Wednesday, 22 December 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


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

Monday, 20 December 2010


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

Saturday, 18 December 2010


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

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

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

Friday, 17 December 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While other countries have attempted to protect themselves against external shocks to their energy needs; the UK's market driven approach has been proven to be entirely inadequate. France has storage capacity for 122 days gas and Germany 99. Yet the UK despite an increasingly desperate attempt to play catch up has relatively low storage capacity for gas - it was barely 15 days in April 2009; the old New Labour Government took almost a decade to recognise the need to increase storage capacity. The consequence is that UK has to sell gas during the summer because we cannot store it but UK energy suppliers struggle to purchase gas again when it is needed in the winter.

The problem was made worse by what can best be described as the complicit insanity of the Conservatives headlong dash to gas in the 1980’s has been compounded by a real failure in basic strategic energy planning and made worse by the current Government's perverse decision to half-heartedly look at developing diverse reliable alternative energy sources. The old New Labour Government repeatedly ignored warnings that it was setting the UK on a path towards higher prices and energy blackouts.

Over the next five years almost all of our old nuclear reactors, along with nine major coal and oil-fired power stations, will be closed, with nothing ready to replace them. We are now in the situation where we are now even more dependent upon imported gas from either unstable regions or dubious suppliers and we the customers face unnecessarily expensive bills.

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

Thursday, 16 December 2010


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 13 December 2010


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

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

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

Sunday, 12 December 2010


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

Friday, 10 December 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 9 December 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


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

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

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

Monday, 6 December 2010


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

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

Most people and most political parties recognise that Post Offices play a vital roll at the heart of their communities and are real lifelines to vulnerable people. The Post Office Diversification Fund is planned to run for three years and has been set up to offer help and advice with advertising, marketing, business advice, training and setting up new services for customers. The fund can also help with improving access, security and upgrading computer equipment, etc. This is the result of a Plaid driven One Wales Government helping to deliver improvements to important services in our communities, which makes a pleasant change by way of comparison with recent Westminster Governments.

Sunday, 5 December 2010


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

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

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

Thursday, 2 December 2010


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

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

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

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