Wednesday, 30 June 2010


As the public sector cuts begin to bite we may find ourselves in wholly new territory, as a largely Conservative (+ associate rag tag Lib Dems hangers on) seriously considers cutting Police (both uniformed and civilian support staff) numbers whilst we are dealing with the effects of the recession – this is something even Mrs Thatcher (in her more lucid moments well before she went mad towards the end of her tenure as PM) never even considered doing for a moment.

Mr’s T in the early days of her premiership raise Police pay (and improved conditions) – something which won her a combination of tacit approval, tacit support or a degree of active passivity from the Police service, which had been neglected under the previous struggling Labour Government – during who's tenure in office there had been an erosion of police pay and working conditions.

Faced with paying for New Labour’s reckless spending, the ongoing financial legacy of Blair's wars, bailing out the banks, replacing Trident (an essential prop of Britain is to stride the world stage clinging on to the pretensions of being a World power), etc - the new Government finds itself skint.  David (“Call me Dave”) Cameron's Con Dem Government may well have reached its budgetary Rubicon moment - To cut or not to cut and how deep? Are we seriously talking about reducing Police numbers and cutting back on operational policing and the myriad of police support workers who fulfil a hundred routine (and not so routine) tasks behind the front line?

Perhaps, certainly it is quite likely that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) conference in Manchester will (BBC and Daily Telegraph) have been told by the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers Sir Hugh Orde will (by the time this blog is published) that current police numbers are unsustainable in the face of cuts and that it is "misleading in the extreme" to claim anything otherwise. Only last week the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson went so far as to suggest that his force would "shrink" as a result of budget cuts and has talked about growing the number of special constables to make up the numbers.

So where exactly does that leave Policing in Wales, which is substantially somewhat down the Ministry of Justice / Home Office food chain of funding priorities, of late Police Services in Wales have been ‘publicly making the best out of a potentially bad situation. In the wake of the proposed ‘savage’ public service funding cuts the real question is where exactly does that leave front line policing within our more vulnerable and not so vulnerable communities.

Within the Gwent Police Service area, Plaid Cymru’s Steffan Lewis (the then Islwyn Westminster Parliamentary candidate) expertly exposed Gwent Police’s proposals to close local Police stations (many of whom have pretty reduced operating hours to start with) rattled more than a few bars locally across Gwent gaining coverage in both the South Wales Argus and the Western Mail. Quite understandably local residents were less than chuffed when they foresaw the consequences of the loss of local police stations.

So, anyway as no doubt we will be faced by broad and deep cuts in public expenditure the question is where do we or at least our Police Services go from here? A cut is a cut, no matter how you spin it, and for sure Cameron's Tories (and their hangers on) have inherited former spin master Blair's well oiled machine – so be prepared for lots of it - to distract the eye and the wallet with slight of hand as our public services get cut to the bone (so much for ‘New Tories'). 

The bottom line is that decision making when it comes to Criminal Justice and Policing (for they are two sides of the same coin), how its funded and how the money is spent should be made locally in Cardiff rather than in Westminster and Whitehall where any understanding of policing needed on the ground locally and local problems will be somewhat understandably dim and distant from any consequences on the streets of our communities.

Monday, 28 June 2010


Uncommon Sense (27.06.2010) which blogs for a free Cuba is always worth a read - noting this week that the Group of 52 - who are Cuban Political Prisoners - who were among some 75 Cuban journalists, librarians, human rights activists and other dissidents were arrested and imprisoned during the "black spring," which started March 18, 2003 - remain in Raul Castro's gulag, as of June 24, 2010.

Also the fact that the Human Rights and Equality Commission does not recognise Welsh people as an indigenous people might shock more than a few people. This is something that the Plaid Wrecsam blog noted: "It should not need pointing out that the Welsh are in fact the indigenous people of Wales. Most people would not disagree with that and would probably comment that I am highlighting the blindingly obvious by making such a remark. Yet, the Human Rights and Equality Commission last week gave evidence to the Welsh Assembly stating the opposite. The evidence heard by the Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee from the Commission was that "Welsh people within the UK don't fit as an indigenous grouping" and therefore are not entitled to protection under Human Rights legislation, specifically the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

While it is becoming depressingly obvious to many observers that the Conservative Party in London has not adjusted its attitude to the concept of Devolution (and subsequent developments since 1997) and many other matters one bit will probably not shock many observers at all - however, the Lib Dems have no excuses, having been pro-devolution since the 1960's and before. The happy (or not ) amalgam or effective merger (take your pick) that is the Con Dem Government's performance runs the risk (especially after the 'get on your bike' row that has erupted since Sunday) of repeating the mistakes of the Thatcherite era. Many people won't want to go throw the whole process again, once was enough, which should be more than enough reason to make people wonder why they voted Lib Dem at all...

The Plaid Llundain Blog notes that Thatcher`s first years were marked by the inexorable merciless shut down of manufacturing and mining in Wales, and a deterioration of services attended by massive increases in unemployment. Whole communities were condemned and abandoned to a despair which has become ingrained and normalised. This was then, despite Peter Hain's mutterings to the contrary, then repeated as Blair's New Labour`s sucking up to middle England marginalising and abandoning despite UK Labour `s apologists in Wales who are currently reawakening their socialist principles - going through it all once with Mr's T was a destructive enough experience for many of us - going through a similar experience under David ("Call me Dave") Cameron's rule is even less appealing.

Leanne Wood AM/AC blogged on short sentencing noting that: "It was refreshing to hear the Howard League for Penal Reform and the probation officers union, Napo, bring a bit of common sense to the public debate this week on how best to cut the budget deficit. Both suggested abolishing short prison sentences on the basis that they serve no purpose whatsoever." Well said, the whole piece is well worth a read.

The BBC ran an interesting piece on the dangers of re-writing history... and also noted that municipal authorities in Georgia have finally taken down a statue of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin that stood in the central square of Gori, his home town.

And finally an English MP has called for a fresh debate over 'English anthem' . Greg Mulholland a Lib Dem MP said it was "frustrating" to hear fans sing God Save The Queen in South Africa as it was the anthem for the United Kingdom. He told MPs there should be a "properly established" anthem for English teams. Parliament should debate the case for an "English national anthem" that fans can sing at sporting events like the World Cup he said. After Sunday, perhaps Abide With Me might be more appropriate.

Saturday, 26 June 2010


It's armed forces day today - with it's primary focus being on Cardiff and many other cities and towns across the UK. On Armed Forces Day, it's worth remembering that of late our Armed Forces and their families have long had much more lasting and meaningful support from the public than they have from their Governments, perhaps things will change under this Con Dem Government, I hope things will change for the better, but suspect that little will change save for the rhetoric. 

Much needs to change though for our serving service personnel, for service families accommodation, who have suffered from years of ongoing mismanagement of the MoD housing stock and a lack of investment in the welfare of troops and ex-servicemen who should rate far higher when it comes to Government thinking and Government policy.

Every now and again you can honestly sit here and think that little has changed over the years; once again our heroes and heroines are doing battle in a distant land and their families are living quietly in sub-standard accommodation at home. They (My grandfather amongst them) were promised many years ago 'Homes fit for heroes' – which were never delivered, too expensive in peacetime, when UK Governments have little need for heroes or honouring their wartime promises.  The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (in October last year) found not surprisingly that successive Governments at least; don't appreciate our soldiers one bit; as they proceed to hack the defence budget to save money here and there.

Sadly this should come as no real surprise, as there is a long tradition of successive Governments (with ironically the exception being the 1945 Labour Government) of betraying it's service personnel admittedly usually after a wars conclusion rather than while it is still going on. It is deeply ironic that with the ninety first anniversary of a UK Government betraying its promise to our soldiers to ensure that they had homes fit for heroes after the 1914 – 1918 war; that we find ourselves in a situation where soldiers families are continuing to live in sub-standard accommodation.

It is absolutely unacceptable that a third of forces families are living in poor accommodation and is equally amazing that such a large number of MoD properties remain empty at huge expense to the tax payer. It is clear that there has clearly been a long term underinvestment in service housing stock which is unacceptable.

It was and still is a grave insult to our forces that UK Government's - since the early 1990's  - regularly sent UK troops to fight in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq (again) to mention but a few of Thatcher / Major and Blair's Wars when repeated questions about the provision of their equipment, the welfare and accommodation for their families at home were being  repeatedly raised and repeatedly ignored. 

Our service personnel and their families deserve much better than they are getting from the Government and they deserve far more than what is effectively one Government sponsored day per year...

Perhaps the last word should rightly go to Kipling...

Oh, it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, go away':
But it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins,' when the band begins to play -
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
Oh, it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins,' when the band begins to play.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.

Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?'
But it's 'Thin red line of 'eroes' when the drums begin to roll -
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
Oh, it's 'Thin red line of 'eroes when the drums begin to roll.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out, the brute!'
But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;

An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!


There is more than a degree of bitter sweet irony that Kipling's Tommy remains as relevant today as when it was written... so much for progress

Friday, 25 June 2010


The Iranian Government continues to harass, detain without trial and murder Trade Unions who are trying to organise to fight for better working conditions and Human Rights. Justice for Iranian Workers continues to monitor the situation as does the International Transport Workers' Federation, the following gives us an idea of the pressures that Trade Union Activist are under: 

1. Mansour Osanloo - Currently at Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj City near Tehran. He is the President of the Tehran Bus Workers Union.

2. Ebrahim Madadi - Currently at Evin Prison. He is the Vice President of the Tehran Bus Workers Union.

3. Saeed Torabian was arrested by the security force on 9th June and his whereabouts are currently unknown. He is the spokesperson of the Tehran Bus Workers Union.

4. Reza Shahbi was arrested by the security force on 12th June and his whereabouts are also currently unknown. He is the treasurer of the Tehran Bus Workers Union.

5. Pejman Rahimi, a union activist in Khuzestan, southern Iran, was sentenced to one year imprisonment and 40 lashes by the Ahwaz Public Court on 17th April on charges of disrupting public order. The verdict was announced on 31 May. He was previously sentenced to 5 years in prison for supporting the workers at the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Factory and the Ahwaz Tubing Factory.

6. Mehdi Farahi Shandiz was arrested and transferred to the notorious Kahrizak prison upon his visit to the Revolutionary Court to retrieve his personal belongings on 8th June. He is a 50 years old teacher and a worker activist . Last year, his belongings were confiscated after he was detained on the anniversary of International Workers' Day (May Day).

7. Abolfazl Abedini Nasr has been sentenced to 11 years of peremptory confinement on 11th May. He is a journalist and a labour and human right activist. Abolfazl was a key person who assisted the Haft Tapeh union in the last 3 years.

8. Mohammad Olyaiefard, a lawyer for the Haft Tapeh and Tehran Bus Workers' Union, was arrested on 1st May and is currently in detention. He has previously been sentenced to one year in prison in the past.

It's not just ordinary workers who are under pressure from the repressive Iranian Government, the teaching Unions are also under threat, so are Teaching Union members:

9. Abdolreza Ghanbari, a school teacher in Pakdasht Varamin and online professor of Payam e Nour University, was arrested at his home in Pakdasht on 4th January, 2010. He was charged with Moharebeh (enmity towards God) for receiving unsolicited emails from an armed opposition group to which he does not belong. In detention at the notorious Evin Prison, Ghanbari has been interrogated for 25 days in a row under duress. In 2007, Abdolreza was detained for 120 days and sentenced to a six-month suspension from teaching and exiled from Sari to Pakdasht. His recent death sentence has been confirmed by Tehran's Appeal Court, Branch 36.

10. Esmael Abdi, a school teacher member of the Iranian Teachers' Association of Tehran, was arrested on 19th May, 2010. Four officials from the Ministry of Intelligence searched his house and took his computer, notebook and some literature. They cut the wire of his land line phone and told Esmael's partner to keep his detention a secret. He remains in detention in an unknown location. According to his relatives, his arrest is the consequence of an interview he gave to foreign media on National Teachers' Day.

11. Rasoul Bodaghi is another member of the Iranian Teachers' Trade Association of Tehran who is in detention. He was transferred from the Evin Prison to Rajaieshahr Prison in Karaj on 10th May, 2010, and was reportedly beaten very severely by two prison officers on 26th May, 2010. This experience has provoked a dramatic deterioration in his health, and there is still no report of when his trial might take place.

12. Hashem Khastar is a retired teacher suffering from kidney disease, who has already served more than a third of his prison sentence, but he is still not allowed to go on leave and visit his family. This action contradicts the Iranian Governments own rules in relation to prisoners in Iran.

It does not stop with the imprisonment and death sentences, the Iranian judiciary / Government enforced the summary execution of the Iranian Teacher Union member, Farzad Kamangar, who was summarily executed on May 9th 2010, without a fair trial and prior to a Supreme Court review of his case. Farzad's execution also took place without his family or lawyer being informed. Farzad's body is yet to be returned to his family and that an independent investigation needs to carried out into the procedural irregularities and allegations of torture that were inflicted upon Farzad during his detention.

Justice for Iranian Workers also has information that suggests that Alireza Hashemi (General Secretary, Iranian Teachers Organization), Ali Akbar Baghbani (General Secretary, Teachers Trade Union) and Mohamoud Beheshti Langarudi (Spokesperson, Teachers Trade Union) may also in detention.

Check out Amnesty International for more information:

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


The Monmouthshire Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Study, commissioned for Monmouthshire County Council has examined ways in which renewable energy sources can be used in new housing and commercial developments. The report suggests that up to 45 per cent of Monmouthshire's electricity needs in 2020 could be generated from renewable sources. It states that this outcome is dependent on the development over the next 10 years, of power generating schemes involving wind, biomass and hydro technologies.

The South Argus notes that the report states that Wind power schemes could emerge as the greatest potential contributor to the county's electricity requirements in 10 years' time, whether based on a successful planning permission rate of one-in-three schemes, the current UK average, or two-in-three. The Argus also notes that the report stresses that the achievement of the latter rate would be vital if the 45 per cent rate of electricity generation from renewable sources were to be reached, with that figure reduced to 30 per cent if the planning permission rate were to remain at one-in-three.

The report also suggests that there is "good potential" for biomass power development in Monmouthshire. Biomass technology can involve a range of different sources, including forestry and sawmill by-products, commercial food waste, and energy crops. A number of small hydro-electricity projects have already begun in the county, and a scheme to harness power from the Angiddy River near Tintern was granted planning permission recently. The report suggests however, that further work on the potential for such schemes should be carried out.

A positive note is that the report places emphasis on the renewable energy potential from new residential and commercial developments. As well as stressing that such projects need to be backed up by efficiency measures and energy conservation elsewhere, if this happens then the percentage of Monmouthshire's electricity needs that could be met by renewable sources could be higher still.

Incidentally a report (on the BBC) by the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) published today goes into some detail about the job creation opportunities for young people can be trained and industry boosted by its plan to eliminate emissions by 2030. CAT, which is based in Machynlleth in Powys, is due to launch its report, zerocarbonbritain2030, at the Senedd. The Welsh Assembly Government has welcomed the report, which suggests greater use of Wales' coastal energy. The report is part of a UK-wide strategy to eliminate emissions for all greenhouse gases and across all sectors in the UK. 

Just in case you wondered why we need to develop sustainable secure energy supplies, largely thanks to Mr's T's short-sighted 'Dash for Gas' in the 1980's and any real lack of any  comprehensive forward thinking energy policy over the last 30+ years and the Tory and New Labour's best friends in the City, consider our dependency on imported gas and the latest spat between Belarus and Russia. 

Belarus has said it will settle its gas debts to Russia within two weeks, after its eastern neighbour started cutting supplies in a dispute over payments. Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka said Belarus would borrow the nearly $200m (£135m) demanded by the state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom. But he added that Russia owed Belarus $217m (£146m) in fees for transiting gas via its territory to Europe. Earlier, Russia's president ordered Gazprom to reduce supplies by 15%.

Dmitry Medvedev said this would rise "day-by-day" to 85% if Belarus did not start paying off its debts, accrued when it failed to pay increased prices. Belarus believes the higher price it is being charged contradicts a customs union deal agreed between the two countries. The row threatens to disrupt onward deliveries to Europe as about a fifth of its supplies of Russian gas is pumped through Belarus. Back in 2009, a similar dispute between Russia and Ukraine saw Gazprom shut off supplies in the middle of winter, affecting millions of people. 

Just imagine being dependent on energy supplies from potentially hostile or unstable regions of the world... Oops!


Of course that was before the election and before they got into bed with the Tories... oops!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


Over the years there have been a number of campaigns to save local village and community schools within Monmouth and Torfaen County Boroughs - some have been successful, some have not and some of the campaigns continue to this day. Now, while very few people, least of all the children and parents, would want to see a village or community school close, the closures across most of Wales continue from Gwent to Gwynedd and in between.

Much is made of cost savings, but, a closed or closing village or community school is more than just bricks and mortar and additions or subtractions to a balance sheet. One immediate effect is that aside from the damage done by the loss of the school to the local community, and immediate result is that parents or the county council end up in the businesses or providing transport to and from more distant schools. Not to mention the fact that the communities affected end up losing yet another focus (often along with their Post Offices and their Pubs) as well as losing potential community facilities and no one ends up with smaller classes.

Now while, I cannot comment on what's going on outside of Monmouthshire, in the eyes of many people Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) is pursuing a policy of short term thinking when it comes to the closure of Primary Schools across the county. Certainly MCC need a fair and proper financial settlement from the National Assembly, it's needs should be properly assessed, accounted and catered for. Many local people have concerns about the small schools closure policy which is suspected of being driven by potentially questionable motives whether immediate short term financial gain from school closures and a more medium term motive of cashing in when it comes to disposing of the former school sites for commercial gain.

Over the last few years there have been a number of campaigns to save community and village schools, some have been successful in their fight like in Ponthir, at Llanfair Kilgeddin and in and around Abergavenny as well as elsewhere within the county of Monmouthshire, and elsewhere across Wales. Other campaigns across the county and across Wales, from north to south will continue despite some pretty tepid assurances from local County Councils.

This issue of retaining village and community schools is of particular importance; both MCC, other County Council’s across Wales and the National Assembly need to seriously think again and take a more mature longer term view, and should have the courage to take a fresh look at the way small community schools fit into our education system - the English model of education does not necessarily fit in Wales.

While school rolls may fall in the short-term, over the longer term population and school rolls will rise in the villages of Monmouthshire because people will want to live in these communities. The cost of building a brand new school will be significant larger than improving an older school that may has been retained for educational and community use.

Elsewhere people do things differently, they take a longer more community minded view of education, while travelling in Asturias, in Spain, a few years ago I came across rural schools that were open with school rolls as low as 10 pupils. We need to rethink the way we run our community and village schools, there is now reason why a head teacher could not be responsible for 4 or 5 smaller schools across relatively wide rural area, modern technology can be used for shared administrative services and we could even end up with smaller class sizes.

Monday, 21 June 2010


Energy is one of the big issues that will affect all of Wales over the next 100 years, it has never made any sense for Westminster to make decisions in relation to energy development, power stations and big wind farm schemes in Wales, the development of which will impact on our communities in as many ways as we can imagine. The current set up means that any energy schemes applications where the proposed operating capacity is greater than 50 megawatts is made in Westminster, rather than Cardiff.

Peter Hain’s recent mutterings about devolving decision making to Wales (Dragon's Eye (16th June) are somewhat ironic considering that New (Old) Labour at Westminster did its best to block further devolving of decision making in a whole variety of fields to Wales. I would think that recent revelations about how the previous New Labour Government at Westminster worked to water down a proposal to limit the acceptable level of noise from wind farms enhances the case for decisions to be taken at the National Assembly.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas, AM for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, said:

Energy is a big issue in Wales and it is ridiculous that under current arrangements decisions about which projects should be approved are taken outside Wales, often by people who don't know our country and who in any case are unaccountable to our communities. As an AM, I feel powerless in this situation. When people come to see me about planning applications that are being made, I have to tell them there is very little I can do to help, despite having been elected to represent them. I think it would be much better if decisions about these projects were taken in Wales, based on reasonable grounds that help the drive against climate change while taking account of residents legitimate concerns.”

A fair point…especially as the ConDem coalition agreement states that the fundamentally undemocratic Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) is to be scrapped. The IPC, which one of dying New Labour’s more questionable creations, only became operational in October 2009, with its mission being to speed up the planning process for energy projects, many of which had been delayed for years because of lengthy public inquiries.

This Quango which was opposed by environmental groups and many others who see it as a fundamentally unaccountable body which would enable Government to ride roughshod over local objections to unpopular development projects, except in Scotland, where the Scots control their energy policy and energy development - unlike here in Wales. 

So with the coalition Government planning to bring in legislation sometime next year to abolish the IPC and transfer its functions back to Westminster where does this leave Wales and the Welsh people – so much for democratic accountability.

Sunday, 20 June 2010


The BBC has revealed that the Westminster Governments figure show that the cost of the fighting and the reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan has passed the £20 billion mark. Some £18m has been spent on military operations, and that's on-top of the ordinary defence budget, and some hundreds of millions has been spent on aid and security for UK officials in Irag and Afghanistan.

This, however, is not the final total as the £20 billion figure does not include troops' salaries or care for the wounded, which is expected to be much higher. Some critics have questioned why the UK was spending so much on conflict when the UK's public finances were in a dire state.

Now that's a good question...I wonder who's is going to answer it? 

Friday, 11 June 2010

Another Tehran trade unionist arrested

Saeed Torabian, a spokesperson for the Tehran bus drivers’ union (the Vahed Syndicate), was arrested yesterday by Iranian security forces and is being held incommunicado, whereabouts unknown.

This statement is from the Bus Drivers Union:

“Saeed Torabian, board member the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburb Vahed Bus Company was arrested on Wednesday June 9 2010 at 9 a.m. by security forces at his home and has been transferred to an unknown location. It is worth noting after ransacking his home his computer and cell phone were confiscated by security forces. After the board of directors was informed, they, along with Torabian's family members, despite their search, were not able to locate his whereabouts.

Previously Mr. Saeed Torabian had been arrested twice during the 2005 strikes of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company and spent more than one month in detention. He was also suspended from work for four years and was denied wages and all benefits. After continuous inquiries with the court of public administrative justice he was reinstated in his job and was returned to work. At this time two other members of the Syndicate's board of directors, Mansoor Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, are imprisoned in Rajayee Shahr prison in City of Karaj and Evin Prison in Tehran.

The syndicate of Vahed Company workers condemns the arrest of Saeed Torabian and other syndicate members and demand the unconditional freedom of its members and all justice seeking prisoners.”

Check out the International Transport Workers' Federation website for more details.

Thursday, 10 June 2010


When it comes to standing up for Wales all three of the London based parties had a pretty poor record in the old Parliament. Things have not got off to a good start in the new one either - especially when it comes to rail they have refused to provide a timetable to develop a high speed rail link to Swansea, this effectively puts us out of sight and out of mind as far as High Speed rail.

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. When the electrification scheme was originally proposed by New Labour it was to go only 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 ConDem Government in Westminster, if one was being kind could be described as evasive when it comes to committing to the extending the electrification programme into Wales - so much for Wales being a ConDem priority. It's not just Swansea - London that needs electrification, there are plenty of other lines including the North Wales Coast line, the Valleys lines and the Severn Tunnel diversionary line.

I mention this because, the proposed multi-million pound upgrade and electrification of the rail line between London and Swansea, which if it goes ahead should be completed by 2017 and which should cut 20 minutes off the existing journey times, would only fix only part of the problem. So why is the Severn Tunnel diversion route important you may well ask?

It's pretty simple really, when the Severn Tunnel is closed for maintenance rail traffic from South Wales is diverted via a single-track 12-mile section of line between Swindon and Kemble (in Gloucestershire) any plans to upgrade this section to double track as it is the only diversionary route between Wales and London were conspicuous by their absence from Network Rail’s plans in 2008/2009.

Talk to anyone who works the rails (or anyone who has relatives who work on the rails) in the south and they will tell you that the aging Severn Tunnel is going to require more maintenance as time passes, yet it remains a vital transport link, but it ranks pretty low on Network Rails list of priorities. In November 2008, the Office of Rail Regulation's settlement for Network Rail allocated some £26 billion pounds some 2.4 billion less than requested; this has forced Network Rail to drop a number of projects (if you think this was bad just wait until the ConDem cuts kick in!).

Anyway, you may have guessed that, one of the project that was dropped was a plan to restore the 12 miles of single track to double from Kemble to Swindon, at the moment the reduced capacity of this line adds an hour to passenger journeys as trains to and from Wales have to wait for services coming in the opposite direction, and lets not forget any impact on rail freight movements.

This is a vital link between Wales and London (and Europe) and the only alternative to using the Severn Tunnel. In the event of a major accident or incident in the tunnel, perhaps a crash, a fire or even flooding, then we need a fully operational alternative so that passenger and freight services to London are not affected.

It is pretty essential that re-doubling work on the line, which would allow at least an hourly service, is carried out as quickly as possible. While the upgrade is under way, its only common sense to electrify the line all the way from Severn Tunnel Junction through to Swindon as well.

So there we are at the moment Wales, is one of the few counties in Europe, save for Albania and Moldova to have no electrified rail-lines, this is one exclusive club we could well do without being a member of. As has been pointed out elsewhere within the blog sphere, there is more to this than the electrification of the railway lines, though - Wales needs a public and concrete commitment to a timetable for High Speed Rail in Wales, otherwise what we are really talking about when it comes to high speed rail is for Wales see England - and that is not acceptable!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


The choice of David TC Davies (MP for Monmouth) as the new Chair of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee may on the surface seem at first seem a tad odd. Certainly in the past he found the higher status of the Home Affairs Select Committee far more appealing than the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, where his poor attendance had been noted previously, with a bare 5 out of 44 appearances - so much for that strong voice for Monmouth / Wales in Westminster. 

However, once you finish mopping up the tea you spilt on your keyboard one you found out the news, then the appointment may begin to make more sense. Think about it, if you want to give someone a position to marshal the anti-devolution attack dogs / 'devo negatistas', derail legislative Competence Orders,  and generally treat Wales (and all things Welsh) with typical Tory contempt, then perhaps they (the ConDems) have made a wise choice after all - I mean Wales is just so not on Cameron and Clegg's radar and never will be. 

I'll bet that this has not gone down particularly well in Tory circles in Cardiff Bay...

Monday, 7 June 2010


Now there is an interesting idea, Local Councils in England are to be encouraged to publish details of their spending - on items over £500 as part of the new Conservative / Liberal Democrat Government's "revolution" in transparency. However, they won't be compelled by law to open their books, which is odd, especially as the Condem coalition agreement stated that councils would be "required" to do so.

According to the BBC, Government sources have said that "measures would be taken" against councils that did not co-operate. Not a bad idea, personally I think it might be something that the National Assembly might consider as a potential runner in Wales, if it was extended to all the Government Quangos in Wales, and the myriad of European funded schemes that run from one end of Wales to the other, full transparency in relation to the way public money is spent might prove to be interesting...

Saturday, 5 June 2010


During the last Westminster campaign - prior to polling day - especially in a rural constituency, every candidate who was out chasing votes tried to appear to be the farmer's best mate. The same was probably true across rural constituencies the length and breadth of Wales and the rest of the UK - yet, our farming communities, despite this welcome warmth have been pretty isolated and marginalized by the politicians, the contempt with which the farmers used to be treated by the old New Labour Government (and previous Conservative governments) in Westminster - this was something that was mirrored until relatively recently in Cardiff Bay certainly until the arrival of Plaid in government and Elin Jones, the Plaid driven One Wales Government Rural Affairs Minister.

Now that the dust has settled and the deals have been done, we have a Conservative / Liberal Government and the question should be what are they going to do for the farming sector? The Conservatives have spent years appearing (with less and less effort on their part admittedly) to be the party of the farmers, certainly some farmers continue to believe it. Yet, it is worth remembering that not that long ago in the 1980's it was a Tory Secretary of State who literally sat by and quietly did nothing when many of our Dairy farmers got hammered into the ground by cuts in the milk quota.

Never again must any Welsh Minister fail to stand up and be counted and to fail to argue their corner on behalf of Welsh farmers - now at least that has changed for the better - with Elin Jones (AM), the Plaid One Wales Government Minister for Rural Affairs we have a minster who is not afraid to actually meet with and to stand up for our farmers and their interests - this is a refreshing change from what has gone before. During the NFU farmers hustings in the final weeks of the election campaign, when I mentioned the things that Elin Jones and the One Wales Government have (and are) doing to make things easier for our farmers, the comments, the nods and the smiles confirmed that the farmers are more than aware of what's being done on their behalf.

Any catastrophic economic failure across the farming sector will have a significant knock on effects for dependent small businesses and local suppliers across the whole rural economy, in the small towns and across the Welsh countryside itself. The Plaid driven one Wales Government has unlike relatively recent governments in Westminster and Cardiff Bay, stopped treating the agricultural sector with indifference. Most people agree that much more effort has to be made to market first class Welsh produce within Wales, within the UK and in Europe and beyond.

Now, our farmers, despite some mutterings to the contrary by some local Labour MPs who should know better, are not just in the businesses of merely waiting for that one annual brown envelope and cheque from Brussels but for a real opportunity to make a decent living within the agricultural sector - to do this they need a fair deal. We need to take practical steps to give Welsh farmers a fighting chance of making a real living; securing 80% of publicly procured food locally by 2015 is a realistic and practical aim.

This is something that could provide the first practical step towards helping Welsh farmers and other producers make the most of the new opportunities that will arise from higher public purchasing of local products. Yet we need more, a much more co-ordinated effort to create that elusive level playing field for our farmers and a real effort from National and Local government to secure 80% of publicly procured food locally by 2015 – this could provide the first practical step towards helping Welsh farmers and other producers make the most of the new opportunities that will arise from higher public purchasing of local products.

The question remains, as yet, unanswered though, what is the new Conservative / Liberal Government actually going to do for our farmers?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


A measure of understanding on the attitude from the new Government towards our Police forces may be gleaned from the proposed cuts that have been announced by Nick Herbert (Policing and Criminal Justice Minister ) as part of a UK-wide cut of £125m in funding for forces. South Wales Police faces cuts of £2.8m, North Wales Police faces cuts of £1.4m, while Gwent Police faces cuts of £1.3m and Dyfed-Powys Police cuts of around £900,000. The cuts in funding for 2010/2011 have been announced as part of efforts to help reduce the UK's budget deficit

During the final stages of the last Westminster Election Campaign, everyone (and every political party) was heard calling ever loudly for more Police Officers on the beat which happened to be something which most people wanted to see. Now if you are lucky and get a quiet moment and you use it to ask any senior Police officer about beat policing, then especially in a guarded quiet moment and you may get told that it's probably one of the most inefficient form of Policing going, with officers walking for (on average) something like 49 miles before they come across a crime in progress.

Now while this may be true, it obviously ignores the deterrence and reassurance that is generated on our streets and in our communities and may well be influenced by pressures from the Ministry of Justice, a lack of Police officers and the need to generate reams and reams of arrest related statistics. Maybe this is driven by a desire for local bobbies on the beat that goes back to an earlier simpler era, maybe it’s TV inspired nostalgia driven desire for that mythical Dixon of Dock Green / Heartbeat figure which has now almost become a real historical memory – until killed off by successive police reorganisations, force mergers, budget cuts and top down largely then Home Office driven changes in the way our communities are policed i.e. panda cars, the loss of local Police stations, reduced opening hours, etc.

Now nostalgia and Policing are a particularly heady and dangerous mix, I can personally recall Conservative politicians in the 1990's who argued against the use of body armour, stab vests and side handled batons, pepper sprays, etc – saying that it would change the nature of Policing, create unbreakable barriers of hostility between the public and the Police, end tradition, etc. All that aside, one thing all of those things did was significantly reduce the number of Police Officers stabbed and killed in line of their duty – so enough with the nostalgia.

When it comes dealing with crime and effects of crime on our communities we really have to get past the usual meaningless platitudes about being tough on crime, etc. Certainly in the final weeks of the Westminster campaign the voters heard plenty of them what with the various London based parties making much out of how they were going to get serious about cutting crime, reducing anti social behaviour, and making our communities safer. Now that the dust had settled, then we shall all get a measure of the new government and see how they act as the empty rhetoric fades away.

Cuts, are not the answer, for unless we will actually seriously invest in the Welsh Police Services and make more creative use of existing financial and manpower resources. We could begin to make our communities safer by making more use of Community Support Officers, but without full powers of arrest, and lacking in proper training this can be nothing more than a temporary short term solution, what we need are more Police Officers.

Policing, just like everything else is driven by funding - this is the reality of modern (and old time) policing, our hard pressed Police Service (whether in Gwent, South Wales, Dyfed-Powys or North Wales) all need additional funding and an increase in the number of serving officers. On top of that our Police Officers actively need the active support of our communities, especially if we are seriously going to deal with crime and anti-social behaviour and to ensure proper Policing within our communities.

We need a more flexible approach to shift patterns to tackle those periods of the day when higher levels of criminal offences take place and need to actually respond to local communities real concerns rather than the Ministry of Justice's (formerly the Home Office) perceived priorities and targets. We need to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past when it comes to basing Policing strategies on core or periphery because the end result is that some of our our communities will lose out when it comes to access to Police services and resources.

The fact that the Ministry of Justice (and lets be honest changing the name has not fixed the basic problem) has long lost the plot and has become bogged down in a morass of spin, number crunching, paperwork, bureaucracy and red tape; add to the fact that it largely exists in an unreal world far removed from the realities of day-to-day policing on streets of Abergavenny, Caldicot, Cwmbran, Newport, Underwood or Tredegar, let alone Llanbedr Pont Steffan (especially on a Saturday night at chucking out time).

If we are really serious about reforming and reorganising Policing then we need to develop a coherent national community safety strategy for Wales with a clear approach to tackling crime and the fear of crime in our communities. And ask and answer the hard questions: do we want two tier Policing? Should Policing target be generated by local Police officers and local communities, where are we going to find the money, because Policing is not cheap?

If we want to solve or curb crime in Wales, then it makes sense for the control of Policing as well as Justice and Prisons within Wales to be fully devolved to the National Assembly, much of this already happens in Scotland, are we less capable than the Scots or less of a nation than Scotland? - I think not!


The news (Western Mail 1st June 2010) that the private company that operates the Severn Toll Bridges has raised almost £226m over the past three years – yet has spent barely £15m on essential maintenance on the original crossings damaged cables - should not come as much of a surprise to many people. The Severn Crossings Tolls have been a valuable cash cow for many years, aside from being a tax on jobs, a tax on commuters, a tax on growth and tax on business in the south of Wales.

Plaid Cymru's South Wales Central AM Chris Franks obtained the figures under the Freedom of Information Act, which show a 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 will take place over the next five years. Some £225,733,000 has been collected in bridge toll revenue since 2006. people may well 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 2016.