Saturday, 27 February 2010


Energy firms are one again under pressure to cut domestic prices after an Ofgen (the energy regulator) report suggested their profit margins were up. While the Ofgem report noted that the average net margin for supplying the average gas and electricity customer was £105 a year in February 2009, up from £75 a year in November 2008, and while this has provoked calls for firms to cut their gas prices, little will happen because Ofgen is toothless and the UK Government has little appetite regulate the allegedly ‘free’ energy market.

It is worth noting that while, wholesale energy costs have fallen for over a year; there has been no fall in the energy costs for hard pressed energy consumers.The reality is that we can no longer afford the luxury of an effectively unregulated energy market or its consequences. Ofgen has failed, it has failed to protect consumers, failed to regulate the energy companies or the so called ‘free’ energy market.

It is pretty clear to most disinterested observers that the UK Westminster Parliament and most of the parties within it are not serious about developing secure sustainable energy supplies, they are more than happy to benefit from windfall taxes when energy company profits go up and happy to be wined and dined by the large energy companies (who are well known for throwing their money around during the Party Conference season) – at the consumers expense - but not happy to regulate their reckless profiteering.

The Energy companies, reaping a 500% increase in profits over the last half a decade, were pretty quick to blame rising oil and gas prices, and even quicker to rake in the profits – the average annual dual fuel bill rose from £662 a year in 2005 to 1,048 in 2007. The UK Government was very happy to rake in the extra tax revenues – the only real loser in this pretty picture was us, the energy customers.

The so called energy free market has failed, we have a monopoly on energy supply in the UK; the number of energy supply companies fell to six in the last ten years, with less that £30 differential between all of the energy supply companies, which works out to be no more than a few pence a week difference in bills, what we have is an energy cartel which brings minimal benefit to hard pressed energy customers, maximize profits at our expense and does not plan for the medium to long future.

We are in the midst of a particularly hard winter,which as yet shoes no sign of abating, many ordinary people are beginning to dread the energy bills that will drop through the letter box when spring comes around. No one, in a civilised 21st century country should ever be forced to make a literal choice between putting food on the table for their family and heating their home, our older people should not have to worry about whether or not they put the heating on, but that’s where many people now find themselves.

Not that long ago families could live on one salary, but, not anymore, today people are working all hours of the day to cope. A situation has now arisen where we have a culture that actively rewards greed and recklessness in the City of London (and beyond), which has promoted a vast increase in credit, and fed what became an absurd house price boom – that is how we have arrived at the credit crunch which has brought real economic hardship for many and yet continues to enrich the few at our expense.

Back in January 2010, Natural Gas prices rose to their highest level in 10 months (reaching 45p per therm) and this triggered the import of extra gas from Belgium and Norway via the natural gas (liquefied) importation terminal in Kent.So what you may ask? Well aside from the prospect of higher energy bills (and higher profits for the energy cartel (sorry companies) and even more tax for Gordon Brown’s government.

Now while other countries insured themselves against external shocks to their energy needs; successive UK Government’s entirely left it to the market (stop me if this sounds a bit like what happened with the banks) to sort out – so what did the energy companies do, they chased quick short term profits at our expense. The UK’s market driven approach has been entirely and utterly inadequate. Thirteen months ago as of January 2009, France could store 122 days of gas and Germany 99, the UK had storage capacity which would only 15 days and frantic efforts have been made to increase storage capacity.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s developing a long term energy strategy or making sensible long term decisions in relation to energy supply was never an option for the Tories during their last tenure on government. Likewise, the New Labour Government (and the nominal Conservative opposition) took the best part of a decade to recognise the need to increase storage capacity.The abject inheritance of the Conservatives privatisation of the energy companies is one of enshrined self-interest, short term profiteering and an utter absolute failure to plan for the UK's future energy needs.

As I have said before and will say again (and again) it should be a matter of urgency that the Westminster Government, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly should work with the Irish Government to make these islands entirely self sufficient via renewable non market driven energy resources. If we develop a flexible self-sufficient energy development strategy within these isles that encourages decentralised microgeneration schemes and by actually implementing it could create jobs, useful skills and help to bootstrap the economy out of the developing recession as well as helping consumers.

There are many things that can be done to rectify this situation. On a UK level we need firm regulation of the energy sector, excessive profiteering must be curbed and we need a windfall tax on excessive profits. We need to break up the effective energy cartel, which neither supplies the needs of the energy customers or the UK's medium to long term energy needs, they only service the needs of shareholders. We need a series of public private partnerships to develop sustainable alternative energy resources and we need a firmly public owned planned national grid that is flexible enough to deal with small scale energy suppliers.

Here in Wales, the Plaid driven One Wales Government should be working flat out towards improving the energy efficiency of business operations and production processes to reduce CO2 equivalent emissions and to cut down on waste. We also need to encourage the development of new cleaner technologies and processes for businesses and promote the use of sustainable infrastructures with regard to energy and waste.

We need to welcome with open arms local plans to develop local energy plans, local energy supplies and welcome the development of community owned and community beneficial sustainable energy plants. We need new local authority planning guidelines and proper feed-in tariffs to rapidly promote the incorporation of small-scale renewable energy installations and much better insulation in individual homes, commercial and public buildings and groups of buildings - this is essential.

To make any of this happen, we needs a realistic and flexible energy strategy that will allow and encourage the creation of sustainable green energy job opportunities for our people and take full advantage of the extraordinary natural resources we in Wales are blessed with. If this happens, then there is absolutely no reason why Wales should not be amongst the most progressive countries in the field of sustainable alternative energy and sustainable green jobs and the UK can end it's dependence on fuel supplies from unstable regions and unsavoury regimes.

Friday, 26 February 2010


There is a faint whiff of excitement about the prospects of finding oil near to the Falkland Islands. There may be a significant find, the real problem is how do we define significant. Oil exploration is not cheap, the oil rig that's being used costs some $245,000 per day. It will drill wells in at least four of the offshore exploration areas which are known in the oil business as "prospects".

Back in 1998 six test wells were drilled, which targeted a layer of sandstone - but not enough oil was found and the low price meant further exploration was abandoned. Now that the price of oil (even with the occasional dip) has risen, there is more potential profit to be made by drilling deeper, into untested sandstone into the sides of North Falkland basin.

Buoyed up by the prospect of much higher profits and the geologists who say there is a 17% chance of finding an oil reserve of about 391m barrels, not to mention the nine trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Such a find, even working on the fact that we might get 40% of it out with current technology, sounds a lot, until you realise that it would feed the world's economy, even in a period of recession for some 4 days...

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Monmouthshire Meals on Wheels Service

Whether you call it an 'efficiency saving' or a 'cut' Monmouthshire County Council's (MCC) plan to increase the costs of meals (by 20p) and to reduce staff numbers will hit the county's most vulnerable residents the hardest as the Meals on Wheels service faces cuts of up to £45,000. Either way it is unacceptable as for many older residents in Monmouthsire the meals on wheels service is a real lifeline. Sadly such behaviour is pretty typical for MCC which over recent years has been busy robbing Peter to pay Paul merely to try to balance the books. MCC needs to think long and hard about these proposed cuts.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


I am just about old enough to have distant TV memory of the fall of Saigon to the Communist North Vietnamese, but, am not old enough to remember seeing first hand any American TV reports that talked about 'body counts' and showed cumulative totals of dead insurgents, etc. Many people have, however, noted the parallels, the similarities and the differences between the TV based Vietnam War and the current Afghan conflict.

Measuring success or failure it something that concerns both the Pentagon and the Taliban; with references to the number of Taliban dead or a recorded decline in poppy production or the Allied death toll being used in recent years to gauge the success of Allied operations in Afghanistan. Yet even the use of these basic figures makes it difficult to quantify success or failure.

The Taliban are incredibly quick to reclassify their dead as being civilian casualties and any recorded decrease in poppy production does not clarify whether opium production has ceased or simply that cultivation has simply moved on elsewhere.

Some years ago, when traveling in Tajikistan in the mid 1990's, I can recall our attention being drawn to burned areas of cultivated land, where the local police had recently burned opium fields, as part of the war on drugs, only to be told in the same breath with a degree of irony that the growers, amply warned by local police (who were on the take) had simply moved to areas where their activities were less prominent, so everybody got to tick the box, so to speak.

The new NATO commander Gen Stanley McChrystal wants to change the emphasis in the conflict in Afghanistan from defeating insurgents to helping and protecting civilians, as part of this process, there will be new ways of measuring success, which will help to measure the success (or failure) of the new counter-insurgency strategy.

The Allies will measure:

  • The number of District officials actually living in the district - currently many government officials live out of area but still pile up pretty nice salaries by Afghan standards.
  • The cost of transporting goods - this varies depending upon the level of violence, and the scale of extortion by government officials, the Afghan police and the Taliban bribes.
  • The number of shops and businesses that are active and open in the local bazaars
  • the recorded number of reported improvised explosive devices (IEDs) - the frequency of reporting by local people to Carlton forces will be used to measure the level of support for the Taliban.

  • the number of Children going to school - at present 95 schools closed out of 235 in total in Helmand, the Taliban actively target schools and teachers
So there we are, we now face a new type of war on terror and the Taliban and a whole new way of measuring the success (or not) of the Allied counter insurgency programme. For the record, just how did we end up even having a counter insurgency programme - this is a classic case of what can best be described as 'mission creep' that has not so quietly taken place as Allied soldiers have moved slowly from liberating Afghanistan and hunting the Taliban, to supporting the 'civil power', to full blown counter insurgency, and to dealing with opium production at source and beyond.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


News that the UK's public finances are in a worse position than those of Greece, according to the latest figures on government borrowing released on Thursday 17th February, should make most people wonder what Gordon Brown was actually doing while masquerading as Chancellor over the Blair years.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that January alone saw a net shortfall of £4.3bn, much worse than City forecasts and that with January being a month that has always previously shown a healthy surplus. It puts the UK on track for a deficit of £180bn this year, or 12.8 per cent of GDP, economists said, shading the Greek figure, hitherto the worst in the European Union, of 12.7 per cent.

The Chancellor, in his pre-Budget report forecast a deficit of £178bn for the current year. Warnings that the UK could face a Greek-style crisis of confidence have been building for some weeks, and the end of last week saw a sell-off of sterling and British government securities, or gilts, once the disappointing news was announced. That bad news aside, the Treasury has stated that it will be sticking with the Chancellor's forecasts.

Chancellor Darling has promised to cut the underlying budget deficit by a half within four years, even as pressure on the finances of local government continues to intensify, with support from Whitehall being in the firing line for severe cuts whoever wins the next Westminster General Election and with local economies being hit by the continuing effects of the downturn.

I am more convinced than ever that Wales certainly cannot afford the consequence of either a New Labour or a Tory election victory and their half-baked ill thought out policies - roll on a hung parliament!

Monday, 22 February 2010


The news that the US President and his holiness, the Dalai Lama (the Tibetan Spiritual and Political leader) had a meeting in the White House (on 19th February 2010) may cause an acute epidemic of teeth grinding in Beijing within the ruling elite of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and much rubbing of somewhat blood stained hands. One wonders how long it will be before Gordon Brown or his successors meet with the Dali Lama in 10 Downing Street. Judging by the spineless nature of the UK Government's recent and not so recent dealings with the PRC - which barely even attempts to conceal its hideous human rights record - the Dalai Lama may well have a long wait before he enjoys any hospitaliy at the hands of a UK Prime Minister.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Here we go again, same old Tories, trying to sell the public something they already own. This time, unlike the Trains, energy companies, phone system, BP, etc they plan to sell 'poor people' shares in banks that they already own, well at least have already paid for(and will keep paying for some time). The Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne, now plans to sell the public discounted shares in state-owned banks under a "people's bonus" plan.

In a Sunday Times (21st February 2010) interview, Mr Osborne said the measure would be a reward for the £850bn of public money used to prop up failing financial institutions. The Tories plan to target young people and people on low incomes with special extra discounts. This has more than a faint whiff of desperation as the Tory lead in the polls may well have crashed. Mr Osborne told the Sunday Times: "The bankers have had their bonuses. We want a people's bank bonus for the people's money that was put into these organisations."

One does hate to point out that we already own some of the banks, it's just that the banks and the New Labour Government keep forgetting it. This desperate desire to privatise, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Lloyds Banking Group, does appear to have an air of desperation about it, mind selling cheap under valued shares will be nothing new to a Tory Government, that's what they did last time, which certainly helped their chums in the City line their pockets.


Plaid MP's have always punched above it weight at Westminster, a real case of quality rather than quantity, something that the Independent (Wednesday 10th February 2010) amongst others has noticed. It was Plaid who drew attention to Blair and Mittal's £2m, and Plaid who began to the process of shining some light in relation to the Cash for Honours scandal. Not to mention the attempt to impeach Tony Blair. The 3 Plaid MP's (Elfyn Llwyd, Adam Price and Hwyel Williams ) have, the Independent noted have had more effect on Parliament than the entire Liberal Democrats, all 62 of them. It will be interesting to see what happens when Plaid doubles it's number of MP's!


Never has there been more of a need of a strong voice for Wales in Westminster, with the prospect (whoever wins) of Wales facing massive cuts in public spending as a direct result of Labour’s utter mismanagement of the financial crisis. Wales needs a strong voice in Westminster, and only Plaid can do the job. Our communities and our economy need neither Labour nor the Tories in Government - as neither can be relied upon to stand up for Wales or Welsh interests, neither Gordon Brown's New Labour or David ('Call me Dave') Cameron's New Conservatives can be allowed to wreak havoc on the Welsh economy, undermine our welfare state and damage our communities. Only Plaid MP's can stand up for Wales, only Plaid MP's can provide that strong clear voice in Westminster and only Plaid will fight to protect jobs, public services, our communities and a fair deal for our farmers. The truth is that neither New Labour nor the Conservatives can be trusted to put the needs of Welsh communities before the needs of the financial interests of their questionable friends in the City of London and the square mile.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


From time to time I have tried to draw attention to the UK Government's failure in its Duty of Care towards our service men and service women, this is something that is provoking widespread concern especially when the Military Covenant is being effectively undermined. Plaid launched its new policy paper on supporting veterans, on Monday 15th February, it highlights a number of important, if not vital, areas for reform in the penal system and highlights the need for a separate strategic review of expenditure spent on service personnel leaving the forces.

At a time when the UK Government is preparing to undertake a major defence spending review, Plaid will be urging the Westminster government to address this particular area of forces and veteran welfare. Following on from the spiralling cost of military procurement and the New Labour government's utter inability to keep within its budget, especially over the war in Afghanistan, Plaid is campaigning for priority to be given to veteran welfare.

Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd MP, who first highlighted this issue seven years ago has repeatedly pressed the Prime Minister many times on the matter. Mr Llwyd launched the document at the Royal British Legion in Llandudno.

Plaid's Elfyn Llwyd MP said:

"This work is part of Plaid's ongoing commitment to supporting troops and veterans that are currently being let down by the UK Government. If the government is going to send our brave troops to illegal and immoral wars they must remember that they still have a duty of care towards them or they break the Military Covenant."

"Large numbers of soldiers are coming back from war zones (more than ever before), and on leaving the forces, it is increasingly apparent that the government is doing little to support them. Last year figures showed there were twice as many veterans in prison than British troops are in Afghanistan."

"Initiatives need to be put in place to target the social isolation experienced by many veterans - something which would doubtlessly lessen the numbers entering into custody or probation in the first place. We're advocating several measures such as a more thorough 'debriefing' procedure pre-discharge from the forces and which would include psychological assessments plus drug and alcohol tests. Intervention at an early stage could help many veterans before they come into contact with the criminal justice system."

"A post-discharge support programme should be designed to combat the various strains of social estrangement experienced by many veterans. Basic initiatives such as tenancy support services and advice on debt management should be as integral to a support programme as physical and mental health checks."

"What is missing on a national level is a holistic support service and also a system of identification of veterans coming into contact with the criminal justice system. There are many more options that need to be considered and this is very much an ongoing project. Reform of the current penal system, as well as the way criminal proceedings are dealt with within the military, is desperately needed to ensure our veterans do not end up in this vicious circle."

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


The publication a report called ''The Oil Crunch - a wake up call for the UK economy'' (on 10th February 2010) has warned that we will all face a serious rise in the cost of heating, transport, food and other goods, the hard-hitting report can be said to have largely slipped by under the radar. The report was researched by the Industry Taskforce for Peak Oil and Energy Security, which rather than consisting of the usual Green suspects, is 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 pulls no punches has said that Government must recognise the risks to the economy and produce contingency plans for transport, retail, agriculture and alternative power. It suggests 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 are further dire warnings that unless the Government gets its act together on alternative energy then there is the distinct 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.

While not specifically dealing with the issue of climate change, the report stresses the significant overlap between the issues of pollution and depleted resources. The vulnerability of transportation to rising oil prices, with small and large businesses ranging from supermarkets to manufacturers being reliant on fossil (oil) fuel based delivery networks, is also highlighted.

The report calls for more research and development of alternative methods of powering vehicles and the electrification of the railway network. Surprisingly, the report has also called for an end to the £9 billion tax break on fuel for domestic airlines and suggests that the money for public transport investment, and that more efforts should be put into encouraging less car travel.

Basically the UK's freight network, its cars and its public transport systems are almost entirely dependent on oil, which when you factor in the threat of the oil price rises (known as the Oil crunch) and factor in climate change, make the way the UK operates unsustainable. The report warns that economic growth could be endangered with rapid price rises raising the costs of raw materials and reducing consumers' spending power as they fork out more on energy and transport costs.

The report notes that there could be a social recession which will hit the poorest households hardest, and calls for the UK Government to make serious provision for the effects of a rise in food prices, which may be triggered by increases in farming costs as agriculture in the UK is far too reliant on oil-related products like fertilisers the costs of which will also rise along with oil prices.

What makes this report timely is that we have already seen warnings from Ofgem – the Energy Watchdog, which has publicly warned that electricity and gas may become unaffordable for an increasing number of households unless drastic action is taken to secure power supplies. In recent years Oil prices have been particularly unstable with peaks of $147 a barrel in July 2008 before falls to $32 a barrel that December 2008 as the worldwide financial crisis and the economic downturn hit home. Oil prices rose again towards the end of last year reaching some $70 to $80 a barrel.

Oil Prices have stayed relatively static in recent months as worldwide economies continue to struggle. It is grimly ironic that the effects of the worldwide economic crisis may have bought us some more time (2 years), as they have pushed back the ''oil crunch'' point – which is when worldwide demand will use up stocks faster than they can be replaced by new production – the question is will the UK Governments and business use this precious time to work out how to solve the problem or not?

The UK is seen as being vulnerable to energy price rises, as it is so dependent upon imported energy supplies, something that is made worse because many of the areas where oil and gas are imported from are politically unstable. Now oil prices are, once the world economy comes out of recession, still predicted to climb to a sustained level above $100 a barrel within the next five years, which is good news for Mr Putin, the Iranians and the Saudi’s but bad news for Mr Brown’s successor whoever they may be and bad news for the rest of us.

Developing sustainable secure renewable energy supplies is the only serious answer to this problem, that and curbing our dangerous addiction to oil fueled air travel and road haulage – which brings us back to a radical idea of investing in our railways and electrifying of our railways and getting freight of our roads and onto our railways. Another question to ask is how serious will any incoming Government be towards investing in and developing our railways?

Monday, 15 February 2010


The old adage, when in a hole stop digging, apparently does not apply to MPs. Just when you thought that public credibility in the House of Commons and MPs could sink no lower, it has emerged that MPs are trying to prevent the publication of details about unpaid food and drinks bills they have run up in the Commons.

Under pressure from MP’s the House authorities have already delayed releasing the data in response to freedom of information requests after MPs (at least from their point of view) apparently reacted furiously to the prospect of details of their bar tabs (paid and unpaid) and meal bills being exposed to the scrutiny of the ordinary people who pay their salaries.

A significant number (a few hundred apparently) of MPs are believed to be liable for large tabs in the restaurants and bars in the Palace of Westminster, some of which may run to thousands of pounds. The Times (15.02.2010) revealed that as of the end of the summer of 2009, some 329 MPs owed a total of £138,046.

MPs have demanded that data protection laws be considered as a defence to prevent release of the information, MPs have already tried to use the Data Protection Act (unsuccessfully) to stop the release of a detailed breakdown of MPs’ second-home allowance claims.

It’s enough to turn an MP to drink, well…as long as someone else is paying.

Saturday, 13 February 2010


I am more than happy to pledge my support to the campaign and keep constables at the heart of the communities they serve. For at the heart of modern day policing sits the vital Office of Constable, a fully trained and warranted police constable is able to deal with a wide range of diverse duties, from statement taking, crowd control and first aid. This is why I have supported the Real Policing Pledge Campaign ( which has been organised by the Constables’ Central Committee. Policing on the cheap will never work, the price for any cuts or reduction in our Police service will be paid by both our communities and our Police officers.

The Real Policing Pledge:

  • Uphold the office of constable as the bedrock of modern policing
  • Maintain the number of warranted police constables in England and Wales
  • Ensure that all constables are adequately trained to do their jobs
  • Commit to maintain an effective ratio of police constables to support staff on community policing teams
  • Honour the Police Negotiating Board (PNB)
Our Police officers are duty bound to protect life and property and can be called into service 24 hours a day 365 days a year. While their civilian community support officers, civilian investigators and detention officers make a vital contribution, they are unable to have as much impact as a regular warranted police constable, which is why our police officers need our continued support. We need more Police Officers, who are properly trained, properly funded, properly supported and out on the beat in the heart of our communities not wading through paperwork and administrative tasks.

Friday, 12 February 2010


The news that M4 in south Wales is to become a "hydrogen highway", with alternative energy refueling points is excellent news. This should create new jobs and help to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector which is responsible for about 12% of carbon dioxide emissions in Wales. This will also help grow and develop the green economy. It shows that Wales is prepared to take the lead in this area.

For once, Wales can lead the way developing alternative fuels, including hydrogen from renewable sources along with creating the necessary and extensive renewable refueling infrastructure. Hydrogen is a serious alternative energy source to carbon-rich fossil fuels. This will help as Wales is a designated Low Carbon Economic Area (or LCEA) for hydrogen and low carbon fuel technologies such as natural gas and bio-methane. The Plaid driven One Wales government, by making the M4 into a hydrogen highway by as early as 2015 aims to attract investment from all sectors of the motoring industry.

This is the first step towards providing electric plug-in facilities, hydrogen, compressed natural gas and bio-methane-filling points and is an significant first step towards stimulating the alternative fuels market. Wales could become one of the prime locations for alternative vehicle development and enable vehicle manufacturers to demonstrate and validate the technology in the UK. There are already has two multi-fuel filling facilities in south Wales, at Baglan and Treforest.

Thursday, 11 February 2010


Some people have all the luck, or at least the connections. After leaving his job as Conservative MP for Bracknell, Andrew MacKay, a former aide to David Cameron, will start work as an international consultant and strategic adviser for the firm, which lists HSBC and Danone among its clients in Britain. MacKay, who was forced to quit Parliament over his misuse of expenses.

Only last week he was asked to repay more than £31,000 in allowances, he will join Burson-Marsteller, one of the world's biggest communications firms. This news comes barely two days after Mr Cameron promised a crackdown on lobbyists in Westminster. David Cameron, the Conservative leader said the £2 billion lobbying industry "tainted" politics and was the "next big scandal" in Parliament.

So much for the new Conservative moral high horse - I wonder if there are any 'swords of truth' going cheap?

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


Having spent enough time travelling on the A4042 from Pontypool through Mamhilad and Goetre and on to Abergavenny (via Llanelen) in all seasons, all sorts of weathers and at all sorts of hours, I think that Gwent Police have got it spot on with their request to the Welsh Assembly Government to give further consideration to building a roundabout at the dangerous Little Mill junction. I have over the years seen the aftermath of far too many accidents on the A4042 at the Little Mill junction and elsewhere along the road.

As a trainee journalist (on the Pontypool Free Press) in the 1980’s I can recall the complaints from residents then and can recall the results of road accidents. Now it's not just the stretch of the road between Pontypool and Goetre, I can recall my news desk dealing regularly with stories relating to flooding and accidents at Llanelen Bridge on the A4042 between Pontypool and Abergavenny. I have lost track of the number of times that my journey to and from Abergavenny and the north west of the constituency have been stopped by the Police and other emergency services dealing with the consequences of yet another traffic accident.

The problems along the road between Little Mill and at Llanelen had been clearly identified when Gwent County Council still existed (and that was pre 1992) and there have been far too many accidents since, over the years - the question is now no so much what will be done as when will something be done, before the grim toll of accidents is added too.

The area around Llanelen Bridge has long been prone to flooding as well as being recognised and well known as a lethal accident black spot; over the years all we have had is talk about sorting out the problems, but, never any action to resolve the problem.
We have to ask ourselves; as we face yet another season of long dark winter evenings, how many more lives will be lost before any action is finally taken? For how much longer must we put up with inaction before anything is actually done to solve the problem and save lives?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


Oops - even as David ('Call me Dave') Cameron considers tightening up on the rules to prevent former ministers using their accumulated knowledge to make a financial killing in private business once out of office, the Times (9th February 2010) has revealed that his own Shadow Defence Minister, (Dr) Liam Fox, has received and accepted a donation of £50,000 (on the 26th January 2010) from a venture capitalist who bought a company that supplies military equipment, last week.

In his defence, if you will pardon the pun, the Shadow Defence Minister has stated that his private office has been supported for some five years by this venture capitalist – so far donations to the Conservative Party from the same source have reached a total of £125,000. Dr Fox as recorded in the Register of Members Interests stated that the donation as accepted “in my capacity as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence”.

Now while it is a recognised fact that the Conservatives are very much into tradition, well there is sadly a tradition of people using their acquired knowledge from alleged public service to enrich themselves and people buying influence in the corridors of power are as old as the hills, but that does not make it acceptable.And last time the Tories tried it, it ended in tears, prison sentences and the surgical removal of duly inserted swords of truth...

Monday, 8 February 2010


Jack Straw on the stand (rather than in the dock) will I suspect bring little comfort to those who have lost loved ones in Blair's wars, nor will sadly shed any new light on what went on in Blair's cabinet room during the run up to the Iraq War. We will get the truth, the whole truth from the perspective of Jack Straw (and the rest of them) - or rather we will get their sanitised version of their truth.

There is an old adage that those in the dock either stand together or hang separately - I suspect that no one will break ranks and there will be no revelations - how can there be? The deed is done, we are living with the consequences and may well do so for some time to come, but, Blair's cronies will swan off to fresh pastures, company directorships and city jobs, etc.

One thing to remember, as was pointed out to me the other day, is that the vote for war would never have been passed save for the support of many Conservative MP's. A little way down the line, one wonders of Cameron will get or need the support of Labour MPs for any vote on war with Iran? Another question to ask is if the USA decides to have a war with Iran, and it may be sooner rather than later will they get 100% support from David Cameron?

Saturday, 6 February 2010


The fact that three Labour MPs and one Tory peer are facing charges under the Theft Act over their expenses claims should be more shocking than it is. What's more shocking is the faint whiff of tokenism that appears to surround the whole sorry saga - barely four - what about the rest of them?

At the end of the day theft is theft, and the law is the law. Any potential use of parliamentary privilege as a defense to allegation so theft is clearly unacceptable in the eyes of most ordinary people. Most ordinary people would end up ruined, sacked, imprisoned and unemployed if they fiddled their expenses on the same scale as some of the MPs at Westminster.

Employers would seek to recover their costs and their loses via the courts - it is important to remember that this is public money we are talking about. Any claims of ignorance or misunderstanding should be treated with a serious degree of scepticism as should the much heard plaintive bleat that everything that was claimed for was within the rules.

Theft at the end of the day is theft. Any MP who refuses to hand back any money they illegally gained should at minimum, if leaving the commons have the difference deducted from the lump sum they recieve when they leave parliament or have their assets sequestrated.

Gordon's Government was pretty quick of the mark to use existing legislation to seize Icelandic assets and Mrs Thatcher's Government was equally quick enough to seize the assets of various Trade Unions in the 1980's - so why not the assets of various MPs?

An ordinary member of the public guilty of mortgage fraud would be unable to use the defense of saying that they payed the money back to avoid any dire consequences, so why should MPs be able to get away with it? Even those MPs who are entirely guiltless will have a tough time on the doorsteps with voters and they would be best advised to forget about trying to defend an institution that has about as much of a moral reputation as piano player in a New Orleans brothel.

We are in for an interesting election and hopefully the electorate will remember what has occurred and duly exercise its options at the ballot to remove those MPs (regardless of Party) from office - if the voters do so then they will have done the country a great service.

Friday, 5 February 2010


The cold statistics will tell you 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 are 971 Post Offices (2008 / 2009) in Wales; Post Offices have been closing at a faster rate here in Wales than in other areas of the UK, with a 13% reduction in Post Offices in Wales last year, compared to 12.3% in England, 9.75% in Scotland and only 7.61% in Northern Ireland.It is worth remembering that since New Labour come to power in 1997, some 4,000 Post offices have been closed, some 3,000 Post offices were closed by the previous Conservative administration.

Post Office Ltd can say that its closure programme affected less than 1% of the population and that they aimed to improve the ranges of services offered to customers, make their branches more viable, etc. Research for the report from focus groups around Wales, showed that people want their local Post Offices to stay open and that people wanted a personal face-to-face service in their local community, rather than having to access services on-line or over via the phone.

A Consumer Focus Wales report revealed that older consumers who were forced to move to another post office complained about experiencing longer queues and an impersonal service. The report noted that those with health problems found it difficult to queue for long periods or to walk the extra distance to the new post office without assistance. It was also noted that the closure of the local post office led to far fewer opportunities for social interaction, with people reporting an increase in isolation and loneliness. Rural and small town Post Offices play a very important role in our communities which goes well beyond the provision of postal services. It is important that all essential local Post Office services can be easily accessed locally by older people within their own communities.

Let’s not forget that Labour Ministers and backbench MPs in Westminster (Wayne David [Caerphilly], Jessica Morden [Newport East] to name but two) happily voted in favour of the closure of Post Offices, whilst at the same time pretended to campaign in their constituencies in favour of keeping threatened Post Offices open. They may or may not have considered the full implication the on-going programme of Post Office closures as they trooped obediently through the voting lobbies at Westminster before the vote – perhaps not!

When Polling Day comes the electors should not forgive or forget this government’s (or the previous Conservative governments) role in decimating our Post Office network, if the rundown of our rural and small town Post Offices continues and more are forced to close down then many thousands of more vulnerable older people could become more isolated from the local community in our urban and rural areas. There is a need for Post Offices to modernise to make them more financially viable, but, it is important to remember that this Labour Government began closing the Post Offices without adequately exploring how Post Offices could expand their services and was merely following the line adopted by the previous Conservative Governments.

IT does not have to be this way, recently In Monouthshire Usk, Caldicot and Magor post offices were 3 out of the 75 post offices across Wales to be awarded grants from the Post Office Diversification Fund. Most people and most political parties recognise that Post Offices play a vital roll at the heart of their communities and are real lifelines to vulnerable people.

The Post Office Diversification Fund is planned to run for three years and has been set up to offer help and advice with advertising, marketing, business advice, training and setting up new services for customers. The fund can also help with improving access, security and upgrading computer equipment, etc. This is the 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.

Thursday, 4 February 2010


The suggestion that a Cymru Card scheme, a Wales loyalty Card, be created is a good one, which could be linked to existing supermarket loyalty card schemes on the one hand, or ‘shop local’ cards in different towns across Wales. Alternative schemes would be explored with those supermarket groups who do not have a loyalty card scheme, such as Morrisons and Asda.

A number of large supermarkets and other organisations offer loyalty points schemes to their customers. A number of the larger supermarkets already have promotions in place to acknowledge customers who support environmentally friendly or Fairtrade products.

Plaid’s suggestion is for a similar system to encourage customers to buy locally produced goods, as well as Welsh produce overall. The difference is that by tying these loyalty schemes in with a local angle, which offer specific incentives for buying local produce will ensure that even when shopping in larger stores people can do their bit for local businesses.

This is not pie in the sky, as similar systems already exist; in Ireland there is the Shamrock scheme where shoppers can earn bonus supermarket loyalty points for buying home-grown goods. The Scots are looking to develop a similar proposal. The Welsh scheme that Plaid is proposing would provide a huge boost for Welsh food producers and for the agricultural industry as a whole.

This could provide an opportunity to encourage supermarkets, grocers and producers to work together to explore the creation of our own scheme in Wales and give greater prominence to local produce. This scheme should be very welcome in Monmouthshire where we have a host of local businesses who would able to ensure their excellent products are promoted effectively.

Plaid in government in Wales has already taken action to encourage people to buy Welsh produce. Plaid Minister Elin Jones AM, whose government responsibilities include food and farming, launched the Local Sourcing Action Plan last year which aims to get more local consumption of locally produced food - whether it's through public sector contracts, supermarkets or restaurants. She is also developing policy around Community Food Growing - again, looking at more innovative ways of increasing the amount of food locally produced and consumed

This would be an excellent way of boosting the local economy by encouraging customers to support Welsh farmers and food producers, and may start the ball rolling to getting our farmers and food producers a fairer deal with the Supermarkets. A Welsh produce loyalty scheme would have a number of benefits.

A Cymru Card could help encourage healthier eating, help cut down on food miles, and help give our local farmers, our food producers and our local businesses a much needed boost, especially during the present economic difficulties. It will also assure people that they are getting the excellent quality produce that is on offer throughout Wales. and may help to keep money circulating for longer in the local economy.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


That Ofgen has said that there is "reasonable doubt" about the ability of the UK's energy market to deliver sustainable energy supplies in the coming decade, should come as no surprise to anyone with half an eye on what has been going on within the energy sector over the last twenty years. Neither should it come as much of a surprise when Ofgen goes onto say that the open competitive energy market, such as it is in the UK, may fail to deliver secure, sustainable supplies in the coming decade.

This is the result of a sustained lack of Government interest in the energy sector, particularly when it comes to developing the sustainable energy sector, especially when it comes to the development of realistic storage for gas and when it comes to developing sustainable green energy resources. UK Government interest in the energy sector and this applies equally to whoever has been and is in government at Westminster, has largely been focused on spending the funds received from the energy companies and profiting from higher tax returns when energy prices and energy company profits have risen.

Ofgen has effectively admitted that as a result of the credit crunch, the ongoing problems of maintaining international supplies, and dealing with the consequences of dealing with global warming that the UK needs to look for new solutions to protect security of energy supply. Ofgen, somewhat belatedly has also suggested that the private energy companies be required to deliver more generation capacity and gas storage. Things must be bad, because the suggestion has been made that the industry should revert to a form of centralised market control, which is potentially the most significant shake up of the complacent energy sector since privatisation.

The suggestion that the energy sector needs some £200bn of investment and stronger incentives to deliver sustainable and secure energy supplies for the UK within the next ten years, may prompt many people, who have been paying higher and higher energy bills since privatisation to wonder where all the vast profits that the privatised energy companies have been tucking away have gone?

And over the longer term who has really benefited from the privatisation of the energy market, save for the Tories and their money men and banker friends in the City of London, as we face in the short term yet another cold spell and in the medium term higher energy bills and in the longer term potential energy blackouts over the next few year, I suspect that the answer may turn out to be the few at the expense of the many.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


President Obama, has gone and done it, as part of his new vision for space exploration as part of his $3.8 trillion (£2.4 trillion) budget proposal to Congress yesterday, he has called for a halt to Constellation, the project that aims to send astronauts back to the Moon by 2020 and has already cost $9 billion.

One immediate side effect of this proposal is that the International Space Station, which would have been scrapped in 2016, will now get a five-year extension to its working life. Additionally the business of getting US astronauts there and back again will be effectively privatised, with a subsidy of some $6 billion of funding, while NASA continues to work on developing new technologies for longer-term space exploration.

In the wings stands China, which will not be unaware of how things will look if China beats America back to the Moon. US President George Bush when he vowed to return Americans to the Moon by 2020 was acknowledging that it was important not only for manned space flight to flourish; but also important for those humans in space to include a healthy number of Americans.

The Europeans have a space programme of sorts (admittedly largely French, Russia has retained (by the skin of its teeth) a space programme. What about the UK? well the Conservatives finally finished that dream off in the early 1970's when a Tory Minister saw no future for private satellite launches...which brought the remnants of the Blue Streak programme (originally cancelled in 1960) to an end.

The next historic landmark may well be that of the Peoples Republic of China putting a man on the Moon, which may help to rundown America’s technological supremacy. China, already produces more engineering graduates than America. If congress approves the budget then we may be seeing the moment when Washington’s sense of international supremacy begin to decline, as its global political and scientific stature also begins to diminish.

Manned space flight programme which can be viewed as an expensive luxury when the economy is on rocky ground, but, it is not. NASA needs to do more that merely to focus on long-range research and development. This would be a grave mistake, with financial, economic and political consequences.

The PRC has the ambition, the money and the determination to take the traditional Chinese long view. With its sights firmly set on the stars, the PRC, the world’s newest superpower is planning to put a man or woman on the Moon by 2020. Close behind is India, which launched its first unmanned mission to the Moon in 2008 and now aims to put an Indian astronaut into orbit within five years.

The curse of the modern political world may well be short-term thinking US President Obama needs to deal with the financial crisis and he also needs to be able to show the world that America knows where it wants to be several decades from now, and that the USA has the vision and will to get there.

While the proposed budget and NASA cuts will greatly irritate Congress with politicians from both sides of the political divide who see NASA’s manned space programme as vital component of US national pride, they are also important to the rest of us.