ways this current Tory driven Government appears to be far worse than Mr's Thatcher. Especially with their cuts agenda and their borderline obsession with privatisation, there is one big difference that of the relative close proximity of a U-Turn to a ConDem Government decision, especially if they are getting slammed in the media. This time it's Education Secretary Michael Gove who has partially backed down over his decision to scrap the £162m Schools Sports Partnership in England (only). He had previously promised to salvage over £47m from his department budget to ensure the scheme, aimed at increasing competitive sport, survives until the summer of 2011. Yet, in the face of mounting criticism and a particularly well organised campaign of protest by teachers and athletes mounted a strong campaign against the original decision. I wonder how long until the full U-Turn takes place?

Monday, 20 December 2010

FIGHTING FOR WALES

I do wish that the nominal Welsh Secretary of State, Cheryl Gillan, the Chesham and Amersham MP (and one of a group of Conservatives who have raised concerns over the plans to build a high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham) would put as much effort into fighting for Wales as she has fighting against the proposed rail route through her constituency. It is a real pity she did not put as much effort into fighting to get the electrification and upgrade of the Swansea to London rail-link.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

MAKE YOUR MIND UP TIME?

The City Council in Newport, has brought in limited free parking at selected locations around the city to encourage people to come and shop in Newport in an effort to boost trade within the town. This is a sensible idea in the run up to Christmas. Cwmbran already has a significant permanent amount of free parking in and around the town centre, something that does seem to attract people to shop in the town.

Elsewhere in the former County of Gwent, the abolition of free parking is firmly on the agenda in parts of Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) where a report to MCC's Economy and Development Select Committee has recommended a new charging system for all of the county's council-owned car parks. The committee is to consider revising charges on all of the authority's existing paid-for car parks, and introducing charges in car parks which are currently free in Chepstow, Monmouth, Abergavenny, Usk and Caldicot. No doubt the debate on abolishing free parking will concentrate minds in Monmouthshire...

Incidentally Cash strapped MCC is owed more than £4 million in unpaid debts for charges including meals on wheels, car parking fines and house repairs. MCC's Audit Committee (27th November) was told that Monmouthshire was owed £4.3 million in sundry debts at the end of October 2010. This figure did not include the amount owed to the authority in unpaid council tax. The total cumulative amount of council tax debt owed to the authority at the end of the last financial year was £3.6 million.

Friday, 17 December 2010

OUR ENERGY SAFE IN THEIR HANDS?

Back in February 2010 an interesting report called ''The Oil Crunch - a wake up call for the UK economy'' was published which warned that will of us faced a serious rise in the cost of heating, transport, food and other goods, the hard-hitting report largely slipped by under the radar. The report researched by the Industry Taskforce for Peak Oil and Energy Security, which rather than consisting of the usual Green suspects, are actually a group of British companies members including Sir Richard, Brian Souter, chief executive of Stagecoach, Scottish and Southern Energy boss Ian Marchant and Philip Dilley, chairman of consultancy firm Arup.

The report which pulled no punches saying that Government must recognise the risks to the economy and produce contingency plans for transport, retail, agriculture and alternative power. It suggested that the challenges facing the UK will far exceed those currently presented by the financial crisis and that the poorest in society will be the most vulnerable to potentially significant increases in fuel costs. There were further dire warnings that unless the Government gets its act together on alternative energy then there is a real possibility that during the term of the next government that fuel price unrest could lead to real shortages in consumer products and compromise the UK's energy security.

I mention this because many of us are in the process of or about to get hit by a hike in domestic energy prices, driven rather than by shortages but by some of the members of the energy cartel that happily puts profit before people and the national interest. Back in November I blogged on the need for a serious investigation into the competitive practises of energy companies by the regulator. Any investigation must be thoroughly in-depth and tackle the cartel-like behaviour of these companies.There can be no justification for profit margins to rise by 40% in less than three months while at the same time inflicting significant energy price hikes on consumers.

British Gas customers are to face a 7% rise in gas and electricity bills which comes into effect on 10th December. As a result of rising wholesale prices, said British Gas. oddly enough British Gas has become the second major UK energy supplier to announce price increases for the winter months - when there is a greater demand, and coincidently a greater profit to be made. Scottish and Southern Energy also intend to raise their domestic gas charges by 9.4% at the start of December, blaming wholesale prices for the increase in customer bills. This price increase announcement, was made just before just before they reported a 6.1% fall in pre-tax profits to £386m in the first half of the company's financial year.

Back in October 2009 the then Tory Energy Spokesman, Greg Clark (currently a Minister of State in the Department for Communities and Local Government) said that the "cartel" of the big 6 energy firms would be referred to the Competition Commission by an incoming Conservative Government. The then Tory Energy Spokesperson also condemned the unacceptable lag between the cost of wholesale gas prices and household energy bills - noting that customers were on average being charged some £74 pound too much for their energy per year.

Oddly enough that pre-election pledge for an independent inquiry into the £25 billion-a-year energy industry which has been subject to lengthy and repeated criticisms surrounding accusations of profiteering on electricity and gas, was quietly dropped by the Com Dem Coalition Government. Heaven forbid that principle get in the way of profit. If a freshly elected Government is not prepared to allow an inquiry into the energy cartel, then there is scant chance of an inquiry into the dubious (and financial rewarding (in cash and kind) relationship that exists between our political parties and the representatives of the energy supply companies who are pretty keen to shower enough goodies around during Party conference season (and beyond).

Anyone awake in the previous New Labour Westminster Government and anyone with half a brain in the current ConDem Government should be working with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to develop a hands on energy strategy that will lead to an end to dependency on unstable overseas energy sources and dubious suppliers and lead to energy independence. I mention this because, all of a sudden all is urgency when it comes to speeding the development of all kinds of new (and not so new) forms of low-carbon forms of energy generation.

The writing is on the wall for all to see - you might have thought that Vladimir Putin's decision eighteen months ago to reduce further gas exported into Ukraine, through which 80 per cent of Russian gas exports to the EU flows, would have highlighted the real dangers of relying on imported energy. Especially as Russia has slowly declining cash reserves and its economy is still heavily reliant on its trade in gas – the risk of shortages (which raise prices) as a consequence of Mr Putin's geopolitical games is something we can truly all do without.

While other countries have attempted to protect themselves against external shocks to their energy needs; the UK's market driven approach has been proven to be entirely inadequate. France has storage capacity for 122 days gas and Germany 99. Yet the UK despite an increasingly desperate attempt to play catch up has relatively low storage capacity for gas - it was barely 15 days in April 2009; the old New Labour Government took almost a decade to recognise the need to increase storage capacity. The consequence is that UK has to sell 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 problem was made worse by what can best be described as the complicit 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 current Government's perverse decision to half-heartedly look at developing diverse reliable alternative energy sources. The old New Labour Government repeatedly ignored warnings that it was setting the UK on a path towards higher prices and energy blackouts.

Over the next five 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.

Now the Con Dems have woken up, somewhat belatedly to the problem, but, can anyone trust this Tory dominated Government to put the people's interests before those of a fat profit for their dubious friends in the City? they certainly did not do that the last time they had their hands on our energy resources...

Thursday, 16 December 2010

ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE

Plaid's Rural affairs minister Elin Jones has announced that projects in Monmouthshire, Torfaen and Caerphilly will receive a total of £6,338,000 from a joint Assembly and European Union fund. This is part of the Rural Development Plan for Wales which supports a variety of projects involving agriculture, forestry, the environment and countryside, as well as projects that are aimed at improving life in rural areas and local development programmes.

Monmouthshire received the largest amount of money, with £2.97 million split between eight different projects, including £565,064 for Origins Monmouthshire, which works to repair and renovate key heritage buildings and sites across the county. Some £311,642 has gone to to Welcome Monmouthshire, which is trying to improve Monmouthshire's competitiveness as a year round tourist destination. A visit Britain Report has revealed that some £8 million pound was spent by foreign tourists in Monmouthshire in 2009.

Two projects in Torfaen will share £718,000, including £429,064 for the redevelopment of Llanyrafon Manor, the Grade II* listed manor house will undergo a £536,000 restoration and adaptation into a rural heritage centre. Once this work is finished, the centre will work in partnership with local schools to teach children about Torfaen's natural heritage, as well as providing costumed tours of the house, re-enactment events and outdoor theatre performances. Taste of Torfaen was awarded £289,155 to support local food producers and artists, as well as encouraging alternative energy sources and recycling. One million pound was spent in Torfaen by foreign tourists in 2009, according to Visit Britain.

In Caerphilly, £2.65 million will be split between five projects, including £756, 000 for a Vibrant Villages, Healthy Harvests initiative, which will encourage local farms and other rural businesses to venture into sustainable energy production, support local food producers to get their goods into local markets, and encourage residents to attend more community events. According to Visit Britain some £2 million pound was spent in Caerphilly by foreign tourists in 2009.

One of the key themes behind funding the projects is that project ideas are run with the help of local people, who are well placed to decide what their communities actually need to improve their local environment, boost their economy and help to develop tourism. More of the same please...

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

HOW BLUE CAN YOU GET?

Just before the election, Nick Clegg (the Lib Dem leader) described himself as a revolutionary and a pragmatist. Privatisation of the postal service is neither. It merely shows that the Lib Dems to be just another Tory party in drag. Perhaps the the students in Whitehall last week got it right when they sang ‘Shame on you for turning blue'.

Now the Lib Dem's as part of the ConDem coalition which is on the verge of overseeing a privatisation of the Post Office. A recent YouGov poll put the support for privatisation at just 15%, while 60% believe that it should remain in public hands - When will these Westminster politicians learn that privatisation of the postal service is not popular and just not wanted?. That poll sends out a pretty strong message it's just a pity that no one in the current Westminster Government appears to be listening.

When the previous New Labour government thought that part-privatisation was a good idea, Plaid Cymru fought to defend the Royal Mail in the House of Commons – once again it will be Plaid who steps up to the plate to fight yet another Tory and Liberal proposal (the third in the least decade) that puts jobs and services at risk. Plaid has regularly raised concerns that there will be a widespread programme of Post Offices closures - cutting back even further on those closed by the last government.

Plaid has warned too that privatisation will jeopardise the uniform tariff and universal service for letters which is so important for customers, especially small businesses and those in our rural and not so rural areas. The ConDem changes to the Postal Service will lead to a deterioration of services, particularly for small businesses, domestic customers, vulnerable groups (especially the elderly) and badly effect all of our smaller communities.

This must not happen, it is important that we maintain public support for our public services and fight the cuts wherever we can and wherever it makes sense to do so - and that means keeping our Post Office publicly owned.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

CONDEM COURT CUTS - WHAT PRICE JUSTICE?

While I am pleased that Abergavenny is retaining it's Magistrates Court, I am very disappointed that Abertillery and Chepstow will lose their Magistrates' Court's and disappointed that both Chepstow and Pontypool are both going to lose their County Court's. These ConDem cuts will not just hit rural areas but all of Wales to varrying degrees. Wales is going to lose a quarter of it's courts, these cuts make a complete mockery of the whole notion of local justice.

The Ministry of Justice's (MOJ) real motivation has always bee to cut costs, make no bones about it this cost cutting efficiency agenda is being is being driven by the Con Dem Government in London - and it part of the price that we are all paying (and going to pay) for the bailing out the banks. While there are no doubt real opportunities to cut costs, save money and make the system more efficient, there is a danger of real damage being done to peoples access to justice.

Plaid Cymru in the National Assembly and in Westminster has opposed these cuts which threatened to close 18 law courts in Wales. The UK Government should have reconsidered its decision, because the majority of the proposed closures in Wales will have a significant impact, not just on jobs and services but on the efficient functioning of the criminal justice system. The closures will have a knock on effect as there will be increase in travelling expenses and also higher costs will be incurred by delays in hearing cases. So much for easy access to Justice - one more sound argument in support the need to devolve control of Criminal Justice to Wales.

Plaid's Mr Elfyn Llwyd, MP, a member of the Commons’ Justice Committee, said:

“Under these plans, Wales is going to lose a quarter of all our country's courts. This makes a complete mockery of the whole notion of local justice. What makes it even more disgusting is that the figures that were used by the department to justify this are a completely fairytale as I found out in answer to my parliamentary questions. The MOJ inflated the maintenance bill backlog for the courts in Wales by well over 100 per cent. Initially they quoted £3.2million in June and then after questioning lowered it to £1.15million last month. Is this figure accurate? Llandovery is listed as due to close – despite the fact that the court has already been closed for years. It goes to show how clueless the department is. The Lord Chief Justice said last month that “little, if any, slack left” in the Welsh justice system if these closures went ahead. The additional travel time to locations further away will prove especially costly and time-consuming at a time when families are already facing tightened budgets. This will make life very difficult for people who use the courts – be it defendants, lawyers, justices of the peace, police or probation officers."

Monday, 13 December 2010

HOW THIN CAN THE CONDEMS MAKE THE BLUE LINE?

News that Police forces in England and Wales are to face cuts in central funding in the next two years of 4% then 5%, is not good news. The ConDem government has announced that Central funding will fall to £9.3bn in 2011-12, then £8.8bn the following year. The ConDem's Policing minister Nick Herbert has said that the cuts would be "challenging" and that the savings were possible "while protecting the front-line" police services. There will be separate funds for counter-terrorism, and until 2013 for neighbourhood policing. It is worth noting that the news that policing grants in Wales and England are to be slashed has been released while the ConDem Government is pushing ahead with its plans to fund elected Police Commissioners something that will cost the public purse some of £50million - so much for saving money. Only last week the Association of Police Authorities said that imposing the deepest cuts in the first two years will make it hard to protect front-line services. I suspect that the public will be the judge of that...

Plaid Cymru’s Elfyn Llwyd MP , a member of the House of Commons Justice Committee, said:

Plaid Cymru’s Elfyn Llwyd MP
“The cuts announced today to the policing grant in Wales and England will mean cuts to police authorities operational budgets at precisely the time when £50million is being put aside to fund newly elected Police Commissioners – which nobody needs. Police authorities' budgets will be cut dramatically across the board in Wales. Just how exactly the UK government expects to see a fall in crime rates at the same time as slashing the policing budget is beyond me. These cuts are irresponsible and will come in at a time when police authorities will be stretched due to the forced redundancies of the most experienced police officers. I’m concerned that introducing elected Police Commissioners will in any case lead to the politicisation of the police force. It will bare little scrutiny in reality.”

Sunday, 12 December 2010

ANYONE LISTENING TO LORD BARNETT?

The Barnett Formula is used to calculated the way in which money from central Government pot gets allocated to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It pre-dates devolution and is well over due for being revised, renewed or replaced. Lord Barnett, who gave his name to the formula, is now calling for a change to the formula that currently bears his name. If the funding formula's creator says that it is now unfair and needs changing, will the ConDem's listen?

Friday, 10 December 2010

DISORDER, POLICING AND PROTEST

Very little (or nothing) in this world is a simple matter of being black of white; there are many shades of grey in between, especially when it comes to how large demonstrations are policed and even more so when there is resultant disorder which is splashed across the TV and the Press subsequent to the events of the Student protests. One thing, however, is very true, little is added to the eloquence of your argument by trying to stove in the head of a Police Officer.

We should ask (and it is proper in a free society that we do ask) searching questions about the Police tactics (especially 'Kettling') used by the Police at large demo's - I have been on both sides of the line so to speak and have seen both sides of confrontational demonstrations. I can accept that in heated or tense situations a Police officer at the end of his or her tether after hours of provocation (from the usual suspects the SWP and their ilk) might on occasion be less than polite when he or she asks people to move out of the way or along. It is worth noting that press photographers have lived with this sort of thing for years, but, there is no excuse for excessive force or violence. This does not, however, make it acceptable conduct or excuse blatant brutality.

One thing to remember is that there are those amongst the thousands of peaceful and law abiding demonstrators who attend demo's, there are those (and this is by way of experience and observation rather than the near permanent hysterical rant usually found in the pages of the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph) who do systematically direct what can be best described as focused and targeted hostility towards our Police officers for their own ends.

Whether we like it or not there are those who are looking to provoke a tangible public reaction for their own purposes, and who are more than happy to hide behind more naive and inexperienced demonstrators at large demo's and high-jack peaceful demonstrations. Now Police officers are effectively empowered to use reasonable force providing that it is proportionate to the situation they find themselves in, if excessive force is used by either side then it should be fully investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Any Police officers who knowingly or maliciously crosses the line when it comes to acceptable standards of behaviour should be firmly dealt with; as should any demonstrator who likewise may have crossed the line of acceptable behaviour. It is important for us to develop and retain a sense of perspective, we should remember that the vast majority of Police Officers and the vast majority of demonstrators did not cross the line when it comes to acceptable standards of behaviour at the Student protests, only a very small minority of people at the protests did so.

At the end of the day we are dealing with Policing by consent within a democratic society and it is important to remember that Police officers are only human and may react, as would anyone who has been subject to systematic provocation at the hands of a very small minority hell bent on inciting or causing trouble by provoking a reaction from harassed Police officers.

Now it works both ways because the public would expect overly thuggish or aggressive violent behaviour and the use of excessive force towards peaceful demonstrators and similar behaviour from demonstrators towards our Police officers, to be dealt with. Violent conduct from public servants to the public and from the public towards public servants is not, has never been and never will be acceptable and should be subject to the full penalties and rigours of the law - not trial by media or the Daily Mail.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

CONDEMS’ HAMMER BLOW TO NHS

The impact of the ConDem government's planned increase in VAT will be a crushing blow to the Welsh NHS. That was the message today form Plaid Cymru’s health spokesperson Helen Mary Jones AM. Ms Jones has obtained figures from health boards across Wales which estimate that the impact of the VAT increase on revenue allocations will be at least £13.2m, while the impact on the current NHS capital programme would be £7.7m in a full year.

It is worth remembering that back in June the Conservative-Lib Dem Westminster government announced that VAT would rise from 17.5% to 20% on 1st January 2011. Plaid’s Helen Mary Jones, who is the AM for Llanelli, warned that increasing VAT will put a strain on public services, like those provided by the NHS, at a time when they need to make best use of every penny that they can get.

This comes on the back of savage cuts that have already been imposed by the ConDem government on the communities of Wales. The VAT increase is yet another hammer blow to our public services. The Plaid driven government is working hard to protect the people of Wales from the ConDem axe and has secured a level of budget protection for community and secondary health care. Sadly the Welsh government has no powers to stop this VAT attack on our health service.

That £20m is a significant chunk of health board and trust budgets and is really only part of the story. The actual cost of the VAT increase to the NHS in Wales will be even higher. The ConDem government has taken an axe to our public services already, it's absolutely ridiculous for even more money to be clawed away from our public services only to end up in the treasury's coffers. This increase in VAT will put a huge strain on health, and other public services, at a time when they need to make best use of their resources.

Any Tory claims about protecting health are a sick joke, the reality is that the conservative/Lib Dem government's policies are going to have a damaging direct impact on our National Health Service in Wales. Plaid Cymru is committed to a Welsh NHS that is free at the point of delivery.

Plaid's actions in government are proof of this, what with putting a stop to the previous government's disastrous hospital closure programme and ruling out the use of PFI in the NHS. The Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat little helpers in Westminster need to think about what they are doing and put a stop to this blatant attack on our public services in Wales.















This table details the estimated full year impact on revenue budgets for each Health Board and Public Health Wales NHS Trust arising from the VAT increase from 17.5% to 20% announced in the UK Budget on 22nd June. Estimates were not provided by Velindre NHS Trust. It is estimated that the impact of the increase on the current NHS capital programme would be £7.5 million in a full year. This information is not available by Health Board.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

GUESS WHO'S NOT COMING TO DINNER?

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who has repeatedly faced imprisonment and surveillance from the Chinese government and is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for "subverting state power" - has rattled more than a few bars. Liu helped write the manifesto, Charter 08, calling for political change in China. The massacre in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 turned him into a Human Rights activist. As a result of his nomination for and his winning of the Nobel Award for his work on Human Rights there is a growing boycott of the award ceremony.

It's interesting to see who apart from China are not going to attend Friday's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Envoys from Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco will so far all miss the event "for various reasons". By way of comparison only ten embassies were absent from the 2008 ceremony which honoured the former Finnish President and UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari.

The interesting bit may well be the reason why they are not there – some have pretty dreadful human rights records, some are one party repressive totalitarian states (with enough imprisoned dissidents of their own – who don’t want to encourage other Human Rights campaigners a tad closer to home) and others are simply significant recipients of Chinese Foreign Aid. Literally the bullies and the bought! What's even more interesting is how many are portrayed as being our Allies (in the so called War On Terror) - oh the company that we keep!

Monday, 6 December 2010

POSITIVE ABOUT POST OFFICES

News that seven post offices across Gwent will share more than £695,000 funding from the National Assembly is to be welcomed. The Post offices in Abercan, Usk, Henllys, Pentwyn, Bulwark (in Chepstow), Risca, and Corporation Road in Newport will all receive a share of the money, which is aims to help develop and expand their business and provide new services to their communities, under the Post Office Diversification Fund. Another 41 post offices across Wales will also benefit from a share of the money in the near future. This is a positive small step which will help to undo some of the damage inflicted by the previous New Labour and Conservative administrations in past years.

It is worth remembering that between October 2007 and January 2009 around 2,500 Post Offices were closed across the UK, of which 216 Post Offices were closed here in Wales – mostly but not exclusively in rural areas. There were 971 Post Offices (2008 / 2009) in Wales; Post Offices were closed at a faster rate here in Wales than in other areas of the UK, with a 13% reduction in Post Offices in Wales in 2009, which compared to 12.3% in England, 9.75% in Scotland and only 7.61% in Northern Ireland. During the New Labour years some 4,000 Post offices were closed, some 3,000 Post offices were closed by the previous Conservative administration.

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 result of a Plaid driven 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.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

TIME TO MOVE ON

The Con Dem Westminster Government's failure to stump up the cash for the electrification of the rail line between Swansea (originally Bristol) and London Paddington, a project that the last New Labour Government only considered in the last two years of Government (one does wonder what they were doing in the previous eleven years at times), is disappointing. One lesson that we should have learned by now is that we cannot rely on any Westminster Government to deliver for Wales.

The long awaited reinstatement of the rail link from Rogerstone to Newport, dependent on Network Rail's feasibility study which be announced in March 2011. Even with limited financial resources (a 0.78 billion transport budget) the National Assembly has committed itself to getting the job done – this commitment needs to become firm action next year, along with a new station in Ebbw Vale town.

In the South East, we need railway stations at Caerleon and Magor and better facilities for passengers and more stopping services at Severn Tunnel, Chepstow and Abergavenny along with secure park and ride schemes and better integration of local bus services. Serious consideration needs to be given to reopening the line from Little Mill to Usk. It's time to move on...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

LOSING THE PLOT ENTIRELY

There are times when even the hysteria of the Middle English Right Wing Press can make me sit up and blink - buying a morning paper the other day, I could but, not notice the near hysterical headlines that followed the National Assembly's decision to support Welsh students by guaranteeing that there will be no increase in fees for Welsh students wherever in the UK they choose to study. The Daily Telegraph (30th November) ran with "Higher tuition fees but only if you are English" picked up and ran with the educational "apartheid" line.

The following day the Daily Mail (1st December) no advocate of devolution (or even Wales) had also thrown a wobbly the emergence of education apartheid over the National Assembly's decision to support Welsh students, and I kid you not ran with "Punished for being English: Welsh students join Scots in being spared tuition fees rise". This did strike me as odd because I seem to remember that the Daily Mail and it's ilk was a reasonably keen support of apartheid when it was applied in South Africa (prior to Nelson Mandela's release and apartheid's demise in the late 1980's).

Not content with the hysterical headlines then then followed up with  "The injustice of these Welsh and Scottish student fees is grotesque. Soon the English will insist on THEIR rights" (2nd December) and also "If the Welsh want voter gimmicks they should pay for it themselves" (2nd December) and finally naturally  "Even EU students will pay less in fees than the English as apartheid row escalates" (2nd December).

The bottom line is that access to higher education should be on the basis of the individuals potential to benefit and not on the basis of what they can afford to pay. Plaid has long been opposed to the idea that higher education should be organised on a market basis. The Middle / Little Englander right wing press can kick off as much as it likes, but, the question they are failing to ask is why the Con Dem Government (in London) failed to follow the Welsh and Scottish example? And as for paying for it that's what we (via the National Assembly) are doing!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

MAKING SURE YOU CAN PAY FOR IT...

Now that Christmas is fast approaching, many people (me included) are wondering how we are going to pay for it. This time of year people are under considerable pressure to spend more money than they can afford, the situation is worse now because of 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 serious and far reaching consequences in terms of family life and mental health and is something that can affect people across every community. When people get into serious debt they can feel pretty 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.

Illegal money lenders can range from small time loan sharks to violent and organised criminals operating throughout Welsh communities. Launched in February 2008, the Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit (WIMLU) raises awareness of the dangers of loan sharks and provides advice and support to victims. Since its launch, the unit has helped 1,412 victims of illegal money lending. The Unit also works to stop illegal money lenders operating in Wales. Since 2008 their investigations have led to the arrest of 43 loan sharks.

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 former New Labour Government did not do 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.

Plaid AM Helen Mary Jones said:

Plaid Am Helen Mary Jones
“We all know that Christmas can be a very difficult time financially for many families, it is vital that everyone is aware of the risks of loan sharking to people in our communities. Loan sharks very often appear to offer seemingly helpful solutions to people's money worries. Here in Wales, Plaid in government has worked hard to increase the number of Credit Unions in Welsh communities and at a Westminster level Plaid MPs are committed to continuing their fight for the introduction of a cap on interest charges. I would strongly recommend anyone in need of financial assistance to use Credit Unions instead of turning to loan sharks. Credit Unions are now well established in Wales, and can offer affordable credit and valuable advice on budgeting."

Friday, 26 November 2010

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

I welcome the news that Ofgem is to hold a wide ranging investigation into the questionable practises of the UK retail energy sector after the recent price rises. There is a real need to investigate the current 'competitive market' which does not work in the interests of customers and that an investigation is needed to clamp down on alleged 'cartel-like behaviour'.

We need is a serious investigation into the competitive practises of energy companies by the regulator. Any investigation must be thoroughly in-depth and tackle the cartel-like behaviour of these companies.There can be no justification for profit margins to rise by 40% in less than three months while at the same time inflicting significant energy price hikes on consumers.

British Gas customers are to face a 7% rise in gas and electricity bills which comes into effect on 10th December. As a result of rising wholesale prices, said British Gas. oddly enough British Gas has become the second major UK energy supplier to announce price increases for the winter months - when there is a greater demand, and coincidently a greater profit to be made.

Scottish and Southern Energy also intend to raise their domestic gas charges by 9.4% at the start of December, blaming wholesale prices for the increase in customer bills. This price increase announcement, was made just before just before they reported a 6.1% fall in pre-tax profits to £386m in the first half of the company's financial year.

The bottom line is that current energy system and the energy market seriously disadvantages all consumers, especially the most vulnerable in our society. There needs to a mandatory social tariff for consumers so that the fuel poor are removed from a competitive market that simply doesn't work for them or the rest of us.

We have a very real problem here in Wales where, according to National Energy Action Cymru, a third of properties live in fuel poverty. We must take steps at local, national and international levels to begin tackling the causes of fuel poverty.

Ofgem must clamp down on these injustices and come back with clear and firm recommendations. If the energy regulator takes firm steps against the actions of these greedy energy companies then this would be an important first step.

I suspect that the Ofgem investigation, won't come close to the Conservative pre-election promise for a proper enquiry into the energy industry. Oddly enough that pre-election pledge for an independent inquiry into the £25 billion-a-year energy industry (which has been subject to lengthy and repeated criticisms surrounding accusations of profiteering on electricity and gas) was quietly dropped by the Com Dem Coalition Government in August, no doubt when they hoped that no one would notice.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

POOR, POOR DAVID?

There are times when you almost (repeat almost) have a degree of sympathy with David Cameron, all that effort giving the former nasty party a green tinted hoody hugging makeover - wasted? I mean look what he has got to work with Lord Young (sacked/resigned/pushed -take your pick) and now Lord Flight (whose fate is as yet unknown) although falling after a struggle on his sword might well turn out to be an option. Of course Lord Flight is no stranger to letting the Tory masque slip. He has previous or form for it from 2005, when he let the cat out of the bag about possible Tory cuts. Hmmm, it's worth remembering that our economy (admittedly credit driven) was relatively stable then and the crash was a few years away. No, perhaps not, I suspect that these are the real Tories unrestrained and without the makeover.This is only a case of the Tory masque slipping to reveal what lies beneath.  Poor old David, and people used to think that his political life was difficult enough trying to deal with keeping his Liberal Democrat little helpers on board and on message. I suppose you could always try abolishing the House of Lords?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

SOME GOOD NEWS

I welcome the good news that Plaid in Government has exceeded its target of delivering 6,500 new affordable homes during the term of this government, one year ahead of schedule. A total of 6,707 affordable homes have been delivered in Wales since Plaid went into Government in 2007. This means that the Welsh Assembly Government has already exceeded its target of delivering 6,500 new affordable homes during the term of this government, one year ahead of schedule, according to official statistics released today. Some 2,472 additional affordable homes were provided between April 2009 and March 2010, meaning that the total of 6,707 in the first three years of the term of this government, exceeds the target of 6,500 new homes by March 2011 set out in the One Wales document.

Plaid’s Housing Minister Jocelyn Davies AM
Plaid’s Housing Minister Jocelyn Davies AM said:

“I am delighted to announce that we have not only met, but exceeded our target of creating 6,500 additional affordable homes in this Assembly term. This is a particularly impressive achievement given the current economic conditions. However we know that demand for affordable housing continues to grow and we need to deliver even more homes in future. With tightening budgets, this will prove quite a challenge but we are developing new ways in which we can attract other investment and I look forward to working with local authorities, housing associations and others in the housing sector to keep up the good work we have carried out to date and deliver more homes to help families in Wales."

Plaid Cymru has long campaigned against the severe housing pressure faced by many Welsh communities where house prices far outstrip local wages. When they went into government they committed to tackling this problem and set the target of delivering 6,500 new affordable homes during the term of government. A total of 6,707 affordable homes have been delivered in Wales since Plaid went into Government in 2007.

Locally that means that in Monmouthshire, between 2007-10 244 affordable homes were built, with another 81 to be potentially affordable homes to be built between 2010-12. In Newport, that means that 583 affordable homes were built between 2007-10, with another 410 potential affordable homes to be built between 2010-12. In Torfaen, this means that 262 affordable homes were built between 2007-10 and another 182 potential affordable homes to be built between 201-12. This is good news, and it not just a One Wales promise fulfilled but one surpassed.

Additional affordable housing provision in Wales, 2007-08 to 20011-12. (a)

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Monday, 22 November 2010

THEY DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH...

The Labour Party in Wales has said that Wales is underfunded to the tune of £300m which is something that the Holtham Commission, which looked into the way Wales is funded, reported. While I am pleased that the Labour Party in Wales has finally recognised this, I find it hard to reconcile it with the fact that they were in government for 13 years and did precisely nothing to change the flawed Barnet funding system, when they had the opportunity. Now, being in opposition in (and out of) Westminster and in Government in Cardiff Bay, all is urgency (or political expediency) and the crocodile tears begin to flow copiously...

There is that more than faint whiff of self satisfied smug glee and more than a little joyful if not ecstatic hand rubbing from some of Tory mainstream (sorry right) in relation to the mess that some of the Euro zone countries have got themselves into, ignoring the fact that the Euro is actually pretty sound, the problem is being caused by the banking idiocy that gripped much of the world - something that most governments did little to try and curb or criticise when things were bubbling along quite nicely.

The Irish situation is more complicated than most as successive Irish governments made significant quantities of hay while the sun shined brightly and appear to have made little or no provision for rockier economic times (just like almost every other government on the planet) and now the Irish people are paying for it (just like us). All governments Europe and worldwide would do well to note the slowly (and not so slowly) rising degrees of discontent that that paying for the banking crash is generating.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

REACTING TO CONSEQUENCES

One of the consequences of the Comprehensive Spending Review, may well be that the proposed £1.1 billion pound Swansea to London rail electrification project bites the dust. Plaid's Ieuan Wyn Jones successfully negotiated the multi-million pound the extension of the proposed upgrade and electrification of the rail line between Swansea and London last year. The original electrification project was (as proposed by New Labour) was only intended to extend as far as Bristol, and only after the intervention of the Plaid driven One Wales Government did they agreed to electrify the line as far as Swansea.

The silence from the ConDem Government in Westminster, in relation to the fate of this project could at best be described as evasive or at worst described as telling when it comes to committing to the extending the electrification programme into Wales - so much for Wales being a ConDem priority. There has been plenty of financial white smoke from the Treasury, but, as yet no clear answer either way.

Here are some statistics to think about:

Electrified Rail in Europe


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

Source: UIC Website: http://uic.asso.fr

Electrified Rail in Wales (After 13 years of New Labour Government).


Wales: 0%

I think that we are too focused on the rail link to London, which has long needed electrification, it's far too easy to end up endlessly complaining about how Wales is left out of this, fails to get that, etc. Wales is unfairly funded - fact. Let's move on, and see what we can achieve with what we have got. The Con Dem's are unlikely, no matter how well reasoned the case is and no matter how well explained the arguments are, not going to change their mind or their position in relation to fair funding for Wales.

So lets' get practical, let's give some real and serious consideration be given to electrifying the valley lines down to the coastal belt. What we are talking about is the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff (and eventually to Newport) line, the lines in Western Gwent, the lines down from Rhondda, Cynon and Taff Valleys to Cardiff and lines into Swansea and Bridgend.

Now if we use part of WAG's Annual Transport budget, which comes in at around £0.76 billion. If we make creative use of European matched funding then we could be talking about doing the business. Sion Barry (in the Western Mail 24th September 2010) estimated that some £200 million would pay for the electrification of the valley lines into Cardiff. Liverpool has long had an electrified rail link to London and has scarcely benefited from it. We can do the London link later, lets do something lasting for our Valley communities and lets look doing it now.

We also need to look at reopening old railway lines, 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 have already been called for from Network Rail. Similar feasibility studies need to 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. These 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. Let's get to work.

Friday, 19 November 2010

MEANWHILE ON PLANET TORY

This is what happens when the Tory mask slips:

Top Conservative: recession? You've never had it so good

The vast majority of Britons have "never had it so good" because of the low interest rates during the recession, Lord Young, a senior adviser to David Cameron, has declared....

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Followed several hours later by

Cameron adviser quits over 'never had it so good' claim 

A no doubt 'unprompted' resignation...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT...

As Health spending in Wales currently makes up almost half of the Welsh Assembly Government budget, it is more than a tad deceitful for the Welsh Conservatives to claim that they would ring fence entire health budget, revenue and capital, in line with Retail Price Index.

Think about it - if the health spend is ring fenced in cash terms then every other budget (including the Education budget) would have to be cut by 20%, without the ring fence this comes in at around 11.9% across the board - which is bad but at least attempting to make the best out of bad job.This would be seriously massive cut to ring fence one department.

In Gwent local Conservative AMs are doing their best to try to distance themselves from their own Government's cuts including the threatened closure of the Passport Office in Newport. Yet, if you follow their ill-thought out logic then when you ring fencing in health, we will end up facing even deeper more damaging cuts than the billions that have already been proposed by the Conservative dominated Con-Dem Government in London.

The Conservatives (and their Lib Dem little helpers or willing allies - take you pick?) are already planning to take some £5 billion out of the Welsh budget, if we go with their plan to ring fence the health budget, then we would have to take that £5 billion out of only half the budget available. Every time you see a local Conservative offering their support for public spending or campaign against a cut, we should all remind them of this ill-thought out plan that they have proposed.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

NORMAL SERVICE HAS BEEN RESUMED

While I am not by any means a natural Daily Telegraph reader, said newspaper has done serious service exposing what some of our elected representatives in Westminster get up to when it comes to claiming expenses. The Daily Telegraph keeps digging (and so do some of our MP's) in relation to MP’s on the make. This time revealing that some of Westminster's finest are letting their second homes to avoid being caught out by new rules that were introduced following the MP’s expenses scandal. In some cases MPs are moving into rented properties while letting out the flats the taxpayer has already funded...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

PROFIT BEFORE PEOPLE

Just as winter begins to bite, and the morning air has that pleasant dry,cold and crisp feel to in, there is that faint whiff of coincidence in the air. British Gas customers are to face a 7% rise in gas and electricity bills which comes into effect on 10th December. As a result of rising wholesale prices, said British Gas. Oddly enough British Gas has become the second major UK energy supplier to announce price increases for the winter months - when there is a grater demand, and coincidentally a greater profit to be made.

Scottish and Southern Energy intends to raise its domestic gas charges by 9.4% at the start of December, blaming wholesale prices for the increase in customer bills. It is worth noting that the price increase announcement, was made just before just before they reported a 6.1% fall in pre-tax profits to £386m in the first half of the company's financial year.

The market wholesale price for gas is around half of what it was at peak in 2008, yet over the same time period customers prices have only been reduced by less than 10%. No doubt British Gas and the other cartel members (sorry suppliers) will trot out the old excuses of having to respond to forward energy prices, etc. It's strange that the suppliers did not make cuts when market conditions allowed it, they are merely covering their profit margins as wholesale prices slowly rises. The timing is interesting especially at a time when there are reports of a gas glut, perhaps consumers take on all the risks.

Back in October 2009 the then Tory Energy Spokesman, Greg Clark (currently a Minister of State in the Department for Communities and Local Government) said that the "cartel" of the big 6 energy firms would be referred to the Competition Commission by an incoming Conservative Government. The then Tory Energy Spokesperson also condemned the unacceptable lag between the cost of wholesale gas prices and household energy bills - noting that customers were on average being charged some £74 pound too much for their energy per year.

An 'independent' investigation in the Energy companies refusal to pass on reductions in wholesale energy prices to customers would have been welcome along with the promised 'Energy Revolution' to overhaul the energy sector billing structure and charges. It all sounded great, save for the fact that it was a Conservative Government that was responsible for starting the whole sorry mess in the first place by privatising the energy market in the first place, throwing any rational energy pricing structure upon the whims of the 'market' by allowing the newly privatised energy companies to price gouge customers in the first place?

Oddly enough that pre-election pledge for an independent inquiry into the £25 billion-a-year energy industry which has been subject to lengthy and repeated criticisms surrounding accusations of profiteering on electricity and gas, was quietly dropped by the Com Dem Coalition Government. Heaven forbid that principle get in the way of profit.

Few people this winter will have as cozy a relationship with the gas companies as that exists between the political parties within the Westminster village (and without) and the energy supply companies. For sometime before the last Westminster general election, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats made repeated criticisms (and much political capital) from New Labour for its failure to tackle prices charged by the Big Six suppliers. Both the opposition parties publicly and repeatedly demanded an inquiry by the Competition Commission.

There was a faint hope that an inquiry into the nefarious activities of the energy supply cartel (sorry companies) might have had the power to reform the industry, encourage new entrants to break the hold of players such as British Gas and EDF on 99 per cent of the market and even possibly impose price caps. Yet, it appears that barely four months into the Coalition Government, there will be no inquiry has been called for and the Department of Energy and Climate Change confirmed on the 17th August 2010 that it has no plans to refer the industry to the Competition Commission.

Perhaps there ought to be an inquiry into the dubious (and financial rewarding (in cash and kind) relationship between our political parties and the representatives of the energy supply companies who are pretty keen to shower enough goodies around during Party conference season (and beyond) - I suspect not?

Monday, 15 November 2010

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

It's worth noting that in 2003, a 15 year franchise for running railway services in Wales was awarded to Arriva Trains Wales. Arriva Trains Wales is currently making a healthy profit from this agreement. Despite this, most demand for additional rail services are currently met directly by Welsh Assembly Government funds and are not funded by Arriva Trains Wales which as its priority is to service its shareholders.

Plaid Cymru's announcement that we will consider putting the management of Welsh railways in the hands of a 'not for profit' company when the current franchise contract with Arriva Trains Wales ends in 2018 is significant. This is major step forward when it comes to developing a transport system to suite the needs of the people of Wales, rather than as an add on to transport policy in England.

In Wales we should consider ensuring the transfer of control over the franchise to Welsh Ministers in order to put the franchise in the hands of a ‘not-for-profit’ company. This would allow the new company to reinvest its profits in developing better and more train services for people, instead of the current model where the majority of profits are returned to Arriva Trains Wales' shareholders. This could release extra money to invest in an improved All-Wales Rail Service which could amount to between £100m - £120m over a decade.

There are some serious potential benefits:

• Significant savings – releasing a fund for possible reinvestment projects such as re-opening lines across Wales, improving journey times or purchasing additional rolling stock.

• The development of an All-Wales transport network – with integrated ticketing and timetables across public transport in Wales.

The Glas Cymru model of how a ‘not-for-profit’ company can operate, already provides an excellent example of what's possible and could have great potential for the delivery of much better and more integrated rail services here in Wales.

Plaid Cymru, in government, has gone to great lengths to ensure that improvements to current rail services where they can be made, have been made, running 'rail in Wales,for Wales, means that the possibilities of reopening previously closed railway lines and closed railway stations becomes something more than a pipe-dream. It would also make sense to get the powers to take over responsibility for running the tracks from Network Rail - as any rail projects in Wales are going to be well down the list of priorities. There needs to be much better integration of track and train - something that will allow for far greater efficiencies.

There is a clear need to ensure that easily accessible rail services are available to far more people in the near future. Improving infrastructure, including rail, is absolutely vital to the development of the Welsh economy - to create the successful, sustainable, prosperous and green nation that we know Wales can be.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

LETTING THE PASSENGERS TAKE THE STRAIN

News that overcrowding on trains in England and Wales will get substantially worse over the next four years despite rises in ticket prices should come as no surprise to passengers. The House of Commons's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has noted that the Department for Transports own plans for suggested targets for increasing passenger places would be missed.

The PAC blames the failure on the absence of any requirement to improve capacity within train operators' contracts. The Con Dem government has said plans to improve the situation would be unveiled soon. However, consider that the Conservatives privatised the railways in the first place, it might be best not to have any great expectations on any firm hand being taken with the privatised rail companies. It's also worth remembering that New Labour actually said when they came to office that if the railways had not been privatised then they would have privatised them themselves.

Westminster MPs have expressed their concern about that the "already unacceptable levels of overcrowding will simply get worse and ever more intolerable". Public Accounts Committee - Fifth Report - Increasing Passenger Rail Capacity - makes interesting reading notes that the fundamental problem was a lack of any real incentive for the industry to supply extra capacity without additional taxpayer support.

Basically the current franchise agreements, train operators are required to make "reasonable endeavours" to give peak passengers "a reasonable expectation of a seat within 20 minutes of boarding", but there is no legal burden upon them to expand fleets or improve stations to achieve this.

So what this means is that it has fallen to the taxpayer to provide funds to Network Rail to carry out any upgrade work And that the franchise agreements are merely allow the privatised rail companies to milk their franchises for all they are worth at our expense. This is somewhat ironic because as a result of the economic downturn, the Association of Train Operating Companies actually expects demand for rail travel to grow by around a quarter over the next five years. So the long suffering rail passengers will get a double whammy - having to pay more to be less comfortable.

And this after 13 years of New Labour Government - what a mess!

Friday, 12 November 2010

USK POST OFFICE

The news from the Royal Mail that it intends to close the Usk sorting office next year will not only mean a relocation of the workforce to Pontypool as of January 2011, but also shows that particularly if the manner of the announcement is repeated across Wales over the next few years that there is little or no concern for our local communities. It's apparent that the Royal Mail has already made its mind up and I concerned that whatever coherent case is made against closure the Royal Mail will merely pay lip service to it, go through the motions and then merrily press on.

Monmouthshire is a relatively large county and the closure of the office in Usk will lead to a poorer service for the public, especially in rural areas. The Royal Mail has said the closure was a commercial decision yet it has refused to say how much money would be saved by this move to Pontypool. So much for transparency - as far as I can recall (despite the desires of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government) the Royal Mail is still publicly owned so should come clean with the details of any savings that are being made.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

TAKE ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY SECONDS...

Sadly, on Thursday there will be some people out there who will probably feel inconvenienced or put out by the two minutes or one hundred and twenty seconds silence that will be held at 11am. And no doubt come next Sunday there may even be some people who will actually worry about the disruption caused to the traffic by remembrance parades, that prevents them from going about their businesses.

I think that they would do well to remember on Thursday and on Sunday that their petty inconvenience comes at pretty high price. 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, most eloquently gave their last full measure of devotion, to comrades and country, for some of 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. Ponder on that on Thursday at 11 o'clock and on Sunday morning.

Two minutes silence and any 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 very least we the living can do to honour our veterans and the fallen.

Monday, 8 November 2010

TIME TO ASK THE QUESTION?

Last week the Westminster Welsh Affairs Committee heard that most of the £77m tolls (which cost £15m a year to run and maintain, but generate a net revenue of £77m a year at today's prices) raised per year is currently being used to cover debts and that only maintenance and running costs would need to be covered after 2017. A potential big hint to the Committee that Severn Crossing tolls could be much cheaper once the concession to run them ends in 2017.

It was even suggested that tolls could fall to 20 to 30% of current levels. At the moment motorists fork out £5.50 for cars and up to £16.40 for HGVs. Just for the record since the Severn Crossing Plc took over the concession, they have spent £510m (1990 prices) between serving a debt on the existing crossing and building a new one. Over the period of the concession it is expected that the concession holders will raise £1bn in revenue (1989 prices).

The bridge tolls have become in a tax on jobs, a tax on commuters, a tax on growth and a tax on business in the south of Wales. Plaid Cymru's South Wales Central AM Chris Franks (back in June 2010) obtained figures under the Freedom of Information Act, which showed significant difference between the large amounts of money raised by Severn River Crossing plc from the toll, and the relatively small amount spent on treating the damage to the cables on the old crossing (M48).

Since 2006, some £15m has been spent on main cable work on the first Severn Crossing. The Highways Agency suggests that another £5.8m of repairs will take place over the next five years. Some £225,733,000 has been collected in bridge toll revenue since 2006. People may driven to wonder if they are going to get saddled with major work to maintain the bridges after the toll profits have been siphoned off by the concessionary company when the bridges are finally returned to public ownership in 2017.

Sadly just because something could happen does not mean that it will - I cannot for a moment imagine a Westminster Government forgoing this potential tidy little earner. One question that is yet to be answered is come 2017 who actually is going to own the bridge (or bridges)? The situation is potentially complex as the bridge (or bridges) sit on the border - with the toll on the newer bridge being collected in Wales, and the toll on the older bridge being collected in England. Will the bridge and the tolls simply revert back to the Department of transport?

Or does the National Assembly get a look in, by default? 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? This 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?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

WATCHING THIS SPACE...

The High Court judges decision to order a re-run of this year's General Election campaign in the Greater Manchester constituency of former New Labour minister Phil Woolas may well fill more than a few column inches over the next few months. Phil Woolas who was accused of stirring up racial tensions in his campaign leaflets by suggesting Mr Watkins (the Lib Dem candidate) had pandered to Muslim militants, and had refused to condemn death threats Mr Woolas said he had received from such groups. The court heard that Mr Woolas had run a "risky" campaign, which was designed to "galvanise the white Sun vote" because he feared he faced defeat on polling day.

So the Lib Dems and Phil Woolas got their day in court and Phil lost.What happens next may prove even more interesting, and not just necessarily for Phil Woolas who appears to have been seriously thrown to the wolves by the Labour Party. Will the electorate use the forthcoming by-election as an opportunity to give the Lib Dems a kicking for siding with the Tories, is there as yet still unfinished business between the electorate the the Labour Party. What will happen to the Tory and Lib Dem votes as this by-election which will be a first opportunity to pass judgement on the proposed Tory - Lib Dem public sector spending cuts?

Thursday, 28 October 2010

IF ONLY...

A couple of things caught my attention, one of which was the fact that the Westminster Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is investigating whether the rate of Corporation Tax should be cut. The UK Government chancellor is planning to reduce the tax in the UK from 28% to 24% over the next four years however corporation tax in the Republic of Ireland is only 12.5%. At the moment MPs are considering whether Northern Ireland should have a similar or lower rate of Corporation Tax, something that will help attract investment and provide opportunities for business growth...so why can we not do the same thing here in Wales.

In Scotland, plans for a huge tidal energy project which is set to be developed in the Pentland Firth after the rights to the site were awarded to a consortium by the Crown Estate. The Inner Sound, which lies between the Caithness coast and island of Stroma, as one of the Firth's "most energetic" tidal areas. The proposed scheme could involve up to 400 submerged turbines, generating enough energy to power 400,000 homes with a 25-year operational lease for the site was awarded to MeyGen.

This is a joint venture between tidal technology provider Atlantis Resources Corporation, International Power and investment bank Morgan Stanley. The news of the award of the lease comes after two years of feasibility work in the waters of the Pentland Firth. Obviously this is subject to planning consent, the consortium plans to install hundreds of turbines in the Inner Sound area and construction is expected to take place on a phased basis until 2020. The real good news is that project will be one of the biggest in the world, with the potential to generate up to 400MW of sustainable renewable power. So why not here in Wales...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A MISSISSIPPI RIVER BOAT GAMBLE

Despite the positive growth figures, which the Con Dem Government and their media coat-holders have understandably made much of, the cuts are still a major gamble (of epic Mississippi riverboat proportions) on the part of the Con Dem Government. This is literally a case of win or bust, the problem is that this is a major gamble not only with the state of the economy but on the lives of every person who live in Wales.

The reckless combination of slash and burn cuts and the crazed Thatcherite obsession with privatisation (Forestry in England, the Post Office, possibly even the Passport Office, etc) could lead to the loss of half a million public sector jobs - a figure which could well be doubled when considering the impact on the private sector. Certainly Con Dem Government suggestions that the private sector will be able to step in to the jobs vacuum left behind is not so much a case of staggering naivety and more of case of an utter failure to understand the realities of the intertwined nature of the public and private sector in Wales.

Certainly whatever economic planet the Tories (who may be on Planet Bullingdon) and their Lib Dem little helpers /partners /collaborators believe they are living on, certainly does not include Wales, where the private sector is not as strong as it could be, but, is thoroughly intertwined with the public sector and somewhat happily dependent on relatively fat public sector contracts.

There is something else though, which over the term of this Government (however long it lasts) may have a more lasting impact, and that is any scant thought about the impact of their decisions upon Wales or the people of Wales. Even the South Wales Argus, has picked this up (and it is no lover of ‘Welsh Nationalism) in relation to the on-going campaign to save the passport office, stating in it's editorial (27th October) that “Whitehall’s failure to recognise the inalienable rights of Wales to equality with the other nations smacks to us of institutionalised racism” – I could not have put it better myself.

Let's be honest, if the last New Labour Government was pretty ignorant (and somewhat London centric) when it can to Welsh issues (economic and other) and that with the alleged strong Labour voice's around the cabinet table, then this lot in the current Con Dem Government in London are going to be even more cut off from the economic, social and political realities of life as it is lived here in Wales.

I mean these people think that providing a pilot area (in Herefordshire) for next generation broadband project which are set to take place in Scotland and England - will suffice for Wales. Moving swiftly on, the impression given is that the current Welsh Secretary of State is less than a strong voice for Wales in Government. It may well be the literal case that she is not sat around the cabinet table, let alone in the same building or the same city when it comes to decisions being made that affect Wales.

What would be useful is a speedy reform of New Labour’s unfair Barnett Formula and need to be able to exercise control over levels of corporation tax so that our businesses can get the support that they will need during tough times. The reality is that we had better not be holding our collective breath and be expecting the current government to even notice if we collectively went blue and passed out over an issue of principle – get used to the fact that Wales is not and will never be on the Con Dem’s economic or political radar.

So there we are, we face instead the grim prospect of ill-judged and reckless cut backs in public spending, which may lead to an end result of our communities being blamed for being poor and lacking in aspiration by the Con Dem ministers. Wales needs to be in charge of her own resources, and free to make its own economic decisions so that we can mastermind our own economic recovery, rather than cling onto the Con Dem Government's coat-tails and hope for the best.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

NOT SEEING THE WOOD FOR THE TREES

Now when it comes to control of natural resources there has been much UK (sorry London centric) media coverage of the Con Dem's avid pursuit of the 'flog it' agenda, especially in relation to the suggested sale of the Forestry Commission. I was pleased to see that Plaid's Elin Jones AM, the Welsh rural affairs minister clearly state that there are no plans to sell swathes of the country's forests in Wales. After all Forestry is a clearly devolved matter and any decisions that affect the future of Wales' national forests will thankfully lie with Welsh ministers, in Cardiff, not in Westminster. I wonder how long it will take for the London centric Press to catch up...

Saturday, 23 October 2010

SAYING WHAT YOU MEAN AND MEANING WHAT YOU SAY?

When Conservative Minister Iain Duncan Smith told people in the south Wales town of Merthyr Tydfil they have become static and should seek work in Cardiff and that unemployed people "get on a bus" to find work - there were echo's from the 1980's of the then Tory minister Lord Tebbit's "get on your bike" comments. Understandably these have ruffled more than a few feathers.

Now I suspect that this was not a cheap throw away line (on a BBC 2 Newsnight interview) this is what the Tories really think, this was the moment when the mask slipped, and despite the cuddly "Call me Dave" Cameron makeover this is what the hard-line and not so hard-line Tories actually think.

A measure of proof of this could be the way that most of the Tory backbench MP's were gleefully cheering (if not baying) in the House of Commons by way of vocal support during the Spending Review statement (which also announced details of the fact that over 400,000 public sector workers services were going to be dispensed with) last Wednesday. There were some serious shades of Ra! Ra! We are going to smash the Oiks!!! So much for one nation Conservatism.

One question I would like to ask is how is the National Assembly supposed to help people get to the work on the coastal belt from the valleys - whether by car or bus, by road or rail - when the cuts will reduce capital spending, which is money to be invested in new roads, rail (not to mention hospitals and schools) is going to be cut by 41%.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

HERE WE GO...

So there we have it, the devil is in the detail, the Welsh budget has been cut in real terms by 11.4%, with capital spending, money to be invested in new roads, hospitals and schools, being cut by 41%. This works out at around £4.8 billion over the next four years.interestingly enough, the previous New Labour Government, planned, this time over three years to cut Wales' budget by £3 billion. The Con Dem government now also plan cuts of approximately £3 billion over next 3 years which works out at about the same. While the ConDem cuts are a heavy blow, so would the proposed New Labour cuts have been. One thing is true, both the former New Labour Government and the current ConDem Government have no interest in making sure that Wales has a fair funding formula.

The Welsh budget, this year, is some £1.4 billion less than it would have been if we had kept pace with spending increases in England under New Labour. It's also worth noting that Spending Review also announced a further £7 billion cut from the welfare budget, on top of £11 billion previously announced over the Summer. There is a significant degree of geographical unfairness (for want of a better phrase) in this Spending Review on a number of levels. Wales, amongst the devolved nations, is worst off, and is taking a bigger hit than Scotland and Northern Ireland. There are significant if not huge differences between Wales and the south-east of England.

The ConDems are carrying on with the Crossrail, a multi-billion pound infrastructure project in London, not to mention three major science projects all of which are located in the south-east of England, not to mention continued spending on museums, galleries and culture in London.These cuts are far too deep and far too fast, they threaten Wales’s economic recovery and could expose us to the risk of a ‘double-dip’ recession. I (and no doubt many other people would expect this from a Consevative Government, but, their super keen Lib Dem little helpers should really know better.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

LACK OF CASH OR LACK OF VISION?

The Severn Barrage was always an expensive unsustainable ‘silver bullet which was relentlessly pushed by New Labour's Peter Hain (and his ilk) to show off their allegedly green credentials, but, in truth it was more likely to have been used to offset the emissions from newly expanded Heathrow. There were plenty of opportunities to invest in and develop smaller, sustainable, less environmentally damaging and more credible renewable energy schemes in the estuary (and elsewhere), such as tidal lagoons and tidal reefs, which would have generated significant amounts of energy (with a far longer period of generation) with significantly less environmental damage, yet New Labour Government conspicuously failed to do so.

We should not expect too much from the Com Dem Coalition Government - it has already quietly shelved plans (17th August) for an independent inquiry into the £25bn-a-year energy industry which has been subject to repeated criticism surrounding accusations of profiteering on electricity and gas. So it should come as no surprise to even the most impartial observers of the consequences of a warm unquestioning and financial rewarding relationship (in cash and kind) between the political parties within the Westminster village (and without) and the energy supply companies.

For sometime before the last Westminster general election, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats made repeated criticisms of New Labour for its failure to tackle prices charged by the Big Six suppliers. Both the opposition parties demanded an inquiry by the Competition Commission. There was a hope that an inquiry into the nefarious activities of the energy supply cartel (sorry companies) might have had the power to reform the industry, encourage new entrants to break the hold of players such as British Gas, EDF and the others on 99 per cent of the market and even possibly impose price caps.

Sadly the ConDem government is equally unimaginative and lacks any aspirational vision for future sustainable green energy development. This failure to invest in renewable energy in the Severn Estuary is unforgivable and clearly shows why it is so important that energy powers be devolved to the National Assembly for Wales. We have rich natural resources and here in Wales we should priorities the development of sustainable, renewable energy. The lands of the Crown Estate off the Welsh shoreline and powers to develop major energy infrastructure must also be devolved immediately to the Welsh Assembly if we are to make any realistic progress on these important issues.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

THE FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST...

As the ConDem cuts begin to hit home, all of our public funded bodies are going to be under pressure to make savings and under threat of reduced budgets. In Wales, the Arts Council of Wales is already planning to withdraw funding worth £3.6m from 32 arts groups in 2011.

Locally, in the former county of Gwent, the cuts are going to hit home hard. One of the casualties of funding cuts could be Gwent Theatre which was has worked hard over the last three decades taking amongst other things live theatre in many of our schools. Gwent Theatre which has previously received £250,000 a year from the Arts
Council of Wales, may be wound up as a result of the loss of funding.

The Theatre's small company of six people: actors, stage manager, educational and administrative staff who will all lose their jobs as the impact of the loss of funding begins to hit home. It's worth remembering that Theatre Gwent's staff have worked with the Theatre company for over twenty years and have consistently delivered work of the highest quality throughout the former county of Gwent.

There will also be a knock on effect with a further reduction in employment opportunities for actors, script writers, musicians, poets and storytellers all of whom will now lose out when the cuts begin to bite. Gwent Theatre provides employment opportunities for up to 40 people in any given year.

The jobs loses and loss of opportunity are bad enough, but, they are only part of the story. Probably the most significant impact of the loss of Gwent Theatre is going to be the loss of its role in educating countless pupils and young people in Gwent's schools. In 2009 – 2010 alone, Gwent Theatre was able to deliver 220
performances to some 14,000 + young people in some 219 schools.

Gwent Theatre held 81 theatre workshops with over 2500 participants. The highly acclaimed Gwent Young Peoples Theatre put on seven productions, with 5183 youth theatre attendances and audience figures of 1,794. This is a pretty good if not an outstanding delivery of work in a single year from a small theatre company.

Gwent Theatre has worked hard over the years to establish itself as a highly successful company which regularly takes its excellent work into our schools and our communities across Gwent – something that more than than fulfils the aims and objectives of the Arts Council of Wales to put the experience of live theatre into
individuals and communities lives.

This may on the surface appear to be an easy hit, but, it is a cut that is far too deep - Gwent Theatre has successfully and faithfully served individuals, schools and communities across Monmouthshire, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Newport and Torfaen, and has worked solidly for years to build up good working relations across the greater Gwent area.

It's time to think again funding wise, Gwent Theatre does not deserve this fate and neither should our communities be culturally deprived of the important future contributions to could and should made by Gwent Theatre in future years.

Follow this web link to sign the petition to Save Gwent Theatre.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

SAVE THE PASSPORT OFFICE RALLY

Plaid's Leanne Wood AM, South Wales Central - speaking at the rally. 
The march and rally calling for Newport's Passport Office and save the 300 jobs was held in Newport today (Saturday 16th October) was well organised, well attended and well supported. The event which was organised by the PCS union began around 11am outside the Westgate Hotel and then the march went down Skinner Street, Upper Dock Street, Corn Street and Commercial Street before ending with a rally in John Frost Square addressed by elected members from the National Assembly, the Westminster Parliament, Newport City Council and the PCS and the RMT Trade Unions. It was a rousing, very colourful start to what will be a hard fought campaign to save Newport's Passport Office. Sign the South Wales Argus Petition.

Friday, 15 October 2010

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST... PERHAPS?

Just when you thought it was all over it turns out that another MP is in trouble over his expenses. Bill Wiggin (a Conservative MP) has been told to repay £4,294 and apologise to House of Commons after he over-claimed on his expenses. The Standards and Privileges Committee (the Westminster Parliament's sleaze watchdog) has told him to say sorry for wrongly designating his second home in London as his main home. The Committee made reference to his “serious” breaches of the rules and “disappointing” failure to co-operate with the inquiry by providing invoices. Just to rub some salt into his wounds he may lose his job in the Chief Whip's Office and lose the Conservative Party whip...watch this space!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

PASSPORT OFFICE RALLY

A march and rally calling for Newport's Passport Office to remain open will be held in Newport on Saturday. The event organised by the PCS union will start at 10.30am outside the Westgate Hotel, for an 11 am start. The march will go through Skinner Street, Upper Dock Street, Corn Street and Commercial Street before ending with a rally in John Frost Square. Leanne Wood AM's bog entry on the threatened closure of Newport's Passport Office is well worth a read, Leanne will be one of the speakers on Saturday.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

NOW THAT'S AN INTERESTING IDEA...

I for one very warmly welcome Professor Peter Midmore's independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls which has recommended that the revenues should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. The study for the Welsh Affairs Select Committee at Westminster, which is looking at the impact the tolls on Wales amongst other things.

The Professor's study found that Welsh businesses were unfairly penalised by the tolls and concluded that the money should be shared with the Assembly Government and used to improve Wales’ roads and public transport. Under the current stitch up (sorry set-up), once the cost of the Second Severn Crossing is paid off (by 2014 or 2016) the revenue stream will revert straight to Treasury coffers in Westminster.

The study of 122 businesses commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses found the tolls had a negative impact on 30% of firms in South Wales, compared with 18% in the Greater Bristol area. While noting that the economic impact was not substantial for most, the study found that transport, construction and tourism-related companies reliant on regular crossings suffered increased costs and reduced competitiveness.

There are also concerns, if not fears that the bridge tolls, which currently range from £5.50 for a car to £16.40 for a heavy goods vehicle (HGV), may stop the development of small-to-medium-sized business in the areas surrounding the bridges.The study 's findings which come only a few weeks after the private company running the bridges blamed growing unemployment and a rise in the cost of fuel on a 20% drop in traffic in the past two years.

Severn River Crossings plc further warned that unless traffic levels pick up, then it could take longer to pay off the cost of the second bridge – delaying the handover of the bridges to public ownership until as late as 2018.

The study, which will be submitted as evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, which is conducting a cross-party inquiry into the economic impact of the tolls and the future of the bridges. concludes that its “highly unlikely” the tolls will be abolished even when the bridges revert to public ownership.

The private company that runs the Severn Toll Bridges (and we can thank the Tories for that) managed to raise around 226m over the last three years (up to June 2010) yet barely spent £15m on essential maintenance on the original crossing's damaged cables. That the bridge tolls have been used used as little more than a cash cow, to fleece bridge user should come as not much of a surprise to many people.

Plaid Cymru's South Wales Central AM Chris Franks, (in June 2010) used the Freedom of Information Act to show the significant difference between the large amounts of money raised by Severn River Crossing plc from the toll, and the relatively small amount being spent on treating the damage to the cables on the old crossing. His FOI request revealed that (since 2006) some £15m has been spent on main cable work on the first Severn Crossing (the M48 bridge). The Highways Agency suggested that another £5.8m worth of maintenance will take place over the next five years.

This despite the fact that some £225,733,000 has been collected in bridge toll revenue since 2006. People may well begin to wonder if they are going to get saddled with major work to maintain the bridges after the toll profits have been siphoned off by the concessionary company when the bridges are finally returned to public ownership in 2014 or 2016.

The knowledge that Severn River Crossings plc may, due to falls in traffic levels, take even longer to pay off the cost of the second bridge, thus delaying the eventual handover of the bridges to public ownership until as late as 2018, will bring little comfort to bridge users facing yet another annual increase in the Severn bridge tolls in January 2011.

Yet, despite persistent bleating from Westminster sheep over the years along the lines of there is nothing we can do to reduce or stabilise the tolls! It turns that this is or was not quite true as the last New Labour Government actively intervened in October 2009 in relation to the Humber Bridge.

Sadiq Khan, the then New Labour 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”. Very nice - but if that's the case in England, then why not in Wales?

Admittedly the Severn Bridges straddle the Welsh English border something that may complicate the issue of ownership with the tolls on the newer bridge being collected in Wales, and the older one being collected in England. Additionally the questionably worded concessionary agreement (and the Act of Parliament) which enables the tolls to go up each January may also have something to do with it.

One key question that no one appears to be asking or answering is what will happen to the tolls once the concession expires or ends. Will the bridge and the tolls simply revert back to the Department of Transport? Or might a portion of the tolls end up filtering down to the National Assembly, by default or as a result of central government indifference. Will the National Assembly act as merely as a local agent for the Department of Transport? Or is total control of the revenue

If it the whole package ended with the National Assembly, 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 being used to bail out the bankers?